Years ago I worked for a company that produced banking software. Our company loved to create detailed whitepapers written by software developers highlighting the latest and greatest updates to our product. Of course it was all very self-serving, but our company bought into the well-accepted belief that B2B customers always buy based on facts and logic. We would crank out these detailed technical whitepapers that we knew were never well received. As it turns out, Bankers care about banking things--like how to get their customers to open multiple accounts and how to charge them for every new service they provide. Software is a pain point--a complex series of problems that usually causes banks deep anguish. Sometimes our software would crash and shut down a bank. Imagine telling your customers that they can't access their money because of a software crash. How do you think the bankers felt about that? Do you think a technical whitepaper would make a bank feel better about that relationship? No, the answer is a definite no. The dilemma here is that everyone is always focused on their own problems. Software developers are focused on creating more software that they can sell to bankers, the bankers are focused on squeezing every dime out of their customers and the bank's customers are focused on how to keep their money in their own pocket. It's a vicious circle where no party trusts the other, but each is forced into a relationship out of necessity.

It's difficult to develop a long-lasting relationship when there is no trust. In fact trust is such a powerful emotion that when it is broken, the offended party usually seeks other options. For instance, today some banks have their own developers who create their own custom software applications because they couldn't get external developers to see it their way. Bank customers now turn to credit unions and private lending sources because of a breach of trust with the entire banking system (see the great recession of 2008). Today there are myriad options for almost any need.

This is where the world of content development enters our little story. Consumers both in the B2B arena and the B2C arena are tuning out messaging that is self-serving. They're looking for the kind of relationship that clearly indicates a thorough understanding of their needs and preferences. So this requires a new marketing discipline--one that cannot be faked. If I knew then what I know now, I would have made some big changes to our approach. Whitepapers may be an excellent way to prove your technical expertise, and they absolutely have a place in many B2B content marketing plans. However, you will have a much easier time getting your decision-making clients to read them, or a least pass them on to their technical or operations people, if you first establish trust that you understand their core needs and address those.

The myth that B2B content should be primarily based on logic and facts rather than emotion is still being propagated today. I've read many recent pieces that still push this narrative. However, if you can agree that establishing trust (an emotion) with someone is a prerequisite to even having an ongoing dialogue of any sort, then you will discover a more effective method for developing your B2B content strategy. So whether your company produces software, hardware, services or goods, I believe once you follow the incredibly-simple five-step method below, you will arrive at the solution to your problems:

  • Step 1: Listen. Accept that your customers are only interested in their problems.
  • Step 2: Become an expert. Understand those problems from their perspective.
  • Step 3: Prove it. Develop and curate exceptional content that deals with those problems and solutions.
  • Step 4: Share it. Provide a regular fresh stream of this credible content through multiple channels.
  • Step 5: Seal It. Create interactive opportunities that establish trust through your understanding and expertise then link solutions to your product.

Of course this method is distilled, but if you apply its essence to your content strategy, you will have a sound, credible foundation for creating new customers. But how can you prove that?

Measuring marketing ROI has always caused consternation in the corporate world. Historically, it was challenging to prove what part of your marketing mix was the most effective. Today, we live in a world of big data, where every click, view and share is captured and analyzed. So content marketing really offers many more ways to measure, report and modify your efforts for maximum efficiency. But you have to know what you're measuring for each stage in your customers' buying cycle. What does that look like? Well I'm glad you asked.

An incredibly simple 3-stage approach for measuring B2B content

  • Stage 1: Brand Awareness. In this stage you are measuring broadly; traffic to your website, blog reads, social sharing and content downloads. Here you provide proof that your brand content is resonating with your audience.
  • Stage 2: Brand Attraction. Once your content consumers begin to ask for more and provide contact info, they enter your lead generation metrics. Registration for webinars, requests for slide shares, and participation in forums should all lead to conversations with your sales team.
  • Stage 3: Brand Commitment. In this stage you are working with your sales process to deliver content that validates your trust and closes the deal, e.g., customer testimonials, case studies and advocacy materials that lead to orders and sales.

While this brief view into B2B content requires much more detail to be fully realized, the focus should always begin with building trust based on understanding your customers' problems. Once you have that foundation, you will be well on your way to showing the value that can be created though credible content.

This is the fifth in of a series of posts on Content we are featuring in 2015. Next up is B2C Content--A brief view into building exceptional, credible consumer content that creates value and how to measure that.

If this is a topic you and your team are struggling with, Cella is available to provide on-site training for you and your team.