It’s no great revelation to say that people rarely behave the way you want them to. People do weird and unexpected things. They have their own unknowable agendas. They make decisions that don’t make sense.
This is one of the reasons content marketing is so difficult, in as much as it involves corralling the confusing and unpredictable members of the human race and guiding them, somehow, with content, through the stages of a carefully structured buying process.
Inbound marketers put a lot of time and effort into understanding how buyers function as buyers: what triggers them to seek out information, what questions they have, what options they’re weighing, the duration of their purchasing cycle and who they report to. These are important, but I think inbound marketers often overlook how their buyers function as human beings.
That is to say, the reason someone chooses to consume or ignore your content, visit or leave your website, or buy or pass on your product may have nothing to do with the strength or your arguments, the ingeniousness of your solution, or the quality of your product. Trace that decision back to its root and you may find it had more to do with a grumpy early morning, an overflowing inbox, or simply a deeply-held belief, unshakeable in the face of even the hardest data.
Buyers aren’t robots; they’re people, and the expectation that they will act like people should inform every piece of content you create. Here are a few of the most frustrating (from a marketer’s perspective, anyway) aspects of human nature and some ideas on how to confront them with your content.
1. Humans Are Not (Always) Rational
A while back, a colleague of mine enthusiastically demonstrated a new, more efficient way to eat an apple—essentially, from the top down or the bottom up. I’m not given to hyperbole, so I won’t say it blew my mind, but I was impressed that someone had discovered a new, better method of apple eating after what I can only assume has been centuries of human apple consumption.
Did this insight change how I eat apples thenceforth? No. I continue to eat apples sideways, fully aware that it is inefficient and—I guess—wasteful. The fact of the matter is, I like the way I eat apples, inefficiencies and all. I don’t care enough about efficiency to break my longstanding habit. Call me irrational.
I often see businesses use their content as an opportunity to reeducate buyers on new, radically different ways of doing things. This is a particularly common approach among B2B service provides, who preach organizational restructuring and holistic, enterprise-wide change in exchange for greater efficiency and higher ROI. Here’s the thing though: Like me with the apple, no matter how well you make your argument, your buyers may not want to change. And while their desire not to change may be irrational, it may also be insurmountable.
How to Create Content for Irrational Buyers
Start small. The likelihood that you’re going to convince anyone to reorganize their entire business based on a few blog articles or a white paper is pretty low. But, they might be interested in making one or two small changes and seeing how that goes.
Meet buyers where they are. Don’t try to drag them where you want them to be. Save the big stuff for when you start working together and you’ve built up trust through good results. Especially at the content level, narrow your focus to single, well-defined problems and single, well-defined solutions.
2. Humans Have Other Things Going On
LinkedIn recently release a list of the ten most overused profile words on its professional networking site. Among the top four are “motivated,” “passionate,” and “driven.” I agree these words are overused. I would go further, though; they’re mostly untrue. If everyone is so passionate about their jobs, why is it so difficult to get them to read a short paper that would help them do it better? If everyone is so driven, why aren’t they driven to spend 10 minutes with a blog article that could change their career forever and for the better?
The answer is, of course, that for most people, work isn’t the only passion. Success isn’t the only thing they’re driven towards. People don’t want to spend all their lives at work and, therefore, work time is a finite resource. Can you seriously expect someone to dedicate 1/8th of his or her workday to reading your 5,000-word eBook? Because the alternative is taking it home, and that’s just not going to happen—not when there are so many episodes of Game of Thrones just waiting on the DVR.
How to Create Content for Buyers Who Would Rather Be Doing Something Else
Keep it short and keep it focused. Readers don’t want to (and they won’t) wade through material that’s not relevant to them. Resist the urge to aim content at multiple personas in an effort to “not leave anyone out.” When it comes to demanding valuable work time from people, bloat is your enemy.
Shorter is almost always better. (I know. Do as I say, not as I do.) Don’t take on the world in a single blog post. Take on a single problem and offer a single solution. If you’re worried about leaving something or someone out, don’t. The great thing about blogging is that, over time, all your blog articles together will say everything you need to say.
3. Humans Are Unprofessional
I’m never surprised but always a little bit disappointed when clients tell me they would like their content to maintain a “professional” tone. I get why they say that. Most of the clients I work with are in B2B, and when you’re asking another business to plunk down a couple hundred thousand for a year or more of services, you want to project a certain air of responsibility.
On the other hand, where’s the fun in that? Especially if your content has gotten no traction thus far, why not try humor, irreverence, and casual language?
Even at work, people like to be entertained. At any given point during the workday, in addition to their work, most people have a couple browser tabs open at all times with YouTube videos, live sports, celebrity gossip, whatever—the stuff they actually want to consume (see point #2 above). Conscientious workers know they have to eat their vegetables (your content), but that doesn’t mean they’re looking forward to it.
Have mercy on these people. Faced with the prospect of wading through 2,000 words of dry technical jargon or 2,000 words of technical jargon peppered liberally with jokes and pop culture references, what would you choose?
How to Create Content for Unprofessional Buyers
If you have trouble being funny, try going for the dramatic. Illustrate your points with real experiences: the nightmare client who was never happy, the time you were unprepared for a meeting and the result was a disaster. What did you learn from these experiences? People are enthralled by stories—jargon, graphs, and numbers, not so much.