How to Publish Things That Don’t Fail Miserably (Even in B2B)
In each editorial job I’ve held since I left freelance writing and reporting and went into full-time editing, I’ve had to explain my job to my news media and non-news media friends alike. B2B can be an alien vocabulary word when you come to it from a consumer-facing (B2C) media property and haven’t fully digested the distinction between writing for an audience that buys Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Harry Potter Blu-ray sets instead of a business-oriented audience that makes budget decisions and thinks about enterprise software suites. In both cases, the writing, reporting, and publisher’s brand have to reflect specific expectations and reader needs.
I had the pleasure of becoming the first content director and editor at a freshly minted startup in D.C. called Industry Dive that launched seven niche publications while I was there. We created valuable reading experiences for electric utility executives, chief information officers at major universities, and many other roles. Later, I went to the family of Inno properties at American City Business Journals, where I built out data products and news content that would attract startup founders and venture capitalists. Now, I work in an even more niche world for the Knowledge Transfer department at Orange Silicon Valley where my team and I produce reports and learning experiences to channel information from our think tank of tech and business experts for people who can benefit.
Love it or leave it (and at this point I actually do love the process), B2B news, media products, and communications has become my professional world. It’s where I create; it’s where I build and produce products; and it’s where find fulfillment in engineering learning experiences and facilitating understanding about complex topics among people with different job titles and levels of technical fluency.
Sometimes it’s really hard — but as with all of my work in news and media, I pick up trivia and background details about some of the most important trends playing out right underneath my nose in other people’s industries. The disparate vocabulary alone can be dizzying from time to time, but it makes me happy when readers walk away delighted. And I’ve picked up some best practices along the way that I hope can demystify the process for achieving that delightful end result. If you work in B2B news or other branches of communications, these are my recommendations to you as you craft your best content possible. At the end of the day, it really comes down to doing three things: (1) know your audience, (2) identify and exploit the right opportunities for conversation, and (3) build in accessible reference points.
This first piece of advice may sound utterly obvious and basic, but it’s honestly as layered and complicated as the personalities and job descriptions in your readership. Everyone with a job has an education (formal or informal), place in some kind of hierarchy, and a way of understanding their world and colleagues. Sketching out a persona (and probably multiple personas) can help distill these attributes. They come in several forms, but the questions you should be asking are How do they understand their industry?, How do they understand their roles in their industry and company?, and What are the vocabulary words they use to talk about their work? It shouldn’t come as a shock that the best way to learn all of these thing is to engage your audience and talk to them.
You’ll also need to map out the verticals that exist within the range of readership you want to engage. Are there sub-industries? What kinds of markets do they serve? And how aware are they about what’s going on outside of their own silos. Enabling common understandings across these silos can be a wonderful accomplishment in and of itself; but don’t take it for granted that someone working in product design is going to inhabit the same experiences and priorities as someone in new business development. Look for the shared stories that already exist among them before you try to prop up stories on new ones. That’s how you’ll build a foundation of credibility.
And above all else, understand what the business goals are for every given audience that you care about. Do they just care about selling more software subscriptions to larger customer bases? Do they want to comply with an evolving regulatory environment? Or are they established in their industry and primarily concerned with fending off competition from new, more innovative players? Answer these questions and you’ll know how to get your audience’s attention; that’s when you’ll be able to take them — willingly and attentively — on a rewarding journey.
Opportunities for conversation
Seeking out opportunities for conversation is like hunting for pressure points. The worst copy in all of B2B is the kind that rehashes and repackages old tropes and worn-out narratives. Don’t just do something old in a new way; look for opportunities to explore new ground or curate existing insights in a compelling way.
When you know what they care about, you’ll be able to figure where their blindspots are at, what they aspire to do better, and what they wish they knew more about.
I use the term conversation because everything is a conversation when done well in B2B. You should always be learning as a part of the process of helping other people to learn; after all, that’s basically your value proposition: scaling learning across target audiences. On top of that, however, you need to constantly be refreshing your depth of insight into your audience, per my first point. Whether you’re interviewing someone for a transcript that’s getting published or proposing a call to action, you need to be away of what your audience’s response is going to be — and you need to know that it’s not going to be indifference. Otherwise, everyone loses; they lose time looking at your media product, and you likely lose an audience member who walks away unfulfilled.
Alternatively, better conversations mean better relationships, better media products, and knowledge-gathering capabilities for you.
Accessible reference points
Do an inventory of the supporting facts behind your thesis in any given project, and sort out what you think the key touchstones will be that show a reader you know what you’re talking about serve as recognizable elements of your story that they’ll remember later. (This gets back to what I mentioned earlier about building credibility.) These reference points can be people, companies, quotes, or measurable quantities based on research. No matter how new or out there your report or Medium post may be, these are the anchors that will keep your blimp of an idea in your audience’s thoughts after they close a browser tab and leave your content.
Names are one of the best elements to toss in as well. People love to read about their colleagues, competitors, and industry celebrities. Moreover, one of the most legitimate truisms you will ever hear is that people love to read about themselves. Find a way to make a story about the person who’s reading it, and you’ll have yourself a reader who feels invested in the content.
The same goes for companies — and people in companies who read interesting content about their companies, love to share information with their colleagues (Say hello to some of your best community evangelists here). They also like to understand their competition and read about their potential partners.
Lastly, numbers are your friend. Key performance indicators, metrics, and dollar values are the currency of good storytelling between colleagues, and they help readers to understand the scale, size, and impact of the stories they see. They also provide easy key takeaways that your audience can easily note and remember as reference points for larger threads.
If you get all of that right you’ll be able to cultivate compelling narrative that speak to people in their lines of work and empower them to know more, do more, and understand their industries and communities a little better than they did before they discovered your work.