Glossy brochures might look good in reception but too many feature self-aggrandising puff-pieces which reveal a failure to understand clients, explains Jason Ball, founder of B2B marketing specialist Considered Content.
Often produced at great expense, company brochures are often fatally flawed in one distinctive way: they tend to be all about the company producing them. They are all me, me, me. The problem is that customers and prospects (and especially the latter) simply don’t care about suppliers. They care about their own challenges and business success. Everything else is garnish.
Often, the intention is to convince the reader of our unrivalled expertise. But this won’t impress. Chances are, your competitors have people with just as much know-how, just as many years in the business. Today, your expertise is merely the price of entry.
But content is critically important to craving out a distinctive presence in the market. On that most would agree. So, if not a demonstration of your business’s talents and skills, what should your brochureware be about?
The rule of thumb is this: focus on customers and their challenges, while still showing how you can help solve their real-world problems. Less me, me, me. More you, you, you.
To do that, you need to know your clients. One of the greatest success-killing sources of friction for your marketing strategy is a poor understanding of potential buyers. We all like to think we know our prospects, but all too often this understanding is based on assumption and hearsay. Ultimately, there is no substitute for getting out and talking to them.
Conducting primary research with no other objective than simply finding out what it’s like to be someone in the market for our products and services is incredibly valuable. Yet, so few businesses value it enough to invest money in making it happen.
The real value is not in discovering how customers view us (though this is a benefit), it is about understanding what really matters to them day-to-day, and how we can better fit into their working lives.
Interviewing customers, past and present, is one way to glean this information – ideally using a consultant or research company, or by hosting round-table events. Ask questions that are open and wide-ranging. Then adjust them according to the precise context of what you’re looking to discover.
Ask them: What’s on your current to-do list? Why did you get into your line of work in the first place? What excites you about what you do? What frustrates you? What do people always get wrong when they think about what you do? If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
You can also look to gain wider market insight. A number of research companies and publishers will run regular omnibus surveys that you could tag a question or two onto for relatively little cost. Or else, you could create a short survey in something like Survey Monkey or Typeform and then drive traffic with paid promotion via LinkedIn.
The more expensive option, that will also give you the greatest depth of insight, is to engage a research company, working with them to create the questionnaire and analyse the results. Given the expense, make sure to add some questions about the general state of the market and their views on it. This could the start of some useful marketing content.
Getting to know your clients better will not only inform the direction of your marketing content – from blog articles and podcasts through to brochures, newsletters and website content – it should also inform your business strategy too as you’ll have a more actionable understanding of key challenges your customers are facing.
Earlier I said your brochureware should focus on customers and their challenges. Think of the last time you were drawn to a piece of content. Why did it reel you in? Probably because it was relevant to your own experiences. Perhaps it solved a problem you’ve been struggling to overcome, or perhaps an opinion piece took a never-before-seen stance on a topic you care about, such as sustainability or diversity.
Here, the expertise is implied. It follows the advice given at every writing masterclass: show don’t tell. The sole focus is on proving to the client that you’re in touch with their frustrations, worries, and fears. You get them.
A good example is CB Insights’ newsletter. As a tech market intelligence platform that analyses data on venture capital, startups, patents, partnerships and news mentions, its newsletter is written for an audience of VCs. Now, this company creates insights and charts trends, so they already have a head start on good content, but there’s no reason your own partners or leaders couldn’t also predict market trends, or write a response to a breaking news story. And, note the tone. The CB Insights newsletter is refreshingly droll, comfortingly human, and signed off by a person, and usually with the words “I love you” because… why not? Just because it’s B2B, it doesn’t have to be dry and humourless.
Another example is the output from the team at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions. They create a wide range of customer-focused content and resources – both inspirational and practical. Their Sophisticated Marketer guides and primary research on what works in marketing today are a refreshing antidote to much of the self-serving content that comes out of today’s MarTech vendors.
Finally, not everyone has the budget of a CB or LinkedIn, so it’s impressive to see what smaller businesses can do with some focus and attitude. The Wow Company is an accountancy practice focused on the creative sector (full disclosure: Considered Content is a client). Their content spans advice on growing a creative business, being efficient around tax, technology and managing personal finances. They also run annual benchmarking research which is a must-read whenever it hits my inbox.
In the final analysis, whatever content you plan to produce, think less about the binding, the finish and the ego and more about your customers, what they care about and how you can add value. You’ll waste less money and see greater results.