There Is One Medicine For Marketer Arrogance Syndrome
Updated: Oct 5
By Neil St. Clair
This article was originally published on Forbes.com (December 11, 2014)
Forrester Research, I sure do love you today. The consulting firm just published a report entitled "B-to-B Content Fails the Customer Engagement Test." They may have just as easily called it 'Pride goeth before a fall.' While I didn't shell out the $349 to read it, AdAge provides a faithful synopsis. In the report, we find that B2B marketers, across industries, are failing to use their content "effectively" to engage customers. Out of a perfect score of 30 (and a passing grade of 20), the group averaged 17.2. Forrester reviewed content and websites in the technology, software, investing, medical products, manufacturing, and services spaces. Specifically, they were looking for "customer-centric websites and innovative use of video" among other criteria. As a group, the companies failed.
The biggest reason, according to Forrester, is that companies are mostly creating content that talks about themselves, their products, and their achievements. Fine information that can be summed up in a single paragraph or two on the about us page. But talking about yourself doesn't close the sale, generate leads, or increase web traffic. What does, is content that supplies a combination of education and entertainment --speaking directly to customer problems and thoughtful solutions. Forrester adds that while many B2B companies use case studies to prove their bona fides, these studies aren't telling customer stories. People want to see themselves inserted into the solution, and are naturally skeptical of content that's clearly biased and without a core human element.
Content Marketing is like dating. Has talking solely about yourself at dinner ever led to a positive result? Unless you're 'The Most Interesting Man in the World,' likely not. So unless you're 'The Most Interesting B2B Company in the World,' approach content marketing like any successful Match.com-er and focus on the person you're trying to attract.
What this research, though a bit limited for scientific viability, helps prove is that there is a fundamental disconnect between companies/marketers and their audience/customers. I call this "Marketer Arrogance" Syndrome, what the French might call déformation professionnelle. That is, we all tend to view the world through the lens of our own experience and tend to think that the "things" that interest us are just mind-blowingly interesting to the rest of creation (one need only look at all 1.23 billion+ Facebook profiles as a clear example). Sometimes we are interesting, but most often it's just our natural self-centeredness and "look-at-me" neediness bubbling to the surface.
Forrester's research may also help explain one specific key statistical anomaly around B2B content marketer behavior: According to the Content Marketing Institute's Annual Survey, 70% of B2B marketers say they are planning to increase their content from a year ago, yet only 8% rated their current use of content as "effective." If you're talking bottom-line results (i.e. content turning into leads and new business), creating ego-centric material will universally lead to failure. And given Forrester's insight that most B2B marketers are failing in creating customer-centric content, we may have an explanation for the 8% "ineffectiveness" rate. The other part of this issue is that only 35% of B2B marketers have a documented content strategy and only 42% say that strategy "very closely" guides their content efforts.
So what this says to me is that you, Mssr. B2B Content Marketer, are essentially monkey-at-the-dart-boarding your content strategy. This lack of pre-rollout thoughtfulness leads to you creating narcissistic content, which in turn leads to you complaining about said content not converting to meaningful sales? Sigh...
So what's the panacea for this marketing malady? It's a three-pronged approach.
It's About the Content, Smarty...
First, you must actually make the effort to create content. There's a whole separate article in why this is valuable and how you should go about creating an effective strategy. But suffice it to say, that in order to measure your content's effectiveness you must actually create content. Sounds logical, no? And yet, while so many marketers say they create content and are planning to increase their content generation for next year, so few are willing to commit to a long-term and consistent content generation plans. Creating one video does not a content strategy make.
Choose a Media
The second part of the solution is deciding what kind of content you should create? You've heard me discuss before the importance of video as one of the most effective means of content creation leading to sales. Excitingly, not only are marketers thinking of increasing their overall content creation efforts, but they are putting more emphasis on video as the central media. Forrester agrees, noting in the AdAge article that "Using video to tell the story is really important." Adding that while "[w]e are seeing more video [...] a lot of it is shot from the perspective of advertising adapted to the web."
This insight leads us to our third point, which is ensuring that you are developing content, not advertising.
Know Your Audience. Then Educate & Entertain Them.
