You Still Need “Promotional” Content – As Long as It’s Done Right

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Numerous research studies have demonstrated that B2B companies should feature marketing content that is educational and insightful. Research has also repeatedly shown that promotional content is largely ineffective and can actually be a turn-off for potential buyers. For example:
  • In a survey conducted last year by the CMO Council, participants were asked what characteristics they most dislike in B2B content. "Blatantly promotional and self-serving" was the second most disliked attribute identified by survey respondents, trailing only "too many requirements for download."
  • In the 2012 Content Preferences Survey by DemandGen Report, participants were asked:  "What general recommendations would you make to solution providers who are creating content about business issues?" Seventy-four percent of survey respondents selected, "Curb the sales messages."
  • In a 2012 survey by UBM TechWeb, participants were asked:  "What are the biggest mistakes technology vendors make when producing information?" Seventy-seven percent of respondents selected, "Too much marketing 'fluff.'"
The reality is, most business buyers simply don't like, trust, or value content that is overly promotional, which means that much of the content used by companies today is largely ineffective and a waste of precious marketing dollars.

I'm not contending that all forms of promotional content are useless or that promotional content should be completely eliminated from the content mix. What I am suggesting is that we need to change how we create promotional content if we want it to be effective.

Most promotional content is about a company or its products or services. When it's done well, company- and product-focused content provides value to potential buyers, and therefore this type of content is an important component of the content mix. In a recent survey of over 1,500 consumers by CEB, the most desirable and valued type of content identified by survey respondents was content that helped them learn about new products. It's also true, however, that company- and product-focused content can easily become the kind of promotional content that potential buyers dislike, distrust, and largely ignore.

So, how can marketers improve the effectiveness of company- and product-focused content? The most important step is to make this type of content primarily descriptive and explanatory. Take a close look at your brochures, product sheets, and similar content resources and remove most, if not all, of the flowery language and self-serving claims. It's fine to describe what your company does and to explain the capabilities of your products or services, but make those descriptions as factual and "objective" as possible. Style and tone really matter for these types of content resources.

When I review these kinds of content resources for clients, I use a simple process to help me determine if the materials pass the promotional "smell test." I ask myself this question:  If an independent and respected journalist were writing an article about this topic, would it be similar to this content resource?

Company- and product-focused content is still an essential component of the marketing communications mix. It's somewhat counterintuitive, but the key to making this kind of content effective is to avoid excessive promotion.

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