As B2B marketers, we are in the business of influence. Our thought leadership and content campaigns are designed to make our audiences think differently about our brands or act differently.
Good content forges positive associations with your brand in the audience’s memory – associations that can be triggered in future buying situations. When your audience gets to the point when they are ready to buy what you offer, they will draw on the memory structures that you have helped to construct over years of marketing activity.
B2B purchasing decisions can take many months. Your audience is spread out across different stages of their interactions with your brand – all the way from those who know nothing about you and are not even aware they have a problem, through to those who are long-term customers and advocates of your business.
Throughout this range of interactions, you have to continuously influence your audience. But what does influence really mean in this context? That was the question we set out to answer in our new ebook, ‘Influence and impact’. It draws on the work of persuasion experts, advertising copywriters and behavioural scientists to help marketers create content that genuinely gets audiences to think and act differently. Here is a handful of our recommendations.
Focus on first impressions
You can’t influence anyone if you haven’t got their attention. But getting it is harder than you think: most web users spend 15 seconds at most on a page before moving on.
So spend time making your headlines stand out. Focus on layout to make the design accessible and inviting to audiences. And don’t bury the lede – put your biggest story first.
Use the power of social proof
People tend to follow what others are doing, so social proof is a powerful behavioural concept and a key part of influence. Research that shows your peers are already making a change will give you a sense of urgency to follow suit. It triggers loss aversion – an important concept in behavioural economics whereby potential losses loom larger in people’s minds than potential gains.
Keep it simple
When you’ve invested a lot of money in an extensive piece of research, it’s tempting to report every finding in your content. Resist this temptation: the more messages you throw at your audience, the less likely they are to understand them.
Keep your message simple and make sure your content can be distilled into a single narrative that your audience will grasp quickly.
Be careful how you ask for change
Most of the time, we are asking B2B audiences to make significant investments (for example, in new technologies) or changes (such as setting ambitious net-zero targets).
Peter Salovey, president of Yale University and an originator of the concept of emotional intelligence, argues that messages should vary depending on how the proposed change is likely to be perceived. If your audience is likely to think that the change is safe, you can emphasise all the associated gains. But if they see it as risky, focus on the dangers of doing nothing.
Remember the ‘curse of knowledge’
Many executives are so immersed in their corporate vision that they find it difficult to think from the perspective of those who aren’t. They communicate messages that the audience cannot understand because it does not have the right context or experience. This is known as the ‘curse of knowledge’, and it is everywhere in B2B content.
To avoid this trap, empathise and listen. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and frame your content around what they know, not what you know.
Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself
It takes time to secure influence, and you might need to repeat yourself to create a strong association between your brand and your message.
Harvard professor and author John Kotter has found that people trying to create change typically under-communicate their message by a factor of 10: they speak about the change 10 times less than they need to for the audience to process it. You might worry that you are being boring, but repetition is essential to building up the impetus for change.
Apply the scarcity principle
The scarcity principle is the idea that opportunities are more valuable to us when their availability is limited. B2C marketers use the scarcity principle when making an offer for a limited time or, in online retail, showing that only a handful of items are still in stock.
In a B2B context, marketers can apply the scarcity principle by creating exclusive content. People who feel they are getting access to privileged information will value that content more than content that is widely available. This is why some companies hold back content from the mainstream to help build and maintain existing relationships with a small number of important clients.
Make the most of reciprocity
One of the strengths of thought leadership is its principle of reciprocity: the idea that we feel obliged to pay back gifts and favours. Reciprocity is baked into content campaigns as a marketing tactic, and is an example of what marketing expert Seth Godin calls “permission marketing”. These campaigns are usually seen by the audience as relevant – in contrast with traditional advertising, which is seen as promotional.
This is why thought leadership content, which has greater intrinsic value, is more easily thought of as a gift, and when done well, it feels more like a dialogue than a sales pitch.
We hope this inspires you to think differently about how to communicate your messages to your audience. For more details and to see these points in action, download your copy of ‘Influence and impact’ here.