Ubiquitous TV and print advertisements once proclaimed that three out of four doctors recommend Chesterfield cigarettes, that Lucky Strike cigarettes are “less irritating than other brands,” and that “more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” The campaigns often referenced the findings of “independent research studies” that were supposedly comprised of large numbers of physicians.
Testimonials by white-coated, white-haired MDs extolling the taste of the lit cigarettes perched between their fingers while discounting any potential health risks helped propel brands like RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris into the stratosphere. The “third-party endorsements” and “fact-based research” lent serious credence to claims that would have otherwise carried little weight in the eyes of consumers. Smoking physicians armored the brands with a cloak of credibility.
It was no secret sixty years ago – and it’s no secret today – that companies have limited credibility when it comes to hawking their own wares. While the decades-long cigarette campaigns may exemplify the most blatantly corrupt and irresponsible chapter in advertising history, the point remains that those who sing praises of their own products and services can expect their marketing messages to be met with a large measure of skepticism. Even branded content that appears to be primarily informational and educational in nature will likely be assumed to have a hidden agenda. It’s a different story, however, when the messages and content are coming from independent third-party sources.
That is certainly the case with B2B content marketing. The value of a whitepaper, eBook or other content asset naturally diminishes if it is perceived by the target audience to be nothing more than thinly-veiled marketing collateral. That explains why third-party gated content assets tend to generate significantly more downloads, and also produce higher-quality leads, on average, than company-branded content assets.
That is not to say that branded content assets can’t be successful. Some companies have been extremely effective in utilizing in-house content creation to rise above the noise and fill their pipelines with qualified leads. The more high-quality content a company can produce and distribute the better, and marketers should strive to publish as much of their own relevant and compelling content as possible (client case studies can be particularly valuable).
Ideally, however, a B2B content marketing strategy should also include some percentage of third-party content that prospects may view as less biased and more objective. Good examples are licensed benchmark reports from market research firms and sponsored buyers guides such as the Smart Decision Guides that my company, Starfleet Media, produces independently, and which are then underwritten by companies in selected niche markets. The resource pages on the websites of companies that have enjoyed extraordinary success with B2B content marketing generally feature a nice mix of both internal and external content.
B2B companies need to establish an authoritative voice. They need to demonstrate thought leadership. And they need to educate the marketplace in a way that aligns sufficiently well with the customer benefits their products or services deliver. While branded content assets can be instrumental in helping them achieve these objectives, marketers should also associate their companies with third-party content assets that might be perceived as less biased and more objective.
Just one word of advice: Steer clear of smoking physicians.