Do Prospects Trust You? Why a “Brand-Agnostic” Content Marketing Strategy Matters
It’s no secret that content marketing is a huge strategic priority for B2B organizations. According to analysts like Forrester Research, B2B marketers are paying even more attention to content development and content marketing strategy in 2012 than in years past.
As I work with clients at Left Brain DGA to develop and create the right content for their demand generation marketing programs, one of the continual challenges I see is helping them understand the role and importance of what we often call “brand-agnostic” content. That doesn’t necessarily mean brand-neutral content (though sometimes it does). It signifies content that doesn’t promote your brand over another, and may in fact even mention your competitors.
Unfortunately, what many inexperienced B2B content marketers do is focus mainly on sending prospects sales-oriented content that promotes their company’s products. When you’re responsible for generating demand, it’s a natural impulse. Salespeople also clamor for this product content when they need help closing deals—so that’s where the content budget investment tends to go.
The problem is that B2B buyers – just like consumer buyers – have a basic and ever-increasing distrust of traditional marketing content. It doesn’t matter if it’s a candidate running for office or a software company promoting the latest upgrade, people feel like the truth is difficult to find.
In the early stages of the buying cycle especially, it’s important to connect with prospects about the issues they care about – to start a dialogue with them first – before starting to connect their pain points to your product. You might in fact be the industry leader in your space, but the buyer just doesn’t care (yet).
Ultimately, as analyst Peter O’Neill at Forrester writes in a recent report for technology marketers, buyers control the agenda today. They have nearly endless sources of information at their fingertips. They choose when and how they consume information regarding a purchase. “Context has become more imperative and no tech marketers can afford to be perceived as too aggressive about their products and services at the buyer’s early stages,” O’Neill says.
So, inserting your brand too early can be like a conversation-stopper at a cocktail party. This distrust of brand messaging is one of the reasons social media has become so important in the buying cycle: people think they can trust the opinions of others, even if they are strangers, more than they can trust a brand.
Here are a couple of interesting studies that back this up.
Around the world, 92 percent of consumers say they trust what they learn from “earned media,” such as word of mouth and recommendations from friends and family, according to a September 2011 survey of 28,000 consumers conducted by Nielsen. Not only is earned media the most-trusted source of information, but this number marks an increase of 18 percent since 2007.
Meanwhile, Nielsen’s survey shows that only 58 percent trust “owned media,” such as messages on company websites. Even fewer—about half—find content in emails they consented to receive to be credible. Trust in online and search advertising ranges from 30 to 40 percent. While this survey focuses on consumer buying, these trends naturally carry over to the B2B environment.
Here’s another example of how consumers distrust brand messages. A study from last year in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that consumers are actually more likely to buy products when the marketing content includes some negative information. By combining positive information with negative, it accentuates the positive aspects of the message and builds trust.
Other similar studies have shown that ecommerce sites with product or service reviews outperform those without reviews, but only if some of those reviews are negative. If a site has only positive reviews, buyers remain skeptical that any of the reviews can be trusted.
If you’re interested in developing greater trust in your brand, I recommend a great book by social media whiz Chris Brogan called “Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation and Earn Trust.” As Brogan suggests, the Internet demands a level of transparency that is unprecedented. Brands can stand out by becoming a trusted resource. Even in later stages of the buying cycle, prospects will respond to and respect educational content more than standard marketing material.
In the end, though it may seem counterintuitive, you can sell more by “selling” less. The next time you’re tempted to add more about your product or your brand into a piece of content or a blog post, think about whether it will inspire more or less trust from your prospect.