Why content marketers should fear the obvious

B2B marketers can learn a great deal from history’s military leaders. Whether you’re planning a content strategy or a military campaign, the golden rule is: don’t be obvious.

The powers that be have handed you a monumental task.

You must plan a massive military operation, invade mainland Europe and turn the tide of the war.

There are two possible landing sites. Calais is the obvious choice, and by far the most fuel‐efficient option. Alternatively, you can plot a course far further south to the Cherbourg port in Normandy.

Which do you choose?

This story is about the dangers of being obvious. And that lesson is just as true for content marketers as it is for military strategists.

You see, when the above scenario presented itself in World War Two, Calais was considered the most obvious landing point for the Allies. As a result, the port was heavily fortified against the likely attack, and the superficially ‘safe’ option was anything but.

Of course, no one decision wins a war. But as Ogilvy vice chairman Rory Sutherland says, this tale about avoiding the obvious is something all marketers should take to heart.

“What you have to do to be a good marketer is have an absolutely overriding fear of the obvious,” he says. “Practically every time I test something that doesn’t make conventional sense, it works.”

Company execs are allergic to ‘obvious’ content

The problem with being ‘obvious’ in content marketing is that the audience you’re writing for generally isn’t ready for a hard sell.

As the CEB notes, the typical B2B buyer is 57 per cent of the way through their purchase decision before they contact a supplier. They use content to independently research their needs, and if they feel they’re being sold to they’ll just stop reading.

The amount of content being produced has tripled in the past year, but there has been no increase in content engagement. It’s still the top 5 per cent of content that generates 90 per cent of the engagement. If you can’t inspire business leaders by providing them with new ideas or perspectives, your content will fall on deaf ears.

Obvious content can also be anything that’s too product focused or geared too heavily towards your organisation’s spokespeople.

Push content like this on someone too soon and they’ll put up their defences and disengage with your brand. (That’s not to say there isn’t a place in your marketing strategy for content of this kind. But it’s best deployed later in the sales cycle to help your team close the deal.)

In short, brands must think like publishers to succeed in today’s competitive content landscape. Luckily, taking a few simple steps in the planning stages of your content strategy can ensure you’re publishing the kind of ideas that business leaders love to engage with.

Why so much branded content is bland and obvious

One of the biggest myths in marketing is that publishing content which is basically agreeable is somehow the ‘safe’ option.

“Causing offense could lose us business,” the argument goes. “So, let’s make sure our content doesn’t make any contentious statements. While we’re at it, we’ll be missing a trick if we don’t mention our products. Oh, and the head of innovation wants to be interviewed, too.”

Of course, this isn’t a recipe for engaging B2B content. But perhaps some of the reasoning sounds familiar, if you’ve encountered content initiatives that didn’t work in the past?

This kind of approach is common in organisations that involve too many stakeholders in the decision‐making process. As we argue in Six thinking hats for marketers, this creates a toxic cocktail that undermines content initiatives with ‘inside the box’ thinking.

To deliver effective campaigns, you need internal buy‐in from company stakeholders and the freedom to make the bold decisions required to bring your brand to life.

How to publish ideas that deliver results

Creating great content begins with accepting that your audience’s priorities don’t necessarily align with your own business objectives.

The best content‐producing brands think like publishers. They deal in bold, inspiring ideas and ensure their writers have the freedom to deviate from strict brand guidelines.

When considering what this might mean for your organisation, the first step is to identify the topics you can speak about with authority.

“You have to get customers to think differently about how they operate,” say Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson in The Challenger Sale. “In most organisations, this is the job of marketing.”

They add: “The idea around which you reframe how the customer thinks about their business must be scalable and repeatable and, as such, must be created by the organisation.”

To illustrate this idea, they tell the story of a pharmaceutical company fighting to get more face time with doctors.

Rather than waste time trying to emphasise the differences between its medicines and those of its competitors, they built a series of ‘patient journeys’ to share with physicians.

These journeys mapped the entire lifecycle of a disease and revealed new insights doctors could use to treat their patients more effectively. Through sharing these insights, the firm gained access to physicians in a way it had never enjoyed before.

At first, this kind of approach may be met with scepticism by certain people within your organisation. But its benefits are clear, and you will need to get them on side to secure the resources you need to succeed.

Start by identifying the key stakeholders you need to engage. Then, outline how your initiative will create value for these groups and design a plan for sharing this vision with them.

For a more detailed look at how to master the internal sell of content marketing, click here.

A blueprint for effective content marketing

Our exclusive research into 500 European C‐suites shows that business leaders are hungry for content that helps inform their business decisions.

After reading a piece of content, 57 per cent of execs told us they have asked the producing business to meet and discuss how they might help. What’s more, 55 per cent have purchased products or services as a direct result of content marketing.

But while content clearly has the power to influence company decision makers, the vast majority of brands aren’t making the most of this opportunity. A shocking 71 per cent of C‐suite members told us they think most branded content is boring, expected and repetitive.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Follow the simple steps we’ve outlined here and you too can start publishing the kind of bold, innovative thought leadership that challenges and inspires business leaders.

To help you design the perfect strategy for your business, we created the 2018 Content Marketing Blueprint. Download your copy today and set your content marketing strategy up for success.

Key takeaways

  • Don’t be obvious. The best B2B content helps reframe the problems your clients face, providing new ways of thinking about them.
  • Think like a publisher. Identify topics your organisation can speak about with authority and provide clients with new and useful insights.
  • Get buy‐in early. Engage internal stakeholders to secure the editorial freedom you need to avoid bland, forgettable content.

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