It’s been a few years since content marketing became one of the most popular and successful strategies in B2B marketing.
In the beginning, it was enough to publish content. And companies did – in great quantities. More must be better was the thinking.
Once there was a mass of content out there it soon transpired that it was quality and not quantity that was becoming important. Prospects and buyer were looking for high-quality, useful content. Now the trend was for high-quality, extensive articles covering subjects in depth.
With high-quality content available, the new battleground became authority and thought leadership. This information seems useful and helpful – but can we trust it? Who is publishing this content and can we trust them?Now that we have quality posts published by valued and trusted businesses, the content publishing battle has turned full circle and has become a race to publish as much high-quality, valued content as possible.
So now the content marketing field has matured what’s effective right now? What’s the key to establishing a difference, a lead, a unique selling point that will stand out in a sea of excellent content?
Obviously, that depends on the market you are in and your competitors. There are still plenty of markets where just publishing content is enough to give you an edge. Where becoming an established authority will stand you in good stead. But in a more competitive market served by great content providers, how can you cut through?
The latest research
New research by Gartner shows that B2B buyers in many industries now feel there is no shortage of good quality content to choose from. In fact, this has become the main issue – buyers feel that they are becoming “inundated with options, choices and noise." In this environment, high-quality information and thought leadership are no longer enough.
Gartner's research found that 90% of buyers encountered high-quality information when making a purchase.
The problem for the buyer has now become one of making sense of all the information available. Putting it in context, sorting it, weeding out what is irrelevant to their situation and their issues. Homing in on the most relevant information.
Three distinct approaches to information-sharing were taken by salespeople as identified by Gartner. Although they looked at salespeople, these approaches can also be seen in content publishing approaches too.
I’ve summarised them as follows:
- Blanket sharing – providing loads of high-quality information about everything and everything. The more information, the better.
- Telling – providing loads of stories about what the business has done for clients, what they have found in the past. Tales and anecdotes based on their experience.
- Sense-Making – A term coined by Gartner to describe an approach where information is carefully shared to guide customers to a clearer, more rational, view. Helping the buyer make sense of the information available and guide them to a plan of action.
From the sales point of view, Gartner found that 80% of the businesses that took a sense-making approach closed high-quality, low-regret deals. This perhaps is not surprising given that there are several advantages to this approach. It is an approach that is clearly consultative in its style. Gartner lists three advantages:
- Connect to relevant resources. Diagnose customers’ information needs and provide curated sources and tools to help customers feel they know all the relevant information.
- Clarify information complexity. Reduce the complexity of the information environment by filtering and processing information for customers.
- Collaborate on customer learning. Help customers evaluate the quality of information and arrive at their own understanding of difficult issues.
Sense-making as a content strategy
This key research points to the best approach not just for sales, but for content marketing too.
Let’s look at the most valuable forms of content from a sense-making perspective.
Overview – articles that give an overview of options, approaches, solutions or technologies are always helpful to buyers struggling to make sense of the choices on offer and pinning down those that would help them in their situation.
Infographic – these are very powerful ways of summarising ideas, statistics, and approaches. Their very nature attempts to simplify and make sense of complex information and present it in an easy to understand manner. It is no surprise that infographics are a very popular form of content.
Interview – an interview with an expert who is very good with analogies – very good at explaining complex ideas, situations or technologies in layman’s terms is another great way for buyers to makes sense of information.
Comparisons – if there are two or three competing ideas, systems, methodologies, solutions, or technologies, then a comparison of the main advantages/disadvantages of each is a valuable post to someone trying to make sense of the approaches available. Looking at how they differ, or when might be more appropriate than another are all good ways to create a useful and very effective post. Make sure it stays up to date though – especially if writing about technologies which change often. And review it every so often and update it if necessary. There is nothing that will lose trust and authority quicker than a post with out-of-date information in it. (Incidentally, always date your posts, it gives the reader a chance to judge whether it is likely to still be relevant).
Lists – A list of possible options with quick pros and cons of each can be a valuable sense-making post. Or maybe you rank them in order of usefulness, cost or some other useful factor. Again, lists are a very successful form of content on the Internet – with top tens proving particularly popular.
Research – original research can help buyers learn what other people are doing, how an industry is changing, what the most popular solutions are and so on. Good research – presented well, can help buyers make sense of their situation.
These are just a few types of content that can help buyers navigate the sea of information available to them. Any content that explains, clarifies, simplifies and guides is going to be increasingly valuable and effective in a world increasingly overloaded with information.
With over 50% of buyers saying that the amount of trustworthy information was overwhelming in Gartner’s research, it’s clear that the businesses that help their prospects and buyers to make sense of the information available to them will be the most successful.