B2B content marketing has a big quality problem. A large share of what B2B blogs are publishing is shallow, barely scratching the surface on its topic. Content managers are paying writers for blog posts that ultimately reveal less than what their target readers already know. The writing ends up speaking to novices on the subject rather than to a sophisticated readership who is looking to learn more or to understand better.
Shallow B2B blogs are the opposite of what content marketing promises, which is attracting and keeping attention by offering helpful information and insight. Far from being helpful, most blogs waste the reader’s time and bring down the brand.
Yes, maybe those blogs help a site dominate a valuable keyword search phrase and a B2B grand grabs up a lot of traffic that comes through that search, but it’s low-quality traffic that doesn’t convert.
In either case, you have the same issue – the content won’t get results because it doesn’t matter to your target market.
What’s causing shallow B2B content development?
In one sense, this isn’t that complicated a problem to solve. Just write more in-depth and original content for your B2B marketing.
But, of course, that takes time, which is expensive. Experienced writers know the value of high-quality writing and don’t usually sell themselves short.
Inexperienced writers can be found on the cheap, but that usually leads back to the problem of shallowness.
I always assume most writers of those shallow blogs — even if they less experienced — are actually very capable wordsmiths. They probably had some good clips to get the job. But they lack something else, whether it’s good direction or the right kind of experience.
For example, inexperienced writers often produce the article that they need themselves. If they get an assignment to write a blog article on the uses of virtual reality technology in B2B software, and if they are unfamiliar with that subject, they will tend to produce an article defining the technology and its variants and re-hashing many of the existing illustrations of how it works.
You’ve seen this kind of an article as a reader in whatever your own expertise is. Maybe you’re a department manager struggling with customer retention and churn. You want the latest thinking. You want innovative solutions. You want new ways of looking at the issue. You want an article that will either get you thinking over the weekend or will provide step-by-step instructions on how to make life easier at work on Monday.
And then you see a headline that promises that, click on it and find an article that says less than you already know. (I call this the clickbait-and-switch article.) It says what anyone would know after Googling on the subject of customer churn for half an hour.
In other words, it is shallow, at least for your needs as a reader.
Essentially, articles like these, while fine at the sentence level, are a testament to the writer’s own ability to learn a topic and write up the Cliff Notes summary. These articles aren’t a resource that will attract and impress your target audience. Experienced writers know a basic overview of the virtual reality market is unlikely to be sufficient, unless the target reader is as new to the domain as they are.
Which, in B2B marketing, is almost never.
1. Check your B2B content marketing depth
There is no cheap and scalable perfect solution to this problem. Eventually serious B2B marketing campaigns have to invest in quality and in a real content strategy and a real content measurement plan.
But there is one method you can use to gut-check that you are on the right track. You can get very clear about who your audience is, what they know and what they need to know.
Knowing your audience’s level of knowledge and interest does not automatically lead you to more developed content, but it acts as a natural check against shallow content.
For example, let’s suppose your company sells a management system for business operation Z – let’s call it a ZMS – where Z could be inventory, content, contracts, staff, compliance, sales, relationships or training.
And let’s suppose your target reader is a department manager who has to deal with Z on a regular basis.
So you go about developing a lot of topics around Z, comparing those topics to keyword research, and then land on concepts for individual articles. Next you sort those concepts on an editorial calendar and put your writers on the case.
But what are the writers going to deliver? If they don’t have a good sense of your audience then you are probably going to end up with shallow content — obvious to almost anyone except themselves.
And on individual assignment briefs, you should review that question: “On this particular subject, what does my reader know already?”
And shallow isn’t always bad. Depending on your customer, it might be exactly what is needed. If you are introducing a new product category to this customer and they know nothing about it, a primer might make sense. But awareness of the customer is the first step.
2. Find out what has already been said
After knowing what your reader knows — or least knowing that they know more than you — the next step is to find out what has already been said on a subject. There’s no point in B2B content marketing that repeats common knowledge on a subject.
Essentially, a marketing writer should have in mind the depth of existing knowledge your new content should be diving below. What have your readers already gotten familiar with?
I ask the writers in our content marketing agency to figure that out by following these common steps:
1. Read and re-read the content strategy brief for this client. We have to know who the audience is.
2. Search the target keyword on Google. Assume the reader already knows everything that is on the first five pages of results. Your job is to say something newer or more in-depth than anything already on those pages.
3. Check what your competitors have already said on the subject. You don’t want to end up with generic content that could live on their blog as well as yours
4. Set up several Google alerts on this subject.
5. Get a feel for the level of the current conversation. If the same ideas and observations are showing up every day in press releases and new articles on other B2B blogs, assume your reader already knows it.
6. Read the daily digests with an an eye for what isn’t being said.
3. Find the new angle
Once you know what not to say because your target customer already knows it, then how do figure out what you should say?
The ideal solution is to be an actual expert on the subject. Then you can make that the foundation of your B2B content marketing.
But that takes us back to the problem of cost, doesn’t it? If you’re an expert, you probably don’t have time to write blog posts. And the professional writers available to you probably aren’t experts.
But experienced B2B content writers are good at finding workarounds to their own lack of domain expertise. Here are some of the approaches you can expect good content writers to take solve the problem of depth:
1. Synthesize recent reports and studies that may be too long, may have escaped notice or may not be high in Google search results.
2. Turn theory into practice. Those first 50 results in Google that your reader is familiar with may leave them hungry for advice on what to do next. B2B content marketing blogs built around actions steps or worksheets might be what’s missing from the conversation.
3. Turn practice into theory. This is less common but worth considering occasionally. If all your target customer can find now on your topic is a stream of listicles, they may be looking for some really thoughtful explanation of the underlying principles on an issue.
4. Show them the trends. Careful, though. It’s easy with trend pieces to slip back into the obvious and just name all the trends that every other trend piece is talking about. Your trend piece should reveal something your company is figuring out before it’s in the everyday conversation.
5. Make the audience the source. Interviewing existing customers and prospective customers about their expertise is a great way to get new insight.
6. Make your own internal experts the source. Your company has developed a lot of expertise and strong opinions about your domain that could be captured and shared. A ghostwriter can help you do that.
7. Make existing thought leaders the source. Seeing the same names over and over in the Google search results? Reach out to them and ask to pick their brains.
You’ll notice that many of these tactics depend on good interviewing skills. We have more advice on interviewing experts to create B2B marketing content here.
The common mistake that many B2B blogs make at this point is to publish a bunch of material that doesn’t go any deeper on the topics than the reader already knows. It’s written for (and probably by) their interns. The blogs and white papers are ineffective, because they explains basic terms and regurgitates common knowledge.
But shallow B2B content marketing isn’t a problem of writers not knowing enough about the subject. They often don’t of course, but this can be overcome.
Shallow content is a problem of not remembering who the audience is and what they know. Once you have that front of mind, you’ll have a clearer picture of what your thought leadership marketing should look like.
I have a vision of a content marketing agency that consistently produces standout material aligned with my clients’ business goals.