Whatever happened to the content marketing heroes?


David explains why bold, ambitious marketers are essential if we're going to create B2B content that works – and asks what we do when content marketing becomes business as usual.

“Whatever happened to all the heroes – all the Shakespearos?
They watched their Rome burn.”

– The Stranglers: No More Heroes

It it just me, or are there fewer examples of brilliant B2B content marketing than there used to be? Am I imagining it, or has the discipline lost a little of its… zing?

I mean, it very well might just be me. I’ve had a long, long summer full of messaging frameworks and delayed trains to and from London. I could be projecting all of that onto the social feeds I’m reading and the work examples I see.

But if it is true, and people are less excited about content marketing, then it’s a problem. Because without advocates – without that fire of enthusiasm – great B2B content is almost impossible to create.

Is content marketing over?

Inevitably, there’s no shortage of contrarians lining up the obituaries for content marketing. Every “next big thing” has its backlash when marketers discover that, contrary to popular assumption, today’s hot tactic is (whisper it) not actually magic.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, here’s a quick recap:

You get the picture: it’s a regular Infinity War. Ironically, it seems the only tactic which isn’t currently dead, is publicly declaring things dead. (Oops, no: my mistake.)

But if content marketing is on the way out, it seems nobody told the users of Google…

Content Marketing Google Trends

Lack of interest is not the problem. This year, the Content Marketing in the UK report by CMI and Tomorrow People shows 86% of marketers use content marketing, and 93% plan to maintain or increase their expenditure on the tactic next year.

So there are still loads of marketers, creating tonnes of content. No, the real problem is, how much of it will be great content?

Why “great” matters in B2B content (now more than ever)

It feels weird that I still need to say this in 2018. But somebody has to – and lately, it seems the traditional advocates for brilliant B2B content have been a bit quiet.

So here we go again.

If you’re creating B2B content, there’s no such thing as just “good enough”.

Not any more.

There’s a metric fuck-tonne of content out there, competing for your audience’s attention. And every tweak to Google’s algorithm tips the scales further in favour of quality. So assuming you want to be found, and read, and shared, your stuff needs to be different. More engaging. More relevant. More… amazing.

(And that’s backed by evidence, by the way. Orbit Media’s blogging research shows a clear correlation between time invested and strong results. Meanwhile, 83% of respondents in that CMI/Tomorrow People report attribute their increased success to better content production. This stuff works.)

Sure, there are people on social who will just share any old thing where the title looks halfway decent. And yes, you can take lazy aim at a keyword if that’s what floats your boat. But if those things move the needle on your KPIs, then I can tell you now you’re measuring the wrong stuff.

You don’t get “great” without a fight

So here’s the conundrum.

Now more than ever, successful B2B marketing depends upon outstanding, extraordinary, jawdropping content. The kind of content that takes heroes to deliver. What if it’s happening just at the moment those heroes have started to look elsewhere?

If you’re one of the brightest, boldest, most curious marketers, you’re always looking for the next new thing that can push things forward, and give you an edge. You’re naturally a bit bored by things you’ve done before. That’s what makes you tick. Content marketing isn’t shiny anymore.

But that restless streak – the willingness to challenge the status quo – is also an essential part of delivering truly genius content. Content that is…

Unflinchingly helpful, even when it hurts

Great content answers the questions your clients really ask; not just the ones you wish they would. But in They Ask, You Answer, Marcus Sheridan points out just how revolutionary that idea is, because it involves saying things that everyone in your market assumes are unsayable.

So targeted it’s actually a bit scary

In a content-saturated market, pieces that resonate deeply with a tiny, targeted niche will always beat the vague and generic. But convincing stakeholders to keep their focus that precise takes firm conviction, and nerves of steel.

Utterly, uniquely and unmistakeably yours

Fun Boy Three & Bananarama were right. Well, sort of – it’s what you say and the way that you say it. You should be able to cover up the branding on your content, and still know exactly whose it is – otherwise, why would you bother? That might mean pushing your content, or your voice, into territory it hasn’t been before. Speaking plainly. Sounding different from the crowd. Using a massive four-letter word for your title (OK, that last one’s already been done – but seriously, can you imagine anyone but Doug Kessler doing that back in 2013? That’s the point.)

Stuff like that works precisely because it’s a little rebellious. It goes against the grain, and that’s why you notice it. But it doesn’t just happen; it involves a degree of (somewhat calculated) risk. Somewhere along the line, a marketer needs to take a deep breath, and change something.

Can great content EVER be “business as usual”?

And that’s the rub. Content marketing needs rebels, while the approach itself is becoming ever more established. Maybe it’s no coincidence that this is the moment when  some of the biggest content evangelists have started to sell to big business, and enjoy a hard-earned step back.

So now B2B marketers face two choices. You can make your content “business as usual”, streamline your processes, and use efficiency gains to offset gradually diminishing returns. Or you can take that calculated risk, and shake things up.

Because even though content marketing is a mainstream tactic, the most effective B2B content is still a little subversive at heart.

What does that mean? If we can’t have our heroes back, we need some new ones to step up. Marketers who are willing to look at content in a fresh way. To ask what’s possible, and what customers really need, rather than just which boxes need to be ticked this quarter.

The stage is all yours.

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

– Winston Churchill


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