For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on a project that involves reading a bunch of feature articles from a wide range of B2B publishers. It’s been, surprisingly, an inspiring experience.
Why the surprise? I guess because there’s so much gloom and doom surrounding the future of B2B publishing. The grim outlook makes it easy to forget just how much superb work is still being done by B2B journalists.
If content marketers hope to pick up the mantle of the writers and editors behind these endangered magazines, they will need to study the best and brightest of them (or better yet, hire them). Though there are probably more to be mined, I’ve found five key principles behind the best of the articles I read. By applying them to their own writing, content marketers can keep the B2B publishing flame burning brightly.
1. Prefer expert writers over experts who write. In the articles I reviewed, the authors were either professional writers (staff or freelance) or experts from industry. The best articles came from the professional writers, not the industry experts. Note that I am not arguing against using industry experts as writers. There are certain topics and contexts that demand it. But when you can, use expert writers instead.
2. If you write about your own product, it will sound like an ad. In a few cases, articles I read were written by people with a commercial interest in their topic. Their expertise was clear, but so was their bias.
No matter how objective you are, when you talk about your own product or service you will reveal your bias. That’s not a problem in itself. Passion is good (see point 5). If you believe in your product, you should show it, whether in your PR or your traditional marketing. But such bias runs counter to the spirit of B2B publishing that the best content marketing aspires to.
3. Give opposing points of view fair consideration. To be effective, a story needs to have some kind of conflict or tension. You can’t generate that with a straw man. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to lead your reader to prefer your point of view to the alternative, but you can’t do that if you don’t give the alternative its due. While the outstanding stories I read generally had a clear point of view, they made the most of the conflict they covered. You should do the same.
4. Share your purpose and be true to it. The best articles make it clear up front what they are aiming to tell you and why, and they stick fiercely to their aim throughout the whole story. The headlines, graphics, pull quotes, and other story elements all support that aim. Weaker articles don’t know what they’re about, or worse, try to hide it from the reader.
5. Show your passion. What really distinguishes the best B2B writers is their love of the topic. It’s not that the subject matter is central to their lives. It usually isn’t. Rather, it’s that they have an ability to dive into their assigned subject and adopt it with enthusiasm. True experts may have an enduring passion for their topic, but they often don’t know how to build off that passion and share it with the reader. And if you can’t share it with your readers, you won’t make a real impact on them.
As my reading reminded me, there are plenty of B2B publications that could learn a few things from the best of their breed. Those that don’t may not survive much longer. Worse yet, even the best B2B publishers may find that their excellence is not enough to save them. But if the benchmarks they set can inspire content marketers to achieve similar heights of content, they will not have excelled in vain.