There are two kinds of content marketers in B2B: Plumbers and Persuaders:
Plumbers are focused on the pipes, couplings and elbow joints of demand generation.
They design increasingly complex nurture flows, set them up in their chosen marketing automation platforms and (I hope and trust) link them to their CRM systems so they can associate clicks to revenue.
Persuaders are focused on the things that go on within each content experience or interaction.
They spend their time thinking about the ability of a piece of content to actually move a reader (or viewer or listener). At things like voice, story, structure and strength of argument; at design, format and user experience.
Here’s the part where I say, “Here’s the thing”:
Here’s the thing:
Plumbers and Persuaders are both critically important.
If either fails at his or her job, the machinery of B2B sputters to a halt, the MQL reservoir runs dry and the VP of Accountability & Ass-Kicking (EMEA) comes thundering in to harvest someone’s head. (I’m picturing the bastard love-child of Quentin Tarrantino and David Brent).
If it’s an equation, it goes:
Great Plumbing x Great Persuading = Great Results
If either are set to zero, the output is zero.
Wonderful nurture flows full of lousy content? <fart sound>
Amazing content stuck in little islands? <quack quack>
Everyone would probably agree with that math (and those sound effects).
But here’s the other thing:
Today, B2B marketing is in danger of swinging too far towards the Plumbers at the expense of the Persuaders.
As the power of MarTech becomes clear to everyone, most marketing teams are spending almost all of their time, energy and resources on identifying the right tools, assembling them into a working stack and twiddling the many knobs and dials to try to optimize the machine.
That makes sense.
This is a new discipline. Marketing automation and analytics are new tools. So are all the other crowded boxes on Scott Brinker’s ChiefMarTech supergraphic (next year’s will come with a free electron microscope).
Getting good at all this new stuff takes focus.
But if we swing too far towards the plumbing of B2B, we lose sight of some important things:
Content is not a colourless, odourless fluid that we pour into our new machines, then stand back to watch the money squirt out.
If the content itself does not actually change the person reading/viewing/hearing it, you haven’t moved them along the mythical buyer’s journey (even if your nurture flow says you have).
Changing a person is still as hard as it’s ever been (maybe harder).
If this sounds like the desperate ravings of a frightened, aging, precious, old-school, Madison Avenue, copywriting snowflake that may well be because it’s the desperate ravings of a frightened, aging, precious, old-school, Madison Avenue, copywriting snowflake.
But it’s also the pragmatic warning of an enthusiastic, data-snorting, right-brained, bespectacled martech-geek who’s hugely excited about the power and potential of making B2B better through science.
Because here’s the last time I say ‘here’s the thing’:
What if we can master both?
If we can bring together the best Plumbers with the best Persuaders, we can build invincible marketing robots who will stalk the land, squashing all pretenders underfoot, micro-detecting every flicker of intent and suctioning the last bitcoin from the pocket of every unsuspecting prospect.
If we can build friction-free marketing machines AND fuel them with smart, clear, delightful, compelling content… we can conquer the world (or at least the world of supply chain management software).
If we bring together amazing content strategists, writers, designers, developers, marketing automators, analysts, demand-gen ninjas and data scientists—then get in some wood-fired oven-baked pizza and someone to remove the fucking pineapple… we can rock the night away and make sweet love till the dawn ignites the morning sky and… the… birds of… happy… sing their… songs of… (never mind).
Here’s the absolutely last time I say, ‘Here’s the thing’:
I’m a career-long Persuader wearing the dirty coveralls of an apprentice Plumber.
I’m deeply invested in both kinds of B2B marketing (I unashamedly believe we employ some of the best Persuaders AND the best Plumbers in the biz—though we’re always, eagerly, looking for more).
So this is not an axe-grinding thing.
This is a balance thing.
That content is not a node on a drag & drop process map.
It’s a story made to move a person.
If it’s made well, it will do that.
If it’s not, that node on that drag & drop process map is guaranteed to be a dead end.
So let’s work hard to become amazing plumbers.
But let’s never forget that what we’re plumbing is content designed to move people.
And that if we fail at this old job, we will never master the new one.