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B2B storytelling: How to make your content stand out

Everyone in marketing knows the value of a good story…don’t they?

Historically, the answer for B2B marketing has been ‘no’. But that’s changing, as these great examples of B2B storytelling show.

“How do they do that?” I hear you ask. The article points to some of the relevant factors: LinkedIn has a clearly defined niche and promotes its value relentlessly; Salesforce uses case studies really well; Cisco uses humour. All good weapons in your storytelling arsenal.

All very specific, though. What if humour isn’t appropriate — or you’re just not very good at it? What if you’ve got multiple propositions that all need equal airtime?

What struck us about the examples given wasn’t so much the specifics of what they’ve done well, but the more general principles that we think they exemplify.

When we try to bring storytelling to B2B marketing, these are some of the key things we’re usually aiming to do.

1. Make your audience invest with emotion
Connecting with emotion in B2B marketing is perhaps not as easy as in B2C, but it’s always something to aim for.

The Cisco example shows that humour is one way to do it, if you’ve got the chops. Fear can have its place, too, though too much negativity can have the wrong result (you want to use the carrot as well as the stick.)

Whatever emotion you use, use it with caution; you don’t want people remembering only the emotion, but rather the message you’re using the emotion to convey. This is why one of the most powerful ways to connect with people’s emotions is to tap into the stories of your customers.

As the article points out, for Kickstarter this is very much part of their business (their users tell their own stories), but Salesforce proves that you don’t have to be selling stories to master the art of bringing customer stories to life.

2. Gain trust through authenticity
As we’ve pointed out before, businesses today need to show that they’re open and honest; human rather than a faceless corporation.

But you can’t simply sound authentic, you actually have to be authentic Which means that, like LinkedIn, you really need to take the time to think about developing your value proposition from the customer’s point of view (and if you have many products, services or audiences, you may need to do this for all of them).

Another effective approach is what Salesforce does with its customer community. They’ve developed a space for customers to discuss their experience (positive or negative) without any influence from the company itself.

No selling. No corporate spin. You can trust that everything on there is 100% genuine. People respond to that.

3. Be memorable
The Zendesk Alternative. Need I say more?

Unfortunately there’s no formula for the kind of creative, outside the box thinking that will make you really stand out from the rest. Nor will time and budget always make room for it.

But there are other ways to be memorable. If, for example, you can avoid an over-zealous corporate legal team diluting every bit of your content with ‘maybe’s and ‘might’s, you can be memorable for having and expressing opinions.

B2B marketing is historically very cautious, and we’re not suggesting that you make wild claims that can’t be backed up. But there’s really very little danger in being a little unexpected, a little controversial now and then. If you have something interesting to say, say it!

Let’s move B2B marketing forward
This blog was inspired by an article pointing to a few great examples of B2B marketing. But that kind of article is much harder to come by than we’d like.

Read any article outlining great examples of content marketing (here’s one from the Content Marketing Institute) and you’ll be lucky to find B2B examples referenced.

It’s up to all of us to change that by daring to be more emotive, authentic and memorable with our marketing. Let’s go!

B2B copywriting: cut corners, not quality

Recent reports show that marketers are working harder than ever. For content marketers, a significant contributing factor is, no doubt, the sheer quantity of content they’re expected to produce.

Now we know you all love your jobs — marketing is the best job in the world after all — but that doesn’t mean you want to spend your whole life in the office.

So is there a way to cut corners with your B2B content, without taking a corresponding hit on quality? We think there is and here’s how.

1. Use time-saving tools Because, after all, the quicker you do things, the more likely you are to reacquaint yourself with the outside world. We use most of these tools here at HN and our loved-ones are grateful.

  • Hootsuite and Sprinklr are great tools for managing your social campaigns, helping you to store and schedule social content and measure its effectiveness.
  • Trello is a very flexible, online, collaborative project-management tool that works well for small teams and short projects (the kind that don’t call for Gantt charts, reporting, or active time-tracking). It also has a free, entry-level option.
  • Have you ever jotted down inspiration on a coffee-shop napkin, but struggled to take it to the next stage? Well, now there’s even technology to convert handwritten notes into digital content.

2. Repurpose content Once you’ve produced a great piece of content, don’t settle for using it just once. A good way to squeeze everything you can out of it – and get it seen by a wider audience – is to convert it into a new format. Another way to cut corners is to recirculate content without changing it. Or both. Here, for example, is another chance to read a post we repurposed earlier … about repurposing content.

3. Bring in extra help We would say this, of course, but agencies can be a great way to offload some of your work without decreasing your output. As well as sharing the load, an agency can become like an extension of your marketing team, helping you solve challenges quicker and save you even more time.

What are your favourite time-saving tips? Why not share them in the comments below?

B2B conferences: generating content to maximise ROI

B2B conferences are a fantastic way to connect with colleagues and customers, old and new. But they don’t come cheap. A lot of time, money and stress (!) go into them, so it’s only natural that you’ll want to maximise your return on investment from the conferences you organise. Fortunately, with a little thought and preparation, you can turn your conference into a content marketing machine. Here are some of our favourite ways to generate great conference-inspired content.

1. Video vox pops
Vox pops (vox populi, voice of the people) are informal interviews and a great source of soundbites that you can use on your website. Talk to your customers in coffee breaks or at networking receptions and get their take on the day. They’re really easy to do, too – all you need is a cameraman and an interviewer mingling with the crowd. Don’t forget to ask for permission from the interviewee, though.

2. Promo video
If you’re capturing the talks, atmosphere and highlights from the event, you’ve also got other video options. You could create a short teaser video, inspiring people to attend next year, or a longer summary video so those who couldn’t make it don’t miss out.

3. Blog posts
Every one of your speakers will be talking about a topic relevant to your business – and each session should be viewed as a potential blog post. Sometimes, we’re asked to provide a writer to attend sessions and write them up afterwards. Equally, you could invite each speaker to pen their own post at a later date. It’s a great way to quickly generate a bevy of relevant, topical blog posts that simultaneously position your event as a valuable gathering place for your target market.

4. Live tweeting
Though social posts from a conference have a limited shelf life, they can pay dividends on the day. Create an event hashtag for attendees to use when tweeting about the event before, during and after. Those who can’t make it can also use it to get involved.

5. Surveys
We don’t just mean a satisfaction survey. Asking just a few questions of attendees can give you valuable data about the issues facing your customers, their opinions on current trends or whatever you want to ask them. You can use the data as the basis of an infographic or blog. If you ask enough questions, you could even write a short paper.

Have a plan for your conference-inspired content
However you choose to generate content from your next B2B conference, the most important thing you can do is to plan it well. How will you use each piece? What part will it play in your sales cycle? If you can fit conference-content into your wider content strategy, then you stand to generate some truly impressive ROI from your next event.

Have you held a conference recently? Or are you thinking about holding one? We’d love to hear about your content plans for it. Why not leave a comment, find us on Twitter or drop us a line at LinkedIn?

Exit, pursued by a bear: another content marketing lesson from Shakespeare

April may have come and gone, but this year still marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. In this post, we take a look at one of his greatest enigmas – and the content marketing lesson we can draw from it.

‘Exit, pursued by a bear’, appearing in Act III scene iii of The Winter’s Tale and heralding the death of Antigonus, is perhaps one of the most famous stage directions ever written — not least because there are none other like it in all of Shakespeare’s collected works.

A lesson from the Bard

But famous and unprecedented as this stage direction is, I can tell you (based on the rigorous test of asking all of my friends) that though many people have heard of it, they often know nothing else about the play it comes from (possibly not even its name).

I don’t pretend to know the mind of someone who’s been dead for 400 years, but I’d hazard a guess that Shakespeare probably wouldn’t be thrilled that one of his plays is best remembered for a stage direction. Which suggests, to me, a lesson about content creation: if you’re going to do something different, make it count.

Redesigning your white paper to be visually stunning (for example) is a great idea – unless it becomes remembered as ‘that paper that looked great’ rather than ‘that paper that was really engaging and made some great points’.

