Why content marketers must be ‘corkscrew thinkers’

Solomon Radley20/03/2019

With more branded content being published than ever before, it’s never been tougher to win the battle for your audience’s attention. To succeed, you need a healthy dose of what Churchill called “corkscrew thinking”.

Winston Churchill knew the value of unconventional ideas.

He called it “corkscrew thinking”, and it became the secret weapon that saw the Allies through the lowest points of World War Two.

Corkscrew thinking cracked the ‘unbreakable’ Enigma code, winning the Battle of the Atlantic. It gave us mines made of gobstoppers to sink Japanese warships. It gave us an inflatable army made of balloons, to fool the Germans about where the D‐Day landing would happen.

What all these ideas have in common is creativity.

Winning in a competitive environment means coming up with innovative solutions to the challenges you face. It means understanding how best to achieve your goals, coming at problems from new angles and outmanoeuvring the competition.

As you’re about to see, the same corkscrew thinking is alive and well in B2B marketing today – and it could transform your content campaigns.

As Ogilvy vice chairman Rory Sutherland says: “What you have to do to be a good marketer is have an absolutely overriding fear of the obvious.”

That means producing content which challenges people to think differently about how they do business. But it also means changing the way you think about your own content marketing campaigns.

Competition for your audience’s attention has never been stronger.

In a world where your prospects are bombarded with emails, sponsored social posts, PPC ads, magazine advertorials, TV commercials and more – you need to be doing something different to stand out from the crowd.

B2B buyers are allergic to ‘obvious’ content

The problem with being ‘obvious’ in content marketing is that the audience you’re writing for generally isn’t ready for a hard sell.

As the CEB notes, the typical B2B buyer is 57 per cent of the way through their purchase decision before they contact a supplier. They use content first to independently research their needs – and if they feel they’re being sold to they’ll just stop reading.

B2B buyers only have so much time to spend looking at branded content. The amount being produced has tripled in recent years, but there has been no increase in content engagement. It’s still the top 5 per cent of content that generates 90 per cent of the engagement.

If you can’t inspire business leaders by providing them with new ideas or perspectives, your content will fall on deaf ears.

Publishing content that’s geared too heavily towards your organisation’s products, services or spokespeople can also be ‘obvious’ and off‐putting. Prospects in the early stages of their research are looking for useful information to inform their decisions, not thinly‐veiled sales collateral.

Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t a place in your marketing strategy for content of this kind. But it’s best deployed later in the sales cycle, once a prospect has identified a business need and is engaged with your brand.

Towards the start of the customer journey, targeting prospects with conventional marketing messages often isn’t the way to go. You’ll generally achieve better results publishing authoritative, credible content to help them research their business needs.

In short, brands must think like publishers to succeed in today’s content landscape. Luckily, taking a few simple steps in the planning stages of your content strategy can ensure you’re producing the kind of ideas that business leaders love to engage with.

Why so much B2B content is bland and obvious

One of the biggest myths in marketing is that publishing content which is basically agreeable is somehow the ‘safe’ option.

“Causing offense could lose us business,” the argument goes. “So, let’s make sure we don’t make any contentious statements. While we’re at it, we’ll be missing a trick if we don’t mention our products. Oh, and the head of innovation wants to be interviewed, too.”

Of course, this isn’t a recipe for engaging B2B content. But perhaps some of the reasoning sounds familiar if you’ve encountered content initiatives that didn’t work in the past?

This kind of approach is common in organisations that involve too many stakeholders in the decision‐making process. As we argue in Six thinking hats for marketers, this creates a toxic cocktail that undermines content initiatives with ‘inside the box’ thinking.

To deliver effective campaigns, you need internal buy‐in from company stakeholders and the freedom to make the bold decisions required to bring your brand’s content to life.

Creating great content begins with accepting that your audience’s priorities don’t necessarily align with your own business objectives.

The best content‐producing brands think like publishers. They deal in bold, inspiring ideas that reflect their audience’s interests and ensure their writers have the freedom to deviate from strict brand guidelines.

When considering what this might mean for your organisation, the first step is to identify the topics you can speak about with authority.

“You have to get customers to think differently about how they operate,” say Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson in The Challenger Sale. “In most organisations, this is the job of marketing.”

They add: “The idea around which you reframe how the customer thinks about their business must be scalable and repeatable and, as such, must be created by the organisation.”

To illustrate this idea, they tell the story of a pharmaceutical company fighting to get more face time with doctors.

Rather than wasting time trying to emphasise the differences between its medicines and those of its competitors, they built a series of ‘patient journeys’ to share with physicians.

These journeys mapped the entire lifecycle of a disease and revealed new insights doctors could use to treat their patients more effectively. Through sharing these insights, the firm gained access to physicians in a way it had never enjoyed before.

That’s how B2B content marketing works in a nutshell. By sharing insights with your audience that improve the way they do business, you establish your brand’s credibility and show prospects why they should value the services you provide.

At first, this kind of approach may be met with scepticism by certain people within your organisation. But its benefits are clear, and you will need to get them on side to secure the resources you need to succeed.

Start by identifying the key stakeholders you need to engage. Then, outline how your planned initiative will create value for these groups and design a plan for sharing this vision with them.

For a more detailed look at how to master the internal sell of content marketing, click here.

A blueprint for effective content marketing

Corkscrew thinking isn’t about throwing the marketing rulebook out the window. There’s still a place for conventional tactics in your marketing strategy, and there probably always will be.

But today, the most effective B2B marketers spend 40 per cent of their total budget publishing the sort of content we’ve described here.

Our exclusive research into the content consumption habits of 500 European C‐suites shows that business leaders are hungry for ideas that help inform their decisions.

After reading a piece of content, 57 per cent of executives say they have asked the producing business to meet and discuss how they might help. What’s more, 55 per cent have purchased products or services as a direct result of content marketing.

But capitalising on this opportunity takes a very specific set of skills – one that the vast majority of B2B brands have yet to master. A full 71 per cent of C‐suite members told us they think most branded content is boring, expected and repetitive.

That’s why we created the 2019 Content Marketing Handbook. This essential guide will arm you with the concepts you need to join the trailblazing B2B brands that are already transforming their businesses with content marketing.

Download your copy today to discover the three disciplines every B2B marketer must master in order to deliver successful content campaigns.

Key takeaways

  • Don’t be obvious. The best B2B content helps reframe the problems your clients face, providing new ways of thinking about them.
  • Think like a publisher. Identify topics your organisation can speak about with authority and provide clients with new and useful insights.
  • Get buy‐in early. Engage internal stakeholders to secure the editorial freedom you need to avoid bland, forgettable content.