Ben has helped contribute to one of the most prominent B2B marketing podcasts in the industry with CoSchedule's Actionable Marketing Podcast. I got the chance to meeting up with Ben earlier this year and learn about his thought process and mindset when building that content platform and I learned a ton. If you want to hear more about that you can check out the episode here. Make sure you check out Ben on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Putting the Action in Actionable Content
By Ben Sailer, Inbound Marketing Director @ CoSchedule
I joined CoSchedule over five years ago and my biggest beef with B2B marketing is the same now as it was then: too much “actionable” content isn’t actionable at all. Most of this content positions itself as useful and unique, when in reality, it’s copycat content emulating what others have done before (without adding much that’s either useful or unique). As a result, this content adds more noise than signal to buyer’s search results, social media feeds, and email inboxes.
I have some theories why this is the case. Some are based on personal trial and error. Others are observations. All are things I think about often.
First, in-depth content takes time to create. More time than most companies are willing to allocate. This puts writers in the position of needing to turn around content fast. Why take the time to write a well-researched how-to blog post with detailed instruction or a sharp opinion piece based on original thought when you can rewrite existing high-ranking content faster?
This has been the mindset for a long while now, and we’ve even preached the gospel of this “skyscraper technique” before at CoSchedule. After all, the core concept is sound. See what’s currently ranking on a given topic, and then create something better. The problem is that “better” typically means something stitched together from existing content with zero original insight.
Since the author often isn’t capable of executing what they’re writing about themselves, the advice in this content rarely dives deeper than surface-level tactics, even if it checks off the required boxes on an outline and a list of keywords. Typically, it’ll tell the reader what to do but does not show how to do it. As a result, it fails to build trust or drive conversions because it’s of no actual use to the reader. If they found you through a search engine, then they already know what they want to do. They need your help to get things done so they can feel capable and smart, not stupid and stressed because they couldn’t understand how to execute vague advice.
When content looks like this, it’s a telltale sign that a junior-level content writer was handed work that exceeded their capabilities; a byproduct of underinvesting in talent and mentorship (which is another topic for another day). This ties into the bigger issue that marketing teams often don’t have the resources they need to create content that’ll drive the results they want. Primarily, the resources they lack most are 1) time and 2) executive buy-in. They aren’t producing average or subpar content because they’re not talented enough to do better. The problem is they simply are not put in a position to succeed.
The CoSchedule Blog didn’t grow to more than one million visits per month by cutting corners. Rather, it’s grown because we focused very narrowly on building the best blog we could. The results look like they’d take superhuman effort and a large team to achieve, but neither is the case. Our only “secret” is that we eliminated non-essential work and tasks so that we wouldn’t spread ourselves too thin and committed to content marketing at a time when competition was less intense than it is now. There’s nothing magic about it. Just focus and hard work.
Most marketers don’t have the luxury of time and focus though because they’re convinced they need to spend time on things that they probably don’t. You don’t have to answer every spam email you receive. You probably don’t need as many approval steps in your workflows as you think (having three people sign off on a single social post, for example, is both common and overkill).
And this tweet is too on point:
The key is to think like a race car driver and satisfy your need for speed without losing control (applying agile marketing methodologies helps in this area). Aim to ship, not for perfection.
Every day I open my inbox and I’m inundated with emails from marketers tasked with doing the exact kinds of busywork that distract from creating winning B2B content. Why spend your time on automated link building when that same time could be spent creating content that’s just good (so it’ll rank without needing to beg for attention)? Or pitches for guest posts that are off-topic keyword essays (which are also being written explicitly for no reason other than to build links)?
This isn’t a shot at link building (not when it’s done well, anyway) but it illustrates what I mean here. Spending two hours writing a piece of content and then 15 hours sending emails is backwards (and I think a misapplication of the 80/20 rule of content promotion—spending 80% of time on promotion and 20% on creation—might account for why some B2B content marketers work this way). I could write an entire article on why following “best practices” like this without context or critical thinking is a trap, but that too is another rant for another time and place.
If you think this sounds like your own content, take heart in the knowledge that no one bats 1.000 in this business (for those unfamiliar with baseball, this means no one is perfect) and everyone’s body of work includes some duds and missteps. I myself am guilty of most of the sins I’ve outlined here (which is how I know they’re result-killing mistakes that must be stopped).
What matters more is what we do to collectively move forward. We’re doing our best at CoSchedule to lead by example based on what works best for us and how we think B2B marketing should be done. But we’re learning too. Rather than copy our example I’d encourage you to follow three basic principles, none of which are original: invest in what matters, ignore what doesn’t, and focus on your customers. To my mind (and another team member here might say something different), these are the core concepts that have underpinned CoSchedule’s marketing success, independent of any specific strategy, tactic, or channel one could replicate.
Everything else is noise.
If you enjoy what we are doing we’d love for you to do a couple things: