B2B content marketing is the uninspired, suit-and-tie-wearing, ‘puts its pants on before it leaves the house’ version of B2C content marketing, right? Consumer-focused content has all the viral fun while B2B is stuck inside doing its macroeconomics homework. I’m sure a lot of you feel that way about B2B content marketing, but for the remainder of this article I will do my damndest to dispel that notion and help clarify how B2B content marketing differs from its consumer-targeting sibling.
I believe that businesses can have as much, if not more fun than their B2C content marketing rivals. The constraints that B2Bs face when producing content forces them into creativity-inspiring limitations; it’s these very limitations that distinguish business-to-business content from the rest. But before we cover their distinctions, let’s first look at their similarities.
B2B Content Has The Same Goals
Like all content, the material produced by business for business boasts familiar objectives. In my opinion, those objectives are to attract customers, educate them, and nurture their relationship with your brand (which inspires repeat commitments from those customers). And those customers expect content of impeccable quality and meaningful value. In that regard, I struggle to distinguish B2B from B2C.
Personally, I have the same expectations of my content regardless of where it comes from. For example, when I first read Justin Jackson’s, I wasted 4 years of my life doing this, I was introduced to Justin, provided a value in the form of an engaging personal story, and felt inspired to learn more about his course.
The same holds true when I watch a great makeup tutorial. The video introduces me to a new brand or product, provides value through the numerous techniques demonstrated, and leaves me curious for more information such as how to pick the right brush or how to apply foundation without bruising my fragile male ego.
But despite B2Bs and B2Cs producing content with similar goals, as promised earlier, they feature a few distinctions worth discussing. And those are: topics, tones, and targets. I’ll call them the TTTs because if I manage to combine an alliteration with an initialism, I win business buzzword bingo, aka, BBB. TMI?
Topics: B2Bs Often Narrow Their Scope
As a guiding principle, consumers read and discover content when they’re bored. They’re often looking for something related to their interests or that which offers a brief, but escapist piece of entertainment. And to feature their brands among these diversions, B2Cs often employ tangentially-related content as a segue.
In practice, consumers rarely seek out brands like the fidget spinner without first acquainting themselves with the product. The fidget spinner people may then put their endlessly-rotating heads together to publish a video titled, 11 Amazing Things You Can Balance On One Finger. Right after No. 10’s pair of stupidly cute baby finger monkeys, the tail end of this video would spin a magnificent fidget.
But in the B2B world, your customers are looking for you, even if passively. If your service reduces costs, increases efficiency, or is better than whatever-it-is they’re already using, they’re likely interested because the motivating factors of businesses are often far more utilitarian than that of consumers.
Therefore, topics may resemble the kind of content that solves business problems, problems for which you may offer a solution. For a restaurant supplier in New York city, producing the *Top 8 Restaurant Suppliers in New York *is a brain-dead content marketing decision. That is, if featuring your competition is permitted by your company’s tone, the subject of our next section.
Tones: Let’s Talk Business
While I’m a big, huge, Godzilla-on-an-all-carb-diet-sized fan of remaining personable in my content, it’s not for everyone. Depending on your industry and the expectations of your superiors (or yourself, if you’re the business-owner), you may lack the liberty to produce content with conversational, or otherwise casual tones.
Consumer content often focuses on presenting a personable, one-to-one-ish relationship; it can come off as relaxed and occasionally intimate. Whereas larger organizations that sell to other large organizations feel they need to present a, “we’re the best option,” approach, and with that comes an attitude that’s more dictatorial, condescending, all-knowing, lacking any competition whatsoever, definitely the perfect fit for everyone. I don’t and will never recommend pursuing that extreme, but I think it’s fair for most businesses to end up somewhere in the middle with a tone that generally:
- Speaks confidently, but not down at your prospect
- Makes bold claims but backs them up with data
- And uses pronouns ‘us’ and ‘we’ in favor of ‘I’ or ‘me’
And the language used in B2B communications typically refrains from incorporating slang or exotic phraseology… err, words. What most aim for is that comfortable middle-ground that respects the reader’s intelligence without assuming a personal familiarity that only comes with a deepening of their brand relationship.
To simplify: write the first draft of your content and on the second pass, cut anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read; that’s a safe tone for business. However, you’re not responding to gran-gran’s mildly racist chainmail about immigrants; you’re producing content for a business institution made up of dozens, potentially thousands of employees, so hitting ‘Reply All’ is not an option.
Targets: There Be Keepers At The Gate
In consumer content, we’re usually aiming our content at, well, consumers. But in B2B, despite a fringe group of people that maintain corporations are also, in fact, ‘people,’ they’re not the kind of people capable of reading your blog. We often forget, our material is not read by a business, but by its employees. And employees come in all shapes, colors, and pay-grades.
Depending on the size of the organization, ‘employee’ can mean one of a wide variety of segments (otherwise known as profiles, archetypes, what-have-you). You have managers of all levels, team leads, salaried regulars, part-timers, executives, and others. As you may have already guessed, feeding these groups the same content is a losing strategy.
But I hear your next thought, “why can’t the executives just read my stuff, call my sales team, and give me their bank account?” Because executives are too busy putting out fires to find you on Google, their time is precious. They read content when it bubbles up to them from an enthusiastic someone belonging to another employee segment, someone that works beneath them, a gatekeeper. It is the gatekeeper whom you may convince of your value through content.
Gatekeepers can provide an in for your organization, but it’s a matter of targeting them properly and providing them with sufficient content fuel with which to convince their superiors. And a business can achieve this by studying its existing customers. Back to our restaurant supplier example, imagine they choose to study their No. 1 client, The Olive Garden.
At The Olive Garden, regional VPs concern themselves with availability: they must ramp up their pasta supplies at a moment’s notice and the promise of bottomless breadsticks must remain fulfilled, wheat futures be damned. Our supplier learns that Olive Garden VPs often look to trade magazines for the latest in restaurant supply chain news and tawdry gossip. Our supplier acts fast to produce a valuable supply maintenance article for New England’s premier restaurateur circulation, The Baguette Gazette.
Meanwhile, they learn that the primary concern of Olive Garden managers is the personal safety of employees that unload Olive Garden’s signature one ton bricks of flash-frozen lasagna. Our supplier, ever the wiser, publishes a free and thorough truck-unloading guide for restaurants titled, Not So Speedy When Lifting Linguine. I’m sorry, that’s the last one, I promise.
The point being, these pieces of content can attract the attention of gatekeepers; gatekeepers capable of elevating your brand to their superiors and introducing you to new business.
How Does Your B2B Content Look?
If you’re trying to beat consumer companies at their own game with viral videos and gimmicks, your return on investment is probably right around where you’ve set the bar… low.
To get more value out of your content, you have to segment your audience, build content for those diverging groups, promote it on the appropriate channels, and develop the content in a tone that embodies your brand and level of professionalism.