Content Marketers: Why It Pays to Provoke Your Buyers

When the average American attention span is only 8.25 seconds long, what are content marketers to do? How can you break through buyers’ short attention spans? Even goldfish pay attention for 9 seconds!

Be provocative. Create challenger content. Create original content that tells your buyers something that they didn’t know − about a problem or opportunity they didn’t know they had.

Yes, within your customers’ subconscious of unknown unknowns, monsters lurk: threats to your customers’ business, even threats to their industries’ future.

What trends are just now becoming visible, which threaten to upend your customers’ business? Where will those trends lead if they continue, or if they accelerate? How prepared are your customers to face the challenges ahead?

The answers to these questions will lead you to ideas for thought-provoking content marketing, also known as challenger content. It’s a potent weapon in content marketers’ arsenals.

Tell your customers something that’s true, but so shocking they’ll have a hard time sleeping tonight. And soon thereafter, show them exactly how they can address that problem.

That’s a key lesson from The Challenger Sale, a seminal book by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. Thought-provoking content paves the way to smart challenger selling, and moves customers to action.

Consider this: Out of 100 customers who come to your website as they consider buying your products or services:

• How many actually follow through with a purchase?
• What do you know about the ones who didn’t buy?
• Did they change their minds?
• Did they turn to a competitor?
• Or did they decide to stick with the status quo?

Many non-buyers simply stick with the status quo, consciously or not. They defer a decision. Perhaps the problem isn’t big enough yet to force a change or there’s no budget to address it.

Perhaps they can’t gather the political capital inside the company to get the need for change recognized, budgeted and executed. Sometimes customers just turn a blind eye to a problem and hope for the best – knowing full well that hope is not a strategy.

How can you get your customers motivated enough to take action, to change the status quo?

Here are 3 ways to apply the magic of challenger content:

1.) Make the problem visible. In their book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath tell a story about John Stegner, a manager who couldn’t get executives to pay attention to his problem – the company was wasting big money with inefficient purchasing. For example, the company was spending way too much on safety gloves.

Rather than show abstract numbers on a PowerPoint slide, Stegner figured out how to make the problem visible and experiential. To dramatize the problem, he had an intern collect specimens of gloves from each plant and attach a price tag to each to show exactly what the company paid for that glove. Then they piled up 424 different gloves on the executive conference room table, just in time for  the routine executive meeting.

Now, the execs dug into a problem made clearly visible. They discovered that the company bought way too many different kinds of gloves, and sometimes paid $5, other times $17, for identical gloves. The execs decided to send the glove collection on a companywide tour so everyone could see the problem – and how crazy it was. Then they empowered Stegner to fix the problem. Here’s the whole story.

What can you do to turn your customers’ problem into an experience?

2.) Do the future math. What if your customers decide to ignore an existing problem? Do the future math for them. Show them the financial consequences over the next few years, including all the knock-on effects.

For example, many IT departments consider unplanned downtime on their local area networks (LANs) routine. Although a conventional LAN goes down for 8 hours and 46 minutes a year, surprisingly, many IT professionals do not consider that a real problem.

Infographic reveals $4.1  million in hidden costs resulting from downtime.
Infographic reveals $4.1 million in hidden costs resulting from downtime.

However, IT managers may not see the true costs of downtime to the overall business: on average, about $7,900 an hour. So “routine” downtime can cost a company $4.1 million a year.

IT managers seldom calculate those costs. Calculate it for them, and make it visible. An infographic can highlight such a problem and make the future math visible.

3.) Show the impacts of industry trends. Many challenges your clients face affect the entire industry or sector. When you can be the first to alert customers to a looming problem, you get the first shot at helping them solve it.

What are the trends, 2 or 3 years ahead, that will challenge your customers’ existing business models? Who are the third parties you can enlist to help you detect and dramatize those trends?

For example, Tellabs worked with industry analysts to show mobile companies that they faced the risk of becoming unprofitable – much sooner than anyone expected. In light of users’ growing mobile data demands, the requirement to expand mobile networks to keep up, and users’ unwillingness to spend more each month on mobile data, their profitable mobile businesses would soon turn unprofitable.

It wasn’t a popular message, but it did cut through to win oversized attention in a cluttered market. Here’s a case history on thought-provoking content.

Don’t pursue thought leadership. Go for thought-provoking content. What’s the difference?

A lot of thought leadership is like your term paper in school. You’re proving that you know your stuff, yet you’re not offering a new viewpoint or challenging the customer’s version of the status quo in any way. Shoot for thought-provoking content that challenges customers’ notion of the status quo and shows them clearly that change is needed – challenger content.

For example, why do people leave B2B websites? They offer many reasons, but the #1 reason is because so many websites lack a message.

Set aside the curse of knowledge to examine your website and ask, “What’s the message?” If you can’t answer that simply and clearly, chances are your customers can’t either. Nor can your customers’ customers. Such insights are alarming, and that’s exactly why they work to focus customers’ attention on the real problems.

Challenger content is all about finding new ways to show clients a problem they need to address. That’s why thought-provoking content can be such a potent weapon in your content marketing arsenal.

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