B2B insights

B2B Content in 2022: What’s Next?

What does good content look like as we approach the third year of Covid? B2B copywriter David McGuire has some thoughts.

In the next few weeks, we’ll officially start the third year of the pandemic. You might think we’d all know the drill by now, with a clear view of what works and what we can expect. But when was life ever that simple?

The nature of work is as unpredictable and fractured now as it’s ever been. And for those of us creating B2B content, that poses a challenge. If we don’t even know what someone’s workplace looks like – let alone how they feel about it – anymore, it’s hard to craft a message that resonates.

So what’s really going on? And what should we, as B2B content creators, be doing now?

Mixed messages on the return to the office

While governments seem keen to fast-forward to the end of Covid, the picture in workplaces is much more uncertain.

Google’s billion-pound investment in central London office space might look like a firm vote of confidence that everyone will soon be back together, working in the office. But the picture is more complicated than that: the planned refurbishment includes dedicated hybrid working facilities, and just last month the company became one of a growing number shelving their plans for a return to the office.

It’s not just business leaders that are divided; workers are too. In the US, Morning Consult polled remote staff who would usually work from the office, and found more than half would rather quit their job altogether than go back to their former working style.

As Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom puts it: “The return-to-office date has died.”

In the UK, it’s the same story. The BBC’s Worklife guide goes so far as to say: “Today, the idea that we’ll all return to the office together again seems highly unrealistic.”

If you’re a B2B marketer, that makes planning difficult, to say the least. Where your audience works is fundamental; it defines which channels will reach them, the role your content needs to play, and the context it faces when it arrives.

Workplace uncertainty gives your content a problem

Great B2B content meets the reader at their level, recognises their real-world pains, and speaks to their aspirations. Even before the pandemic, it was hard enough to find those insights. But right now, it’s more difficult than it’s ever been.

Many of us have found it tricky to sense how our own colleagues are faring, without seeing them day to day. And that’s with the benefit of regular Zoom calls and team messaging apps. How much harder is it with your customers and prospects, now they’re distributed across a fluctuating mix of remote and not-so-remote working?

It obscures the answers to a whole host of key questions:

  • What does your audience care about? Maybe their priorities are shifting as they adjust their own response to a changing world. Or perhaps their aspirations and fears – or their appetite for risk and change – are different now. You need to know how much your content needs to reassure them, and how positive you can afford to be.
  • What role does your content need to fulfil? Once, B2B content made the introduction and established the brand, then supported the salespeople as they established rapport. But if deals aren’t being done in person, your content might need to step in and fill that missing emotional element – helping the customer to like you. Or maybe the buying process itself is different now.
  • Which channels are even possible? If you don’t know whether someone’s in the office, you don’t know whether they can receive physical mail. And if you can’t predict the appetite for live events, it’s hard to know how much resource to put in that part of your plan – and whether your content will need to support your event effort, or replace it.
  • What else is your content competing with? If your reader is home working, the chances are their colleagues are using many of the same digital channels to communicate with them that you are. Your emails will arrive amid a busier-than-usual inbox, and any content they’re consuming will likely be interrupted by Slack notifications and other on-screen distractions. And that’s before you even think about the non-work noise – whether it’s kids home from school or having the latest doom-laden news story fizzing around their brain.

In truth, there may not be a single answer to any of these questions. If you think of your colleagues, some will detest the isolation of remote working; others will be thriving with no intention of ever going back. Your B2B audience will be just the same – and with each new variant or change to the guidelines, the picture will change again.

Build content to meet your audience’s changing needs

Alright; enough about what we can’t do. As B2B content creators, how do we meet this challenge?

I can’t claim to have all the answers. But there are a few sensible measures which I think will help your plan to stay adaptable and – importantly – keep you focused on your audience and their changing needs.

1. Seize any excuse to talk to your customer. With contact so rare, and the picture changing so fast, any opportunity to check in with your customer and gain their perspective is golden. Sometimes, you can manufacture these opportunities for yourself – for example by carrying out case study interviews, or working with customers on co-created content.

2. Stick closer than ever to sales. I know; everyone’s talking about alignment. But in the absence of first-hand contact with customers and prospects, your best chance is talking to the people whose job involves interacting with them every day. In most organisations, you’ll find someone who’s only too happy to tell you about the changes in their clients’ world or – especially – the evolving challenges they’re facing.

3. Prioritise multipurpose content – and atomise where you can. You can also build a certain amount of flexibility into your content plan. Assets that can be used several ways will help you to respond quickly when the picture changes. Likewise, if you can atomise one source into a whole range of content pieces (for example, using one set of interviews to create an ebook, video, blog series, podcast and infographic) it’ll mean you have a whole toolkit in your locker, ready for any situation. At Radix, we once created ten content assets based on a single original piece.

4. Look for big, simple ideas. Whatever the details of the workplace changes we’ll see over the coming months, one fact remains: your audience will have a lot going on. You stand a better chance of being noticed and remembered if you can say one, simple message in a clear and original way. The landscape is confusing, perhaps even overwhelming. The most effective content will say one thing, and say it well.

5. Keep one special concept in your back pocket. Every change in circumstances presents an opportunity to move first, and meet your audience’s new needs. Imagine sending a welcome gift on the day they return to the office, or organising a support webinar the day a lockdown is announced. Half the trick is having the idea ready and waiting. So if, when you think about what could happen this year, you get a moment of inspiration: a “wouldn’t it be great if…?” Keep hold of it, even if the uncertainty about the future makes you unsure whether it’ll ever see the light of day. That way you’ll have a head start if the stars do align.

The only thing certain is change – so prepare for it

“Expect the unexpected” might be a cliché, but it’s also a sensible approach to 2022. Nobody really knows what the workplace will look like – or what your content will need to achieve – even six months from now.

And that’s OK. As long as you recognise it, and plan accordingly.

So find insights where you can, and treasure them. Give yourself permission to imagine your audience and what they need. And build a content kit that gives you freedom to think on your feet.

You can’t know what’s coming this year. But you can get ready anyway. And that’s kind of exciting, when you think about it.

To hear more from David, check out his episode on the B2B Marketing podcast here.

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