So, you’ve written an article, and now you want people to read it. But before you send it out into the world, take a moment to review whether it has the following five elements that we’ve found make content more appealing to business audiences – and much more likely to be shared.
- Relevance: The first step to writing good content is to put yourself in your readers’ shoes. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” You can show that you care by helping your audience solve a pressing problem they have now. For example, toward the end of 2022, we helped a client write a paper that showed how biotech start-ups could survive that year’s steep drop in valuations and investments. The authors suggested three major strategies to deal with the financial crunch. The paper generated immediate business. Why? Because that’s precisely what biotech companies were worried about at the time. It wouldn’t have had the same impact if it had been about something else, no matter how good it was.
- Authority: Anyone can research a subject and write an article full of examples from other people’s work. But those articles typically read like term papers, and readers quickly realize the author hasn’t walked the walk. To establish authority, authors need to cite real examples – actual solutions they’ve developed with or for clients. For example, one team once told me they could improve the efficiency of metal ore refining with machine learning. When I asked for an example, the Ph.D. on the team described duct-taping an iPhone over a conveyor and training the process to adjust itself to the quality of the incoming ore. Detailed examples from the field like this are priceless. In fact, they’re so important that one way to write compelling B2B content is to work backward from them.
- Originality: You’ll never reach an audience by repeating what others have said a hundred times. Search engines won’t notice you, and readers won’t share your content with friends. Of course, saying something original about an important topic is challenging. A common mistake people make is to dress up the ordinary with the finery of florid language and jargon. Others speculate about a hypothetical future or claim something’s new that just isn’t. Readers see right through this. But any article with genuine, unique examples is original by definition – the more unusual and instructive those examples, the better. But in any case, if no one else has them, you’re ahead of the game. Another way to make a tired topic fresh is to focus on one aspect of the issue rather than trying to cover it all. For example, it’s hard to say anything original about the keys to a successful digital transformation in a 2,000-word article. But if you wrote 2,000 words on just one of those keys to success, you could provide the detailed solutions readers are looking for.
- Clarity: Articles that are poorly written and lack a point of view are confusing. The reader is left wondering, “What’s the writer trying to say?” Readers don’t like to work hard, and really, it’s not their job. Articles that focus on one problem or opportunity, make a sound argument, and follow a logical structure are typically much easier to understand. Clarity starts with the title. For example, it’s clear from the title what this article is about: “5 Criteria for Assessing the Quality of B2B Content.” Compare that to the title of another article we recently reviewed: “Distribution and Supply Chain Models in the Cell and Gene Therapy Landscape.” That doesn’t promise to be anything more than a mishmash of the current landscape. And sure enough, after 25 pages, that’s all the reader gets.
- Value: Too many writers spend 80 percent of an article describing the current situation with a few throwaway suggestions at the end. Here’s one from a draft that recently hit our desk: “Product development could become more efficient and companies more resilient if manufacturers work with suppliers to ensure that all components are in the right place at the right time.” That idea was introduced in 1990 in the seminal work, “The Machine That Changed the World,” so it doesn’t add any value to repeat it. On the other hand, an article that briefly describes the problem and includes detailed examples of the solution, such as how an aerospace company empowered its people to be more engaged, can help an operations manager immediately. Explaining how everyone at the company had clear metrics and permission to fail, so long as they did a root-cause analysis and made corrections, provides a payoff that’s much more valuable to readers than a few vague suggestions at the end.
If fulfilling these five criteria sounds easy, it’s not. The elements that distinguish B2B content wheat from B2B chaff are difficult to get right. That’s because boilerplate descriptions of the “current situation” are quick and easy to write, whereas unique examples of innovative solutions are time-consuming to develop.
Making vague recommendations is also easy, while proven solutions take work to articulate. Writing about what fascinates you is always more appealing than writing about what’s bothering your clients. But if you can focus your article on what matters to them, they’ll thank you by reading it.