Content marketing is going horribly, horribly wrong

In summary: Rushing to engage with audience concerns through content ‘at the top of the funnel/start of the buying process’, we have significantly under-invested in ‘product marketing’. And now that more and more of the buying process is being done online, we are left with very little decent material to help people actually buy.   How many steps to CRM success would you like? A couple of years ago a colleague, Tom Upfold, said he thought it’d be possible to find articles on any number of ‘Steps to CRM Success’ up to 13. Turns out he was right. (Personally, I’d rather go with the company promising success in under five steps – I’m simple like that.)   But we’ve got bigger issues than just a deluge of poor-quality content. I’m going to talk about where I think even the good quality stuff is going wrong.   What do I think is going wrong? People have jumped on this line “stop talking about what you do/sell, start talking about what your audience cares about”. Originally a useful idea but it has now been taken much too far, to the exclusion of other useful content. I think that if what you’re doing/selling isn’t interesting to the audience then you have bigger problems than needing a content marketing strategy. But it’s not fashionable to say that. The current orthodoxy says we should be looking ‘outside-in’ and talking about the core business challenges that our audiences are struggling with. Or at least asking what they can learn from Beyoncé about these core business challenges.Which has resulted in most ‘content’ investment being focused on helping people to look at their business challenges in a new way, or to associate a supplier with an interesting viewpoint on these. There’s some great content that does this, and it’s a pleasure to help clients create it! But it’s not enough.   What happened to product marketing? A lot of businesses seem to have cut back massively in their product marketing teams over recent years. Hard to invest in product marketing when everyone tells you to “stop talking about yourself so much”. For me, that’s the biggest crime committed by content marketing over the last 5 years (even worse than filling the internet with infographics).   But if we capture people’s attention with great business-issue content or thought leadership or a ‘challenger’ proposition, where do we take them next? There are plenty of people in the audience who don’t want to hear more about the problems they’ve got – they want to hear about your solution. What it does, where it fits in their business, how to implement it successfully (in anything from 2 to 13 steps)…   Now we’re told that somewhere between 50% and 100% of the purchase process can be completed by a buyer without talking to a salesperson. So marketing teams desperately need this kind of product content to be able to help close the deal.   I’d go further than this. I’d ask how content marketing teams can produce the best possible early-stage content without knowledge of the detailed product materials that will follow on.   The answer I’m not suggesting we can just go back to the stereotype of product marketing “6 new features in our version 11 launch”. What we need is a delicate balance of three things:  

  1. Detailed product content – the kind of thing that buyers will feel has been created by a peer of theirs. That might reduce your audience to a few thousand people but they’ll be the right few thousand.
  2. Audience insight – bring to life the challenges that the product or solution will be used to solve. People are probably already buying it – why? Create real-life scenarios to show off the product so we avoid ending up with dry documentation.
  3. Content Marketing savvy – I’m not suggesting we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Clever thinking about how we plan, create, distribute & track all this product content is essential. Let’s stop thinking about product materials as ‘dirty’ and realize they’re actually some of the most exciting content we should be creating.

    What next? Reading list…   No more ‘journeys’, please! Andrew Davidson’s article about the clichéd language of IT marketing had a line that gave me the first idea for this post: “Let’s push the product marketing teams to deliver more defined benefits and fewer ‘also ran’ solutions.”   B2B marketing personas – there’s still time to save them A plea from Tom Upfold to make personas actionable. Not just scratching the surface (where do they shop? what car do they drive? do they want a bit more efficiency or agility?) but really making sure we talk the language that will make them see us as a peer. That’s going to be essential if we want to shift our content engines to producing decent product content.    

By Paul Everett | December 3, 2015

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