Content strategy pivots have been a normal response in the wake of COVID-19. As physical marketing spend shifts to digital channels, brands are looking to sales enablement and demand generation. But there's another, more subtle shift underway in the B2B world. Brands have begun embracing more of a human touch—and in some cases, a conversational tone—in their content strategies. Here are some emerging examples that can help point the way toward a new approach to your brand voice and communications.
Has Your Voice Changed in Response to COVID-19?
How have your brand's communications evolved in response to COVID-19? If your answer is "not much," it may be time to reassess. During a recent visit to the Harvard Business Review, I used up my free allotment of articles. A banner ad invited me to log in or subscribe with a pithy headline: "We hate paywalls too."
It was such a sharp, incisive take on the common complaints B2B readers have—and yet it caught my attention for the fun tone as well.
What does a banner ad have to do with communicating in 2021 and beyond? The world has undergone a seismic shift—a fact that's leading many brands to reassess how they're communicating. As the Harvard Business Review (HBR) notes, presenting with empathy and transparency is key. That can mean moving away from traditional messaging and finding a more authentic take on the situation unfolding.
"The nuances of brand voice are more delicate than ever," says HBR. "Brands that use this time to be commercially exploitative will not fare well. Better to do as Guinness did in the period surrounding St. Patrick's Day, when the company shifted its focus away from celebrations and pub gatherings and instead leaned into a message of longevity and wellbeing. In these moments, we don't have all the answers, and we need to acknowledge that. If you make pledges, even during uncertain times, you have to be able to deliver on what you say."
How Can Brands Update Their Content Strategies?
If you're looking for creative strategies to take your B2B brand to a new level, consider these approaches.
Simplify Your Content for Human Readers
Adding a human touch to content strategies runs the gamut from very simple to complex. Take a moment to consider how your buyer's experience may have changed. They've traded busy days in the office and long commutes for endless Zoom calls, working while educating home-schooled children, and navigating a world that is more logistically complex than it was a year ago. Simple, straightforward communication eliminates barriers and helps people find the information they need quickly and efficiently.
The Marketing Insider Group recommends three basic tactics that serve marketers well in any B2B communication:
- Simplify your language.
- Eliminate jargon.
- Focus on readability.
Just taking these initial steps will help ensure that what you create is clear, easy to digest, and capable of delivering real value.
Speak to the Realities of Your Customers
Brands struggle to forge meaningful connections when they only create generic content that doesn't address their consumers' realities. As Forbes notes, several brands in the B2B world have taken the opportunity to deliver what customers needed. Consider shipping, which was suddenly upended by increased demand, illness-related employee shortages, product out-of-stocks, and much more.
Forbes offered up the example of FedEx, which created clear, concise, and relevant communications for customers: "Shipping was thrown into disarray with COVID, and many supply chains are still adjusting. FedEx, known for being one of the most trusted B2B companies, created numerous resources for small business owners, including templates for COVID signage, shipping discounts and expert advice and best practices. The company moved beyond just shipping to provide resources and guidance for the many new challenges small businesses face."
Make It Easier for Partners to Market Your Brand
With physical sales and marketing opportunities like industry events and trade shows put on hold, partner networks are pushing for revitalization. One of the most important services that companies deliver to partners is crafting clear, concise marketing campaigns that drive demand with their audiences. In the past few months, that work has trended toward simple and streamlined campaigns.
Some now-emerging trends include:
- Creating easy-to-use marketing assets that partners and resellers can co-brand and target buyers in their audiences.
- Developing content, marketing collateral, and sales enablement that directly targets the most relevant topics of the day—from remote work to increasing cybersecurity.
- Simplifying the terms and process involved in working together. When you make it easy for partners to understand how to work with you—and how to get paid—you're also making it easier for them to sell your products or services to customers.
See Brand Voice as Building Capability
As McKinsey notes, building capabilities for turbulent times not only helps you not only thrive, but it helps you pivot when unexpected changes arise. The authors note that "maintaining a strong customer experience in crisis requires rapid research to understand changing dynamics and new pain points as well as agile innovation to address them." In a digital-led world, brand voice plays an important role in winning and retaining customers.
Recently, I worked with a customer to select a newsletter provider. The list included top brands across the newsletter industry. But after a frustrating demo with a sales rep and challenges navigating different complex web pages, the client chose Mailchimp. It's a good service, but not necessarily the one I expected them to select. When the CMO shared her rationale, it made sense. "I could immediately understand everything they did and offered. The language was simple and easy to navigate."
Building your brand voice can help you reach frustrated, busy B2B buyers who need solutions to urgent problems—and who have less time, patience, and other resources to wade through reams of jargon-laden copy to find what they need. Mailchimp, by simple virtue of the brand's clear, clean, and accessible content strategy, won a customer who's now singing their praises and sending along other busy executives in search of digital solutions they can implement and scale quickly. Investing in your brand voice is a capability that can grow and streamline business performance in unexpected ways.
Finding your voice through the end of 2020 and planning ahead into 2021 raises an important question for brand marketers: Does your content strategy have a human touch? Don't forget that your buyer has a completely different set of needs, expectations, and business realities than when you crafted last year's content strategy. Add a human touch—with humor, clarity, and real talk—to stand out and build connections that draw prospective buyers into your sales funnel.
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