2015 – The Year of the Content Sniper

Posted on November 28, 2014 by Toby Brown

The proverbial tidal wave has been and gone, but now we are drowning in the ever-rising pool of poor corporate content.

Our 'Follow The Leader' research amongst senior marketers found that organisations are stuck on a content treadmill, labouring under the false assumption that quantity trumps quality in the new world of content marketing.

Increasingly this is pressure from the organisation, and perceived pressure from elsewhere, to keep producing more and more content.  Indeed, over four fifths (82%) or marketers told us they are under great internal pressure to produce large volumes of content for their firms. Nearly three quarters (74%) said that they are focusing too much on quantity over content quality.

The trouble is that B2B marketing takes some time to evolve in line with changing technologies and content consumption trends. The supertanker that is B2B content marketing hasn’t yet caught onto the winds of change that are blowing through the industry.

For me the drive for high quantities of content stems from early SEO, where you could pile content high, sell it cheap, and get quick ranking results without too much trouble.

Our research also found that over two thirds (67%) of marketers were under pressure to produce content for SEO at the expense of that aimed at genuine client engagement.

With Google’s continued crusade to cut crap content and help its algorithms recognise quality, we are now starting to see this balance reverse. The prevailing message is today is relevancy and quality first before thinking about volume.

Likewise, bringing social signals into the mix, means the perceived value of content must now pass the ‘why would I share this?’ test. Whether its to help your recipient look good amongst peers or because they really want to pass on the value you’ve provided, this is a good lens to use to ensure content comes up to the mark.

This is a welcome about turn for the industry and for content consumers. B2B buyers have never been so spoilt for content, and the opportunities to search, download, digest and learn new approaches – all for free – have never been greater.

But it’s also the most difficult it’s ever been to filter down and discern what is actually worth reading. Mining the worthwhile from the mountains of mediocrity created by today’s dickensian content mills is a truly monumental task. Factor in never-ending twitter feeds and continual email assaults, all containing seemingly useful content, and it’s easy to get overloaded.

While Google is forcing us to whip our content into shape, there are also broader signs that B2B buyers, and consumers in general, are gravitating towards a less-is-more approach.

The popularity of apps like Yahoo News Digest (what was Summly) and Flipboard’s Daily Digest, point to a longing to filter what’s important from all the noise. Downloads of newspaper daily editions also play to this trend, as well as the desire to read something gets you up to speed, but also has a definitive end. The Week, with its strapline ‘All you need to know about everything that matters’ also played to this innate desire, though its print summary of week-old stories is somewhat anachronistic today.

While The Week may need to work on its digital strategy, happily there are some good examples of B2B brands looking at better ways to engage with today’s content-assailed B2B buyers. Deloitte is probably one of the best here, having seemingly split its strategy between rapidly digestible content (e.g. its Three Minute Guides and rapidly digestible Insights formats), and its long form and highly informative Deloitte University Press series (e.g. Demystifying Artificial Intelligence)

Of course not everyone has the budget of a big four professional services firm, but Deloitte’s approach has some good lessons for all B2B marketers. One is that content doesn’t necessarily mean a ‘white paper’. Marketers need to ensure the content and format is appropriate for the depth and breadth of the topic, and, crucially, how much your audience really wants to digest it.

Secondly, ‘white paper’ certainly doesn’t equal thought-leadership. Putting some words in a PDF doesn’t immediately make it a valuable piece of content. Organisations selling expertise in some shape or form should, by definition, have some relevant and valuable knowledge to share as a trade-off for generating interest.

The challenge as a marketer is to extract the right knowledge, at the right depth, and package it in the right way for your audience: If it’s not a deep subject but it’s important to your audience, why not create an accessible video or mini guide?; or if it’s vitally important and highly complex, then clearly something more in-depth may be needed.

With the levels of content out there only set to increase, B2B marketers are going to need to work harder than ever to grab the attention and interest of their B2B buyers. However, because of the sheer level of stuff out there, it’s becoming clear that the content sniper will increasingly win-out over yesterday’s content scattergun.


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