As a content marketer myself, I obviously think it’s a very important tactic in the marketing toolbox. But there’s more to content than just churning out blog posts. Volume helps, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Strategy wins, just as in most other areas.
And obviously your strategy is going to depend on the audience you’re trying to reach. Think, for example, about one of the biggest divisions you can have in business—whether you’re selling business-to-business, or business-to-consumer. Your content and strategy are going to look pretty different in a lot of ways, but not so different in a few important ones.
Let’s take a look.
Know your audience
Every single business is going to have a slightly different audience. It’s going to depend on the major factors that set you apart from everyone else—your location, your industry, your product or service. And the better grasp you have on who you should be talking to, the better your content will perform, generally. Do the research and identify the right target audience or audiences for your business now, rather than trying to figure it out on the fly and botching your early-term content strategy.
There are some important differences in what your audience is most likely to look like between B2B and B2C marketers. When you’re marketing to a business, your audience can be pretty niche. A software company could be selling its app specifically to small-to-medium-sized medical businesses like dental offices, or a business consultant might only want to work with companies that bring in between $5 and $10 million in revenue yearly. On the other hand, selling to individual customers tends to lead to a much broader set of potential prospects. Obviously it’s more distinct than just “everyone”—even a big-box store like Target has a specific subset of people they target, and their unique brand voice makes that clear. But it’s likely that the top of your sales funnel is going to be a lot wider.
That said, don’t rely on this generalization to fully guide your content. There’s a lot of detail and nuance that goes into determining an audience, and the better you know yours, the better equipped you are to create content that they’re going to be interested in. Do the legwork. Identify your precise audience, and figure out what they want to know.
The purchase process
Different people buy in different ways. As you might guess, the way in which a business purchases is quite different from how a private individual purchases. When you’re selling to a business, you might end up with a single point of contact, but the chances are that multiple decision-makers will be involved in any purchase. It’s a longer and more intricate process. On the other hand, a B2C business only really has the one buyer to think about, excepting larger-ticket purchases that might be a family decision instead. But even then, the complexity of the process pales in comparison with having to run up a business’ chain of command.
What does this mean for your content marketing strategy? Somewhat paradoxically, it means that a B2B marketer has both more and less work to do to get the sale. If your product or service is more expensive, its implementation is more intricate, and you’re trying to convince more people, your content has to be pretty good to be able to close the deal. But for that reason, in a lot of cases that’s not the point of B2B content. To be fully transparent, as a B2B content marketer, I am not expecting that when you finish reading this blog post, you will immediately reach out to work with us (though if you want to, I certainly won’t be mad). Instead the goal is to show off our thinking and display that if you do work with us, you’ll be working with thoughtful experts. Later on, whether it’s a few blog posts and a webinar later or just a few months from now when you hit a real snag in your marketing, good content hopefully puts us at the top of your list when you do look for marketing help.
On the other hand, since a B2C purchase is usually a bit less complicated, maybe one blog post really is enough to close the deal. Because of that, you might be more likely to see content that’s explicitly showing off the benefits and features of the product or service, or your call-to-action might lead directly to a chance to buy. That isn’t to say that you’ll never see that on the B2B side, but the focus of B2C content is a lot more likely to be a direct sales pitch.
When crafting content, that CTA is critical. Know what you want the reader’s next steps to be, and build your content to guide them gently in that direction. And make sure those next steps fit your audience.
Building different kinds of relationships
Post-purchase behavior also tends to be pretty different between B2B and B2C customers, which means the way you craft your content also has to adapt. Part of the reason a business-to-business purchasing process can be longer and more complex than a B2C process is because of the way in which businesses work together. Since a business purchase tends to be more expensive, there tends to be an expectation that the relationship doesn’t end at the point of purchase. This is obviously the case as it pertains to a service—if you’re buying a subscription to a customer relationship management software, you’re not just going to install the CRM and never talk to the provider again. But it also applies to products, and pretty much anything a business is spending money on. A purchase of twenty computers bears a certain responsibility.
But that’s not always the case with a consumer customer. A B2C buyer might want a running relationship, especially if you’re selling a service. But the chances are that any relationship is going to be different, unless it’s a particularly expensive and long-term purchase like a car. Rather than a relationship of requirement based on
a major expenditure, a business-to-consumer bond is based primarily in your brand. Over time, you can grow brand loyalty with your customers, and if you’re lucky (and good) you might even be able to craft a lifestyle brand, transforming from a business that’s searching for customers to a business that has people desperate to be part of your culture.
But in general, a B2B purchase is a lot more about building a personal relationship between buyer and seller, and a B2C purchase is more about getting something into the hands of a customer and moving on to the next one. As such, your content should reflect that. In trying to build a relationship between your business and your customer, a B2B-focused business should concentrate on showing and reinforcing your ability to help in the long term, not just providing a one-off solution and sending your customer out the door. And while a B2C buyer might just want to grab what they need and go, you’ll still likely be better served in the long run if you commit to building a brand that will keep people coming back—after all, keeping a customer you already have is easier and cheaper than finding a new one.
Brand is absolutely critical
There’s something of a myth among some in sales and marketing that people make purchase decisions rationally. But while the logical part of the purchase process certainly plays an important role—nobody’s going to buy something without knowing what it can do, and having some idea of how it compares to the competition—that doesn’t mean that simply reciting the features and benefits of your product or service will result in a sale. People buy emotionally too, whether they’re buying for a business or for themselves. And that means your brand is very, very important.
Your brand is the way that people connect with your business. It’s not just your logo and tagline, it’s the soul of your business, it’s who you really are at your core. No matter who’s buying from you, your brand helps build the relationship that allows it to happen.
Your content is a critical part of how you develop and share your brand with the world. It’s one of the most visible ways you’re going to interact with your audience, and in a lot of cases it’s the only part of your overall setup that people are going to be actively seeking out. Catering your content toward your specific audience—using it to start to build trust and a relationship for B2B businesses, and using it to show off products and turn readers into fans for B2C businesses—is your trump card.
Cater to the people you serve best
In a way, all of this has been a long way to get to the point: knowing your audience and your brand backwards and forwards is your shortest and smartest route to content success. Without that knowledge, without a strong brand that caters to the people you need most, your content is unlikely to get you anywhere. Before writing anything, know your audience. Whether you’re a B2B or a B2C marketer, it’s the most important thing you can do.
Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.
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