Image by audrey l via Flickr.

Image by audrey l via Flickr.

Each year it seems the content marketing craze gets crazier. Survey after report trumpets the sky-high branding or moneymaking potential of content, or else celebrates the always-climbing forecasts of budget spend. It’s enough to trigger content fatigue.

That appears to be what’s happening in the B2B space. According to Source, which has been measuring thought leadership content for years, in the consulting world alone as many as 86 percent of people skip the content sent to them by consulting firms.

This is a problem.

Stop selling to your clients

Many marketers, social media specialists, brand managers, communication managers and PR consultants are missing the point. They’ve forgotten about the person called the client – the one who keeps you and me in a job, who keeps the sales going and who keeps us in business.

Consulting firm McKinsey has published research exploring why the bulk of B2B messages are failing and the study found “a marked apparent divergence between the core messages companies communicate about their brands and the characteristics their customers value most.”

What’s more, the study found that the brand messaging among top B2B companies “showed a surprising similarity,” leading popular B2B marketing consultant Bob Apollo to follow up  with a blog post of his own, lambasting the B2B space for “wasting an inordinate amount of resource on creating and communicating irrelevant or me-too messages.”

Clients and potential customers aren’t consuming content that B2B marketers are sending them because B2B marketers aren’t sending them content they care about. Tell as many stories as you like about your brand, but if it’s the wrong story, why bother?

The McKinsey study found similarities in brand messaging among B2B businesses. Image via Flickr.

The McKinsey study found similarities in brand messaging among B2B businesses. Image via Flickr.

Create content for your client, about your client

A few months ago I had the pleasure of interviewing John Meacock, managing partner of Deloitte Australia’s New South Wales office and national leader for clients and markets. In that role, he is directly involved in Deloitte’s thought leadership programs.

He and his team have spent years concentrating on customer-focused insights that drive conversations. Typically these insights are supported by deep research, which is converted into various client-focused content formats such as presentations, executive summaries and even sector-specific reports.

For John and his team, the sole purpose of this content is to kick-start conversations no one else can have with their clients.

As John said to me:

You want to be in a situation where you are able to challenge things that others have never challenged before, whether business ideas or processes.  Too often we see things being done because that’s the way they’ve always been done. But our insights are intended to shift these perceptions and help our clients see things differently.

John and the Deloitte team have got it right because they know their audience. They spend time with that audience prior to producing the content to gain an in-depth understanding of their business and the challenges they face – John calls this sensing.

Image via Flickr.

B2B brands need to assess the needs of their clients and cater their content instead of selling them on irrelevant features. Image via Flickr.

Putting a stop to spin

Content marketing is evolving rapidly – it needs to.  But there are still way too many brands stuck on vanity content. Content that is focused on the brand and its products and services.

With this in mind, it is well worth reviewing David Meerman Scott’s presentation on the new rules of selling. He gives a wonderful overview of how buying patterns have changed and he suggests what brands should be doing to adapt.

Two key premises are: “You are what you publish on the web” and “content is the link between you and customers.”  Critically for David, authentic storytelling – not spin – sets the tone.

For him, you “sell more when you’re not selling” and because of that he advocates not pushing your product but instead encourages brands to “teach people something, share your expertise.”

In a post published late last year, blogger Chris Brogan told his readers: “If you’re just writing to be heard stop it. It’s done. Game over. No one has time for that. You’re wasting your time, and also your audience’s time.”

Perhaps B2B content marketers need to hear this message more than most.

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