B2B Clients to Firms: ‘Stop Marketing to Me!’

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A recent guest post on this blog concerned the fact that B2B marketing often lacks “emotional appeal.

Emotion in B2B marketing, you ask? That’s unpossible!

It’s true, though: a recent survey performed by The Economist and Peppercomm found that business audiences want something a little more “substantial” from the brands they know. And, as the graphic below shows us, there’s a serious disconnect between marketers and the people they’re trying to reach.

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Despite this fact, the vast majority (93 percent) of marketers plan on sending more content to executives next year.

It’s time to rethink that relationship. We asked Ted Birkhahn, president and partner at Peppercomm, for his take on the survey results.

How can PR help better align the goals of marketers with those of “global decision makers?” And why is there such a disconnect?

PR should serve as the audience’s advocate. This ensures that the content strategy created and deployed will resonate with the audiences that matter most to the marketer. The disconnects shown in the research between marketers and business executives likely stem from the fact that marketers and their agencies don’t invest enough time putting themselves in the audience’s shoes and understanding the content habits, needs and perceptions of the audience.

How do we define “substance” in this case?

Substance refers to content that adds tangible value to the audience and typically incorporates one or more of the following criteria:

1) It provides a new and credible angle or point-of-view on an issue that is topical or material to a client’s business.

2) It offers counsel and new ideas to tackle well known challenges that the audience is facing.

3) It makes the executive and/or their company smarter about complex issues facing their business, industry, etc.

4) It entertains, when written in a storytelling manner that is painless to consume.

What’s the most effective way for both parties to agree on a clear line between “substantial” and “self-serving?”

If the content provides value, we believe the audience will allow it to be self-serving.

But all too often, when companies produce content that is self-serving to their own business, it fails to be engaging, entertaining or “substantial.” The balance between the two should always weigh in favor of being substantial, which should result in building more trust and positive perception of your brand.

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Should content creators adjust to meet executives’ preference for text-based content on laptops, or should they work together to promote more hybrid/multimedia work?

This finding bucks the common perception that business content must be more “snackable” and mobile-friendly.

We hear a lot of noise around the need for video, infographics, ebooks and other multi-media content in place of good, old-fashioned text. While there is a role and a place for multi-media, the research clearly shows that business executives still prefer text-based content and still use computers (meaning laptops and desktops) to access it.

Our advice to marketers is not to abandon the use of multimedia content; but do not use it to replace text if you are trying to reach a senior-level business audience. Instead, deploy multimedia to augment the text-based content that you are producing.

If the goal is to create and distribute content that will “help [execs] do their jobs better,” how can firms respond?

The answer is to better understand the topics and issues that your audiences wants to hear about and then find the best experts to create the material.

If the experts work for the organization, then your job as a marketer becomes a lot easier. If they don’t, it’s important to form relationships with other organizations and individuals who will help you create or co-brand on marketing initiatives that result in the creation of meaningful content.

What does the fact that most content strategies are not “highly understood and implemented” say about internal communications?

It shows that marketers are not thinking of their own employees as ambassadors of the brand. If employees understand their company’s content strategy, a certain percentage of them can help amplify key messages and storylines by participating smartly in conversations happening across their own social media channels. If they are left in the dark, it’s a missed opportunity to expand the company’s marketing reach and sends a strong signal to employees that their voice is not valued by leadership.

 What do you take to be the most important conclusion for PR firms with B2B clients?

Stop marketing to me: PR firms and their clients must break the decades-old mold of developing content that reads like press releases and web site copy.

They must transform to think more like publishers and develop content strategies to serve their audience’s needs, not their own.

Tell us, readers: do these findings line up with our experience in the B2B sector?