I see an interesting opportunity in B2B content marketing.
B2B businesses have come to believe that there’s an asymmetric relationship with buyers. They think buyers are in control because they can access more, higher-quality information than ever before.
Statistics seem to support this belief:
- 92% of buyer’s journeys start with an online search.
- 53% of buyers prefer going online and researching to interacting with a salesperson.
- 62% of buyers say they can develop selection criteria based on digital content alone.
These findings align with what I see in my research and our consulting practice. But I’m not convinced about the conclusion many businesses draw about this “empowered buyer.”
Many B2B marketing and sales teams put the buyer preference for self-service knowledge at the center of all marketing and sales content. Marketing creates research, industry vision pieces, thought leadership, and product materials to cater to every question or objection.
There’s one problem: Many B2B buyers don’t feel empowered.
Gartner/CEB research (covered in this Harvard Business Review article) found that although suppliers assume buyers are in the driver’s seat, their customers disagree. “They may be better informed than ever, but the research shows that they’re deeply uncertain and stressed,” the article says. The CEB research found this leads to “unproductive, open-ended learning loops by the deluge of information.”
Providing more and more educational and product content may feel customer-centric, but research says it drives an 18% decrease in purchasing ease.
The Harvard Business Review article suggests an answer: Frontline managers – especially sales should take a more helpful, prescriptive approach to guiding the customer through a decision-making process rather than simply supplying more and more information as it’s requested.
I see an opportunity for content marketing.
Today, everyone creates content – the web team, the marketing automation/demand-gen team, the content marketing team, the sales team, agencies, executives, and even account and customer service representatives. It’s probably easier to count those who don’t create content-driven experiences.
As a result, businesses create more content than they know what to do with. The question my clients ask most often is, “How can we decrease the amount of content we’re creating?”
But when teams create a content strategy to address the challenge of content quantity, they tend to remove the voices of all frontline managers. Instead, they turn them into “activation channels.”
Put simply: People become a distribution channel for information, education, and product materials they had no role in creating – and probably understand less than the “empowered buyer” who asked for it.
This kind of strategy solves the wrong problem. Those businesses end up creating less content. But they actually needed different content – and an empowered storyteller to deliver it.
These businesses get their approved brand voice and story back. Unfortunately, they prevent their best storytellers from telling it. A sales leader who was cut off from creating and helping with content told me recently, “It’s hard to be excited about a story you weren’t involved in creating and aren’t equipped to tell.”
A content marketing strategy should address creating, managing, activating, and measuring digital content more easily. It also should define a process for training, guiding, and helping those on the front lines (sales, account reps, executives, and even people in accounting and legal) to tell those stories.
Don’t think of a strategic content marketing operation as the storyteller of the business. Instead, think of it as the engine that enables everyone else to tell the business’s stories.
It’s your story. Tell it well.