Why do B2B brands publish content?
More often than not it’s to feed our “content marketing” engines. And that’s the reason why so much marketing content is bad content. In our relentless pursuit of leads, we sometimes forget about the most important element of the content marketing equation: the reader. A real person, not a data point in some funnel that is obligated to read whatever nonsense we put in front of him.
To create truly worthwhile B2B content, we need to keep in mind the two primary reasons people read our content: to be educated or to be entertained.
Therefore, if we want our key audiences to actually read what we write, we need to write content that serves one or both of these purposes. By doing so, we not only serve our readers’ needs but we also improve our brand’s visibility, credibility and marketplace reputation.
Put another way, our content must serve our readers (improve their business, their personal knowledge, their productivity, etc.). And therefore, the QUALITY of our content is of supreme importance. Bad content says to the world that your brand stands for poor quality, has no real expertise, and offers no real value. Bad content tells your readers that they’re better off going elsewhere for expertise, insights and quality.
Key Takeaway: no matter what type of content you produce (articles, social posts, press materials, videos, infographics, etc.), you’ll get the greatest ROI by making sure 1) you maintain a high level of quality and 2) you serve your readers’ needs.
What Brands Write
I encourage companies to look at their content in three broad categories:
- Marketing Collateral—This is standard marketing materials such as website copy, brochures, presentations, one-sheets and the like that are designed to showcase a company’s products or services.
- Thought Leadership Content—This is original content that showcases the brand’s own thinking, position, data, and expertise on a topic. The main objective of this content is to educate key audiences. It is not self-promotion or product oriented. It may or may not use third-party data/reports/insights. This type of content is typically at least 700 to 1,500 words in length. Other terms used to describe this type of content are premium content or long-form content. This type of content is often published in the form of articles, white papers and eBooks, and companies often require some sort of registration to access this type of content (although I strongly recommend you minimize barriers to all your content).
- Supplemental Content—This is content created from preexisting company content that a brand repurposes/refreshes/updates. Or, it is content that you create from industry/third-party research. It supports the brand’s own position and beliefs but it’s not original content that lives up to the standards of a “thought leadership” piece. The depth/complexity of Supplemental Content and the effort it requires isn’t as intensive as it is for Thought Leadership Content but the quality is every bit as crucial. Supplemental Content is typically 250 to 500 words in length and is often published on a company blog.
Thought Leadership Content (#2) and Supplemental Content (#3) are what fuel a company’s “content marketing” initiatives. Most brands produce little to no Thought Leadership Content and rely mostly on Supplemental Content to fuel their marketing campaigns. And this is where many companies go wrong — they crank out a lot of low-quality Supplemental Content.
Key Takeaway: produce a mixture of high-quality Thought Leadership and Supplemental Content. Every brand should be able to produce 1-3 Thought Leadership pieces per quarter and at least 1-2 Supplemental Content pieces per week.
Why So Much Bad Content
Companies don’t set out to produce bad content. So why do they do it? The easy response is that many companies don’t employ good writers, but I don’t buy it. Even if it’s true you can always purchase good writing. I believe there are five reasons why there is so much bad content being written. But first, an important question:
How do you know if YOUR content is bad?
Most of you will agree there is a glut of bad content on the Web, but certainly not your content. Right? Here are some warning signs of bad content:
- Not many (or any) views
- Limited engagement (comments, shares, etc.)
- High abandonment rates. Google Analytics shows the average amount of time visitors are staying on your pages. Be concerned if you are less than one minute.
- Few readers of your content (e.g., blog) return each month
- You spend less than an hour on your content. Writing quality Thought Leadership Content and Supplemental Content requires a time investment.
Key Takeaway: spend some understanding what content is working, what is not and why. Is it the content? Or, is it the limited amount of promotion you are investing in to drive awareness of the content?
Here are five reasons that I believe brands produce so much bad content:
- They don’t think it matters. Too many brands treat content as a “check-off” item because they don’t think it makes a difference. Hard to convince a brand otherwise if they truly believe this. And arguably, for a period of time it may not have. But those days are over. And given the mounting evidence of the benefits of quality content — and the dangers of cheap content — this is not a good excuse.
- They write first for SEO. If you’re more focused on stuffing your content with keywords (in an attempt to boost your site traffic and search engine rankings) than with writing something that people might want to actually read then, well, your doomed. SEO can’t and won’t — by itself — make content good and or a blog popular. And it certainty doesn’t build a brand.
- They are too focused on the “funnel.” The content marketing industry — and quite a few marketing agencies — has encouraged brands to publish quantity over quality in order to fuel campaigns and drive traffic to landing pages. Most brands cannot possibly keep up — yet according to a new survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 76% of content marketers expect to create more content in 2016, with the least effective content marketers planning to produce even more (81%). The danger here is blog posts become a check-off. I like to remind companies that they are not writing blog posts, they are writing content. And the content needs to educate. Blogs are just one of many distribution channels. You have LinkedIn Pulse, bylines, etc. Does your content stand up? Not knowing the difference between writing content and writing blog posts costs you traffic, credibility and sales leads.
- Hard to do. I guess this is a matter of perspective. Companies don’t blink an eye about spending hundreds of dollars an hour on coding but settle for minimum-wage content writing. If by hard they mean it takes time, then, yeah, it does. Sure it’s possible to write a great blog post in 15 minutes, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that it doesn’t happen very often. Most of the popular bloggers I know spend anywhere from two to 10 hours on each blog post they write. If you’re not, you should be.
- Not thinking of the reader. This sort of brings us full circle. Remember why people read. To be educated and/or entertained.
Satisfy their needs (your prospects) and your content and content marketing will thrive.
Key Takeaway: produce quality content. Don’t waste your time producing fluff. The best way to serve your readers really, really well is by keeping in mind the two reasons they read content to begin with: To be educated. To be entertained. Most of the time, you’ll want to invest in writing that educates your readers because this will help build your brand/reputation most effectively while also fueling your marketing and sales initiatives in a sustained, powerfulway. (Of course, if you can educate readers in an entertaining way, that’s even better.)
Great Content = Durable Assets
Another benefit of writing QUALITY Thought Leadership and Supplemental Content is that you are building valuable assets. And these assets can be recycled many times over and in many different forms to help grow your brand’s visibility, credibility and reputation. And this results in leads. Trust me — the bad content not only hurts your brand’s reputation but has a shelf life of about one minute.
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