Great content revolves around two words: passion and pain. We all like to read about our passions (think sports, food, social causes) and our pains (think health worries, tax rules, certain presidential candidates). The best B2B content, whether self-published or published in top-tier business publications, also taps into reader pains. Smart thought leaders provide novel prescriptions to soothe those pains, and win the attention of their customers, potential customers, and professional peers.
"But people don't like negativity!" some of you are saying (or thinking).
But I'm not talking about whining. I'm talking about problem solving. And if there's a real solution, there first has to be a real problem. Just look at this list of some of HBR.com's 20 most popular articles from 2015:
Your Late-Night Emails Are Hurting Your Team
Why Some Men Pretend to Work 80-Hour Weeks
What I Learned from A Year of Job Rejections
How to Overcome Burnout and Stay Motivated
5 Signs It's Time for A New Job
99% Of Networking Is a Waste Of Time
A great deal of pain lurks in those stories. The boss who emails people at all hours. The colleague who acts busier than everyone else. The frustrating job hunt. The conference that doesn't end with great new contacts. In fact, stories involving career pain win a special kind of attention, because people work so hard to succeed.
But there's plenty of pain to go around. Think of the cybersecurity worries in the banking industry following the recent online hack in Bangladesh. Think of the pricing uncertainty in the energy sector. Think of the complex analytics questions that all kinds of companies face right now.
So ask yourself, do your thought leadership articles start with your customers' pains? If not, you're unlikely to connect with your readers. As I have noted in previous blogs, the key to getting readers (and editors) to pay attention to you is to try to think like them, and put yourself in their shoes. Too many authors begin with their solution (the product, the service, the framework,) instead of the customer problem -- the pain that the product, service, or framework seeks to ease.
If your material is failing to resonate with your audience, start thinking about your customer's pains. Ask yourself:
- Who among your customers or audience is hurting and why? Is one kind of customer suffering more than another?
- What are the top three worries that make your customers reach for the Ambien at night?
- Is there a new, or emerging pain that warrants prompt attention?
- Why is this particular pain tough to soothe?
- How are your customers' peers addressing it (if they are)?
- Can you or your team make the pain go away in a new, unique way?
- What mistakes do people make in dealing with the pain?
- What prevents people from helping themselves?
Now that you're thinking like your customer, you've got a potent series of topics to write about, topics that will hit your readers where they live.
If you're responsible for shaping content at your firm, and you don't feel like you know the answers to enough of these questions, it's time to start hanging out more with your firm's sales and delivery teams. Top salespeople start with customer pain; they know it and can tell you what your firm can (and can't) do to relieve it. Delivery teams in consulting firms know the nitty-gritty of customer pains, because they're in the trenches getting the projects done. They see where efforts go wrong, and where people and politics trip up careful planning.
If you're a subject matter expert at a B2B firm, you should know the pain points well. Keep them top of mind as you decide which subjects deserve your attention and effort. If your marketing people are proposing article topics that don't address your clients' real concerns, tell them so.
Identify a rich enough set of pain points, addressed by the right solutions, and you may eventually have the core of a business book. For example, we recently worked with Madhavan Ramanujam and Georg Tacke of consulting firm Simon-Kucher & Partners on their just-published book, Monetizing Innovation: How Smart Companies Design the Product Around the Price. The pain point this book starts with is failed innovations -- like the Amazon Fire tablet or Dean Kamen's Segway transporter. Their book explains how successful innovators, like Porsche and Swarovski, avoid failure by prioritizing customer desires and willingness to pay over bloated lists of slick features -- some keys to Simon Kucher's pricing methodology.
No one wants to sink tremendous time and money into a product that will make the marketplace yawn, or even snicker, as the Segway did. (See their HBR article, In Product Development, Let Your Customers Define Perfection, which shares some of the book's advice.) Customer pain drives SKP's book; it makes the stories they tell, and the impact of the company's approach, hit home.
No matter what you're writing, don't shy away from the pain. Your customers can't.