Everyone may be ‘doing content’, but what are they key steps to building authority? We explain why unique insight on a particular theme matters and how you can best demonstrate your knowledge.
What is authority and why is it the answer to commercially worthwhile content?
Let’s face the facts: marketers are “doing content” because everyone else is. The Content Marketing Institute says that 80% of B2B Marketing Managers who have a documented content strategy are creating more content than they did a year ago. But these stats speak less to the genius of the strategy than they do to the sometimes bandwagon-like mentality of the marketing world. But while effectively every marketer out there is now “doing content” – 95% have forgotten why – and so the strategy, for 95% of brands, is hollow. Rather than contributing value for a brand’s networks, so often content marketing just creates noise. At best, it creates interest and engagement — but very little creates actual authority that positions the brand or spokesperson as a real leader in its space.
“To gain trust, and ultimately the sale, it’s up to you to establish your trustworthiness and authority”
Jayson DeMers wrote in Forbes: “B2B businesses are already faced with many solutions to just about every problem there is. To gain trust, and ultimately the sale, it’s up to you to establish your trustworthiness and authority on the subject for which the customer needs a solution.” Authority is one step further than engagement – and it’s critical to what moves the commercial needle. So whilst B2B marketers are finally getting more adept at creating ‘engaging’ content – or content at volumes of regularity that helps with ‘front-of-mind’, the major divide between great and good is whose marketing demonstrates real authority, command and expertise – and therefore who is looked to as a trusted source of information and analysis on a particular area or subject matter. Therein lies a great opportunity.
Knowledge is the linchpin of authority
So how to establish authority through marketing? How do you go from prospects reacting with “that’s interesting!” to “that’s vital”? Jim Stengel, ex-Global Marketing Officer for Procter & Gamble, advises brands to find a big, ambitious theme and build a longrunning campaign around it. And certainly there is a lot to be said for being big and ambitious with marketing. High-volume marketing certainly gets engagement and interest – but it may not always help with authority. Authority in marketing doesn’t come from volume – certainly not from volume alone. It comes from being aligned with – or producing — real, unique insight on a particular theme knowledge. In today’s economy, knowledge is the number one commodity. It humbles, it cuts through boundaries and barriers, it is removed from the transactional world of sales, and it brings people together over common curiosity. And that is why it is, commercially, so powerful. Authoritative marketing is marketing that positions new knowledge – not company branded and blanded insights — into the marketplace. And by doing so, it sets up ROI that’s based on a new kind of client customer relationship.
Humility is the first step to authority. Yes, it sounds like a contradiction. But what this means is that marketing and business leadership have to be willing to step away from the pen and recognise that their own voice, or the voice of the brand, is unlikely to interest prospects. Relying on senior job titles or the weight of the brand can never lead to sustainable authority – what’s being said has to be great, and it has to be trustworthy – so those within the business must have the humility to evaluate how to seek those insights elsewhere.
Not only do those insights need to be sought elsewhere to build an authoritative voice, they have to be independent insights. Business executives are turned off when content seems salesy, which is the most destructive thing for authority. It’s important for marketers to ensure their brand is either commissioning independent insight or working with publishers and platforms who also value independence and the integrity it brings.
Non-salesy, independent information that isn’t necessarily linked to the brand is the foundation of authority – and gaining trust and credibility are the next layer. Every decision a VP of Marketing, CMO or Head of Marketing takes should be matched up against the question: Does this decision help us with our credibility? Does this help us become more credible? There is not nearly enough ‘imagining from the other side’ going on in B2B marketing – if the tables were turned, and you were pitched your own message, would you buy it?
Lauren Greatorex of Man Bites Dog said that from a marketing perspective, a campaign based on economic data is the perfect central content pillar. Whilst we don’t believe it always has to be about economic data, the principle here is that authority can be built on valuable information and insight – the kind that’s gleaned from careful evaluation of the marketplace and forecasting of where it might go, what might happen, what opportunities might arise, and what might be needed. Coming back to One, Two, and Three, though, it’s important that this forecasting isn’t just your product roadmap.
Good marketing allows for dialogue. But it doesn’t have to mean a traditional conversation. It’s about creating a mental environment for questioning and wondering, a situation where dialectic unfolds even if it’s not in person. Great marketing starts – or capitalises on – the chain of wondering, turning passive worries or concerns or dilemmas into active questions and insights, effectively helping a prospect start to work through their own problemsolving process. As a teacher exudes authority, so too does marketing that gently allows for this kind of conversation.
Ultimately, the seal to great, authoritative marketing is its presentation. It’s inescapable – brilliant graphics, excellent data visualisation, a good understanding of what beautiful presentation of ideas should look like on a page, be it print or web, supercharges the marketing piece itself. Good design is not to be dismissed – and again, stepping into the shoes of the prospect and then evaluating your own marketing from a presentation perspective is the fastest way to tell whether – in three seconds – your material conveys authority.
The Landscape Of Opportunity
At the opening keynote at a recent B2B marketing conference , Deloitte CMO Annabel Rake pointed out that the marketing status quo is like the title of Marshall Goldsmith’s book — “what got you here won’t get you there”. And a recent Adobe report cited that 40% of marketers will need to reinvent themselves in the next three years. Meanwhile, marketing guru Seth Godin has said that “content marketing is the only marketing left”. These more and more frequent sentiments from within the leadership of the marketing world highlight the immense pressure – and opportunity – for top-dog marketers. Responsible for creating a differentiated position in the market, it comes down to marketers not to stand out – but to stand above – competitors. And for this to be possible, the focus must be on creating authority. In her keynote, Rake urged fellow marketers to focus on purpose rather than product. She advised marketers to move away from focusing on what their company sells to why their company is in business.
The message is that if companies can put purpose at the heart of their marketing, rather than product, they will become believable, trustworthy, credible – all of which pave the pathway to authority. But what comprises ‘purpose’? Admittedly, these are wide and varied across the B2B world. But the common denominator should always be knowledge – it’s certainly a purpose that any brand can stand behind, or stand up for. And it’s one that customers and networks are appreciating more and more. The ‘ROI’ behind it? If marketing contributes a ‘touch point’ – there is a return on investment. And supporting, standing alongside, or creating knowledge environments all deliver that touch point to the customer.
So authority and knowledge are inextricably linked. Business alchemist Brian Horn defines authority marketing like this: “authority marketing helps entrepreneurs leverage their knowledge to gain authority status in their industry. This authority status then allows them to dramatically amplify their message and convert their new audience into higher paying customers”. A convincing and simple formula – yet many marketers ignore it in favour of shiny online branding options or other simplistic marketing tactics that are better placed for B2C brands – but don’t really cut it in the B2B world. The best way to supercharge marketing, then, for those who are really committed to excellence, is to invest in these six pillars – humility, independence, credibility, forecasting, conversation and presentation – and to leverage the best and most relevant information possible to gain or maintain authority status.