Want to know what B2B marketing mistake makes me the craziest? When I see marketing content that adds an unnecessary or inappropriate qualifier to try and get a specific segment of people to read, register, or interact with the piece of content.

For example, if I say this blog is only for “B2B marketers”- will that focus the target audience of the blog? Will I get more B2B marketers to read? Chances are that it’s the topic, not my qualifier, that draws readers in. And B2B marketing is my topic, not necessarily my audience. Many of you are coming from across a wide range of industries, company types and roles. Our communities and ecosystems are much too diverse to label.

I have tested this concept a number of times. Does title-targeted content draw more targets? Not in my experience. At least based on the tests I’ve run.

And yet when I try to explain this to people they look at me like I’m crazy! This is a result of the kind of “inside-out” thinking I talked about in my last post, “The Biggest Mistake Marketers Make.” We lose every time we marketers make it all about us or our solution or our product or our organization and not about the customer.

Want an example? Let’s say I conduct research of my audience that concludes that B2B marketers and communications professionals are really interested in “social media” or “sales and marketing alignment.” Then I write a really great article about one of those topics. If I title the paper with the topic such as “Top 10 Ways To Succeed In Social Media” but leave out my target audience qualifier “for B2B marketers,” I will get more B2B marketers to read it.

That’s right! If I try to label my audience then fewer of them and much fewer people in general will read it, share it, or care about it.

The main reason is that most people like to decide to do what they want to do for their own reasons. They do not like to be labeled even when the label is not offensive in any way.

To put it another way, people will determine the relevance of content for themselves. They do this more often based on their interest in the topic and will reject any attempt to be put into a box.

So where do most people make this mistake? When they are marketing a solution to a specific industry, function, or size of business.

It is human nature to think that if you qualify your content, advertising, or marketing campaigns, that more people from that target group will respond. But they won’t.

My advice: Understand what your target audience is looking for. And create a compelling message or piece of content. Then deliver it in the right context in the places your audience is hanging out. You will see a higher response in general and get more responses in your target.

Here are a few ways to test this. You can perform A/B tests using email subject lines, blog posts, banner creative or offers on your website. I have done all of these. Each time, the winner has been the more generic title (all else being equal.)

So please: stop making the mistake of thinking your target audience will conform to your view of the world.

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About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the Vice President of Global Marketing for SAP where he leads content strategy and serves as the managing editor of the company’s award-winning Business Innovation thought leadership blog site. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to B2B Marketing Insider by Email

10 Comments

  1. kenny said…

    one word : YEP :) 1.3 Million IT folks agree with you.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Kenny! They’re not technical IT folks and McDonalds sells Big Macs, not Big Macs for hungry people.

      Well you get the point. It’s your content that brings them in. It’s your community of experts that brings them in.

  2. Rachel Macik said…

    What if we put… B2B marketers DO NOT READ THIS ? eh? Have you reposted an older blog with a new title? Its hard to say, because the variable of what time you posted it, do you have more readers than you did previously? Are you marketing your blog better these days? Its tough. Marketeers are finicky. If you try the big red button, I’d love to know how it goes :)

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Hi Rachel, Great point. I will try that “DO NOT READ!” approach. Might actually work. With blogs it’s tougher. With marketing offers and other content it is much easier to A/B test (email subject lines, ppc ads, whitepaper titles) for sure.

  3. Michael,
    I hear what you’re saying about letting people decide what content they’re interested in, but I’m going to play devil’s advocate. Too often I see content written for a range of audience members (e.g., the CFO AND the CIO AND the end user)…and the piece ends up diluted because you can’t dive down into the topics that will interest just one of these people without alienating the others.

    To your point, if a topic is truly generic enough to appeal to people in a range of roles, then by all means, use a more generic title. But why should the CIO wade through a white paper or eBook that’s focused on topics of interest to the Line of Business manager? With so many time constraints these days, folks want to know that content is relevant to them before they decide to spend the time to consume it.

    Best,
    Stephanie

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Stephanie,

      Thanks for chiming in and I love devil’s advocating. My argument was not crystal clear because this topic is counterintuitive and because I did not spend enough time on it to make it crystal clear ;-)

      Here’s my point: it is our job as content producers to make it easy for our target audience to identify with our content. We do this by addressing topics that are top of mind to our target. For example, the C-Level exec you mentioned wouldn’t wade through a piece of content if the topic was on LOB issues.

      Too many times I see generic content with a label slapped on it. And the label may not apply. Here’s an example. Many companies segment their market by industry. But an analysis of search keywords will show you that people don’t conduct a lot of searches based on industry-specific keywords. They search for business issues. So don’t bother with Industry labels. Focus on Industry-specific issues.

      My point: write content that addresses your target’s issues. If you need to state who it’s for in your title, you haven’t done your job. As I stated above, McDonald’s doesn’t need to say Big Macs are for hungry people. In the same way our content shouldn’t need to state who it’s for.

  4. Rachel Foster said…

    Hi Michael,

    Oohh … a controversial topic. I have labeled specific readers in my copy, as lots of copywriting guides tell you to do this to let readers know the content is specifically for them. It’s supposed to be an effective strategy to increase white paper opt-ins. However, I may need to consider this more deeply in the future. Thanks for this post.

    Cheers,
    Rachel

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Rachel, Good copywriting like the stuff you write should include idenitfiers in the copy. It’s the valuable Title real estate where it makes me nuts. And as I said in the post, all this comes from testing: if I write a great piece of content that nails a hot topic for my target audience, I will get more of them to read it than if I produce something generic and just try to label it to match my worldview. Classic inside-out thinking. Ugggh!

      And yes, I don’t often do controversial so I am happy to see this generating great comments from all you fine folks.

  5. Karina said…

    I have seen that sometimes we don’t want to name our audience to keep reaching other segments but I have learned the hard way: the more you focus on your audience the better results you get.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Absolutely correct. Focus on the audience. Just don’t call them “small” if they don’t see themselves as “small” or place them into an industry they do not consider themselves to be in. That is really the main point here.

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