As content marketers, we want to be useful, and educational content can be useful. But how do you get the balance right with a knowledgeable buyer between helping them, boring them or treating them like bloody idiots?
Recently, I was doing some research for a potential consulting client, a global marketing technology vendor. They had made an acquisition that took them into a different market category. A leader in their marketing team reached out as they had noticed friction in the later stages of their pipeline nurture programs, and the material they had for their SDRs wasn’t hitting the spot.
I took a look, did a quick content audit, and signed up for some of their programs, and I could see the problem.
The Ladybird book for idiots
They had all the basic educational content describing the need for this marketing technology category. They demonstrated an understanding of the basic problem the software solved. You’ve seen this sort of thing; “What is a [product category]?” or “10 reasons to consider a [product category]”.
But lacked anything deeper that a buyer would need beyond the “Ladybird Book of <category>” (a reference to a famous series of kid’s books in the UK that have been around since I was a kid) or an Idiots Guide (probably a safer reference for an international audience!).
They didn’t provide what was next after the Ladybird book for idiots. Something that would be truly useful, insightful, interesting or helpful to the buyer.
BTW, not telling tales here, this marketing leader agreed, but in a large marketing organisation was finding influencing content production a challenge, so that’s a post for another day.
The job of our content marketing is to be useful, and part of being useful is to educate, especially if you are selling into a new market, solve a new problem or have a genuinely different approach to solving the problem your target audience has. How does this content help them with their needs and their jobs to be done?
The most useful thing we can do right now to help this buyer is to help them with the immediate job they have to do: To choose.
The buyer is trying to figure out the difference between us and our competitors. Consider that the buyer probably already knows the 10 good reasons why they need this software as they have already stated those in a business case to their boss; that’s why they are here.
There is data to support this
Audience intelligence platform 6Sense published some research, their 2023 Buyer Experience Report, which is based on a survey of 900 B2B buyers. We covered it on the podcast, and three figures jumped out from their research:
- 83% of buyers initiate first contact
- 78% of buyers have established their requirements before making first contact
- 70% of the buying process is done when they make that first contact
On the podcast, Jeff Clark and I primarily focused on the impact for marketers, how we need to shift our content marketing efforts to earlier in the process as the funnel we have become so familiar with in B2B marketing is no longer funnel-shaped.
Educating the bucket
We now need to picture the funnel as a big bucket of potential buyers and a tiny pipe poking out of the bottom representing the bit of the process when they raise their hand and become known to us.
And, to continue to hit you with stats, in that bucket 95% are not in the market (according to LinkedIn), and the 5% of those that are in the market are doing their research (according to this 6Sense survey), so when we meet our buyer and they slide down that narrow pipe and contact us:
- They already did their research before they appeared on our radar
- They know more than the basics, as they have their requirements baked in
- If we didn’t influence those requirements, somebody already did
So, aside from getting our education in front of the buyer earlier, we need content that is additive to the conversation the buyer is already having. When they do make contact, we better be ready with the good stuff, as we are entering the process later than we think, and an idiot’s guide ain’t gonna cut it.
Striking a balance
The challenge in a B2B content marketing strategy is getting the right educational balance, especially as your category matures. Does the world need another article that describes the basics of your category?
In some emerging categories, or if your goal is to reinvent or reposition your category, you may need to explain the business value of what you do, and you may be at the start of a very long road of needing to market the problem as much as the solution.
However, for most of us, this is all well understood, but even in an established market, it’s still good practice to have this content. It’s often good for SEO, and while it’s not exciting, it’s ‘hygiene content’ (the stuff everyone has to do) that can attract those new to the category who are looking to understand the basics, maybe a future customer who’ll show up in a few years (I have a story about that too, for another post).
The problem occurs when this is all we have, and back to my vendor example, we use this for nurture, and we talk to everyone as if they are, frankly, f**king idiots.
A couple more things to chuck in here about the educated buyer:
- If you are in a mature category, it’s highly likely that it’s not this buyer’s first rodeo as they are probably replacing something that already does the basics.
- If you sell to an enterprise and your product is above a certain price point, if the buyer doesn’t know the category, they probably have someone advising who does
- Again, if you have an enterprise product, the buyer will probably have subject matter experts and practitioners on their team
So yes, stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
If you subscribe to our newsletter, you’ll know I’ve already used this title for this issue. It’s taken from The Smiths track released in 1987, but I couldn’t resist using it again.
Rockstar CMO FM: The It’s a Sink, not a Funnel and Owning Media over a Cocktail Episode.
In this episode, we discuss the report from 6Sense and how this changes our perception of the funnel.
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