• Katie Earl

Has COVID changed how you should write content?

Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed how you should write your content?

According to new research, the answer is: not necessarily, but it has raised the bar of what exactly constitutes good quality content marketing.

A study by LinkedIn and Edelmann in 2021 found that the pandemic and resulting lockdowns massively sped up the process of marketing going digital across B2B sectors. This meant that the amount of content being published grew exponentially, virtually overnight.

On top of this, 51% of B2B decision makers said that they now spend more time reading content than they did before the pandemic.

So content marketing became more important not just for those trying to scale their businesses, but also for their audiences too.

This presents an opportunity for organisations to really stand out from the crowd if they’re willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work producing high-quality thought leadership content.

To clarify - this study was specifically looking at thought leadership content. That means articles, reports, presentations, or webinars that are freely available - even if an email address is required before it can be downloaded. Crucially, this content is not designed to sell products or services but to offer insights into the industry.

A girl lays upside down on a sofa reading a book. 51% of B2B decision makers said that they now spend more time reading thought leadership content than they did before the pandemic
Photo by Matias North on Unsplash

Let’s start with the good news:

If it’s done well, B2B thought leadership content makes your reader more likely to buy from you, and has a big impact on how your brand is perceived by your audience.

In the survey, 54% of the respondents had purchased a new product or service from an organisation that produced good thought leadership content - a product or service that they hadn’t actually been looking to buy before they read it.

So content marketing really does influence buying decisions. If someone is convinced to buy something they didn’t think they needed simply by reading a great article, it means that written content is absolutely worth the investment of time and/or money if you want to win new clients.

Even more good news is that the organisation didn’t need to be well-established for their content to have this effect.

Almost half of buyers (47%) said that they discovered and eventually bought from a less well-known brand as a result of reading their content

So, ye of little faith, it’s not just the big players who are benefitting from this kind of marketing. You absolutely CAN grow and scale a business using thought leadership content.

Sign on door that reads 'Yes we're open'. it’s not just the big players who are benefitting from this kind of marketing. You absolutely CAN grow and scale a business using thought leadership content.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

The survey even offered insight into why this is the case:

Well-written thought leadership content is seen as more trustworthy and insightful than any other type of content

A massive 64% of the people interviewed felt that content allowed them to better assess what an organisation could do for them - and how well they would do it - than product information or marketing materials.

Trust is a huge part of any transaction; no matter how big or small, nobody buys anything unless they’re sure it will solve their problem in one way or another.

So the fact that content is something that the majority of people need to see in order to trust you to deliver what they need is something you cannot ignore.

If you’re already regularly creating content for your audience, the above points are probably all putting a big smile on your face! Content works! You’re doing the right thing, and putting yourself head and shoulders above your competition who aren’t regularly blogging or creating content.

In fact, if you’re not fully embracing content marketing and giving it the focus it deserves, you are going to be missing out on clients and growth opportunities. That’s because content is playing a much bigger role in the buying process than it ever has before.

The majority of a B2B buying decision is now made before the buyer ever interacts with the brand they want to work with.

Things like researching the different options, ranking them, sense-checking pricing, all happen before the decision-maker ever makes contact with the organisation they eventually decide upon.

How are they making these decisions?

They’re pretty much all based on the content that they can find online which tells them all of these details. So if you’re not talking about the nitty gritty of your brand and your service in your content, they will most likely move on to a competitor who IS telling them everything they need to know.

A semi-regular blog featuring 10 top tips simply isn’t going to cut it anymore. Your audience is now looking for deeper insights into the problem they’re experiencing and how it can be solved.

Most respondents felt that less than half of the content they read is useful.

In fact, 71% of them said this. That stat becomes even more worrying when you discover that the same percentage of them told the researchers that the reason they read content is to help them have new ideas and stimulate creative thinking - ouch!

There are some serious needs that simply aren’t being met right now.

Crumpled up pieces of paper in a bin. Most respondents felt that less than half of the content they read is useful.
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

What exactly did the readers mean by “not useful”? A few things, including:

  • Focusing too much on selling

  • No new ideas or concepts

  • No, or very little evidence or data to support the claims made

So if these are the things we need to avoid doing, what are some things we should be doing to ensure we’re publishing in that top 50% of genuinely valuable and interesting content?

The most effective pieces of content contain both high-level expertise AND personality

When asked about the tone of the content they read, 64% of people said they preferred reading a less formal, more personable tone of voice to an academic one. They also wanted it to sound like it had been written by one individual rather than it being presented by a faceless brand.

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that in order to be taken seriously as thought leadership, an article or presentation needs to be stuffed full of data and statistics and read like a Phd thesis.

While data is important (survey respondents already told us that a lack of evidence or data made a piece lower quality), this study has shown that content needs to be interesting, fun, and appealing too. It needs to showcase your personality, not just your expertise.

By keeping the tone light and informal but continuing to feature that valuable data and diving deep into the specific subject you know most about, you can produce content that easily falls into the “genuinely useful” category that is so valuable for your readers and, by extension, your business.

Stop being a yes-person, and start challenging your readers’ opinions

One of the most surprising outcomes of the research, I thought, was that 81% of the people surveyed said they preferred reading content that challenged their beliefs or assumptions rather than content that simply reinforced what they already knew or thought.

A big part of writing content for your business is having the self-confidence to give your unfiltered opinion on your industry and specialism. “Everyone will be thinking ‘who is she to say that?!’” is one of the things I hear over and over about why someone has put off starting a blog they know will be good for their business.

How much more confident would you feel if you knew that the person reading your blog not only wanted to hear what you have to say, but were actually hoping that you’d change their mind about something?

Remember that your content is for YOUR audience

A focus group talking. Now that you’ve learnt from the content marketing giants, it’s time to consult the people whose opinion counts for even more: your ideal clients.
Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

In their closing remarks, the researchers of the study talked about how content can’t be one-size-fits-all.

While marketing agencies and researchers can tell you what their study participants thought, at the end of the day your content needs to be written for your own audience. And they might not have been represented in any of the studies.

Now that you’ve learnt from the content marketing giants, it’s time to consult the people whose opinion counts for even more: your ideal clients.

Ask them what type of content they like (blogs, videos, podcasts..?), how much detail do they want it to go into, do they want to learn practical skills from it or gain a better understanding of a concept?

Design a content strategy that meets all of the needs your audience tells you they have. When you take the time to do this intentionally and to a high standard, your business will reap the rewards for many years to come.

Is your content bringing you the results you want it to?

If you’d like to learn more from me about how to create effective content that converts readers into clients, the best place to start is to have a browse of my own blog.

There you’ll find dozens of articles about how to write effective content that creates success for your business. Check it out here.

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