In college, I decided I should probably gain some writing experience, so I applied to write a twice-weekly fashion blog for a popular website targeted to and written by college students. Why I picked fashion is beyond me—my qualifications didn’t extend beyond the fact that I had, at one point or another, been inside a mall. But they needed writers, so I was given the green light.
As I went to put pen to paper for the first time, I felt a sinking feeling. I didn’t know anything about fashion. I was a total fraud. Why would anyone want to read what I had to say?
Many B2B marketers are tossed into similar—though admittedly higher-stake—situations, tasked with speaking convincingly to audiences with which they have little, if anything, in common. And in the Age of the Customer, marketers can’t get away with playing it safe and focusing on the benefits of their company’s products and services anymore.
Today’s consumers expect businesses to churn out everything from thought leadership pieces and how-tos to tactical, problem-solving insights into how they can do their jobs better. At the end of the day, they want to be spoken to by someone who understands them.
But how can you earn trust and project authority when you don’t actually have personal experience with the challenges facing your audience?
Here are a few strategies for building your voice so you can speak with confidence:
Embrace Cultural Immersion
Before you launch into talking, take some time to listen. Lurk in forums, read top industry blogs, listen to podcasts; you get the idea. Ask yourself: How do people talk about their industry? How do they understand their line of work? What factors stand in the way of success? What types of products or services do they use right now?
Answering these questions will shine a light on conventional wisdom, widely felt frustrations, and emerging trends. With time, you’ll get a stronger sense of the larger conversation and be able to contextualize your place in it.
Identify Faux Pas and Avoid Them Like the Plague
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and like anyone else with roots in the City by the Bay, you’ll never hear me utter the word “Frisco.” (Don’t even get me started on “San Fran.”) If I do come across a piece of content about San Francisco that makes use of one of these terrible nicknames, I’m instantly clued into the fact that the author hasn’t spent much time there.
Sometimes, this isn’t a huge deal. But if you’re trying to position yourself as an SF insider, you’ve instantly let me know that you don’t actually have a clue what you’re talking about.
Whether we notice it or not, we’re all picking up on these kinds of clues when determining whether to trust someone’s opinion. If I referred to baseball umpires as “referees” in a sports blog, you’d know immediately that I wasn’t the person to come to for great sports analysis, regardless of whatever great insights I included in the rest of the article.
The B2B space is no different. Don’t give people an excuse not to trust you.
Failing to catch these relatively minor errors can undercut an otherwise flawless effort. Don’t let a single slip up negate the time and energy you put into a piece of great content.
Ghostwriting is a great way to produce valuable content while also getting a chance to learn from the experts.
Find people in your company who really are experts—those who work directly with customers to ensure their success, those who develop your products and services, and who have experience in the field. Then get them to talk to you about their understanding of the industry landscape.
They might want to expound on a new challenge facing the industry or a strategy they believe people should adopt to make their lives easier and their work more effective. In most cases, they’ll have plenty of topic ideas. All you have to do is ask.
Ghostwriting allows you to practice writing from a place of authority and your interviewee to earn a byline with minimal effort. Everyone wins!
Interview Industry Leaders
Like ghostwriting, interviews are an excellent way to create content people want to read while learning something new along the way. People love to hear from their peers, and the big ideas leaders have to share are easy ways to frame the conversation and establish your brand—and you—as a leading voice within it.
Remember: People are People
Even though you may not be talking to fellow B2B marketers whose jobs resemble your own, you are talking to fellow humans with the same basic concerns about their careers that you have.
Your audience wants to work efficiently and improve their day-to-day work experiences. They want to stay ahead of the competition, impress their bosses, and do their jobs as well as they can—just like you do.
The particulars of their work may be different, but their human instincts probably aren’t. Remember to speak person-to-person, using empathy to inform the way you approach even the most complex content.
Use Ignorance to Your Advantage
Being an outsider has its perks.
In a recent blog post, marketing consultant Mark Schaefer quoted his late business school professor Peter Drucker, who argued that “ignorance is the most powerful element in helping a customer solve problems.”
While educating yourself about your audience and their specific problems is obviously a critical part of B2B marketing, you can also use your ignorance to bring a new perspective to the conversation.
If you have an idea that differs from the norm, explore it instead of shutting it down right away and labeling it as “wrong.” You might have discovered a way of thinking that others haven’t considered before.
And hey, you may be wrong. But do yourself a favor and take the time to find out.
The success of B2B content hinges on credibility. To become a trusted information source, you’ll need to ensure your voice becomes an integral part of a larger conversation.
There are two facets to keep in mind for a successful approach:
- Your potential customers have niche interests and a language all their own.
- Your potential customers are people. Human concerns lay at the center of all their professional challenges.
Authentic content is a balancing act between these two considerations.
Becoming a trusted voice in the B2B space won’t happen overnight, but if you build on these strategies, you’ll be well on your way.
Oh, and that college blog? It ended up being one of the most interesting projects I’ve ever worked on. It turned out there was a lot more to say about the fashion industry than “The 10 Best Dresses for Spring.”