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How to create engaging B2B content

Three leading journalists reveal their top editorial tips, helping you tap into your target reader's mindset and reap the benefits of genuinely authoritative content.

A good story does more than inform. It adds value to the topic at hand – whether through critique, analysis or treatment.

It can’t be sensational, and everything in it must be verified. It must be balanced, independent and nuanced. It’s got to be relevant to its target audience, offering a new point of view or helping to refine their thinking. And it’s got to have integrity.

These are the core principles that determine how we at Raconteur approach editorial for brands. Creating quality editorial is an art. It’s particularly hard for brands, since people are often suspicious of the intent behind the content they produce. But the rewards are significant for organisations that master the art of editorial. They stand to gain the respect, mindshare, reliance and ultimately the trust of their target audience and peers.

In order to present a set of valuable guidelines, we asked three leading journalists to provide their top tips, tricks and ideas for creating engaging B2B content.

Charles Arthur is a former technology editor at The Guardian and The Independent and author of Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the battle for the internet.

Dominic Mills is a former editor of Campaign and writes the Mills on Monday column for Mediatel’s Newsline. He is an honorary professor of journalism at Roehampton University and has written for Euromoney, Reuters and the Daily Telegraph.

Finally, Lucy Fisher has more than 15 years’ experience in journalism and has written for The Guardian, the BBC, Marketing Week and Newsweek.

Tap into your reader’s mindset

Crafting the right angle for an editorial piece is essential for its success. In a business context, this amounts to understanding where your audience’s knowledge gaps are.

As Arthur puts it: “Discovering an ‘angle’ is discovering where that gap in knowledge, and hence interest, lies.”

“Good storytelling is about tension,” he adds. “There has to be a distance between what the reader expects or knows and what you present to them, and you have to exploit that by making them want to find out more.”

But educating top-level professionals on their own industry is no small task. That’s why Arthur recommends that brands take a nuanced approach.

“Confront their prejudices with facts that both contain their expectations but also expand them,” he says. “That means they realise that the world runs as they think, but that it’s also more complex – and now they can see how to navigate through it.”

Understanding that psychology and building an editorial project around it is the linchpin of first-class business content from brands. By adapting your content marketing strategy, you will position your business as a thought leader and ‘knowledge owner’ in the digital era.

Put people at the heart of your content

It’s clear that human-centric approaches to editorial are the most successful. When it comes to creating content that builds a story, find the experts. Involve people who are passionate about their topic and relay information through their eyes and words.

Mills points out that “by combining the topical with the human interest” a brand can present ideas so that they feel accessible and approachable.

Using quotes and interviews to illuminate important ideas and concepts will ensure your analysis feels rich and insightful.

Mills reiterates: “Telling the story through people is invariably the best way – find the narrative and then everything hangs together from beginning to end. The reader is hooked.”

To achieve this, brands should seek out the hidden voices in their supply chain or find independent experts whose analysis will be highly regarded by the industry.

Use research to create your framework

Research – meaning either original, proprietary quantitative and qualitative analysis or existing fact-based material – is critical to building credibility and trust with your audience. It stands out, it speaks for itself and it lends itself to creating the kinds of angles and nuances that an audience will respond to.

Arthur says good research is the most important factor when creating high quality editorial, and the best way to engender trust in journalism.

Because research is specific, it also allows for the creation of very specific briefs for editorial analysis. That means content can then be crafted without the vagueness and limpness that often characterises branded content.

It’s not easy to pull a story out of thin air, or create a piece of newsworthy content. So, including research offers brands the opportunity to flesh out the infrastructure of a content project artfully and with much scope for success.

Have a counter-intuitive approach

This principle goes to the very heart of journalism. Why create branded content in the first place? Yes, it’s done by the marketing department. And yes, the marketing department is responsible for helping to further the business agenda. But Mills says the principle of journalism is to “educate, stimulate and cause debate” or “to provide context”. Fisher adds that great content should “inform and entertain”.

When commissioning content projects, brands must put these principles first. Only in this way will they be able to generate the engagement and loyalty that in turn will serve them in a business context down the line. It may seem counterintuitive, but well-crafted editorial cannot be about the sale. It has to be honest and transparent, and it has to serve its readers.

Mills points out that trust in journalism is engendered by being honest and not wasting the reader’s time, and a large part of that is achieved by taking this content-first approach. Where good content prioritises educating and challenging readers, badly produced editorial tends to be “a sales pitch masquerading as an unbiased article”.

“Very often, boring content is self-serving content,” Fisher adds. Brands that endeavour to create content that’s about the sell will find themselves trapped in a cycle of uninteresting, dry and badly-received projects that fail to improve their business’ bottom line.

In summary

In a business context, Fisher says readers want to learn what makes their jobs easier, whether that means seeing what their competitors are doing or discovering the next big thing.

“They may want to be inspired by the latest success story, or learn about the greatest mistakes that have been made in their industries,” he adds.

Solid research and credible thought leadership can help readers achieve these aims, and investing in this kind of content is the best way to engage B2B prospects. But, crafting high-quality editorial requires skill. It’s a process that takes time, a team, excellent commissioning and dedicated resources.

B2B brands must ensure they have these assets at hand alongside a firm commitment to editorial values before embarking on this journey. But there is much to be gained through this craft, and it’s one marketers should be constantly looking to refine as they increase their spend on content marketing activities.

As Arthur puts it: “Editorial is content that people want to read. Knowing what that is from moment to moment, day to day, requires empathy for who the reader is going to be. That’s a human need and it can’t be distilled into a formula.”

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