3 Reasons Why Trumps How

There’s an old joke about a government farm rep traveling farm-to-farm urging farmers to attend an upcoming seminar.

He knocks on a door and a wizened old farmer answers. “You’ll learn all sorts of new information and ideas for better farming,” gushes the rep. The farmer growls back: “Ain’t usin’ half of what I know now.”

It’s like that in marketing. There’s a big temptation in B2B content marketing to try to teach people stuff that they already know. You see a lot of material based around sharing best practise, and publishing ‘top tips’ on how to accomplish something.

In fact, why is better than how. When you’re trying to engage a professional audience, it’s normally usually better to inspire them than instruct them.

Here’s three reasons why I think this is true.

1 – Professional audiences don’t want you to teach them

Most of what you say, people already know.

I met somebody recently selling a big-ticket service aimed at a very tight audience – physicians. He thought that since his audience were medical professionals, he would attract them by pumping out content on diet, nutrition and positive thinking. (“Eating Healthy Maximizes Productivity” / “Are You Living Your Life At Full Potential?”).

He was getting no traction at all.

The problem of course is that doctors already know about healthy living. They don’t want Readers Digest level material about eating kale, and certainly not from somebody who isn’t even a healthcare professional.

The quickest way to alienate an insider in any industry is for you – an outsider – to rock up and start teaching them to suck eggs.

2 – Professional audiences aren’t looking to get better

The second problem the  ‘tablets of stone’ approach is that – when the chips are down – people aren’t all that keen on making incremental improvements in their job. You see, with professional audiences what people should want and they actually care about are usually very different. In fact, there’s a gulf between them.

At any given moment, the people you’re chasing are not thinking about the topics they ‘should’ be interested in.

They aren’t as two-dimensional as they seem from their roles.

For example, check out this guy – Howard.


(Not sure why I posted a screenshot, only to blank out his face. Anyway.)

Howard is part of my audience. His job title means he’s a valid prospect for me. He gets my email newsletter, and we correspond from time to time. He’s invited to the webinars, calls and meet-ups.

What kind of content do you think would engage Howard? He’s a communications director, so he’s interested in hearing about communications, right? Not so fast. This is not a wise assumption to make.

Think of the last six movies you saw. Did the characters have jobs? Of course they did. Well, how much time did you see them at work. Not much. That’s because most people’s jobs are boring. Not everyone’s – and not always – but a lot of the time, the actual work is pretty dull.

If the only thing you know about somebody is what job they have, you’re in deep shit.

A client of mine told me he gets cold-emails from agencies hoping to work with him. “Drew, I’d relish the opportunity to discuss how we could support you with the challenges you’re grappling with”.

Well, the challenges he’s ‘grappling with’ are almost certainly not the problems they have the solution to. The things that ‘keep him awake at night’ normally have nothing to do with the technical execution of his job.

Instead, there are bigger, more fundamental problems that live under the surface that aren’t spoken about. It’s these hot buttons that you need to press if you want to win attention and build a following.

3 – Teaching people attracts beginners

In B2C marketing you often want to pull in people at the very start of their journey. The newbies who can grow with you. In B2B professional marketing? Not so much.

When I’m building an audience I want senior people. If all you talk about is how to be successful, only people who aren’t successful will follow you. I know I’m oversimplifying there, but if you want to attract people who have budget and responsibility talking about improving will put them off.

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