How to make B2B content marketing that doesn’t suck

Avoid these three "don'ts" that are sure to keep expert audiences away.

BY Kim Caviness
EVP, Chief Content Officer, Imagination

Here are three things I know are content marketing don’ts, for sure.

And, P.S., I’ve been at this awhile. I started producing for B2B brands back in the days when what we do was called “custom publishing.” Our industry took a detour through “advertorial” and “custom marketing” before we landed—felicitously, smartly—on “content marketing.”

I’m glad we did. Content is the right word, and so is marketing. The mashup of both speaks to the art and the science of our industry. Understanding how to master each individually and together, guided by creativity and data, is what separates the pros from the hacks.

In fact, that’s the first don’t: Don’t be a hack. (Or don’t hire a hack.) It’s a waste of everyone’s time and money.

Here are three more don’ts to help B2B content marketers make work that soars and delivers.

Don’t rush to tactics

It’s tempting, but swipe left. At that clutch first meeting with new B2B clients, don’t throw out even one tactic before you deeply—and I mean in your bones—understand the “why,” the stakes, the audience and the competitive landscape. And what they want to happen in a year. And in three, so you can ground your program strategy in their short- and long-term business goals.

Sure, it might impress the CMO if you immediately suggest an influencer strategy. You may even be right. But you won’t know until you’ve sat with the clients and asked 20 questions about their business objectives and audience. This is followed by a quiet period where you work up a detailed content strategy. Which you then pitch to them and have them challenge. Fix the problems. Only now can you set your editorial strategy. Then it’s off to the races with recommending content tactics that speak to their B2B needs and measurably deliver against carefully calibrated benchmarks.

Tactics are easy. Strategy is hard—and pays off. Clients, if you hear a tactic offered up too soon in your first meeting: run.

Don’t think you’re so smart you can go solo

You’re really smart, I get it. You know all the digital marketing trends and can adapt on a dime to adopt that new social/native/scaled/distribution strategy. And so, of course, you can learn your B2B client’s industry expertise just as fast. Right?

Nope. Sorry, but truly smart, well-made and long-lasting B2B content marketing is all about educating their experts. So if you’re not an expert, hire one—freelance or full-time, whatever you need to do, until your internal staff knows at least as much as your audience. Look for industry luminaries and journalists with demonstrated chops in that vertical. And don’t hire the same old cast of expert characters, if you can help it. Find new voices. Your goal is to hit the ground running and have your first content piece operating at a 301-level from the get-go. If you take your time and experiment with 101- and 201-level work, you’ll make all your rookie mistakes in public and in real time. And you’ll lose the audience.

Your mom was right: You have only one time to make a first impression. Your B2B end users will only give you one time to impress. So do it right, and go expert early.

Don’t be fooled by the first idea

That whole first-thought, best-thought thing? It’s time to deep-six that trope. The first idea you have—99 percent of the time—is the facile one. The obvious one. The one that pretty much everyone else would propose as their first idea too.

This is where hacks pat themselves on the back and stop.

Don’t stop.

True creativity comes after thinking harder and differently and more usefully about the burning need behind the challenge. That’s where greatness and groundbreaking creativity emerges. So set aside your first idea. Back-burner the second one. Make it a rule for yourself and your team to go for the third idea, at the very least. Then put up all three on the wall and see which one still speaks to you a day or two later. More often than not, it will be the third or second one.

One bonus don’t: Don’t pick the easy, predictable way. There are too many creatively thrilling things happening in B2B content marketing to do anything less. You deserve better, and your client deserves better.

Do go for daring, a little bit scary, soul-stirring. Do make work that makes a creatively fascinating, measurable difference in your client’s B2B industry—and in its brand business results.

Just do it.

published: June 08, 2017

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