Lead, Don’t Sell: What Michael Phelps Can Teach B2B Marketers about Content

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Erin Colleran

Senior Client Consulting Manager

michael phelps thought leadership contentIn my role at TechTarget, I evaluate a lot of client assets. I look at it for quality of content, proper length, call to actions as well as stage in the buy cycle. What I find a lot of the time is that it’s easy and often very common for clients to create and heavy up their portfolio on product-focused assets. They know the product so well and they can write about its benefits all day. But when it comes to thought leadership content, this is where many vendors often fall short.

Demonstrating thought leadership is challenging

The reason? Simply put, it’s hard to create good thought leadership around areas that your solutions address without talking about yourself. It’s hard not to frame a problem or issue that your customers and prospects may face in your own voice relative to your own point of view.

But if done right, thought leadership content can be very effective for driving brand consideration.

A thought leadership piece should not even have a product mention at all. It’s often an awareness-driving asset, is not trying to sell something – it’s just taking an issue, a pain point, a common theme in the industry and addressing it.  Again, it’s really hard for clients to do because its difficult to NOT take an opportunity to sell. But it’s a soft sell. It’s a “We know what we are talking about” sell but without pushing product or services.

The power of content for your brand

A great example on the consumer side is the Michael Phelps Rule Yourself Video that was recently put out by Under Armour. If you have not seen it, it is truly inspirational. You can view below or watch it here.

In my opinion, Under Armour nailed it in this video. There is not one product mention in it, anywhere. It’s just a behind the scenes look into what it takes to be the best in an Olympic sport.  It speaks to their consumer about dedication from an incredible athlete training for his last event, “brought to you” by Under Armour. They are establishing themselves as a leader in swimming and athletics by creating an inspirational video, without trying to sell any product at all.

But guess what, after watching it, you want to run right out to the store and buy something with an Under Armour logo on it. Maybe that’s not exactly what happens, but they have set out to intertwine their brand with the very concept of sport and competition which creates consideration for their brand when athletes (weekend warriors on down to professionals) set out to prepare and outfit themselves for training.

Lead, don’t sell

Creating a gateway and leading buyers down a path toward your brand is very different than selling them.

Admittedly, in the B2C space, with highly competitive retail environments and wide spread commoditization, it is more of an imperative that brands lead in different ways and bring storytelling up a level. In the world of enterprise technology, when companies often compete more on speeds and feeds, product-driven approaches heavy on features and benefits often win out, especially in more niche markets.

But we can all take a lesson from the B2C world about the power of thought leadership content when executed right. While we can’t all expect assets to “go viral” or drive 5M eyeballs for our brands, but we can step back and publish something with a similar goal of leading, not selling. Next time you set out to create a piece of content, try to boil down the key benefits your solutions help customers address and “sell” your association to these, rather than listing out features.

b2b branding, brand messaging, content marketing, thought leadership, thought leadership conetnt

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