To me, Doug and the Velocity team are running rings around the rest of us in terms of B2B content marketing, and to be honest, I’m cool with that. I truly admire their work. Their output is undoubtedly thought leading and ahead of the curve. They aren’t conforming, they aren’t trying to tell anyone anything they don’t need to know and most importantly to me (as a design freak!) it always looks slick and inviting. They’ve been pedaling content marketing before most of us had even heard of it, and it shows.
In addition to the ‘Crap. The Content Marketing Deluge’ slide share, their arsenal of outstanding content includes the marvellous B2B Marketing Manifesto, a written shaking-fist at the B2B marketers doing things less than admirably, spoiling it for everyone else.
I imagine it must be quite frustrating, actually. It’s like Doug and the Velocity team were first to the party, enjoying a nice, peaceful time exploring the depths of content marketing, before a load of drunken idiots (yep, that’s the rest of us) showed up and tried to drink as much free punch as they could, with little thought on the consequences such behaviour has on the rest of the party.
So yes, when I received the invitation to sign up for seminars at this year’s B2B Marketing Summit and I saw Mr Kessler’s name first up in the Content seminar room, I was there.
His half hour session, “Stop Creating Crap: 10 reasons your content isn’t very good but could be” was exactly what I wanted to hear.
In true fan-girl fashion, I arrived early to nab a second-row seat (first would have been way too obvious) before the certified Content King kicked things off.
I could go on and on about how inspiring and interesting his seminar was, but instead, I’ve decided to pick my favourite 4 Doug Kessler’s anti-crap tips and share my view on them – whether that’s how we’ve implemented something similar at Silverbean already, or something we plan to put into practice.
Lesson 1: Trying to say everything in everything.
I don’t know whether it’s because we all worry that the content marketing bubble will burst one day, or perhaps we’re all just hoping that our next content marketing piece will be the marketing equivalent of a ‘Big Break’, but there’s tendency to cram as much information as possible into every single piece, thus diluting the actual message and concluding in a very “blah” bit of writing.
We’re all busy, so would it not be better to do one piece FULL of insight and get it out of the way, or a few pieces to cover each topic individually and more succinctly?
Well, sorry people, but the second option is far more preferable.
At Silverbean, we’re taking a library approach to our content strategy. I’ve mapped out the topics we’ll cover and who from our team will cover them; but the research, delivery and outreach is down to them to action. That way, the messages we want to convey as an agency are taken care of by the full team and we’re not trying to cram too much into one piece as a result of cramming too much onto one person’s plate. The result is a comprehensive stock of insightful and to-the-point content that will show our expertise and give our audience what they need.
Disperse your desired messages throughout your team, plan ahead so they can deliver a quality piece and deal with the editing and imagery yourself (well, if you’re in my position at least!) before publishing date. That way, you maintain creative control and ensure your branding standards are met consistently. This approach has worked well for us so far this year, most recently with our International Ecommerce eBook.
Lesson 2: Producing too much.
The age old debate of ‘Quantity versus Quality’ still rages on, with many businesses deciding that quantity is more important. In an ideal world, hitting both would be a breeze, and like Velocity Partners themselves, we’d frequently be releasing content that delivers on both. But this isn’t an ideal world, and we’ve all got hefty to-do lists, so it’s better to release less and focus on quality. Over time, you might just be able to achieve both.
Much the same as lesson 1, aim to avoid diluting your message, but this time with too little information, which can be an unwanted side-effect of producing too much content. Another issue with producing too much is that, well, your readers won’t have the urgency to engage with you for problem-solving. I’m not saying that’s the sole purpose of putting out thought-leading and helpful content, but if you give it all up front then you won’t have anything to share if and when you get the opportunity to dazzle them at pitch stage.
Again, at Silverbean, we’ve reined in the amount we’re publishing to enable us to focus on consistent high quality as opposed to churning out as much as possible. The result is better optimised, better researched and a little more time to focus on the outreach for every bit of content.
