Can challenger marketing apply to content?

February 8, 2016

I’ve been following the ‘challenger marketing’ theme on The Drum recently. It suggests that marketers adopting new strategies in B2B lead generation and content marketing would get the best results by “unteaching” customers something they are currently doing in their business.

It’s based on the theory, derived by Challenger Marketing (CEB), that “The Challenger” personality accounts for over half of high-performing sales reps in complex sales environments. So, applying the techniques that make these reps successful across to on-screen marketing, the theory goes, should make it the content persuasive and improve results.

CEB continues the theory by pointing out that despite 90% of B2B marketers anchoring their lead generation strategies around content marketing, sales leaders rank lead generation efforts dead last in terms of effectiveness in helping them do their job. That suggests something is amiss with their content marketing strategies.

CEB claims that “most content fails to generate leads because it’s based on thought leadership, not insight”. Essentially, what CEB is saying is that B2B marketers are producing too much mediocre content in the name of coming across as helpful – but this content is not grabbing customers’ attention due to it lacking the ability to disrupt customer priorities.

Commenting on thought leadership content, CEB’s stance is pretty clear: “Kill it.” I have to say I’m with them on this. As we all predicted last year, the tsunami of ‘thought leadership’ content is, at best, mediocre and at worst, just blatant click bait. This is largely because the authors have based their editorial decisions on what they think is important, rather than the needs, drivers and decision making processes of the audience – the “Commercial Insight”, as CEB calls it.

Here’s the definition CEB uses: “Content challenging customers’ current thinking—this will more reliably reset the customer’s purchase criteria decisively in the supplier’s favour.” Or, content that “unteaches customers something they are currently doing in their business” rather than teaching customers “something about what they could be doing in their business”.

My reservations about the theory, however, stem from how much you are relying on customers buying into the underappreciated business problem in order for the commercial insight to have full effect. What if they don’t recognise the “hidden problem” as a concern in the first place?

Kevin Mason - Director