Where there’s a Will (Shakespeare), there’s a way

Innovation in content creation is awesome and absolutely to be encouraged, but how can you be sure it isn’t going to do more harm than good? Here are a couple of options to test any new concept.

1. Prototype it. Get a sample made up and think through the effect of the finished piece. Will it (still) have the result you’re looking for?

2. Ask someone not connected with the project. It’s possible that you’re too close to the content to see the impact your ideas might have – so find someone who isn’t involved and get their opinion.

Perhaps we’re being a little unfair to Shakespeare. Given that he purportedly invented around 1,700 of the words we use today, it’s fair to say that most of his innovations supported his content, rather than distracted from it. With a little thought, yours could do the same.

Why is B2B content failing to engage customers?

Are you struggling to create B2B content that provides business value? If so, then you’re not alone — it’s been said that as many as 83% of B2B marketing leaders are failing to produce content that engages their customers. Here are four top reasons content fails to engage and some practical advice to put it right.

 

Nuturing_contentProblem #1: content focuses on early stages of the buyer’s journey
Picking up customers might not be a problem, but keeping them engaged through their decision-making journey is more challenging.

Solution #1: create nurturing content
Map your content creation to different stages of the journey, and focus on moving the customer from one stage to the next. Then you won’t only be creating content – you’ll be creating a relationship with your customers.

 

Document_strategyProblem #2: no documented strategy
You might have a strategy, but it’s different depending on whom you ask – and that means not everyone is pulling in the right direction.

Solution #2: document your strategy
It’s not rocket science. Get that strategy written down, get everyone on the same page and join up your approach to content marketing.

 

Get_human

Problem #3: stuffy content
“We’re a business and our content needs to reflect that. It’s what our customers will expect. But they just aren’t interested in our content.”

Solution #3: get human
Take the suit and tie off your content and turn it into something they’d want to read in the evening, not just at their desk. That’s partially about making it relevant to them, both professionally and personally, but also about the tone and style you adopt.

 

Say_something_newProblem #4: your customer already knows what you’re saying
Your customer does nearly 60% of their decision-making without talking to you. They’re smart and they’ve heard it all before.

Solution #4: say something new
Don’t settle for ‘interesting’ or ‘accessible’ content. Do your research and tell the customer something they didn’t know, which forces them to question their buying criteria. Perhaps they always assumed they couldn’t reduce their energy consumption, for example, when in fact you can help them with that?

 

You can download the full infographic here.

What are your secrets for creating engaging content?

Share your tips for creating content that grabs your audience and doesn’t let go on Twitter, LinkedIn, or in the comments section on our blog.

The resurgence of storytelling as a means of persuasion

We love a good story here at HN — whether it’s a novel you can’t put down, a TV drama that’s so gripping you won’t be watching it on catch-up, or the latest Hollywood blockbuster. This is the power of storytelling — it draws you in and makes you hunger for more.

Of course, storytelling isn’t a new idea when it comes to being persuasive. Ancient Greeks, notably Aristotle, understood the role of pathos and ethos — the modes of persuasion appealing to an audience’s emotions and their perception of the speaker’s moral character — in establishing a connection with the audience. More recently, it’s been proven that long copy — when it’s written to influence the cognitive and affective attitudes of an audience — can outsell short copy. That’s despite the trend to distil information into bite-sized nuggets to suit the time-poor society we live in.

We’re not arguing against brevity but in the pursuit of ‘concise’. The bombardment of messages, one fact after another, can sometimes be relentless and tiring for the reader — it takes the pleasure out of reading when it should be a welcome diversion. A swing towards a more engaging approach, where the reader derives enjoyment from reading your material, has to be the answer.

So whether you’re looking to create online or printed copy, the approach remains the same: engaging and thought-provoking copy that involves the reader — whether presented in a hundred words or a thousand — will be far more successful than reams of facts and figures.

