EI Insight Breakfast: Cutting Through the Noise

EI Advisory’s second Insight Breakfast ran on the 29th September 2016, gathering a group of B2B marketers to discuss how to create compelling B2B content.

The session was led by Angela Everitt, Associate Director of Creative Strategy EMEA at The Economist Group, and was based on the findings of a recent Economist study entitled ‘Thought Leadership Disrupted,’ surveying over 1,600 senior, cross-industry executives.

Is the Content Bubble About to Burst?

One of the key issues regarding B2B content today is that we may have reached a period of “peak” content. In an environment where brands, publishers and agencies are all pushing out content, does thought leadership retain the currency it once did? A recent study by The Economist Group demonstrates that audiences are reaching content overload, as 3 in 5 global executives admit that they feel confused or overwhelmed by the amount of thought leadership content they come across, while 16% believe that the value of content has diminished somewhat or a lot.

The Challenge: Creating Compelling Content

The overflow of accessible content means that 75% of audiences have become more selective about the content they consume, with 80% blaming the volume of content for this. Interestingly, despite the fact that 44% of audiences are engaging with less than a fifth of the thought leadership they see, 80% of marketers plan to increase the amount of content they put out in the marketplace. So what does this mean for B2B marketers? This finding makes it particularly important to get your content right.

Audiences are driven away from content that is superficial, sales-driven and biased. When it comes to creating high-quality, compelling thought leadership, audiences demand content that is innovative, big picture, credible and transformative. However, it is no easy task to create truly transformative thought leadership on an ongoing basis. So what can marketers do to ensure they are engaging their target audiences in a meaningful way? Here are some of the key learnings from The Economist’s study:

 Know Your Audience

In order to bridge the gap between what marketers are doing and what audiences are demanding, it is essential that marketers know their audience and put them first. Marketers highlighted the need to differentiate from competitors and the desire to be seen as an authority as their primary objectives when creating B2B content, while only 28% cited helping their audience in becoming more knowledgeable. A mere 20% of marketers cited social media shares or time spent with content as a top measurement of their ROI. However, by not focusing on the time spent with content, marketers could be missing out on important insights regarding what their audiences want.

Know Yourself

Who are you as a brand? Marketers talk about their brands being authentic and credible, and the key takeaway here is that if you want to be seen as an authority, you must be clear on what your brand stands for, and do things that align with your brand. As Hamish Rickman, VP Marketing at Virgin Atlantic Airways puts it: “To be credible you have to have a clear understanding of what you want to portray.”

 Don’t be Limited

Who isn’t currently involved, but should be, in the creation of your thought leadership? It is beneficial to involve outside experts rather than solely relying on internal insights, and respondents to this question cited media partners, all employees, customers and other outside sources, showing that it is valuable to collate opinions from different sources when putting together B2B content.

 When it Comes to Trust, Less is More

When asked what it takes to engender trust in content and thought leadership, over half of the respondents said that the quality of the research and whether it feels credible makes the content trustworthy, suggesting a return to fundamentals, in terms of rigour. For challenger brands, if content is coming from an unfamiliar source, respondents say that it has to be a source of hard facts in order to be trusted.

Innovating with Distribution, Format and Cadence

Executive audiences are narrowing their shortlists, and it’s not that they are no longer looking for information – it’s that they are looking for it from fewer sources. This means that B2B content is competing for attention with so many other types of content, and in order to stand out, marketers need to excite their audience with their content; distribution, format and cadence are all critical for effective discovery of your content. Shell’s recent ‘Cities Energized’ campaign with the New York Times used augmented reality and parallax website formats, and engagement results were astounding: readers spent twice as much time consuming this content as they did the newspaper editorial.

Think Big

Almost all survey respondents – a massive 96% – say they want to encounter fresh thoughts and ideas that go beyond current thinking. However, it would be virtually impossible to come up with a new, ground-breaking thought every single day. Instead, B2B marketers are advised to identify white space and take time to explore it, building on an idea from different angles. The Economist ran a 3-year programme for GE entitled ‘Look Ahead’ which served to shift perception of GE and position the company as an innovator. The campaign focused on the central theme of innovation and performed exceptionally well, with unique visitors to the site peaking at 8 million in 2015.

Be a Thought Partner

The above example is an excellent demonstration of engaging with readers without using a hard sell approach, but rather focusing on sharing information to make the audience more knowledgeable. On that note, one of the biggest takeaways from this session is that brands should no longer aim to become thought leaders, but instead should strive to be thought partners to business readers.