Talk to the hand
If we fed our children the way we use content in B2B marketing, we'd all be getting a call from the school right about now.
Concerns about under-nourishment, attention span, disruption in and out of class, and a general listlessness would be discussed.
The single, simple role of content (we'll get rid of this awful word soon, I hope) in the marketing and sales of B2B services is to nourish our clients, to enable them to serve their own end customers better, and, from there, to nourish our own businesses.
But what we see - with a few noble exceptions - is flabby, repetitive, self-serving waffle, thrown over the fence to our marketplaces in the vague hope that something nice might happen.
I've been aware of the imperative of superlative client communications for some decades. My uncle, Harry Bayler, founded of one of the few successful and long-standing B2B PR agencies in the 1960's. What he told me when I was a boy has never left me.
"When the editor of even the tiniest trade paper starts his day, he's looking at a pile of press releases in envelopes piled on his desk. As he opens them one by one, his hand is heading for the bin. Your job is to make sure that the hand stops, comes back to his desk, and that he reads the first couple of lines of your release. This means a great, punchy headline, an introduction that tells him everything he needs to know about what you're talking about, and copy with no fat in it at all."
This is not easy to do.
But these are the founding principles that enable us - whatever content we may be creating, for whatever purpose - to stand a chance of making an impact. A lot's changed. But just as Bayler Press Services performed the unique and valuable function of making business and brands that were, intrinsically, inwardly-focused and rather dull, interesting and accessible, so today we have exactly the same challenges, except in a far more crowded, busy and often cynical context.
Here, then, are the 14 Golden Rules of B2B Content.
It's not content ...
It's fresh thinking that has to change the way our clients think about their businesses, and of course, about ours. We're stuck with that damn c-word, but we can't let that fool us into just shipping it by the yard.
Impact, not activity
No one cares. We're not doing any senior client decision maker or influencer a favour by sending them more content. Unless, of course, what they receive is punchy, fresh and well-written and beautifully produced. Then, we're in with a shot.
We are actually quite boring
So simply sharing with clients "what's happening with our business" is no less than toxic. "What we did at school today" is uninteresting and embarrassing. Our job is to make ourselves interesting in the minds of our clients.
The trap of Relevance
The current obsession across a lot of marketing communications. But a fundamental error. If all we do is reflect back to clients their own worlds - just like an Amazon recommendation list (sometimes handy, more often useless) - we're missing the point. We must make the "apparently irrelevant" interesting and compelling.
Narrative uber alles
We change the way people think through storytelling. Not the multi-channel nonsense that seems to obsess most of the world's agencies at the moment - please get over it - but to offer our clients "information" without narrative structure is to make them work hard for something they didn't much want in the first place. Understand this ... no one wants content. No one.
Clients don't know what they need
No more so than in the areas of martech and adtech, where transformation is happening faster than we can keep track of. A pitch for yet another out of context product or service merely further muddies a pond that already looks deeply unappealing. We must educate, inform and inspire. This alone is a valuable service that will make friends in high places.
It's a service that sells
We tend to think of producing our B2B content as a chore that someone has to sort out, if we really have to - a kind of punishment for both author and then reader. This mindset is fatal. Every piece of thinking that we create and distribute - through whatever channel - is an important marketing event. If it's not, don't even bother.
Quality Uber Alles
It's got to be great. Not good enough, or just about OK. Great. This means superb copy, ruthless editing, highly functional design, easy, satisfying, illuminating and rewarding to consume.
Don't talk about yourself
As above, no one cares about you. Until they do. The conversation starts with an insight, a framework, an angle ... anything that captures the attention of the client. In rugby terms, this hard initial contextual work gives us the permission to go wide, to refer back to elements of what we do that solve the problem or open up the broader opportunity we're addressing.
Context is not targeting
It's all about the context. Everyone's saying this at the moment, but not many get what it really means. Every time we address our clients' markets in a manner that helps them understand them a little better, see things they hadn't been able to see before, we're scoring big points. I call this "framing and claiming". It's essential, and if your writers can't do this, find someone that can quickly.
Likes are not enough
We need to measure the impacts of our content work using business metrics, not media ones. Impressions etc are fine for an ad campaign, but we're addressing a small, hard to please and busy audience. While we're on it, ignore Likes on Facebook and Linked In, and cast the same beady eye on RT's. Success is when clients start using your language, use your content to help them brief you for an opportunity. Anything less is worthless.
Avoid derivative brown-nosing
There's way too much repetitive toadying here ... How many times did you see someone - weeks after the event - proudly announce on Linked In that Google has become Alphabet. Not only is this type of blurt publishing naive, but it commits the deadly sin of wasting a client's attention on something they already knew. Just Say No.
Get your formats right
White papers are all good in the right place. But they're a hard read, and need to be superbly put together in order to get read to the last page. We need to ensure that our strong, fresh core idea is expressed as widely as possible across all media types. This means, alongside the usual .com website and social stuff, intelligently adapting the work for events, sales decks, press releases (to a wide variety of outlets - this is your PR agency's job) and speeches.
Integrate everything always
This work - this cost to the business - only lands when it impacts our growth. So while a content calendar is all good, a much closer, more real time alignment with your commercial agenda is key. Sales people love this stuff, when it's done right and helps them refresh their contacts with thinking that educates and inspires.
Let me leave you with one last thought.
Not many professionals - writers, editors and indeed public speakers - are that good at this stuff. The ones that are, are a huge asset to the firms they work with.
It takes decades to get good - sure-footed, passionate, energetic and able to produce fresh, punchy, empowering narrative - at this. We need to make sure that we put enough value on this important work and its crucial commercial impacts and outcomes, to budget intelligently, in proportion to the value that can be unlocked, and to give the work the support and focus it needs.
In other words, make sure you feed your children right.