There are many ways to make your B2B message more engaging — we’re certainly passionate about video and animations here. But the biggest change we are seeing at the moment is a return to good old-fashioned storytelling, meaning that case studies are taking a far more human angle to draw the reader in and show the personal gain as much as the business benefits. This is great to see, not least because it’s a proven way of creating an environment to sell in but also because it’s just as much fun to write as it is to read.

Have you used storytelling to your advantage? Or were you persuaded by a great story? Why not tell us about it on Twitter, LinkedIn or in the comments section below?

Camels, horses and the secrets of creating impactful content

This cartoon raised a chuckle when it did the rounds of HN HQ recently, and it reminded us of the old joke about a camel being a horse designed by committee. But beneath those two jokes lies an important point about creating impactful content. We understand the need to get the most out of your content, and often advocate doing just that, but what happens when you try to pack too much in? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, if you do that, then your content becomes a camel.

Brand_Cartoon

We’ve all seen a project that ends up losing its way because six different parties want it to do six different things, and often the problem lies with not having a clear brief. A good brief is like a trip itinerary – not only does it tell you where you’re going (and why) but, crucially, how you’re going to get there.

So we’ve come up with some tips to keep your writers on track and your content looking more like a champion thoroughbred.

1.       Put your brief down on paper

Sounds simple, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t do it. If the brief is on paper, you can use it to get buy-in from all your stakeholders and refer back to it regularly to ensure you stay on course. Don’t be afraid to reject suggestions or changes that move away from the brief – no matter how tempting they are. Those ideas can always be used to inspire a new piece instead.

2.       Get your audience and message straight

Aim for one primary audience and takeaway message for your content. Remember: every secondary audience dilutes the impact of your original message.

3.       Don’t be afraid to create more than one asset

If multiple parties are all trying to use one asset to achieve different objectives, then consider creating dedicated variants tailored to each of their needs. It may cost you a little more (though it’s often not as expensive to create variants of a piece of content as it is to create new content from scratch), but it will ensure that your messages aren’t diluted.

What are your winning ways to keep your content from becoming a camel? Do share your stories — the good, the bad and the downright hilarious — through the comments box below, LinkedIn or Twitter.

The secret to making great Slideshare presentations

Here at HN, we’re big on recycling — and we don’t just mean paper and glass. We think that when you’ve spent time (and money) producing great content, it’s important to use it in as many ways as possible to get the best value out of it. We’ve written about this before in the context of presentations, but there’s one medium that we neglected to mention last time: making great SlideShare presentations.

SlideShare is wonderful because it makes it easy to share your presentation and so increase its lifespan, but a quick search reveals that many are tempted to simply upload a set of slides and forget about it. While that may feel like a quick win, it means that a lot of the value your presentation delivered — the value that came from the words you said around the slides — is lost. So what can you do to optimise your SlideShare presentations to make them stand out from the crowd?

1: Tell the story without a speaker Presentation slides are usually there to support what the speaker is saying. There’s no opportunity for that in SlideShare, so you have to be certain that your audience will get the message from the slides alone. If necessary, use more slides – as long as each is engaging, your audience will keep clicking (see point 3).

2: Make it visually appealing Again, presentations created to support a speaker may not place emphasis on visuals since they don’t want to distract the audience from the speaker. But on SlideShare, the slides are the focus. Use high-quality images (so they still look good on full screen) and use them liberally to support the story.

3: Keep them clicking With every slide you create, ask yourself this question: why should they be interested in what the next slide says? If they don’t have a reason to click on, they won’t. With that in mind, try to spread your arguments across multiple slides, creating an engaging story that your readers will want to click through.

There are lots of great SlideShare presentations out there, but we particularly like this one by Seth Godin that achieves all of the above and also gives some helpful, entertaining advice on… achieving all of the above!

Convert or create?
It may seem like it would be easier to simply create a new presentation for SlideShare, rather than repurposing what you have, but at HN we think otherwise. If you bear in mind all the uses to which a presentation might be put when you start to create it, you’ll find that repurposing it for different purposes and media will be simpler.

What do you think? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below, tweeting us or posting on our LinkedIn page. Or, in keeping with our theme, you can follow our adventures on SlideShare.