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Content vs. communications, or the importance of the B2B audience

Given we’re a B2B content marketing agency, it probably won’t be a huge surprise to learn that we always put the audience at the heart of the content we write. After all, that content needs to persuade someone to take an action — be it to download a white paper, or call a salesperson. And if that person can’t see themselves in the content we write, they’re unlikely to take the action we want them to take. There is a useful trick you can deploy to keep B2B audiences at the centre of your content marketing efforts though, and that is to draw a distinction between content and communications.

What’s the difference?
We’ve heard it said that content and communications are one and the same. But while there might be a considerable overlap, we believe the subtle semantic differences are important — again, we’re a B2B content marketing agency; an obsession with words comes with the territory!

The difference between content and communications is that the word ‘communications’ carries with it the idea of an audience, while ‘content’ doesn’t. ‘Content’ is something you produce; ‘communications’ are something you have with someone else. Once you start thinking of what you’re producing as ‘communications’, then other questions come up:

  • Who are you communicating with?
  • What do you want to say to them?
  • What will they think of what you have to say?

The importance of the B2B audience
That last question is crucial; as marketers (and sales people), we should always be conscious of what our audience thinks of our message and, by extension, us. Even in 2017, it’s easy to find examples of marketing that start not with the audience, but with the company doing the selling. Will an audience respond positively to that? Not likely — you can produce the most beautiful content in the world, but it will just sit in a (virtual) dusty box, unloved and unwanted.

So how do we make sure not just smothering our clients with well-intended yet irrelevant content? Well, one very good way to keep your audience at the heart of your content marketing, is to keep asking yourself, “So what?” When you can no longer ask the question because you’ve answered it fully, you’ve found the holy grail of content marketing — a message your audience actually wants to receive.

Let us know what you think in the comments below and if you’d like some more advice on content that communicates, come and have a chat with us.

Plain, simple language. That is the way to write English

“Use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English.”

So said master stylist Mark Twain, way back in 1880. Even though he would have celebrated his 177th birthday last November, Twain’s views on good writing still sound utterly contemporary. What’s more, they can be applied to content produced for any medium, including plenty that didn’t exist when he was alive.

A particular stylistic bugbear of Twain’s was the over-use of adjectives — what he referred to as the “adjective habit” and compared to a vice. We agree with Twain that for adjectives to have impact, they need to be used sparingly:

“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them — then the rest will be valuable.”

Twain also commented on the thorny issue of how to put forward an idea as succinctly as possible (we suspect he’d have been a dab hand at blogging and tweeting!):

“Anybody can have ideas — the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.”

And let’s not forget the value he placed on rigorous editing to improve content quality:

“The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.”

In today’s world of commercial pressures and time constraints, we may not always have the luxury of starting over in this way. But careful planning and a robust review process will help you get your message across as effectively as possible — whatever the publishing medium.

Photo via pbs.org

Two ears; one mouth. Use in that ratio

My TV is on the blink, which prompted a detour via certain electrical store on Saturday. It wasn’t much help, mind you and I came away none the wiser. Have you found that people trying to sell you something often think it’s good to talk. But, as a customer, we don’t think that’s really true, do we. If you want to sell to me it’s better to listen first. Listening puts the other person—me in this case—centre stage and means you are more likely to learn a thing or two so that when it comes to your turn to speak, you say the right thing. Passionate though you might be about the technology, “step away from the soap box” could be wise words indeed.

So, it would seem that in this race to develop more to say (aka content) and be heard above the clamour, it’s important to go quiet every now and then and establish a process of continual listening. Getting closer to your customers, deepening your understanding of them and gaining insight into their view point means you can:

  • Act on feedback to reduce churn and improve loyalty
  • Identify opportunities to upgrade or sell more to a client
  • Root out inefficiency and minimise tasks that don’t enhance customer value
  • Spot advocates who’ll share their positive experiences with others and build your reputation


The rewards are huge.

Gathering customer insight: tools of the trade

There are three approaches we can take to gather insight and lots of tools in the kit bag:

Observation

  • The database holds a wealth of purchasing information that you can analyse to uncover patterns of behaviours



Direct engagement

  • Running roundtable events and focus groups can be incredibly revealing
  • Don’t underestimate that often forgotten source of insight: the customer case study interview
  • Relationship surveys with your key accounts will analyse the health of that relationship; transactional surveys will identify process steps that drive loyalty or dissatisfaction at various touchpoints



The opinions of others

  • Sales and other front-line staff, your channel partners all have a view. Capture this in workshops and in feedback forms.

Keep the insight coming: don’t let the trail go cold

No one wants to think they are talking to the void; let your contributors know you’ve heard them. And when you have progress to report, share the success. It’ll make it easier to get them talking next time and help you make sure that all the content you generate doesn’t fall on deaf ears.