Crimes Against Content: Squeezing Sales Pitches Into Customer-Centric Stories

This story originally appeared on LinkedIn.

For most B2B companies, content holds a lot (if not all) of the marketing cards. No one doubts this fact. But where things can get a bit tricky—and murky—is how people categorize and approach company-centric content and customer-centric content.

Both belong at the content table. But mistaking one for the other is where a lot of B2B marketers—especially in the C-suite—fall into troubled waters. But as a recent study from the Economist Group and Peppercomm found, it’s not that uncommon for B2B marketers to insert ‘sales pitches’ into their customer-centric content.

In fact, there were two stats that were especially alarming and disappointing to me. Thirty-two percent of the surveyed B2B marketers said their content focuses on their own company’s story. But only 27 percent indicated their content focuses on their prospects’ story. The worst crime against content, in my own opinion, is when B2B companies try to awkwardly squeeze in self-serving messages and sales pitches into customer-centric content.

For the sake of my argument, company-centric content includes pieces like sales collateral, one-pagers, product videos, product FAQ sheets, pitch decks, newsletters, and more of the like. These types of content should not be ignored, but they also have a very clear purpose—to sell, sell, sell. To top it off, company-centric content is going to have a faster and more direct impact on a prospective client’s decision to buy or hire. That’s absolutely right and the way it should be. At the end of the day, sales matter, and if you don’t have content that supports sales goals, you’re going to have a lot of trouble.

And then you have customer-centric content, which is really what content marketing is all about. The types of content that fall into this bucket are of a completely different nature, tone, and purpose. They can include blogs, research studies, industry benchmark reports, campaign trend reports, infographics, case studies, webinars, boot camps, editorial bylines, speaking engagements, podcasts, etc. They’re not about how “totally awesome” your company is and how “amazing” your products/solutions/platforms are. And they’re certainly not about why your customers love you.

Now that I’ve told you what customer-centric isn’t about, let me tell you what it is about. It’s about uncovering new insights and backing it up with data that gives your customers a deeper look into what and who they care about—their customers. It digs further into the state of the industry and businesses within that landscape: their unique challenges, their advantages, and the role different forms of marketing play in how they reach and engage with their customers. And it most certainly looks for lessons that can be learned from campaigns that have run—or will run—in order to help the industry grow and evolve.

Unlike company-centric content, customer-centric content is going to play a less direct and slower form of influence over a prospective buyer. I like to think of it in this way: If you’re doing it right, customer-centric content uses storytelling to compel someone to touch it (be it physically or online), then dig deeper and read it, and find enough value in it to consider buying or hiring. And if all goes well, they’ll eventually use that content to get the C-suite to sign off on it.

Are you sensing a theme here? With company-centric content, B2B marketers should rightfully think about me, me, me. But with customer-centric content, B2B marketers better not try to do that. It’s inauthentic, self-serving, and inappropriate. And it will only turn off potential prospects.

Ragini Bhalla (@RaginiBhalla) is Director of Public Relations and Content at G/O Digital, the digital division of Gannett. She lives and breathes storytelling, has a keen eye for spotting and cutting marketing “fluff,” thinks outside of the box, and fully believes in the importance of testing and learning.

Image by Deb Wenof

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