Diagnostic Content: When B2B Storytelling Doesn’t Work

diagnostic content
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When we talk about marketing content, we talk about expository content: videos, articles, blog posts and other content that tells stories, explains or informs. But recent data shows storytelling isn’t as effective in B2B marketing. Knowing prospects want content and added value not sales pitches, what is the answer?

Storytelling matters, especially early in the sales cycle, but it doesn’t close. There’s a different type of emerging content marketing that does. The miraculous thing? It doesn’t just help close sales, it educates and diagnoses at the same time. B2B content marketers have an opportunity to go from just educating buyers to giving them content tools for self-qualification: helping prospects diagnose their own needs.

(This may horrify journalists who already consider content marketing the hillbilly cousin to real writing. Diagnostic content requires psychology and user insights more than persuasive writing. No doubt the poor beleaguered journalist is picturing the Frankenstein creature from outer space: a horror hybrid of listicles and quizzes that have blanketed Facebook over the past few years. Yep, the next wave of content marketing actually does not focus on words or narrative or even complete sentences or paragraphs. But the value it offers is immense.)

Diagnostic content is tools rather than stories, a set of carefully crafted questions or statements that a prospect engages with, and diagnoses customer needs and environment. From the the customer’s perspective, though, goes beyond that : it educates, too. A well-crafted tool can both educated and evangelize, because it distills institutional knowledge and puts it in the prospect’s hands so that they can self- qualify. A diagnostic content tool like a (reg req’d) needs assessment or (PDF) readiness checklist, thoughtfully created, well designed and effectively promoted, can be one if the most valuable lead generation tools in a marketer’s arsenal and is the one that will endear you to your sales team for life. I handed over ten completed needs assessments to a VP of sales once and got Raptors platinum tickets a week later. But for this to happen (no guarantees!) your marketing content has to be about psychology first, words second.

The implications:

More strategic: Curated content will very rarely move a prospect along the decision journey. An effective strategic content asset will involve research and planning. if the assessment is interactive and can be completed online, it can also generate powerful marketing data that leads directly to a better understanding of the customer. Content with utility also builds a relationship based on being useful, the best kind of introduction.

Less recognizable: Tools that offer information are content in and of themselves. But you and your prospects (and maybe even your marketing team!) probably don’t currently think of them that way. They spark conversation, they help educate, and they can help focus a prospect on areas that they may not have been considering or prioritizing. But they also look more like a questionnaire or checklist than an article.

More measurable: Short introductory content linked to deeper or more specialized content linked to a 15 question needs assessment in a conversion path makes a virtuous process out of content marketing .and one where every action on the part of the prospect can be anonymously captured to show what they actually do along the path to purchase/ conversion.

More valuable: Diagnostic content makes both the prospect and you, the marketer, smarter. More than any blog post or brochure can offer. These tend to be valuable assets, so don’t be shy about asking for permission or gating during the content delivery process – just let your prospects know before they click.

Suggestions to get started:

What forms does diagnostic content take?

  • Needs assessment: 15-20 questions to identify success criteria or critical aspects of a potential purchase or program, usually tailored to a function or job title (e.g. home theatre needs assessment or marketing technology needs assessments)
  • Readiness checklist: What did ten customers tell you they wished they ‘d done or are happy they did do before they bought? Turn that into a self-diagnosis tool.
  • Buying guide: 15-20 things to consider before purchasing a new car/BI tool
  • Prioritization tool: Customer prioritizes a list of features/benefits of a product or service
  • Setup/Implementation road map: What to expect after you buy, best when based on multiple customer interviews
  • Maturity assessment: Where on a sophistication/maturity continuum does a customer sit based on their current circumstances; demonstrates aspirational/desired states

You get the idea. If you are educating the customer, then give them information. But if you want to go further into qualification or diagnosis, you need tools. Be sure to measure which assets perform best, and develop more of those. This will give you truly happy prospects, and truly happy sales and marketing colleagues.

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Jennifer Evans

Jennifer Evans

President at B2B News Network
President, @B2BNewsnetwork (launched Nov 2014). Content, community and analytics obsessed. Inventor @squeezecmm. Past chair, @itac_online @whiteribbon
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