Doug Kessler on Adding Emotional Appeal to B2B Content Marketing

July 6, 2016

Doug Kessler on Adding Emotional Appeal to B2B Content Marketing

The fact that we’re still debating whether it’s okay to add emotion to B2B content says a lot about how artificial marketing used to be. If you ask me, the debate is over. People want to learn, interact with, and buy from actual people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a sports drink or an enterprise-level cloud computing solution. We have got to come out from behind the curtain and make a genuine, human appeal.

All of which to say, we need more B2B marketers like Doug Kessler. As the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Velocity Partners, Ltd., Doug is fearless about wearing his heart on his sleeve. He wrote one of the most honest, inspiring opinion pieces about B2B Marketing I’ve ever seen:

So Doug was a must-get for our eBook, The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing.

In the following interview, Doug takes a no-nonsense look at the current state of B2B content marketing, where he thinks it should go in the future, and how to deliver content that moves people on an emotional level.


If you were starting a content marketing program from scratch, where would you begin?

Doug: I'd always start with a blog. It's easy, low cost and a great way to start getting your content chops working. Try for a weekly cadence if you can. Figure out your content sweet spot—where your audience's information needs and your own authority and expertise overlap—and stay within it.

Then aim for one, big, chunky, high-value piece —maybe an eBook, SlideShare or video. Make it really, really good: It will be the bedrock of your content brand. Then pimp the living daylights out of it. And commit to getting better and better and better.

In your eyes, what is the biggest difference between content marketing five years ago and content marketing today?

Doug: Five years ago, just doing content for your prospects was enough to make you stand out. Now it isn't. Everybody's doing it. That's the bad news. The good news is that there are so many ways to do it better. The content production platforms are better. The content distribution options are legion. The analytics apps are more granular. Marketing automation is slicker…

But the single biggest difference? Now there are lots of fantastic, smart people with real, front-line experience who are ready to help—like Ann Handley, Joe Pulizzi, Lee Odden, Jay Baer, Marcus Sheridan… the list goes on.

If you are tasked with hiring a content marketer, what is the #1 attribute you are looking for?

Doug: Curiosity. No, empathy. No, a passion for content and the subject matter itself. No, an eye for a story. If forced, at gunpoint, to pick just one: empathy. Content that understands its audience will be good content. Content that doesn't can't be.

Tell us about a brand that has impressed you with its content strategy and execution.

Doug: So many! Can I do three?

HubSpot built a business on content. It’s a firehose of useful, helpful stuff and they've built a major subscriber (and fan) base on it.

Everyone cites Red Bull, but it really is amazing that they could turn a foul-tasting speed drink into a formidable media brand.

And I love what Adobe is doing with—a proper media play that's owned by a brand but doesn't force its brand messages on its readers.

You recently published a great post on why case studies suck. What steps can B2B content marketers take to evolve the traditional case study?

Doug: That post was by Irene Triendl, one of Velocity's copywriters. (No, you can't lure her away, we've chained her to the desk and shower her in praise—a killer combination). Her main point is that case stories should be great stories first and powerful cases second.

The case study genre is so bound by convention that it's been strangled of any sense of surprise or delight or fun. This is tragic because cases can and should be one of our most powerful weapons

B2B content has a stigma of being boring. How can B2B marketers ensure they are connecting with their audience on an emotional level?

Doug: I love this question. The importance of emotional resonance in B2B came to me embarrassingly late in my career. Now, I know that it's hugely important (but still very infrequently practiced).

One route to emotion is to ask a chain of 'why's. To get to the deepest reason that your company does what it does.The things that make it worthwhile working there.

Another is to follow up on the stories that your work creates. The people it touches. You want to avoid being too saccharine but don't shy away from the heart stories. B2B marketers obsess about the rational at the expense of the emotional. The bests stuff combines both.

Thanks to Doug for joining us. You can find Doug on Twitter @dougkessler, and read more from him and the Velocity Partners team at the Velocity Partners blog.

For a comprehensive look at content marketing from planning to measurement, download The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing.

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