Sometimes, trying to develop effective content for an audience can feel a little bit like trying to catch a fish with your bare hands: You’re aware of how to reach your goal, but that doesn’t make the process any easier. Either way, there will inevitably be a lot of trial and error, feeling as if you’re trying to catch something that keeps moving just as you get close enough to catch it.
Now enter the realm of B2B technology marketing: a realm of content that can be so nuanced, it can feel like searching for the content equivalent of the Holy Grail, accompanied by an audience even more elusive than a fish. Not only are technically minded folks critical of what they read, it can also be painfully obvious when you’ve missed the mark with your messaging.
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There are challenges in developing technical content that is engaging yet also conveys necessary information. It’s an area that is often littered with sci-fi references—I think I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come across the words Star Trek—and content can quickly can fall into the trap of stagnancy. Some companies only produce content when they release a new product, creating large publishing gaps and minimal information for their audiences.
This information poses a dilemma for B2B technology marketing professionals today: How do you break into a market that is not only fairly skeptical, but can also be intensely brand loyal when it comes to products? Can you find this “content holy grail” without having to purchase a bunch of coconuts?
When it comes to content marketing, professionals want to focus on a story and present the information in a way that can be accessible to both industry veterans and potential outside prospects. To address this dichotomy, you need to decide just how technical you want your content to be for your audience. Should products be the main focus? Are you talking about something that can be explained through a narrative? Or do you ultimately want a mix of both?
The answer will shift depending on the industry, and frankly on the content itself. Because technical readers in the B2B market can be incredibly specific about what type of content they consume, it can be difficult to predict what content will perform well across your readership—or what will flop.
Overall, the best way to reach readers is to answer their question: “How can this help improve my daily workflow?” Not only will this help cut down on some of the smoke and mirrors that might traditionally be involved in B2B marketing, it can also help to narrow down the type of information that your readers want the most.
It’s also important to note that there are some topics you’re not going to be able to pull into a long-form narrative—maybe they’re just too technical in nature, or require a lot of spec listings—but this type of non-story content still has a space within technical marketing. Plenty of readers are waiting to get their hands on a PDF of software updates or detailed hardware dimensions.
Know Your Limits
One of the most common issues I saw during my time as an engineering content creator was a disconnect between companies and their audience. I’d sit through flashy presentations that touted a product as “the best in the business,” “a pinnacle of innovation,” or “making engineers’ lives 1000% easier,” only to hear audience members chuckle and comment that their department hadn’t even upgraded to the latest version of the software.
The longer I was in the industry, the more this disparity fascinated me. I wondered if these content creators were aware of the everyday problems their end-user audience faced, or if they were choosing to operate within a bubble, generating content about products for which their users would potentially have to create a heavy business case?
Image attribution: Andres Prieto Molina
Getting in touch with an audience can also help marketers to reevaluate and adapt content strategy. It’s great to figure out a marketing strategy that works within your niche, but how effective will a stagnant strategy be in an industry that’s changing on a weekly, daily, and even hourly basis? It’s nearly impossible to know what interests your readers if you’re constantly striving to generate content from a bubble that focuses strictly on being “the number one all-time greatest ever.”
Eventually I started to attend a conference where, in one of the main sessions, the company’s CEO and VP of product management got up on stage to ask a room of several hundred engineers if they had any questions or issues with their software. This might sound like a PR nightmare to some, but it ultimately gave the company a chance to see what types of issues their users were focused on or concerned about, creating a level of transparency both for users and for the company itself. And even though most companies can’t cater to every user request, seeing what general questions are asked can help create a baseline standard for what an audience wants.
Hitting the Right Note
Of course, that isn’t to say there isn’t great technical marketing out there. There are actually quite a few examples that showcase a product while still bringing a human element to a piece. If there’s one thing I’ve realized about spending time with engineers, it’s that they like to see how the technology can be used, love to talk about their work, and enjoy learning what’s happening within their specific field.
Overall, my favorite companies to work with were the ones that still found a way to incorporate story into their corporate identity. By bringing this element to their press room, not only were these companies able to produce a varied content portfolio, but they also added a more human dimension to their compositions. In the end, it felt less like PR was pushing a bunch of press releases from inside a bubble.
But enough talk. Let’s look at some examples.
If you’ve bought, driven, or even flown anything within the past few decades, chances are it has at one point been evaluated with CAD (computer-aided design) software. While this type of software is standard within the industry, Onshape only recently appeared on the scene as an extensively featured cloud-based design program.
Even as a startup, Onshape’s company blog stands out as a great content resource, spanning customer stories, quick tech tips, application updates, and industry-specific thought leadership pieces from C-level executives. With this much varied content, readers can decide what specifically they’d like to learn more about and the degree of technicality they’re looking for.
Here’s an example of content that can get really technical really fast—anyone want to talk about oscilloscopes and testing data? Yes, those people exist, and National Instruments definitely knows how to talk to them. Even while planning and executing their big annual user conference, they still managed to consistently convey their message with case studies, press releases, and various forums where engineers can talk about their own advancements.
National Instruments is also a great example of allowing an audience base to be technical. Perhaps most notable is the annual Engineering Impact Awards, which honors research and work submitted by team members who interact with the company’s software and technology.
Going Against the Grain
It’s unrealistic to expect all B2B companies to have the budget or bandwidth to support massive amounts of content, not to mention awards shows. But in the long-term, the overall goal for B2B technology marketing should be clarity. Not only must your content be consistently 100 percent accurate from a technical standpoint, it also needs to reach your audience in such a way that they can immediately determine if what you’re pitching is relevant or beneficial to what they do, or even has the potential to show them a new way to work.
While relying on technical information and slimming down some of the marketing language may seem somewhat counterintuitive, it’s a good way to build credibility within a space that’s constantly evolving and emphasizes data and efficiency in its writing and content production.
Connecting to your audience and developing a varied content plan will not only make B2B technology marketing feel a little less like the Final Frontier—or the Holy Grail—it will also help you cultivate a content strategy that can engage an audience for many years to come.
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