When I started my job leading marketing for an investment firm (one of the industries in the Forrester survey), our chairman imparted one piece of knowledge that I've never forgotten: "Always build content from the audience back to you, not the other way around." It sounds simple and intuitive, but it's so easy to default to telling your story and ignoring your audience as Forrester's research shows us.
So in order to solve "Marketer Arrogance" Syndrome, I'm writing you a prescription for two retrovirals: 1) You must actually perform discovery and brand identity work to truly understand your audience, their demographics, and the real problems they face. Utilizing a consumer advisory board is a low-cost and effective way to achieve this. 2) Then you must leverage this knowledge and craft content that speaks to how you solve these problems. This content is not an ad for your greatness. Subtlety and humility rules, and that's achieved through differentiated thought leadership that simultaneously educates and entertains.
Remember, prospects are likely coming to you for your expertise, they don't need to be bombarded by proclamations. Additionally, if your prospect is uneducated about your industry they're likely to find authority in content that provides them with confidence and insight. To discover this content, they're unlikely to type "World's Greatest Widget Maker" into their search engine. Instead, they are more inclined to discover you, by dint of your content, through a search that reads "The Most Important Things to Know About Widget-Making."
And don't underestimate the value of creating your content well. A video of your CIO talking about cybersecurity against a white wall will not garner the confidence and interest that a well-produced video engenders. Nor will content told with the whimsy of a GAO report create leads. Add a bit of passion and narrative--tell a story that engages.
To tack on a final thought here, once your prospective audience does discover your content, make sure that it's saying something important that materially stands out from the white noise of your industry. Have an opinion and show, don't just tell, your value proposition.
But What 'About Us?'
Yes, you need to create an about us video that tells your story because you need to create an about us video that tells your story. Forgive the redundancy, but there is a certain circular logic to about us videos, and in another post, we'll cover how to effectively craft this semi-selfish narrative. But if you want to get meaningful leads, talking "about us" simply won't cut it. Focus your efforts on talking to, not at, your customers via thought leadership.
Forrester points to Morgan Stanley and Cognizant as prime examples of how to avoid "about us'ing" while adhering to the education/entertainment nexus. The former recently created a video called "Rethinking Annuities in a Low-Return World." That's quite a bit more interesting and informative than, say, a video on the history of Morgan Stanley. One speaks to real problems of customers and the other speaks a lot of words without saying anything. Case Studies, white papers, blog posts, and related can also be effective types of passive content when they're done with more of an editorial eye targeted at a well-understood audience.
With passive content, you need to make sure that you're also gathering insight on your audience or at least creating a call to action for a meaningful follow up. So capture this with analytics and/or a data entry wall (i.e. name and email) prior to view/download of the content.
And while these passive pieces can be very effective in driving new business (and they're passive in that while there may be a call to action or inbound techniques at play, the viewer is simply viewing and not participating), there are also active pieces of content that should be created in tandem. These are typically information input or data gathering portals that provide some type of quantitative result. For example, if you're a car manufacturer looking for a new windshield provider, you may input information about your current costs and requirements on Windshield Maker A's site. As a result, you may get back a custom analytic benchmarking your current provider's costs against Windshield Maker A and ideally against several other suppliers in the industry. Not only has Windshield Maker A performed helpful research for you, but their honesty in benchmarking themselves against the industry (even if they're not the cheapest) may lead to meaningful next steps or outreach based on the gathered intelligence.
Curing Marketer Arrogance Syndrome...The Short Version
In short, to overcome "Marketer Arrogance" Syndrome, and to create an effective content program with bottom-line-driving results, you must keep these points in mind:
1) Get serious about consistently creating content and craft a strategy around that content.
2) Decide what media is most effective for communicating with your audience. Video is becoming the new normal.
3a) Know your audience deeply and understand their real-world problems.
3b) Speak to those problems and solutions with meaningful passive or active content that is more thought leadership than self-promotional ads.
Above all, marketers, salespeople, and c-suite executives, you need to remember, marketing is not about you. You're in business to provide a solution to some problem, not to grandiloquently proclaim your greatness--great as you may be.
Neil St. Clair is a respected social entrepreneur, journalist, and philanthropist. He is currently CEO & Founder of social change consultancy, NES Impact as well as fear-focused venture studio, Notimor. An advocate for children and gender equity, he founded and chairs The NextMen Foundation. Follow him on IG @neilstclair