B2B content strategy - a breezy twenty point gut check

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed July 17, 2017
A no-slides, no-notes talk on content strategy put my views to the test. Here's twenty quick hit points from the talk - and some closing tips for B2B content producers.

When I'm in town, I crash my annual Western Mass Podcamp, one of the longest running unconferences in the United States.  I like to put my ideas about content strategy to the test, so each year I do a couple of unscripted/interactive sessions and see what flies. I usually tape the sessions, so you can check out an edited version of this year's talk, How to change your business with two types of content. (it's also embedded in the player below).

First off - if you're wondering about the "two types of content" teaser, I've already laid that out in The two non-negotiable principles of B2B content strategy.

With that out of the way, here's the twenty points I covered in the talk:

1. The art of the tagline - a cocktail party one-liner that burns your expertise/business into the brains of those you interact with.

2. The need for a "rootable narrative" -  creating a transparent, appealing hook that makes your business human - something your audience wants to be a part of and root for. That's also the hook that you hang all your content on, no matter what part of the sales cycle you are creating for.

4.  The power of "free" content from the vantage point of frictionless consumption and distribution.

5. But: why there's no such thing as free content - all content is a value exchange between your company and your audience.

6. Why most companies shouldn't be charging for content, but working towards a fair exchange of data for value with their target audience.

7.  The art of combining free content with sign-up content that gradually earns opt-in subscriber data as you earn audience trust (which Hubspot calls "progressive sign up").

8. That "content" is really just a code word for what Hugh MacLeod coined social objects, which may span everything from art to mobile apps.

9. That your social media strategy doesn't make sense until you are clear on your brand differentiation, expertise, and have quality content (social objects) to share. Social interaction is the icing on the content cake - those who only do icing get exposed.

10. The power of multi-media and repurposing content in different formats to reinforce topic authority, while giving audiences consumption choices.

11. Why businesses need two main types of content, "thought leadership" content with personality/authority/conviction, and "helpful content" that helps their customers/prospects solve problems.

12. Why customer use cases should be the bedrock of the helpful content, and why video is an especially powerful medium for customer testimonials and use case.

13. Why email is still the most powerful way to put butts in seats, but why email is getting harder, requiring a deeper connection to audiences if you want to reach their mobile inboxes.

14. Content is tied to culture and the rise of mobile consumption. Staying ahead of those trends, such as interactive, chatbot-served content, is the future. For some, messaging is the new email, and it may be the new content delivery medium soon.

15. Analytical tools are essential to assessing content performance and direction. Don't proceed with content until you know what tools you're going to measure content with, and what criteria you will use (too many measure the wrong things).

16. Content is no longer about broadcasting. It's a means of building community around your expertise by sharing something that matters. Those who only broadcast content are at a disadvantage to those who are accessible and interact.

17. Be informed by data, not ruled by it. If a piece of content performs badly, that doesn't always mean it is a bad content direction. Blog posts can be salvaged for intellectual parts. That content can be repackaged and served up to the community you are serving in different ways.

18. Strike a balance between using content for search and going to where your audience is (the "walled gardens" of Facebook, LinkedIn, etc). Giving up on your own web site (content hub) and posting only on a social platform you don't control is a mistake.

19. There is still a hierarchy of content. Books, films, and training courses have a higher impact on topic authority than blog posts, which in turn have more authority than tweets. That hierarchy is relevant to personal branding, but it also matters to companies, as it informs which types of content assets your audience will opt-in to obtain.

20. Be careful about alienating users with interruption marketing. Web sites are getting desperate about one-time visitors, resorting to aggressive pop-ups, asking for email newsletter signups before value is delivered or trust is earned.

My take - what I didn't cover

While editing some of the audio tangents, I asked myself what I missed. I should have been more aggressive about why subscription content is so important right now (even those who like your site may forget to return amidst the noise barrage).

I should have also made a stronger point of why we should be going after audiences, not just customers, and why some valuable audience members may never become customers or part of the funnel. I didn't get into how this opt-in data becomes a tool for lead generation and better analytics; that's where the conversation would go next.

We got into some nuance on the problem of interruption marketing and the delicate balancing act of obtaining sign ups.

The thought leadership part is tricky given that the phrase is so abhorrent and abused. It's not just positioning yourself as an expert, it's about personality and subjectivity and engaging in a human way that others can not only learn from, but relate to.

The audience in this talk hailed from smaller companies. There are plenty of similarities, but also some enterprise differences. It's harder for big brands to create "rootable narratives" (imagine being Comcast for example, or United Airlines). In large companies, topic authority and brand positioning might vary by region or industry.

It may be even harder to get experts and executives to create content, with more PR, legal and workflow hurdles between the idea-packed brains of your experts and public expression. But those hurdles must be overcome. Paying for influence via sponsored white papers and such is less and less effective.

What is effective is earning influence by turning your own experts into "thought leaders," or whatever you want to call them. Granted, I'm biased because that's the heart of the diginomica business model. But we see it working well beyond these pages.

If you're a marketing lead despairing over the problem of getting busy leaders to create, we cover that in the podcast also.

I'll leave you with a final quote from the talk on why "free" is really a value exchange:

While we call it free content - and it's important to understand what the dynamics of [free content distribution are] - it's really not free so much as a process of earning trust. When I share content, I'm giving you something that's hopefully got some soul and some integrity behind it, and it's going to help you in some way... If you think you're getting value out of what I'm giving you, you're natural human tendency is going to be to want to engage further with that which you perceived to be valuable.

In that sense, all content is a form of value exchange between you and your audience. That becomes very helpful, because then you can start thinking about not just free content, but content that people might, for example, want to sign up for. Then you can think through that process of how much information your audience will exchange for what you're willing to give them.

Update, number #21, curation matters - I neglected a vital point which was probably deserving of #21, but that would have messed up my twenty count, but in the talk I mentioned that curation is powerful for building topic authority and audience trust. That goes for both individuals and companies - see Content curation is about moving from noise to context.

You can also download the podcast or pick up Busting the Omnichannel on iTunes - the podcast is a thirty minute, edited version of the discussion.

Image credit - Bewertung mit Daumen icons Konzept. © wsf-f - Fotolia.com

Disclosure - Western Mass Podcamp is a free event, so I wasn't compensated for my time at the event or producing the podcast.

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