It’s clear why business-to-consumer companies are frequently also ‘content’ companies. Telling a meaningful story about a product or service requires a narrative everyone can follow and engage with. Does a software or technology firm need to do this? Don’t they just need to showcase the technology and let their readers put it together themselves? And can a technology, tool, or component many end users never see in the finished product really be a ‘story’?
The reasons why B2B companies also need to be content companies, whether talking about their vision of the world, the products that bring that vision to life, or being present in the channels that their customer appears most, are the same as we discussed in an earlier post about branding in the B2B space. That is to say, if brand is the strategy, then content is the practice: messaging, touchpoints, social media, and search-relevant content that brings the brand strategy to life in front of a customer.
Content for a B2B company needs to driven from the brand down, not from this year’s list of features up to a datasheet or white paper. While these tools are essential, the point of entry for customer is the brand: what the company is fundamentally about. Leading with the brand allows a consistent, easy-to-follow narrative for B2B content. That doesn’t mean directly repeating the company’s positioning, but rather introducing the topics most relevant for the brand early on, and supporting them (rather than leading with) features and examples. This allows the reader to differentiate the company from competitors and provides a lens for understanding the details to follow.
Consider some of the most successful companies in the B2B space, businesses like VMware and Salesforce, all of which speak directly to customers in clear language (assuming category knowledge on the part of the reader, of course), whose company purpose is clearly visible, how that purpose is realized, and how it benefits the customer. Content is direct, plainly and organized and clearly written, and supports each other in an interlocking narrative about the customers, the products, and the business.
When B2B gets it right on content, you can see the results: good stories, well-structured, clearly addressed to their audiences. When companies get it wrong, customers are confused, the story breaks off, the reader is lost comparing feature sets or processing category jargon in lieu of a brand voice, and the company looks like a commodity player. We can recognize the symptoms, but it’s hard sometimes to diagnose the condition: lack of content marketing, caused by a lack of clear brand focus internally or inability to execute.
By starting with, and staying true to, the brand, businesses have an ideal content creation template that exists above this year’s newest feature or enhancement. Brands provide context and engagement for content, a need that is, if anything, only greater in the complex, often highly technical business-to-business space.
Sean Ketchem, PhD, is a branding and content strategy consultant based in San Francisco. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.