I’ve had a great opportunity recently to learn what B2B customers want in content by – shock of shocks – asking them. The impetus is a competitive analysis I’m helping do for a publisher, which includes asking readers about everything from what they read, how they get it (print or online) to how they use content to do their jobs better.

The results have been an interesting grab-bag of reassuring truths, outright surprises and common-sense dope slaps that show how we in the “content marketing” business can get so caught up in our high-falutin’ notions we forget about the real problems our readers face. I’m saving the best stuff for my client, of course, but some initial findings that might help you decide what and how to publish for your customers.

Paper is NOT dead. While most of the readers I surveyed just want the daily email update with links to a Web site, a stubborn significant minority still want that hard copy – particularly for “airplane reading” or for reading longer stories. At least one, yes, still has his secretary print it out for him. (Hey, who knew anyone still had a secretary?)

Social networking? Feh! Virtually every reader I talked to not only was unenthusiastic about Facebook, Twitter, etc., but panned them as unprofessional and amateurish. One went so far as to say anyone in his position who had a professional Facebook page should be shot. Ouch! Maybe this industry is full of fuddy-duddies, but I think not. Times are tough and nobody has time to waste. If you’re going to roll out a social media app, make sure it’s worth the reader’s time.

Don’t Just Regurgitate. News, that is. Our client had us ask readers whether they preferred staff-written stories to pieces the publication picked up elsewhere and summarized. Answer: Nobody even knew what we were talking about. They don’t care where a story comes from, or even if they’ve seen the basic facts elsewhere. If your take on it tells them something useful, they like it.

Test It On An Itty-Bitty Screen. Just about everyone, even the tech-phobic, reads their email on a Blackberry or other mobile device. So don’t clutter them up with graphics that make them hard to read on tiny screens. Seems basic, but a widespread complaint.

So there it is, a grab-bag of sundry insights about how B2B customers want their industry news cooked up. While our study was done for a publisher, many of the same lessons apply to you vendors out there who are cooking up your own content. Good news for 2010: The amateur bloggers and Tweeters haven’t completely replaced those of us who make a living (or try to!) by writing.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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