Crossing the content divide with thought leadership

01 May 2018

There is a disconnect between what a firm wants to create, and what its clients are craving. If firms are unaware of this, then they won’t be able to understand why there is so little engagement with their content. So, where is the disconnect and what is causing it?

Content marketing is a real opportunity for both B2B firms and their clients. But firms are in danger of missing that opportunity as they simply don’t know enough about what clients want.

Recently we conducted two pieces of research – one on the views of the C-suite and one on the views of the B2B firms trying to reach them through thought leadership – and we found some clear discrepancies between wants and needs.

Issues vs solutions

It’s the age-old dichotomy in content marketing: firms want to write about themselves and their solutions, but clients want content that keeps them informed of emerging trends and industry issues.

In our Lessons from the Content Marketing Leaders Survey, 77% of content marketing leaders believe that clients want content that helps them to learn about emerging trends.

The same percentage believe that clients want content to gain an edge over their competitors, while 85% of leaders believe that clients want to be able to make better decisions.

Some may look at those last two points and think: “Well, telling them about how our solutions enables them to gain that edge and make better decisions!” The more enlightened know that to cross that content divide and create more effective and impactful content, they need to take themselves, and the sell, away from the content.

I think vs you think

When we canvassed the C-suite on the value of B2B thought leadership, we asked what turns them off content. We found thought leadership succeeds when it proves useful, demonstrates an understanding of the target audience, and provides fresh thinking.

It fails when it’s too generic or lacks original insight, yes, but 53% of the C-suite said they also turn off if the content promotes the adviser rather than addresses the client’s problems.

Likewise, the C-suite want to hear the views of their customers (57%) and industry experts (53%) rather than the firm promoting the content. Yet at the firms we spoke with, these ideas are still taking hold.

Both the leaders and the ‘others’, at 62% and 64% respectively, will include their firm’s opinion in content; the leaders, though, are on the right track, with 54% also including the views of client’s customers and 62% external industry experts.

While it’s important for a firm to have an opinion and not be afraid to express it, it’s also vital for them to back that opinion up with data, trends and the views of others in the industry.

It can be so easy to write a blog saying “I think this, therefore you will be interested”; it’s harder, but more rewarding, to create a survey, or a larger piece of market research, which gives original insight into an emerging trend in the industry. Take the time and you’ll be rewarded with an engaged audience wanting more.

Written vs visual

After the topic and the opinion, of course, comes the format. Our content marketing leaders know the value of a multi-format approach, typically using around nine formats as opposed to others’ six. Across all content marketers surveyed, the top formats were videos, in-person slide presentations, online magazines, apps and e-books.

Ask the C-suite, though, and they prefer short articles and blog posts – that means you’ve got up to around 800 written words to grab their attention with.

Marketers will typically focus on the ‘sexier’ formats, heeding warnings about short attention spans and the need to stand out in a cluttered LinkedIn feed. But our survey shows those more visual and multimedia approaches should be part of an omnichannel strategy that includes the traditional article.

What does good look like, then?

All of this is not to say that firms, or the senior execs that run them, are wrong, but we need a framework to show us what good looks like.

It’s clear that the leaders in the field have defined objectives, clear messages and a deep understanding of the reading habits of their target audience. It’s also clear that all of these have come from data and insights, not unsubstantiated opinion and fingers in the air.

We at Grist do this through in-depth research programmes exploring the views of our clients’ clients, but it doesn’t have to be such a big piece of research – you can get insights from a short survey, or a few quick discussions.

We need to stop making assumptions and create a platform for what good looks like based on data and insight. And we need to better engage with our target audience to understand what’s going to work best for them. After all, they’re the ones we want to reach.

Read more lessons from the leaders in our report; download it here.

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Author: Mark Wellings

Mark Wellings is responsible for developing and implementing content marketing strategies that deliver measurable results for our clients. Prior to co-founding Grist he was director of custom publishing for the Economist Intelligence Unit in New York, publisher for Financial Times Newsletters and Management Reports in Hong Kong and senior commissioning editor for Thomson Learning in London.

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