Sunday, September 9, 2012

Closing the Credibility Gap in B2B Marketing

The dictionary definition of credibility is the quality or power of inspiring belief. Credibility with prospects and customers is critical to the success of any business. Credibility creates trust, and it is one of the attributes that elevates a B2B company from "potential vendor" to "trusted advisor."

It's now clear that marketing content plays a leading role in B2B demand generation. In many cases, a prospect's first impression of your company will be based on the content you publish. To be effective, marketing content must be relevant and credible to the intended audience.

The relevance of marketing content is primarily determined by what the content communicates. Does it discuss issues that are important to the intended audience? The credibility of a content resource is primarily determined by how the resource communicates the message.

All B2B marketers face a credibility challenge, at least to some extent. The reality is that business buyers have a built-in inclination to distrust marketing content. The credibility gap was clearly shown in recent research by DemandGen Report. In the 2012 Content Preferences Survey, participants were asked to identify the kind of content they gave more credence to.
  • 52% of respondents said peer reviews/user generated content.
  • 33% said content that is authored by a third-party publication or analyst and sponsored by a vendor.
  • 12% said co-branded content.
  • Only 4% chose content that is branded directly from a vendor.
How to Close the Credibility Gap

Credibility is important for all kinds of marketing content, but it's absolutely critical for content that is used to reach prospects who (a) are in the early stages of their buying process, and (b) are not familiar with your company. Content credibility is essential in this situation because many of these prospects will decide whether to begin or continue a relationship with your company based solely on the credibility of your content.

For these early-stage prospects, the most effective way to establish credibility is to use brand-agnostic content. Brand-agnostic content is content that does not directly or overtly promote your company or your products or services. To create engagement with early-stage prospects, the first requirement is to demonstrate that you are a reliable source of relevant, accurate, insightful, and (mostly) objective information. If your content overtly promotes your company or your products or services, many early-stage prospects will tune you out even if your content also provides valuable information.

Recent research shows just how widespread the dislike of promotional content is among business buyers. In the DemandGen Report survey mentioned earlier, 74% of respondents said that solution providers should "curb the sales messages" in their content resources. In a 2012 survey of technology buyers by UBM TechWeb, 77% of respondents said the biggest mistake technology vendors make is to include too much marketing "fluff" in their content resources.

When prospects enter the consideration/evaluation stage of their buying process, they will want and need to learn more about your company and about the specific features and capabilities of your products or services. That's where promotional content is both necessary and appropriate. Before that, however, promotional content may do more harm than good when it comes to creating engagement with potential customers.

Using brand-agnostic content will undoubtedly be counterintuitive for many B2B marketers. But in today's environment, the reality is that you can sell more by "selling" less.


  1. Hi David,
    Could not agree with you more. I wrote a similar post you might enjoy here:

    (I wrote it as kind of a rant after working with a client who insisted on adding branded product-centric content into every blog post!)

    1. Hi Karen,

      Thanks for your comment. Your post is great! I hope that everyone will read it. I'm always amazed how often two people who have never met or talked can arrive at conclusions that are so similar.

      It also still surprises me that so many marketers still think that every piece of content should contain a "hard" sales message.