Content Therapy is Managing Editor’s twice-monthly advice column, where Paul Chaney responds to your questions about the messy dilemmas content marketers face in their work. We are (obviously) not licensed therapists. Send us your questions!
How Can I Be an Authentic B2B Content Marketer?
Dear Content Therapist: The word for 2023 is “authentic,” according to Merriam-Webster. That prompts two questions for content marketers: 1) In a B2B environment, when the “brand” is the voice, how can a content creator be authentic to the brand but still project a human side? 2) In a B2B environment, how much of your authentic self do you allow to come through in “value add” content creation while maintaining a professional persona? In short, how authentic is authentic in B2B content marketing? — THE AUTHENTIC MARKETER
Paul Chaney: I always think of people when it comes to adding authenticity to a brand, whether it’s B2B, B2C or D2C. I recall one marketing executive saying B2B is people, too. Or, put another way: B2B is H2H (human to human).
Consumer brands use caricatures or celebrities for that purpose: Progressive has Flo, GEICO has the gecko, and Louis Vuitton has Rhianna. Depending on the industry, that approach may or may not work for B2B brands, but I see several ways to be authentic. Consider these:
Showcase Real People
I once worked with a B2B brand in the contact center industry where we showcased employees in short videos. We didn’t take a strictly “corporate” tack but showed the employees outside the workplace. You got to know them on a personal level, and it created a genuine affinity for the brand. (My favorite was an employee who DJ’d at night, calling himself “DJ Space Ghost.”)
There are other ways to use this approach to add authenticity, such as case studies, customer testimonials or employee stories. Highlighting real experiences from people associated with the brand can add a layer of authenticity that resonates with other companies.
Make a C-Suite Executive or an Employee the Face of the Brand
A similar approach applies to the C-suite. At many companies, the only time you see the CEO is when a grievous error requires the CEO to broadcast an apology. How about putting the CEO out front, sharing their thoughts and insights about the company or industry — or even personal anecdotes? A blog is a perfect venue, as is video.
Of course, there is a risk in making the CEO the face of the company. What if they misbehave? Perhaps it’s better to put someone upfront who understands the nuances of promotion and PR, such as the chief marketing officer. Another idea is to make employees the face, not unlike what B2B SaaS company Lusha did by centering its employees on its website and branding.
(For more on using this approach, read Josh Steimle’s article, “Should Your CEO Be the Face of the Company?”)
Go Behind the Scenes
Do you recall the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when Toto pulled back the curtain to reveal who the “Great and Powerful Oz” really was? While that was an embarrassingly awkward moment for all concerned, there’s no reason not to do something similar in a way that evokes positive emotions.
Video a walk through the factory or offices, introduce customers to employees off the cuff, and have brief extemporaneous conversations. Or take candid photographs of employees engaged in their work or chatting in the break room.
I remember seeing one brand video where shipping department employees built Styrofoam forts for a contest. In another instance, employees in one department surprised another for her birthday in a balloon-filled room.
While you don’t want to give away trade secrets or confidential information, a bit of creativity can pull back the curtain and let outsiders get a glimpse into the company and its people. (Another important reminder: Get an employee’s permission before putting them in front of the camera.)
Use Social Media to Humanize the Brand
There is a line from an old song that says, “You can show me your sales curve, plot my life on your flowchart (sounds very B2B, doesn’t it), there’s just some things that numbers can’t measure, matters of the heart.”
I have long believed social media can be a “matter of the heart” platform. By that, I mean it’s where you can meet your customers on a level playing field and authentically entertain their comments, questions and concerns.
Social media is also perfect for showcasing employees and customers. For example, live stream an interview with the CEO or have the CEO interview an employee or customer panel. Engage with questions from the audience. Again, let creativity be your guide.
Be Transparent and Honest
On a more somber note, let transparency and honesty become a core value. Don’t shy away from discussing challenges or lessons learned. Be willing to admit your mistakes. This not only humanizes your brand but also builds customer trust.
Humanize the Brand Voice
Too often, B2B marketing messages come off as slick or jargon-laden. Avoid that whenever possible, instead adopt a more conversational tone. Incorporate real-world examples, storytelling and even humor where appropriate.
Engage in Ethical Marketing Practices
I shouldn’t have to say this, but ensure that your marketing practices reflect ethical standards, including being honest about your products or services and avoiding misleading information. Seth Godin may have said that “all marketers are liars,” but don’t let that be the case in your company. (By the way, the point of his book, an underground classic, is that authenticity is the best marketing of all.)
Be Open to Feedback and Criticism
This suggestion may be the hardest to swallow, but listen to customer feedback, even when it’s critical, and be willing to adapt accordingly. That is authenticity in its rarest form. This approach is most likely to win over your customers and earn their loyalty
More, More, More! How Can We Slow the Content Machine?
Dear Content Therapist: We’re all under pressure as content creators to push out more and more work to drive the business. We all hear consistency is critical to success, but lately, I’ve wondered if quality shouldn’t trump quantity. Is it better to write something great and original every once in a while, or is it better to be consistent and put something out every day, even if it’s not your best work or very original? How do we slow down the content machine? — OVER THE SPEED LIMIT
I understand your pressure to produce more work to drive the business, and your concern about balancing quantity and quality is certainly valid. However, my view is that it doesn’t have to be one way or the other. You can achieve a balance of both.
For example, you mention consistency in the context of daily content production. I agree that creating and distributing content on a consistent basis is necessary to keep your voice alive in an overly crowded marketplace, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to produce content daily.
The key is to maintain a schedule your audience can count on. For instance, if you produce an email newsletter, set a weekly, biweekly or monthly schedule. If you have a blog, determine your capacity, decide on a schedule, and stick to it.
Another way to balance quality and quantity is to produce evergreen content. Evergreen content remains relevant and useful over time and can constantly reduce the pressure to deliver new material.
A third way is to conduct a content audit and repurpose older, previously high-performing content. That may be updating a blog post or turning a series of posts into an e-book or video series. Or, turn videos into blog posts or edit them into YouTube shorts.
Dividing up content creation is yet another way. The marketing team doesn’t have to be the sole content producer to begin with. With management buy-in, find qualified employees in other departments and ask them to write content. This is what Indium Corporation, an electronics materials manufacturer, did with their engineering staff. Alternatively, interview the staff members and ghostwrite the content for them.
Content curation is one more way to keep the production going. Not every piece of content has to originate inside your organization. Synthesizing and adding your insights to content from reputable sources can add value for your audience and help you fill out the content calendar
Outsource content production if your budget allows for it. Many talented freelancers could use the work.
Use generative AI tools to assist. I’m not suggesting you turn the writing over to ChatGPT or one of the other AI content creation platforms. I am suggesting, however, that these tools can be assistants that save you time and improve your productivity.
In the long run, quality content is better than simply pushing out a high quantity. If you have to opt for one of the other, choose quality every time. It will help you establish your company’s thought leadership, drive meaningful engagement and provide lasting value to your audience. It’s better to publish something impactful and well-thought-out less frequently than churn out mediocre content daily.
Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed mental health provider, health care provider or legal professional.