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Creating Content in B2B: How to Avoid the Substance Gap

6 minute read
Jonathan Franchell avatar
When B2B companies rely on jargon, hyperbole and self-centered statements it creates a substance gap between them and their intended audience.

When B2B companies conceptualize or create content, they often write only about themselves or their products or services. While this type of content has a place, many B2B marketers use product-centric messaging on websites, lead generation pages, social media and buyer-facing materials. Forrester even found that 88% of B2B marketers admit that their homepage mainly discusses their company, products and services.

What B2B companies miss is writing for the buyer. This simple concept reframes B2B content marketing and creates value for the buyer. This approach is often preached but rarely practiced, which is likely why the Forrester report found that 59% of global tech buyers say that most content from vendors is useless.

It's easy to find examples of this. Go to any homepage and ask: Do I really understand who this product or service is for? Do I see the value they are creating for that person? Do I know what problems they solve? Do I understand the potential business impact or outcome of this purchase?

If the answer is no, then there is likely a gap between what the buyer is trying to understand and what the provider is trying to offer as a value proposition. Many companies may not realize that this gap impacts not only marketing and sales but also the customer and client experience. This gap means employees do not have mission clarity, which may affect morale.

I call this a “substance gap.” The substance gap occurs when B2B companies overly rely on jargon, hyperbole or self-centered statements. Businesses overuse phrases such as "we're a multi-channel managed services company with over 25 years experience," or "we're the best in the industry." Taking a step back, it's entirely unclear what the company does. And after removing all of the jargon and hyperbole, not much is left.

Writing for the Buyer Starts With Research

The solution is simple: write for the buyer. According to Forrester, not many companies do this. A mere 28% of companies use the language of the target audience when developing content. Clarity and simplicity are crucial when writing for the buyer. There is no need to overcomplicate an offering. Instead, businesses should stay clear on what problems or pain points they solve.

Where companies struggle is digging into who the buyer is, but this is the crucial launching point. In a Marketo study on engagement, 73% of B2B brands said that "for brands or vendors to successfully engage me, they must have a deep understanding of my needs." Only 56% of B2C companies noted this need.

Related Article: Content Marketing Strategy, Done Right

Stop Buyer Personas and Create Ideal Customer Profiles

A common mistake is to create a buyer persona and tailor all content to that one specific person. However, in the B2B world, purchasing a product or service is often a group buying decision, so a buyer persona doesn't work. Instead, work towards an ideal customer profile (ICP) or a profile of a target account.

Building an ICP takes time. The first step is questioning who the buyer is. Companies often say their target is enterprises with over $50 million in revenue with a certain amount of data. This description is just a start. How could anyone explore the needs of a group this large? Documenting a far more descriptive and categorical assessment of the buyer is necessary to begin. Then, when creating content, they can go back to this description for reference.

Once businesses complete the concrete description of the buyer, it's time to dig into the pain points. Again, this should not be vague. For example, a retail store's pain point may be outages. Many companies leave it at that, but it's vital to go deeper. When do outages occur? Are all outages the same? Does this require massive infrastructure change, and what can go wrong could by fixing an outage?

Learning Opportunities

B2B businesses should not only highlight the client's pain points, but they should also try to understand how they'll wrestle with and solve their problems. What are the options? What are the costs to solving this pain point? What is the value for the pain, or how much exactly does an outage cost the retail store? Who is affected financially?

Once companies define the pain, they can look at the values of the company. What are the company's aspirations in the short- and long-term? What problems are they trying to solve that align with the pain points?

Next, look at market forces. Are there other things at play, such as natural disasters, economic downturns, fluctuations in demand, or supply chain issues? These can all act as market forces that trigger a buyer to take action, so companies should dive into these forces.

Finally, look at differentiating factors. B2B companies often create generic differentiating statements that include phrases such as "the best in the business." However, a robust differentiating factor includes really defining, highlighting and understanding the actual value that buyers get when they implement a solution. What are the buyers saying that the value is? Who experienced the value — the CFO, the CIO? Define the financial impact and describe the outcomes, but also give evidence that those outcomes really occurred.

Related Article: Bridging the Marketing—Sales Gap With Content Marketing Strategies

Continually Question and Test the Buyer

B2B content marketers should never set and forget a buyer definition, but this is a common occurrence. During onboarding, marketers will define the buyer and their pain points and then create content from that ICP for years. This is a crucial mistake, as the buyer's pain points can change, and, as we've clearly seen with the pandemic, market forces change. B2B marketers should not be afraid to question the buyer, test ICPs and openly discuss new concepts.

Doing this will pay off in the long run. Per the Marketo study, 66% of B2B companies said they would advocate for the brands or vendors that demonstrate they care about them (51% of B2C companies said this, showing the need for relationship building in the B2B world). Ultimately, marketing teams will build a better, stronger relationship with their clients because the content offers will match the buyer's needs, resulting in more qualified leads.

Avoiding the substance gap takes dedication to learning about the buyer. However, as more B2B tech buyers become frustrated with irrelevant content, the need for a continuously improving ICPs becomes more vital in the B2B space.

About the author

Jonathan Franchell

Jonathan Franchell founded Ironpaper in 2003. Ever since, he has had the pleasure of working with a diverse range of clients and business needs — ranging from public interest to the public sector.

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