What the Father of Advertising can teach today's B2B content marketer

All articles | Content Marketing
Published Jun 24, 2013 | Written by Jeremy Knight
One of the human behaviours that dogs our ability to make sense of emerging concepts is that, too often, we are obsessed with the fact that they are shiny and new - and so we simply make a grab for them. What we don't do is make enough of the properties they share with concepts we already know about.

And so it is with B2B content marketing. Because it is often positioned as “new,” we tend to overlook the strong connections it has to the practices (and practitioners) of the past, and the wisdom therein.

Principles and personalities – marketing the past

The further back you go, the more examples you find to show that some of the most effective marketing came from a time when the term itself was either embryonic or completely unknown.

Take Churchill, for example. His impassioned speeches, larded with the clever emotive devices of classical rhetoric, were the cornerstone of a marketing campaign to persuade his people to “buy” six years of violence, heartache and penury.

Or consider Edward Bernays' ground-breaking development of crowd manipulation and PR. For him, it was a scientific end in itself, but in reality it was a radical new marketing tool that enabled everyone from cigarette manufacturers to national governments to increase their marketing “reach.”

But where I believe the content writing of today can benefit most is from the perceptiveness and acumen of the great David Ogilvy, the “Father of Advertising.”

What can we learn from Ogilvy?

Inspired by this excellent slideshare, and using some thoughts of my own, I have translated Ogilvy's skills into a brief set of guidelines for today's B2B content marketers, so that you too can benefit from the great man's wisdom!

Know your customers and speak in language they understand

I have only one thing to say, here – remember your buyer personas! The most eloquent message is worth nothing if you are not connecting with those things that your customers most care about, and in an idiom they actually understand. As the man himself said, “...write in the vernacular.”!

Write a story – don't shout a sales pitch

Ogilvy was one of the first to realise that customers are more likely to stop and read something that looks like editorial rather than something that looks like an advert. For today's B2B content marketing, this is absolutely critical. When it comes to producing content, you are a publisher – and what you publish is editorial, not advertising.  As I have noted elsewhere, if you want that editorial to be attractive and credible, you have to make the move from the propagandist (pushing a message to incite a sales action) to the informative (giving your customers options, not instructions). If your stuff reads like an ad, it'll get treated like an ad. Next stop, trash!

Personalised conversation, not grandstanding

Ogilvy was quick to identify that treating readers as if they were a homogenous audience gathered in a stadium was a strategic mistake. The customer's sense of individuality, he realised, was precious.  Translate that into the language of this digital era, and through savvy use of social media it becomes far easier - than it ever was in Ogilvy's time - to engage with the customer's sense of individuality by listening and responding to them.  And, as I've said elsewhere, if you and your customers are not having a conversation to determine what content writing they want to receive from you, then you're probably wasting your time anyway!

Nurture creativity

For his creativity Ogilvy relied on obsessive reading about his clients and their business, generous amounts of red wine, and hot baths. I'm not suggesting the detail of his ritual is suitable for every B2B content marketer. But the thinking behind it certainly is, and corresponds to the four accepted stages of creativity:

1. Preparation - Assemble as much information as possible

2. Incubation - Find a way of relaxing your mind so that you can process the information you have gathered

3. Illumination - Find a comfortable environment to hatch your ideas

4. Verification – Go and try them out!

Ogilvy became so practised at this process that ideas would even come to him in his dreams – most famously, the award-winning Pepperidge Farm bread campaign.

Back to the future...

It's a paradox in B2B content marketing that sometimes it's necessary to look backwards in order to move forwards – but it is thus. Let's be clear, the art of engaging with your audience to get to a specific outcome is as old as language itself. You didn't invent it, and neither did I.

Your content goes where Cicero, Churchill, Bernays, Ogilvy and others went before it – and many of the same rules, expectations, opportunities and pitfalls apply.

But a key difference is -- you have better tools.

Image by Stijn Vogels


Published by Jeremy Knight June 24, 2013
Jeremy Knight