You would have to live under a rock—and an off-grid rock, at that—not to notice the polarization of ideas, opinions, and expectations that’s afflicting the world today.
Sadly, the business world isn’t immune.
We are bombarded by thinly-veiled sales pitches exhorting us to go all-in, full-tilt, balls-to-the-wall, and excoriating those who don’t have the grit, determination, and hustle to make it happen.
We’re told that it’s essential to publish new content every day if we want to get seen.
We must voice a distinctly different opinion from everyone else—or loudly support the opinion of an influential group—if we want anyone to listen.
Our follower count should be skyrocketing and our calendars should be brimming with appointments (set by automatic, done-for-you services) if we want to make money.
Go. Big. Or. Go. Home.
Why? Because the extremes are easy to spew about, dramatize, scaremonger, and sell.
The middle is messy, mediocre, and hard to market.
So what’s my beef?
In the wonderful world of B2B content marketing, the middle is none of those things.
It need not be messy or mediocre. In fact, it’s where you can make magic happen.
Let me explain.
Oh, the grand old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill, and he marched them down again.
When they were up, they were up, and when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only halfway up, they were neither up nor down.
(English children’s nursery rhyme)
The grand old Duke of York’s indecision has been vilified for centuries, although his identity is unclear and much debated.
He was caught in the either-or trap.
Should his army be atop the hill, ready to defend it? Or should they be on the plain, doing something else?
By committing to neither one nor the other, the Duke has become synonymous with futile action.
Choose your adventure and stick to the plan.
You’re either with us or you’re with them; there’s no credible middle ground.
Are you in or are you out?
We reduce the world around us to polarized choices because our brains can easily process them in low-power mode
We reduce the world around us to such polarized choices because our brains can easily process them in low-power mode.
The implication is that finding a workable middle ground will be difficult and potentially futile.
It’s likely to require compromise, which we regularly interpret as something less than either of the extremes.
In practice, many compromises are superior to the extremes, achieving a “best of both worlds” outcome.
Calling the middle “messy” is a convenient excuse for not doing the work necessary to figure it out and make it great.
It’s a wildly successful way of distracting followers from a third option that would undermine the superiority of whichever polar view the mess merchant is promoting.
In the business world, we read headlines about spectacular successes (let’s call them unicorns) and spectacular failures (some of which involve criminal behavior).
We read a lot less about businesses in the middle, employing good people, making things happen, turning a profit, and keeping it going.
(Sidenote: I’m a fan of the recently popularized label “camels” for companies that take a long-term view and eschew hyperbolic growth, but I think it misses the point that investors are still looking to invest in something rare, which camels are not. “Rhino” businesses, perhaps?)
The hustle culture doesn’t acknowledge that success can happen in the middle ground.
“Half-hearted” effort will leave you “middle of the pack” and doomed to “mediocrity”, they shill.
Their underlying belief system is that more is always better.
Bigger companies, making more/shinier/faster/bigger things, attracting hordes of fanatical followers, are the ones that will ultimately win.
All the other companies will languish in mediocrity until they are acquired by the mighty or roll over and die.
Except this isn’t how the real world works.
The middle is where most of the worlds goods, services, and money are made, bought, sold, performed, and exchanged
The middle is where most of the worlds goods, services, and money are made, bought, sold, performed, and exchanged.
The label “unicorn” was given to fast-growing mega-businesses—originally the few with a market capitalization of $1 billion or more—precisely because they are rare.
Most businesses cannot become a unicorn, since the definition of unicorn will adjust to preserve its rarity. It’s an illusion for all but a very few.
Achieving middle-of-the-pack performance is enough to print a meaningful profit because there’s a long tail of loss-making businesses being propped up by delusional owners, portfolio-playing speculators, and hopeful investors.
Calling the middle “mediocre” is a FOMO tactic employed by countless advisors, consultants, gurus, service providers, and hucksters who prey on the starry-eyed founders and CEOs for whom starting a unicorn is the ticket to fame and fortune.
Calling the middle “mediocre” supports the false promises they sell while conveniently ignoring their own hamster-wheel existence amid the crowded middle that they decry.
What do I mean by the “middle” of B2B content marketing?
There are several axes worth considering:
Production: Somewhere between publishing too little content, which means you’ll never get noticed, and publishing too much content, which will leave your audience overwhelmed with information (if they aren’t already)
Cadence: Somewhere between publishing content sporadically, which is a turn-off for human readers and algorithms, and trying to publish more content than your team can consistently deliver, which is unsustainable.
Authority: Somewhere between publishing gobs of synthesized, unoriginal content (including the unedited output of generative AI) and publishing entirely original content that few members of your target audience can understand, let alone use productively.
Personality: Somewhere between publishing raw, unpolished content that is janky and difficult to ingest, and publishing heavily edited, keyword stuffed content that meets every SEO objective but sounds unnatural and contrived.
I could list a half-dozen more, but you get the idea.
Let’s consider the merits of finding the middle ground on each of these axes (which you can visualize as somewhere between 4 and 7 on a scale from 1 to 10).
Publishing enough content to get noticed but not so much that you contribute to information overload in your segment of the market.
Publishing at a cadence your team can sustain, delivering relevant, high-quality content on a regular, predictable basis.
Publishing original but relatable content that brings together established ideas and adds new information or a unique point of view that’s valuable to the reader.
Publishing content that has character and is written in a conversational style (within the bounds of your brand guidelines) but still gets picked up by search engines and social media algorithms.
Does any of those statements sound mediocre—or messy—to you?
The key to successful B2B content marketing is finding your mojo—that balanced combination of purpose, objectives, and resources that works consistently for your business.
Evaluate the capacity of your in-house resources and decide what external resources you can afford to supplement them.
If producing a minimal amount of content will still leave your team gasping, your business is fundamentally under-resourced. It’s time to raise more money before launching a content marketing strategy.
Aim to produce enough of the right content that gets your company noticed by the people you care most about.
This requires doing some homework. Define your ideal customer, map their buyer’s journey, and pinpoint what content you should be delivering (and where) to win mind share and ultimately their business.
Write relatable material that matters to you and your audience, in your company’s voice, injecting original data, ideas, and commentary.
Once again, this requires some homework. What does your target audience care most about? What unique points of view does your company have that are worth sharing? What data can you produce that’s unique, relevant, and helpful to your audience?
Humans writing original content for humans sounds messy, but the results are much more engaging than machines writing for machines
Finally, write for humans, but with an eye toward algorithms.
It’s tempting to turn content creation into a formulaic, automated process, so that more can be achieved—with greater consistency—using fewer resources.
Unfortunately, this quickly devolves into repetition, regurgitation, and—here we go—mediocrity.
Humans writing original content for humans sounds messy, but the results are much more engaging than machines writing for machines.
Sticking to the theme of this article: look for the middle ground.
Use machines (including generative AI) to produce titles, topics, and outlines. Then let humans write copy that’s natural and nuanced. Tweak to ensure it will still catch the search and social media algorithms’ attention.
If you follow these general principles, the middle of B2B content marketing is a great place to be.
And, when you find your mojo there, it can be magical.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock