Since 1950, the National Book Awards have been celebrating the literary achievements of America’s greatest writers, including William Faulkner, John Updike, and Allen Ginsberg. Some National Book Award recipients have been acknowledged for their use of allegories and alliteration, while others are recognized for their beautiful prose, dramatic denouements, or mesmerizing motifs. The point, of course, is that there is no single formula for winning the National Book Award, just as there is no one definition of what constitutes great writing.
For B2B content marketers, the same rules apply, in theory. In practice, however, we have much clearer guidelines to follow that help ensure that our content is effective and truly stands out. To be successful, follow these five rules for what B2B content should be:
1. Customized for your audience at every stage of its journey
The best B2B content speaks to your target audience’s needs at that specific point in time. It reflects a deep understanding of where your prospects and customers are on their way down the path to purchase and includes the appropriate messaging to shepherd them through every step in that journey. For example, you need content that:
- Raises awareness of who you are and the fact that you understand the specific problems your customers face
- Promotes discovery of potential solutions to that problem
- Fosters comparisons and allows your company to differentiate itself from your competitors
Inbound marketing software provider HubSpot provides a great example of this rule in practice with its free inbound marketing assessment. The tool evaluates your current marketing program, alerts you to potential areas for improvement, and points you to resources to help you improve. HubSpot’s site also contains supporting content to help with each step of this process along the way.
2. Able to convert your audience along the way
In addition to accompanying your audience on its journey, your content needs to include the right hooks, triggers, and calls-to-action to elicit the desired responses. If your content is truly customized for your target audience’s journey, those hooks and triggers will speak to your audience’s needs, and thus will likely be highly effective.
Dropbox, a company that provides a free, cloud-based content sharing service, provides a great case in point. Its landing page prominently features an animated video that outlines a series of real-life problems that its customers face. The short video explains how using Dropbox can solve those problems and ends with a simple call-to-action, asking users to download the company’s free software. After watching the video, consumers will likely realize just how much they need Dropbox and will be all the more inclined to download the software.
3. Timely and relevant
The old saying “timing is everything” certainly applies to B2B content. Part of creating great content is ensuring that you’re in tune with what’s going on in your industry right now. After all, even if you create the best content in the world, if it’s about yesterday’s news, who is likely to care anymore?
I’m proud to tip my hat to my colleagues at OpenView Venture Partners, who do a great job of generating content every week for the firm’s blog. By regularly writing about the array of challenges and issues they see OpenView’s portfolio companies and other entrepreneurs facing at any given time, we have become a source of content that is both timely and relevant to their current needs.
4. Highly engaging
Content that you simply read will often be forgotten. Content that tells a story and that you can interact with, on the other hand, is more likely to be remembered. Make sure that your B2B content is engaging (i.e., uses visuals, sounds, and other devices to activate the senses), narrative, and interactive. Content that gives users an experience (whether it’s through the use of interactive multimedia or it simply offers the ability to leave comments) is content that you won’t soon forget.
Eloqua, a marketing automation pioneer, exemplifies this principle. The company’s website is filled with videos, infographics, interactive data visualizations, and other highly engaging content. As a result, exploring Eloqua’s content becomes an enjoyable experience, rather than a tedious chore.
5. Easy to find
What good is content that your audience can’t find? Great B2B content needs to be optimized to make it easy to find on Google and other search engines. It also needs to be strategically placed on your website so that your site visitors don’t have to search around to find what they want.
Smashing Magazine, a website for web designers and developers, understands content searchability and organization in spades. Not only is the site’s navigation clean, simple, and intuitive, it allows you to quickly find the content you’re looking for by type and topic, as well as through the site’s search engine. Thanks to great SEO, type a relevant keyword into Google, and you’ll likely find a corresponding hit for the site on the first page.
While your content may never get recognized with a National Book Award, by following the rules outlined above you can at least ensure that it will be an effective marketing tool.