Does Extreme B2B Content Marketing Work?

May 8, 2024

We’re drawn to extreme things—at least as spectators, if not participants.

From motorsports to big wave surfing to hotdog eating contests, the further the performances—and usually the risks—are from our day-to-day normal, the more intrigued we become.

The same might be said for headlines and hero images (the pictures at the tops of webpages and articles designed to grab our attention).

As the old newsroom adage goes, “If it bleeds, it ledes.”(Not a typo; an industry term for the opening paragraph of a news article.)

So, does this mean that extreme content is more likely to succeed than something tamer?

And, if so, how far should you push it?


One Man’s Extreme…

How extreme something feels is a subjective experience, tied to similar experiences you’ve had in the past.

Many ultimately harmless things can seem “big and hairy” when we encounter them for the first time.

Likewise, the sight of blood or broken bones is stomach-turning to most people but ho-hum to those who’ve worked a year or two in the emergency room.

How about extreme science and engineering?

A practitioner familiar with the jargon and the typical values of things has an easier time interpreting technical and scientific statements than someone with no such experience.

Almost any level of radiation, for example, sounds scary to the man on the street.

Less so, when you realize how much radiation we are exposed to every day, let alone when we take a long-haul flight.

What about extreme benefits?

Ah, we’re suckers for these.

When you’re not the one being targeted, it’s easy to think, “Who on earth would fall for that? It’s so far-fetched…”

But you will when it’s something that could be of direct benefit.

How far-fetched is too far-fetched will depend on your knowledge of the subject and your accumulated experience and anchor points.

A statement one person labels extreme provokes a yawning “so what?” from another.


Content Extremes

Fortunately, content producers seldom throw a stomach-turning picture at the top to grab our attention.

However, they do push the boundaries of reasonableness with headlines and associated images.

These can be extremely positive or extremely negative. Two simple examples:

Add THREE ZEROES to your revenue within THREE MONTHS with ZERO additional effort!

ROI has absolutely NO PLACE in Marketing!

(Both of those are real examples, with real “shouting” capitalization, I saw earlier this week.)

They are great examples of clickbait, since we can’t help but watch the trainwreck, but they offer little in the way of relevant, helpful information.

Unsurprisingly, both led to strongly worded but largely unsubstantiated prose that did little more than lead to forms requesting an email address.


Marmite, a spread made from yeast extract that some people love and others don't...

The Marmite Effect

A common characteristic of extreme statements is that they polarize the audience.

You either love them or hate them—hence the reference to Marmite, a “savory spread made from yeast extract” (a byproduct from the brewing industry) that some people love, and others can’t swallow.

(I feel the same way about root beer and Jägermeister, but that’s for a different post.)

If your objective is to polarize—and thereby create a tribe of followers with whom your content resonates strongly—this can be a good thing.

If your objective is mass appeal, probably less so.

Your audience will either buy into what you’re saying, or they won’t—there’s not much middle ground.

So, while the attention-grabbing headline or subject matter might be effective at attracting a similarly extreme group within the audience, there’s not much chance it will draw a “not sure, let’s give it a try” crowd as well.

Less extreme options may be tolerated for longer by the unsure, giving them a chance to get past the headline and into the meat of your message.


Comfortably Numb

As the ER worker example cited earlier demonstrates, shock value diminishes with repeated exposure.

The more often you see it, the less unusual it becomes, and hence the less impactful.

We gradually become numb to things that initially trigger our fight-or-flight response system.

When you work with snakes, radioactive materials, or injured people, you get used to them and they become your new normal.

This is a good thing when we need an untroubled EMT to put us back together.

It can also be a bad thing—for example, when adjusting back to civilian life after an active military tour.

It’s one of the reasons why marketing propaganda spirals out of control.

Louder, more exaggerated, in-your-face, promise-the-world.

As we become increasingly numb to flashing “Breaking News” headlines, graphic images, and too-good-to-be-true promises, the marketing machinery must work even harder to wrest our attention away.

Fortunately, carefully constructed, relevant, helpful, authentic content never loses its charm.


A First Date isn’t an Engagement

Those banners, headlines, hero images, and soundbites are only effective at capturing your attention for a few seconds.

Unless there’s something behind them, you’ll quickly move on.

The claim that human attention spans have fallen to less than 10 seconds is a myth—we’re capable of concentrating for much longer than that. But it is fair to say that a skim reader won’t dwell on your content for more than a few seconds before deciding whether to stick around or bounce.

You must quickly build on whatever hook you’ve set, or your catch will be lost.

Substance must quickly follow shock.

Or maybe don’t use the shock at all?

A credible but intriguing headline, followed by evidence to back it up and an appealing reason to keep reading, is a proven strategy for attracting and engaging your audience.

The number of visitors coming to your webpage doesn’t tell you much.

Average time spent on the page does. That’s a measure of engagement.

Extreme content might temporarily lure a few eyeballs in your direction, but it is powerless to hold them there.

Valuable content, hinted at by carefully written headlines, draws and holds the eyeballs—and hopefully makes them open wider in delight, rather than shock.


Authenticity Beats the Extremes

Some brands can get away with the repeated use of extreme content, but they’re generally in the B2C space where individual customers are buying instant gratification, titillation, and dopamine hits rather than business equipment and services.

In the B2B world, the opposite is true. We see far more staid—often dull—content with only the occasional extreme claim about new technology or potential results.

If you use extreme content at your B2B business, make it an exception—which will stand out because it’s so different—rather than your norm.

What B2B audiences (and prudent B2C consumers) prefer is a steady diet of helpful, authentic content.

Sudden outbursts can be jarring and confusing.

Are you not what they thought you were? Have you lost the plot?

Brands that use an extreme, out-of-character campaign to “shake things up” might generate a near-term burst of attention and leads, but it wears off just as fast and can leave a mark.

Is it worth scarring your brand reputation for a quick win?


The Bottom Line

Nothing here precludes you from “pushing the boat out” every now and again to prevent your marketing from becoming stale.

Just be measured in your approach and think carefully about who it is targeting.

How will existing customers perceive the content?

To what extent might it polarize your audience of future customers, risking losing some from the “middle ground”?

If your target audience has been pummeled into a state of numbness by your competitors’ extreme content, how else might you get audience members’ attention?

In the end, strive to build a brand that is known for its creativity, informativeness, and authenticity.

Those attributes are far more likely to help you earn and retain an audience than making their eyebrows pop with transient, inconsistent shockers.


Image credit: Adobe Stock


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