I guess, what I’m trying to say is, that we’ve realised that there needn’t be such a rush, and while we take more time to compose each bit of content, we’re also nurturing our unique tone of voice and using analytics to determine our next steps. That kind of insight is worth way more in the long-term than a blog archive packed with lacklustre content.
Or, as Doug himself put it: “Get good first. Scale what works. Stage your production.”
Lesson 3: Committees.
You know what they say about opinions. If not, I’ll leave it to Dirty Harry to inform you. The main danger of a content committee is that you spend so much time deliberating everybody’s opinions and ideas that not much actually gets done in the way of actual content production.
Let’s face facts, in the digital industry in particular, we’re experts in what we do. It’s increasingly difficult to market to marketers because we all have our view on what makes good content, but sometimes you just have to throw these conceptions out the window and do what YOU believe is right, as the person responsible for content output.
As with point 1, you don’t have to fit everything into everything, so if you must have a committee (some places just like that) then ensure you’re channeling the group ideas to fit with the wider content strategy for the quarter, or whatever timescale you choose to use.
However, in my view, content committees are marketing suicide and can negatively impact your productivity. They’ve never worked at Silverbean and never will. Sure, have a consultative meeting with your decision makers/heads of department and establish your buyer personas and desired messages, but from there, it’s down to you to own it.
This is about internal politics just as much as it is content. Have the conviction to stand by your decisions, share your ideas, explain the rationale behind them and be open to critique. Above all, the business needs you to stand by your content strategy, see it through and consistently improve it based on the data at your disposal.
Lesson 4: Faking it.
(and a bonus lesson within this one – 4.1: Glossing over the truth!)
Every human has an in-built Bullshit Detector. Some are more astute than others, but we’re all aware when someone’s trying to pull the wool over our eyes.
The fact more and more consumers are becoming desensitised towards marketing tactics (and hence why content marketing is increasingly complex!) is proof that we can all spot a faker and we’re looking for real value when it comes to the content we seek online.
Doug informed us that really, it’s down to finding your Sweet Spot – then staying within it.
By sticking to what you’re good at, you avoid looking like a digital ‘Jack of all Trades’, meaning your audience will trust your expertise and understand that whilst you might not be a fountain of all knowledge, your’re the fountain of knowledge on that particular topic.
Finding your niche is good and will help you avoid spreading your content strategy too thinly. The moment your audience detect that you’re blagging it (a side effect of not sticking to what you’re good at), you run the risk of losing their interest – and worse – their trust.
So what did Doug advise the B2B Marketing Summit audience to do in order to avoid Faking It?
1. Define and agree on your company’s Sweet Spot
2. Own a tightly defined subject area
3. Explore the edges (aka, don’t veer too far from your Sweet Spot)
The same goes for “glossing over the truth” – why on earth would a prospect enlist your services if they don’t believe you’re the best in what you do? Don’t claim to be experts in anything that you’re not. Don’t commit to offering exactly what they need if you can’t deliver. In the digital age, bad reviews travel even faster.
The Velocity guide to ‘The Power of Insane Honesty‘ is an oracle for truth-telling in marketing messages and can help you streamline what you’re good at (and what you’re not), thus enticing actual prospects and alienating those least likely to buy.
The key message in all of it, and one preached by Deloitte’s CMO Annabel Rake at the B2B Marketing Summit, is that “B2B doesn’t exist anymore. It’s all about P2P.”
So cut the crap. Write honest, engaging and expert content. Not too much, not too little, and don’t you dare be lazy. Empathise, don’t fake it, don’t lie and don’t be too nice. Easy, right?
Perhaps not, but if in doubt, just remember that 90% of everything is crap, anyway.
Go forth and be brilliant, content marketers!
A note from Lauren: Images used within this are from Doug’s/Velocity Partners actual presentation at the B2B Marketing Summit, which aren’t available for public access at present. Big thanks to Doug for sharing them with me, and indeed for the wonderful content marketing seminar at the summit!