Is your content missing your mark? Part 1 - C-level executives

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Studies are showing that there is a disconnect between what B2B customers are looking for in terms of information about your business and products (and those of your competitors) and what marketing is providing. The problem is they don't always agree on what it is customers are looking for. In this two-part series, we take a look at two studies that show disconnects, ponder what reasons are underlying the figures, and suggest how to adjust your trajectory.

I recently attended MarketingProfs Virtual Conference on Content Marketing, and had the great pleasure of listening to James Harris from Seraph Science in the UK, which specializes in marketing to the C-suite. James spoke very engagingly on "How customer insight fuels killer content" and I have lots of thoughts to share on what he said. But for today, let's look at some findings from a 2014 report by The Economist that James mentioned in his presentation and was kind enough to point me to afterwards.

Executives want to learn, not be sold to

The main reason executives (AKA the C-suite AKA decision-makers) look for information is to help them get a better opinion on a business idea, according to 75% of respondents.

Let's use the example idea, "improving customer experience" to put into context their impressions. Content they classified as helpful in this regard did the following (in order of importance):

  • Gave them a sense of what industry peers are thinking or doing about "improving customer experience".
  • Presented two sides of a complex issue, such as the pros and cons of, perhaps, different ways of "improving customer experience", enabling them to assess its potential impact.
  • Shed light on what is meant by "improving customer experience" and how a company can go about it.

Only 16% said they looked for information to help them make a purchase decision. And 71% said that unhelpful information was too much like a sales pitch.

What does this mean for you?

In all probability, high-up execs are not involved in the nitty-gritty of the decision process. They weigh in on projects and purchases based on well argued presentations and studies, summarizing each stage and put together by their staff. Eventually, they'll sign off on a final recommendation. However, if presented with several options, are they likely to lean towards companies they know and have a favourable impression of? Of course, they are, which means you need to catch their attention with communications they'll appreciate because they give them information they want.

Yet 93% of selling companies told The Economist the information they provide references their product or service (for example specifically mentioning how it helps to "improve customer experience"). The people using this information are the ones crafting the decision, but they’re not the ones who hold the purse strings.

How to develop information for the C-suite

You and your management team are probably already keeping abreast of developments in your industry and sharing articles of interest among yourselves. We recommend making this a slightly more formal process. Instead of emailing each other, create a central repository. A really simple way of doing it is to create a Slack group where you can just post the links. Your management team can then read them when they have time, and your marketing team can access them easily.

Be trendy

Everyone in your team who has any kind of responsibility for marketing and sales should be involved in establishing what key industry trends, gleaned from your reading, are most relevant to your offering. In our "improving customer experience" example, "personalization" might be a trend that your product enables, or "interaction technology", or "AI". Once you've agreed on two or three trends, your content creation team can go about developing information executives will find interesting.

Be influential

It may also be that your company has in-house subject matter experts that can bring something new to the table, and this type of thought leadership, as it’s called, is certainly a good way of attracting attention. The Economist reports that 92% of selling companies surveyed say they provide information that gives their leader's or experts' point of view, for example discussing different ways of "improving customer experience".

We recommend not giving an "expert point of view" unless you have credentials in the industry. If your CEO is a software engineer whose only hands-on knowledge of customer service comes from working in a bar as a student, this won't do much for your credibility. Is there anyone else in the company who has the inside knowledge? Can you seek the knowledge outside?

A quick way of doing this is through curated content. Only 18% of selling companies do this frequently as a major part of their content strategy according to The Economist. Curated content is a big part of this blog. We do the research for you, locating interesting information to provide you with understanding and tools to help you. What if your company could become a repository of information on "improving customer experience", for example?

We recognize that there are times when you will want to mention your product, perhaps because, in your discussion of industry trends, you’ve highlighted the gaping hole your product fills. To avoid being perceived as a sales pitch, we recommend keeping it general and talking about a category of products you fit into (even if your product is alone in its niche), as opposed to your product itself.

Be where it's at

Finally, The Economist report also revealed that executives favour learning...:

  • ...from long form documents such as reports and whitepapers
  • ...presented in text form rather than video or audio
  • ...viewed on a computer rather than a mobile device

They find this information through the Internet, either through organic search (98% use it often or sometimes) or from known sources, i.e. company websites they trust (91% often or sometimes). The lesson here is to make sure your content can be found, by incorporating search terms and backlinks, preferably to companies whose credibility rating is higher than your own. If your product is designed to work with the offering of a major player, can you get your information on their site?

Part 2 of this article will look at the B2B buying committee that’s preparing the presentations for the C-suite, and how marketing and sales’ opinions of the information they want differ from what they say.

Click here to see The Economist report.

Click here to read part 2 of "Is your content missing your mark?"

Did you learn anything here? Do you come here to learn? Let us know how we can help.