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Can B2B Marketers Become Content Whisperers?

[Editor’s note: Happy Holidays! This week, the editorial team at Content Marketing Institute wanted to share some of the best content marketing blog posts we’ve seen from our CMI Consultants. Today’s post originally appeared on Ardath Albee’s blog, Marketing Interactions, on May 13, 2012.]

strategies for b2b marketersOne of the mandates bandied about lately is that B2B marketers need to become listeners. They should set up listening posts and they must listen first, before launching marketing programs. You’re told listening is a requisite for establishing two-way dialogue and sustaining relationships across the buying process. If you’ve “listened” to all of this, then you know that listening informs (or should) how marketers respond to prospects’ online behavior.

Anyone who is married or in a relationship can relate to “listening.” Trust me, I’ve been married to a wonderful Italian man for 16 years, and it’s not so much what’s being said, but what it means, that counts.

This is great and dandy for one-on-one relationships, or even among small groups of people, family and friends. But what happens when you’re a B2B marketer with thousands of contacts in your database? How the heck do you manage listening to that level of volume? In other words, the input of a few will not necessarily correlate to the wishes or intentions of the many. 

Telling marketers they need to listen is one thing. Helping them figure out how to do so in a way that produces an effective input to inform marketing programs is entirely another.

A few ways listening goes wrong

Listening is defined as making an effort to hear something. Hearing can be defined as paying attention to gain knowledge or insight.

Unfortunately, many people treat listening as the stimulus for their response, rather than an act of learning to inform their response. I call that selfish listening. Much marketing is done in relation to selfish listening. This is when you see the “me, me, and more about me” marketing content based on products and company grandeur rather than what prospects are interested in.

The other thing that can have listening lead your marketing astray is when you allow individuals — rather than the collective that relates to your personas — to influence how you market to a segment of a target market. You see examples of this related to the squeaky-wheel-that-gets-the-grease syndrome.

If one person says so, is it true? How about 10? Or 100?

The role of personas in listening

When trying to determine if what you’re hearing from prospects should inform your content marketing strategy, the first thing you need to do is ground the feedback. Is the person (or people) you’re listening to representative of the persona the marketing program is designed to engage?

Marketers must make sure that feedback and dialogue is considered in the appropriate context before acting upon it.

Is the input common? How can you be sure?

Assuming you have a content strategy that was used to develop content related to answering your persona’s questions, concerns, and informational needs related to solving a specific problem your product addresses, what inputs can be used for “listening?”

For example:

  • If the average time spent reading the content is 25 seconds when it takes an average person over 2 minutes to read the piece, that is an indication that the content isn’t a relevant part of the persona dialogue.
  • A lack of click-through — whether from social media or email — indicates that your message isn’t resonating with your audience.
  • A discussion you start on a LinkedIn group or industry forum, where you know your persona hangs out, that points to a blog post to back up your premise gets no clicks or comments.
  • A blog post written for Persona A gets shared by dozens, receives numerous comments, and garners a nice volume of clicks to a landing page you linked to, offering a white paper on a related subject.
  • An article in your lead nurturing program for Persona B that also offers links to related content is shared by a number of prospects with colleagues they work with at the company.
  • A Twitter thread using your hashtag becomes active with numerous people offering comments and perspective.

The list above includes both good and not-so-good responses to your content marketing efforts. If you’re listening in relation to personas, you can likely find some things to improve and determine which may not be relevant based on who is reacting to what content.

The one thing marketers often forget is that just because we design content for one persona, doesn’t mean it won’t find exposure with others. In other words, all feedback should not be weighted equally.

You will never make everyone happy, so you must choose how and when to allow listening to shift your strategies and your response.

From listener to content whisperer

The trick to listening is to equate what you’re “hearing” to creating higher engagement, interest, and momentum with your personas.

Don’t get me wrong. If an individual reacts to your content by leaving a comment or saying something on social media or replying to an email, a relevant response is warranted. But that doesn’t necessarily mean changing your strategy.

In B2B marketing, often the response is passive viewing; at least it is during quite a bit of the self-education phase that seems to be growing longer, as more and more content fills up what used to be empty space. But marketers cannot sit by passively if they want to achieve their goals. That’s a luxury reserved for your prospects.

This is when becoming a content whisperer comes into play.

Nicoholas Evans wrote, “The Horse Whisperer,” inspired by Dan “Buck” Brannaman, who is known for the philosophy of natural horsemanship, based on the idea of “…using an understanding of how horses think and communicate to train the horse to accept humans and work confidently and responsively with them.” One of Brannaman’s stated goals is to “make the animal feel safe and secure around humans so that the horse and rider can achieve a true union.”

To become a content whisperer, marketers must focus on listening to prospect behaviors to help them become credible (safe) resources that buyers trust (secure) and want to do business with (union). (Okay — I may be stretching it, but bear with me).

When prospects are passively engaging, marketers must “listen” to that engagement based on the information prospects are willing to spend time with. If they respond with content related to those topics, then they are helping to create a two-way dialogue that is the goal of listening.

  • Prospect expresses interest
  • Marketer provides more related content
  • Prospect engages again
  • And so it goes

If marketers have designed content to answer specific questions that personas will have to get answered during the buying process to move to next steps, then, based on the content they engage with, a marketer should be able to anticipate what might also be of interest. This is the art and science of B2B storytelling at its finest.

It’s important to note that content whispering is not only related to your content, but also to content produced by others that may get the reaction or dialogue you’re looking to establish. Marketers need to consider not just what prospects say, but what they do.

What can you learn from “listening” to the content that engages people represented by your personas?

Perhaps becoming a content whisperer is a skill worth developing… if you want to create a two-way dialogue that builds momentum toward buying.

What do you think?

For more details on how to turn content marketing best practices into actionable efforts, read CMI’s how-to guide on Managing the Process.