Back2Basics: How to create B2B content that creates sales
by Mark Eardley (@mdeardley) Content has only one purpose: to build sales-generating trust among all the influencers of a B2B buying decision. Here’s a three-step checklist for creating influencer-focused content that will do just that: keep it concentrated, convincing and connected.
1. Concentrated: make sure it sells
The first C is over-arching in that it provides the direction to ensure content serves its purpose.
It’s a benchmark for assessing the results that might be achieved by any piece of content: why will it sell? And, once the content is out there, it also provides a benchmark for measuring actual results: how well did it sell?
Make sure it sells. No, really… make sure it sells
A monumental pile of nonsense has been spouted about avoiding the embarrassing odour created when content is tainted by the merest whiff of a sales pitch.
It usually goes on to suggest that rather than attempting anything so vulgar as selling, content must inspire, delight, enthral and enchant its audience. That it must be entrancingly disguised in ways that will beguile people into thinking they aren’t being sold to. Hmmm. Cunning plan…
Modern marketers must apparently become ‘publishers’ of ‘storytelling’ or ‘narratives’. It seems the idea is to so spellbind influencers that they take leave of their senses and support future buying decisions in favour of the wizard’s no-sell brand. Talk about smoke and mirrors…
Sales content, marketing content: why aren’t they singing the same song?
Encouraging a ‘no-pitch’ approach to content is so incredibly dumb that it beggars belief. Suggesting there should be any difference between the messages each function (sales, marketing) takes to market is a sure-fire way to send confusingly mixed messages to influencers.
It’s an approach that assumes B2B influencers are so commercially stupid that they will recoil from content that pitches convincing reasons that they should buy — yep, buy — the offering it relates to.
2. Convincing: always credible, always relevant. Always answer the ‘Why Buy’ question
Provided that it is telling the truth, how is the credibility of content relevant to its various audiences — to the people who influence decisions that create sales?
Over 100 years ago, the importance of being truthfully convincing was very neatly summed up by Mr Harrison King McCann. In 1912, he used the slogan “Truth Well Told” to epitomise the offering of his newly launched New York advertising agency. It is still being used today by McCann Group Worldwide.
Tell it well: convince the convincers
A company might truly have the most-modern factories in its industry but why is that truth relevant to each audience of influencers — what results does it produce specifically for them?
In other words, which influencers are beneficiaries of manufacturing modernity, and how do they benefit? (The hyperlinked article in the opening paragraph deals with those questions in more detail.)
When benefits are not convincingly conveyed, influencers conclude that none are offered — so they don’t consider buying. One of the most respected ad-men of all time, Bill Bernbach, summed that up rather neatly when he said:
“An important idea not communicated persuasively is like having no idea at all.”
3. Connected: join the dots towards a sale
In B2B markets, the progression from ‘We’re interested’ to ‘Where do we sign?’ rarely happens in a single step. It typically runs through a set of connected phases involving different influencers at different times in the buying decision cycle.
Short-circuiting the cycle is, of course, possible. Big deals can — and do — leapfrog straight from an initial proposal to a signed contract. Laws might have to be broken, corporate values compromised and governance ignored, but, what the heck, it’s a wicked world… and it’s gupta you how you approach it.
If variations on the proverbial ‘brown envelope’ don’t feature in the marketing toolset, then content has to be aligned to the buying-decision cycle, so that it moves decisions logically forwards through the sequence of phases leading to a done deal. A sale…
Just as there’s nothing new about the concept of ‘content’, there’s nothing new or complex about the idea that buying decisions follow a pathway towards a sale. It’s been well over a century since the cycle of AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action) was first proposed.
A content caveat: beware ‘packagers’ and ‘postmen’
Of course, anything so excruciatingly old-fashioned as AIDA is anathema amongst bedazzled disciples of the relatively recently minted concept of content marketing. As with so much else in B2B today, long-established principles are being glittered, tinselled, rebadged and then chattered about as marketing’s Next Big Thing.
In terms of content, a lot of this chatter deals with providing it in formats that suit different — principally digital — channels. The emphasis is all on packaging and delivery. It’s focused on the dinky little box in which content is contained and the ways it gets posted.
The content of content is rarely mentioned. If the ‘packagers’ and ‘postmen’ do mention what needs to be said, it’s often no more useful than suggesting ‘quality content’, ‘exceptional content’, ‘valuable content’ or ‘thought-leading content’. And that’s not very helpful, is it?
As Bob Hoffman points out on The Ad Contrarian:
“If the message is right, who cares what screen people see it on? If the message is wrong, what difference does it make?”
No difference at all…
Mark Eardley (@mdeardley) advises B2B companies on how to govern their marketing to attract and retain profitable customers; several of his clients have grown to become market leaders. He is the author, together with Charlie Stewart, of Business-to-Business Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide (Penguin Random House), which offers practical, actionable advice on how to make marketing make money. Mark contributes the monthly “Back2Basics” column, covering how B2B companies and their agencies should manage their marketing, to MarkLives.com.