Oct 2019

You have a problem. 

Over the past decade, marketing has shifted from throwing a bunch of product information at people, hoping they’ll buy something, to educating potential customers and showing them how you and your products and services can help them achieve their goals.

Many companies, especially in the B2B space, haven’t flipped their focus from themselves to their customers. 

Look at your website, emails, and other marketing materials. Do they focus on you? Your product features. Your company. You, you, you.

If so, you’re doing it wrong. 

The rules of marketing have changed. Consumers are bombarded with useless marketing messages constantly (somewhere around 5,000 per day) and tune them out.

The challenge for businesses today is to use the philosophy of inbound marketing to create content that will make customers and potential customers invite you into their lives.

What Do We Mean By Useful Content? 

Here’s the definition of useful from webster.com:

1 : capable of being put to use. Especially serviceable for an end or purpose.

As I mentioned earlier, useful content puts the customer at the center of your inbound marketing universe. 

Marcus Sheridan has drilled down to the essentials of useful content in his book, They Ask, You Answer

The premise of the book is as simple as the title. Answer every question your customers and potential customers ask. That’s it. But it’s not easy. It requires tremendous focus and dedication, (but that’s a blog post for another day). 

He boils down the topics that drive leads and sales to a “Big 5”:

  1. Cost
  2. Problems
  3. Comparisons
  4. “Best of” lists
  5. Reviews

You can read his post about why these work here

What proof does he have that it works? He rescued his struggling pool installation company by focusing on these topics in his blog. Since then, he’s become one of the leading content marketing thinkers in the industry. 

Why Create Useful Content?

The simple answer: because it works. 

Customers now have complete control over the buying process. Research estimates that most B2B buyers are two-thirds to 90% of the way through the selling cycle before they speak to a salesperson. 

Your website is your 24/7 storefront and always-on salesperson.

To give yourself a chance to win new customers, you need to educate them, not sell to them (at least at first). Using ebooks, blog posts, infographics, video, etc.; share insight that your audience can use to solve their pain points. 

It doesn’t matter what industry you are in; a sporting goods store sharing tips for how to run faster, a cookware company sharing recipes and cooking tips, or a software company discussing trends and how to improve business processes; create content your audience can use and apply to their lives. 

buyer persona worksheet

Useful Content -- A Personal Example

I like to cook. Choosing cookware that is durable, attractive, AND functional without breaking a budget is hard. 

What are the pros and cons of enamel vs. stainless vs. copper vs. cast iron vs. non-stick? 

We’ve all been to a retail store and felt ignored by sales reps who we feel we’ve interrupted them just to make a purchase.

Would you rather buy from that store or from the one where the salesperson was a fellow cook, informed and knowledgeable about the products at hand and able to have a conversation with you to guide you to a decision?

Websites are your digital storefront. 

Think about your site -- is it just a bunch of products or do you have helpful information to assist a potential customer make an educated decision based on their needs (not your need to make a sale)?

Let’s talk about useful now.

What You’re Doing Wrong

If you’re doing B2B marketing, you’re most likely doing these two things:

  1. Writing promotional content
  2. Making yourself the hero

Surprise: No one cares about you (sorry). 

Potential customers don’t care about you. As the quote from Theodore Levitt goes, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

Stop leading with your products features and functionalities and focus on how you help your customers. Stop writing promotional content that pushes a “you-centric” view of the world. 

Your customer is the hero, NOT YOU. 

Put your customer at the center of content and marketing in a real way, not a lip-service way. Donald Miller has written an excellent book called “Building a Storybrand.” 

He points out that most companies make themselves the hero of their marketing materials -- website, emails, handouts, etc. However, we are all the heroines of our stories. 

When a business places themselves as the hero, the customer becomes a bystander. Instead, businesses offer a product or service that helps the customer slay the dragon in their own story. You are the guide who helps the customer. Always make them the hero.  

Every story has seven elements:

  1. A character
  2. Has a problem
  3. And meets a guide
  4. Who gives them a plan
  5. And calls them to action
  6. That helps them avoid failure 
  7. And ends in success

You aren’t the character. You are the guide with a plan. You don’t sell a drill; you sell a hole that will be used for a shelf that will clean up the mess in the garage. 

When you understand how to use story in the context of Marcus Sheridan’s “Big Five,” you are on your way to attracting traffic, leads, and customers. 

4 Quick Tips to Create Useful Content

To help you start creating better marketing content for your business, here are four tips. 

  1. Write like a 7th grader. Many businesses, especially B2B, are allergic to simple language. Relying on jargon only confuses anyone not in your industry. Living in terror of sounding “unprofessional” by using simple words over big ones is all too common. The reason to write like a 7th grader is that most Americans like to read at a 7th grade level. In Canada, the average reading level is on the low side of level 3, the minimum literacy level required to function in today’s information-heavy society. Basically, if you think you’re talking down to your audience by writing simply and with clarity, you aren’t. 
  2. Answer your customers’ questions. Read Sheridan’s blog (here’s the link again) and follow the advice in it. 
  3. Get help (if you need it). Many of us are scared to write and/or simply don’t have the time. While it’s often best to write content yourself, many B2B companies don’t know where to start. If that’s you, reach out for guidance from an experienced inbound marketing agency. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction with topic selection, editing, and even handling some of the writing for you. As your inbound marketing matures, you can decide to do it all yourself or continue using an outside partner to supplement your content efforts.  
  4. Read. Pay attention to the news. Read customer comments and reviews (even poll your customers). Keep up with your industry. Follow what your competitors are doing. 

A bonus 5th tip, to reinforce the theme of this post: write for your audience. Serve them and they’ll reward you with loyalty. 

Get Started ASAP

The sooner you begin creating useful content for your customers, the sooner you’ll reap the benefits of improved customer loyalty, more and better leads, and traffic to your website.

Start by finding out what your customers want to know. Ask your sales staff and anyone who talks to customers every question they hear from a customer. Start answering those questions in blogs and on your web pages. 

It’s time for your customer communications to focus on your customers, not you. 

Need help getting your inbound efforts off the ground and moving from a “me-centric” focus? Give us a call.

buyer persona