But that’s obvious, isn’t it? Apparently not.

Even though content marketing as we now know it has existed for a while, there remains a pervasive perception that content marketing – especially in B2B – is just a bunch of boring whitepapers, sales fluff and poorly conceived attempts to be creative. Not only is that untrue, but it also perpetuates the mentality that we need to treat B2B customers completely differently from B2C, and that B2B marketing is the boring, unsexy flip side to the creative free-for-all that is consumer-focused marketing.

Sure, there are often fewer opportunities to be ‘edgy’ when you’re trying to position your brand as a serious potential business partner, but it’s important to remember that businesses aren’t run by automatons – they’re run by people. While these people might be looking for different messaging when they’re wearing their ‘business hat’ than they would when they’re thinking as an individual consumer, they still engage with content the same way. And where many people simply ignore a terrible ad on TV, bad or boring B2B content marketing doesn’t just get ignored, it can actively turn people off your brand.

Part of the problem is that brands don’t put the same creative energy into their B2B content marketing as they would if they were trying to get the attention of everyday consumers. In my experience, brands try to cover every part of the marketing mix with one piece of content. They want one white paper that is creative but not too out there, informative, and also functions as a brochure, spec sheet, lead generation tool and product gallery.

Now imagine what an ad for a store would look like if it contained an overview of their company history, a list of every item they carry in store, the current market/industry forces concerning their product and a how-to on using their products. Your eyes would glaze over, your brain wouldn’t know where to focus and you’d probably just keep shopping where you already are.

This is an extreme example, but it’s indicative of the huge difference in how we approach B2C and B2B content. Brands with a consumer focus seem to be more willing to approach customer education and acquisition as a long-term exercise that doesn’t give away everything up front. Put simply, the B2C guys understand the art of the tease.

While many content marketers ignore the sales funnel as a tool of ‘the enemy‘, understanding where your content sits in this process is crucial to ensuring you and your clients are creating content that makes sense.

Someone who is wondering whether there might be a better paper supplier for their business might be looking for a range of reasons – lower costs, better quality, poor relationship with the supplier. Don’t assume that because your whitepaper talks about your superior quality, it is also helpful for your prospects to know about the other 15 ways your business is the best. It’s been discussed to death, but consumers want to feel an emotional connection to their brand, they want to feel like a brand ‘gets’ them. Giving me a paper full of 15 reasons you’re awesome when I’m only interested in number six doesn’t overwhelm me with wonder: in fact, I’ll probably give up reading long before I get to the reason that’s relevant to me.

So brands end up with expensive content that doesn’t work, and then they wonder why. Here are four ways to create B2B content marketing that’s not crap:

• Strategy
This term is dangerously close to becoming meaningless, as anything vaguely resembling an action plan these days gets labelled as a strategy. But the value of a truly tight strategy cannot be overstated. If you don’t have a content strategy that identifies what content should go to which customers at each stage and the purpose it is supposed to serve, go and hire a consultant to help you build a strategy that will deliver you tangible results.

• Realise that not all content is created equal
I’m not someone who engages well with videos, whether it’s sent to me by a client or something viral filling my News Feed. Unless I know immediately that watching your video will give me the answer to my biggest problem, I probably won’t watch it. Don’t ever forget that you need to change up the content you offer to account for people’s consumption habits, and some messages work better in one form than another. Would the content of your white paper work better as a video, and allow more people to engage with it?

• Invest in your content creators
Anyone in your marketing department can re-write your brochure or sales catalogue. But creating true content marketing is a distinct art – a content marketer is not a journalist is not a PR person. Have your content created by people who understand this difference and know what they’re doing, and then give them the space to do their job. Respect their expertise and invest accordingly. Don’t expect to pay bottom dollar for top content.

• Know your audience
Make sure the writer or content producer knows your industry and how to speak to the audience. There are a thousand ways to tell a story, so make sure the person who is telling yours knows how to make it resonate with the people who need to hear it.