Cracking the B2B Content Challenge
Why it’s quality and efficiency that will win the day
"Branded content is ubiquitous and in danger of being completely ineffective. True, if you believe the most recent Meaningful Brands study by Havas (2017), which found that while 84% of people globally ‘expect’ brands to created content, the same people believe 60% of branded content to be ‘just clutter’ that is ‘poor or irrelevant".
This isn’t a new problem and it isn’t unique to B2C marketing: The Economist Group published a study in 2016, Thought Leadership Disrupted, that revealed three in five global executives sometimes felt ‘confused or overwhelmed’ by the amount of content they encounter; 75% have become more selective about what they consume as a result, and 44% engage with 20% or less of the thought leadership they see.
There are, however, reasons to be cheerful. In many ways, B2B branded content is thriving: 91% of marketers in North America use content marketing, and of non-users 54% plan to in the next 12 months (B2B Marketing: Budgets. Benchmarks and Trends, Content Marketing Institute 2018). While 53% of respondents to the study describe their efforts as being only ‘moderately successful’, the majority felt that they’d been more successful than the previous year, citing better quality and more efficient content as the main reason.
B2B marketing as long been considered the less sexy sibling to consumer focused work. But the appeal of it has always been, for me at least, that marriage of quality and efficiency. It has the ability to actually solve problems for those on the receiving end of it if done well, while perhaps surprising and delighting them at the same time.
The place to begin is with the audience. To create successful campaigns of any kind, B2C or B2B, you first have to remember that ultimately as a marketer you are trying to connect with another human being in order to prompt some kind of action. That means you need insight into what motivates people. In a B2B context, this means understanding the challenges your target audiences currently face in their day to day and therefore how your content can speak to that. What level of seniority are they, i.e. what level does the content need to be pitched at? As well as demographic, what psychographic information do you have to be able to understand content consumption habits and potential topic preferences? For example, The Economist Group study found that content based on quality research or credible data was more likely to cut through the noise and engender trust with a senior executive audience.
A true understanding of who it is you’re trying to talk to is the first step in ensuring that branded content is relevant, which is a key component of its ultimate efficacy.
The next step is to clear about your business objective and the means of measuring success, but to leave your ego at the door. The Economist Group study found that only 28% of marketers cited ‘making the audience more knowledgeable’ as a key objective, the main one being differentiating their company from the competition. As the market has matured, more marketers have realised that a straight up sales pitch in branded content is likely to be a turn off. However, it seems there are still too many who do not realise that truly successful branded content is a value exchange. You give something to the audience in return for their loyalty, their personal details or ultimately their custom.
And what of quality? The proliferation of publishers, media agencies and even now consultancies, who have become content creators on behalf of clients, shows that for most businesses of a certain size at least, the days of getting the intern to write a company blog are thankfully over. Thoughtful marketing is the stuff that’s going to stand out in the noisy digital world we’re all operating in and that speaks to a need not just for well-produced content, but for creativity too. According to a 2017 report by the London agency Raconteur, The Elusive C-Suite, 57% believe that most brands do not take design seriously enough – meaning an investment in this should be a quick win for most B2B brands. It’s time for more bravery in the B2B branded content space and the same imagination should be applied to B2B content as is to B2C.
There are examples out there: at the 2018 Cannes Lion Festival Pharma category, a campaign by the healthcare advertising agency Langland for Grunenthal won a Bronze Lion for Best Digital Platform and a Gold Lion for Digital Craft: Interface and Navigation. The site was a technically outstanding piece of work. And the topic? Gout. The objective was to help healthcare professionals understand the implications of the disease and the impact on long-suffering patients, in order to help them offer more effective treatment (see Changegout.com). The creative execution, a 3D render of a human form, comprised of crystals to bring to life the impact of the disease, acts an aid to understanding. It’s part of the navigation, highlighting a series of insights and informative pieces and is integral to whole experience the rather than something that is retrofitted once the rest of the content has been completed.
B2B audiences do expect more from branded content today – they want to be informed and inspired. It’s time that marketers stepped up to the plate."
Angela Everitt, SVP Creative Strategy & Agency Solutions at The Economist Group