Powerful B2B Content
This book review was written for the PM Forum Magazine (June 2020).
Gay Flashman, Kogan Page, £19.99
This is a useful go-to reference for anybody looking to refresh, review or further develop their content strategy. As I sat down to read this book three weeks into the COVID lockdown I suspect that group is a lot bigger currently than it might ordinarily be. As events programmes stall, many marketers have been looking to their content strategies to help fill the gap. This is a background/context that the author couldn’t possibly have envisaged when she wrote it.
The author Gay Flashman defines brand journalism in the context of B2B storytelling and the role that content has in building trust and relationships, and on making sure brands at least enter the customer or client’s consideration set in a world where the traditional sales funnel has been somewhat interrupted. Quoting McKinsey’s work on the consumer journey with which we are all familiar but which ten years on is still worth a periodic revisit, she reminds us that it’s better to be clever with the messaging rather than merely the loudest.
Establishing trust is a big theme in the book and Flashman warns against the “desire to promote”. As a former journalist she is keen to highlight the values of traditional journalism, eg. editorial integrity and telling stories thoughtfully, as key to getting this right.
In the current environment that seems particularly apt and any organisation which has been caught out being tone deaf could usefully read the chapters on taking a newsroom approach. ‘Authenticity’ as a word may make some Brits cringe but we all have examples we can quote of corporate content that at best failed to hit the mark and at worst struck entirely the wrong tone and had quite the opposite effect to the one intended. This may be a particular danger at the moment.
Journalists are also good at engaging quickly, at getting up to speed with their subject and being naturally curious. All useful qualities for marketers looking to get their content programmes to work well for them. Thinking editorially instils other useful disciplines like knowing your audience and what makes them tick, being succinct, focusing on a consistent tone and so on. These are things that can so easily get lost or forgotten.
The book provides some useful frameworks for developing contact programmes including one I found particularly helpful on “finding stories that resonate”.
It also covers the practicalities of how to hunt out and generate stories in organisations which is often in, my experience, where firms struggle. Siloed information and working habits often obscure much of what is of value. The book acknowledges the real-world challenges and makes numerous suggestions for approaches and practical solutions.
As I read the section on encouraging a story culture and thought leadership it struck me that as we attempt to work together with our colleagues while physically apart, having a common purpose has never been so crucial and there may be more benefits on top of increased sales to many of the approaches suggested.
The run-through of content types was helpful as professionals often fall into the trap of a long narrative as the default with the key points carefully hidden at the end like a legal judgment. Suggestions on structuring longer content as Q&As, interviews or round tables for examples are useful reminders of how reworking content into a different form can often really bring it to life.
The book doesn’t shy away from looking at paid for amplification where appropriate and even reminds us that influencers are not just there to help sell us consumer goods.
Yet whether the investment is in time or money, or both, readers will be pleased to know that with both coming under even more pressure and scrutiny than usual (if such a thing were possible), a thorough chapter on measuring impact covers a lot of useful ground and is worth reading in tandem with the chapter on the setting of goals.
Emily Morris, Atkin Chambers