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How does differentiation apply to content marketing and what’s stopping you getting attention in a crowded B2B landscape? Well, quite a lot… Read on and find out what’s holding most marketers back and what they can do about it.

“You can’t look at the competition and say you’re going to do it better. You have to look at the competition and say you’re going to do it differently.”

– Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc.

Differentiation is the new watchword in content marketing. In relation to the Steve Jobs quote above, it’s easy to see how Apple demonstrates the benefits of setting yourself apart from the competition.

By creating a unique set of products and brand aesthetic, Apple has built a worldwide, highly valuable customer base, becoming arguably the most successful company of our time.

But how does differentiation apply to B2B content marketing? How do marketers manage to fight for attention in the crowded B2B landscape? And what are the obstacles standing in the way of content differentiation?

What is content differentiation?

It’s crucial to make sure your content stands out from your competitors and has impact with your customers. Differentiation means selling what is unique about your offering and giving prospects a reason to choose you over your rivals.

It also means crafting original and attention-grabbing content that doesn’t get lost among the morass of marketing messages online. Not only that, but you have to differentiate your content by channel and by audience, to make sure you’re delivering the right stuff to the right people, in the right way.

Why are marketers turning to content differentiation?

B2B marketers are turning to content differentiation in order to capture and retain customers jaded by the one-size-fits-all approach.

We conducted a survey of 172 B2B marketers and discovered that their top reasons for differentiating content are:

  • To improve the customer experience (71%)
  • To attract more customers (70%)
  • To stand out against the competition (49%)
  • To increase customer loyalty (41%)

64% of the marketers reported having some strategy for differentiation, with 63% differentiating content by channel, and 45% tailoring content to personas they’ve created.

Why aren’t more marketers differentiating their content?

Given the benefits of content differentiation, why isn’t everybody doing it? Well, the evidence shows that marketers are trying, but have many hurdles in their way.

Now let’s take a look at the obstacles mentioned by the B2B marketers in our survey.

Lack of time to plan (69%)

The biggest hurdle marketers face is not being able to devote enough time to strategising. Differentiation requires thought and planning to ensure you’re targeting each channel and audience segment in the best possible way.

Inability to provide thought leadership (52%)

B2B marketers know that thought leadership content is truly valuable, particularly when customised for maximal impact. But too many feel that they lack the knowledge or experience needed to create content of this level.

Lack of insight or data (44%)

Data is the key to differentiation success. Only once you have insight can you tailor appropriately. With 40% of respondents saying they find it ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ to access data, it’s clear to see that this is a major barrier.

No buy-in from the business to be brave or creative (41%)

Departing from the usual run of standardised content requires a touch of imagination, which some marketers clearly feel is lacking at the top. Senior management needs to give marketing more support to deploy content differentiation.

Lack of key differentiators in value proposition or key messages (37%)

Nearly 40% of the B2B marketers surveyed felt the problem was a lack of differentiation when it came to the value proposition and key messaging of their brand. It’s essential to clearly define these as a first step.

Lack of key differentiators in products or service (37%)

The same proportion of marketers actually believed their product or service itself to be at fault. But even when your offering is similar to that of your competitors, you can gain the edge by crafting better content and tailoring it more intelligently.

Competitors are always ahead (12%)

Luckily, only about 1 in 10 gave this rather despondent answer. Don’t give up! If the competitors can get ahead, then so can you. All you need is a great content differentiation strategy.

Consistency is crucial

Another key problem recognised by marketers is the lack of consistent messaging, which they held accountable for:

  • Presenting a confusing message to customers and prospects (71%)
  • Weakening the central value proposition and brand appeal to customers and prospects (58%)
  • Failing to differentiate the brand within their marketplace (56%)

A whopping 71% of the B2B marketers believe, rightly, that ‘presenting a confusing message to customers and prospects is the most serious thing you can do to harm your brand.’

Take the plunge

Most B2B marketers are only just waking up to the benefits of content differentiation and dipping their toes in. Why not get ahead of the curve by taking the plunge now?

Harness the data you have, the personas you’ve developed, and your knowledge of different marketing channels to create content that is tailored, relevant and customer-capturing.

Key takeaways

  • A thorough differentiation strategy lets you stand out from the crowd with attention-grabbing content that is targeted according to channel and audience.
  • Marketers are turning to differentiation to improve the customer experience, attract more customers, and boost loyalty.
  • The most common hurdles to differentiation are lack of planning time, inability to offer thought leadership, lack of insight/data, and lack of the senior buy-in needed to produce more creative content.
  • B2B marketers also worry about a lack of key differentiators in value proposition, key messages, products and services.
  • Consistency of message and customer experience is key, with over 70% of B2B marketers rating inconsistency as the most serious threats to brand reputation.