We’ve forgotten the value of long form content in B2B marketing

tipsThose who have been in the marketing industry for more than ten years will remember that once upon a time, the majority of content produced was long form. Lengthy whitepapers, detailed case studies and 2500 word by lined articles. These were the norm.

However, over the last few years, as the idea of “content marketing” began to explode (we’ll ignore the fact that we were doing this 15 years ago, we  just didn’t have a name for it), the art of long form content started to be lost. Gone were the in-depth pieces that conveyed deep domain expertise, making way for short, bite-sized content assets designed to appeal to the attention deficit that our time-poor culture seemed to demand.

Now, I believe, is the time to bring the art of long form content back.

I’m not suggesting that all long form content was/is good. It’s easy to lose the reader in hyperbole-filled rhetoric; key messages become diluted behind pompous prose. However I’ve long worried that a lot of short form content being produced misses the point; written solely with SEO in mind rather that the value that needs to be conveyed to the prospect in the later stages of the sales cycle. The result is noise; and a lot of it.

SEO, of course, remains a vital component in today’s marketing world but  a lot of marketers have forgotten that the use of content changes as you progress through the sales cycle. Short, pithy blog posts, visually exciting, shareable infographics; these are all wonderful tools to drive traffic to web sites, grow attention and capture a lead. However, they are something of a blunt implement when looking to convert those leads.

It’s at this point in the cycle, as leads start to evaluate prospective vendors, that the need to demonstrate credibility and domain expertise becomes paramount. The in-depth case study displays credibility, the detailed white-paper a sense of thought-leadership; quality long form content inspires the confidence that prospects are looking for before they commit to more meaningful vendor conversations.

Make no mistake, long form content is an investment.

You may allow your web team to craft snappy Tweets and blog posts, but long form requires more traditional communication skills. In my own team we have a dedicated resource whose job it is to create such content. First and foremost they are a communicator and writer; spending time across different internal functions to discover exciting stories – everything from customer behaviour through to technology development.

Of course there’s benefit to this investment. The advantage of a piece of long form content is that, if constructed properly, it can be broken into multiple shortform assets that will feed your content machine and SEO requirements for several months.

Every year we invest in a 30 page industry report; it’s a significant time (and financial) investment that takes several weeks to design, write and artwork. It’s a hugely valuable asset that is used to convert marketing leads into meaningful, qualified sales leads. The additional benefit is that its shelf life runs into months. The core document will be carefully deconstructed; the web team scheduling dozens of Tweets, blog posts and commissioning infographics with the data, the PR team producing short by-lined opinion articles and using snippets of the text to engage through the comments section of key influencer articles.  Presentation slides are even built for the purpose of conference engagements or for sales to use in client briefings.

I read that long form content is making something of a comeback. I applaud this. Content marketing has become too noisy and for most brands it’s become impossible to shout loud enough. If we want to protect our pricing, build a sustainable relationship and differentiate our offers we need to demonstrate our value in a more meaningful fashion.

If you make the time investment, so will your prospects.

There’s an accepted wisdom that our prospects are time-poor; that they all suffer from ADD and that to be successful we must communicate to them in bite-sized chunks. This is a horrid generalization.

Be clever in how and where you deploy content marketing. In the awareness phase of the sales cycle, those high-frequency, shareable, bite-sized, SEO-laden content assets are golden. This is how you capture leads.

However, two-thirds of the buying cycle now happens before the prospect even engages with the brand directly. They are evaluating vendors indirectly, so as you nurture those leads it’s imperative to deliver credibility and convey value to establish your base position. This is where your long form content investment will pay dividends.

* For the purposes of this piece I define long form content as a content asset comprising 2000 words or more.

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