When it comes to making bold, creative decisions there’s no greater spokesperson than Avril Lavigne. In the early noughties, the Canadian pop star shook the music world with an approach to spelling so avant-guard it’s still talked about to this day.
Referencing the groundbreaking track Sk8er Boi, Lavigne said when asked: “I wasn’t sure if people would get the ‘8’ thing, but they did. It just goes to show that when you take a big creative risk it can really pay off.”
Avril is now worth around $50 million, and I’m pretty sure almost every cent of that is down to that cheeky little 8. Imagine if she’d done something really risky, like going electric at Newport folk festival.
Now, not everyone can be Avril Lavigne. We can’t all pluck daring ideas out of the air and execute them with the confidence of someone who’s simply too important for your regular vowels and consonants. But we are all capable of taking creative risks with our work—ones that genuinely pay off.
In a recent webinar, Radix Creative Director David McGuire talked through five of the risks he thinks we should all be taking with our B2B content. For those with an aversion to the word webinar, here’s a recap of what we learnt.
Why risk it?
Before we get into it, you’re probably asking yourself one of two questions right now. Either “why were the first four paragraphs of this blog about Avril Lavigne?” Or “what’s so great about taking risks?”
There’s no good reason for the former, so here’s an answer to the latter.
There are currently something like 4.4 million blog posts published every single day. Which means getting people to read, let alone engage with yours, is harder than ever.
In fact, a whopping 90 percent of audience engagement goes to just 5 percent of all content. And to get your content into that five percent, you’re going to need to shake things up a bit.
Here are five ways to do just that.
Risk one: target a smaller audience
There’s a natural inclination when it comes to marketing to want to get your content in front of as many people as possible. After all, the more people who see it, the more people you’re likely to turn into leads, right?
Well, not necessarily. The problem with trying to talk to everyone at once is that quite often you don’t end up speaking to anyone at all. Blanket B2B marketing just doesn’t work, at least not nearly as well as marketing that’s been thoughtfully targeted.
So, take a risk, and produce something that only a few people (but the right people) will see. This way, you give yourself the opportunity to talk about what really matters to those few. No more top-level vagaries about things that might appeal to half your audience, but instead detailed, thoughtful insights into things that really matter to everyone reading your work.
If thinking about the people you’re not targeting doesn’t make you a little bit worried, then you’re not targeting specifically enough.
Risk two: talk differently
Truman Capote once levelled the oft-quoted criticism at The Beat Generation that their work was “typing” rather than writing.
This is notable for two reasons: firstly, it falls into the rare category of subjective opinions that are objectively wrong. And secondly because it serves as a perfect example of what can happen when you go against the grain and try something a little different.
When Jack Kerouac sat down with a single roll of manuscript paper to hammer out the stream-of-consciousness On The Road, he may have ruffled a few feathers among the literary elite, but all these years later it is seen as a modern classic. In fact, both the Modern Library and Time Magazine have ranked it one of the 100 best novels of recent times. In literary terms, it was almost as big a success as Sk8er Boi.
So, what does going against the grain look like in B2B content marketing?
Well, a lot of B2B copy sounds the same. It uses the same words, makes the same claims, adopts the same tone, and gets bogged down in the same needlessly complex technical language.
So, let’s ditch it.
We propose that we all write a little bit more like people talk, do away with the grandiose claims and flowery prose and instead use simple, effective language to be informative, useful, and about 60% less irritating.
Where’s the risk in this? Well, you may find your stakeholders will take a dim view of simplicity. In fact, there’s a good chance they will think of it as “dumbing down”. After all, you’re writing for professional audiences, and professionals like big words and complex concepts, right?
Of course they don’t. No one has time for it. Cut to the chase.
To really speak to our audiences—to snatch their attention while they’re in the lift, waiting for the kettle to boil, or sat on the toilet—our content needs to strike the perfect balance: being as simple as possible while still being informative and valuable.
(If you want to know more about why simplicity is important, check out my recent blog on cognitive load theory in B2B content.)
Keep technical accuracy, kill complex language.
Risk three: stop leading, start helping
Everyone wants to be a thought leader these days. In fact, an article from Raconteur.net tells us that over a million people have the term “thought leader” in their LinkedIn bio, while just 628,000 describe themselves as marketers.
Why is this a problem? Because according to a study by Grist and Coleman Parkes, 69% of senior executives ignore all thought leadership content. That means more than a million people are bragging about being something most people don’t want.
What feels like the biggest risk in a world of thought leaders? Taking a step back and thinking about what it is that you can really offer that’s genuinely useful.
The most valuable content we can share isn’t our opinions, or forecasts, or predicted trends, but information that helps people do their jobs better. And to provide that we have to listen, not lead.
We have to listen to the questions our audience is asking. There are lots of ways to do this of course, but we think a great place to start is https://answerthepublic.com/
If it feels like a risk to not join the ever-growing crowd of thought leaders, start small with the kind of content we’re suggesting and see how it performs against your thought leadership pieces.
Risk four: ask your experts for their time
On any given day I can be asked to write about two or three different subjects of a pretty technical nature. Here’s a secret: I don’t know a whole lot about telecommunications, and I’ve never deployed an ERP solution for leading global enterprise… but I have been able to write about both of those things, along with many others, with authority.
How? By asking experts for a little bit of their time.
This can sometimes seem like a risk because experts are busy, and there’s always that nagging feeling that no one really wants to have to talk to the marketing department. The difference it makes to your copy, though, is crucial.
Essentially, when you’re creating B2B tech content you have two options. You can head to Google, research your topic, and replicate the information that already exists online. (Good job, genius, you’ve added to the noise.)
Or, you can ask for just a few minutes of your subject matter expert’s time, use what they say to guide your research or find an interesting angle, and create a unique piece of real value.
Asking the experts doesn’t have to take a lot of time—and it will make both you and whoever you’re writing on behalf of look a lot better.
Risk five: don’t publish it
It’s hard sometimes if you’ve put a lot of time and effort into something to take step back and ask the important question: “it this actually good enough?”
It’s even harder when the answer is no, especially when you have a content schedule to keep up with. But although it feels like a major risk to spike a piece of work, it can sometimes be what’s best for your brand.
So how do you know if what you’ve written is good enough or not?
At Radix, this is something we spend a lot of time thinking about. So much time in fact, that we created a 15-point checklist to help us make sure every piece of writing we produce is up to standard.
You can use this if you like, or create your own idea of what good looks like to make sure everything you put out into the world is something you’ll be proud of six months later.
Be honest with yourself—and each other—when it comes to quality. Only put the stuff you’re truly proud of out in the world.