Here’s a question for the ages: is B2B cornerstone content just a big lump of marketing fluff, and can it actually help your B2B business build an audience?
Never ones to shy away from a challenge, Hyphen co-founder Richard Lee and I tackled this question during a recent Hyphen Live session to share our take on audience building using B2B cornerstone content (after a brief tangent to reminisce about a 4th year marketing project we worked on together back in university 20 years ago – oy vey!).
Did you miss the live session? Click here to watch the video of our full 20-minute discussion on LinkedIn.
Do you prefer a quick read to a longer watch? Here are the key takeaways from our discussion on how to build your audience with B2B cornerstone content. But first…
Let’s get clear on the B2B cornerstone content basics
First off, what is cornerstone content (sometimes also called flagship content)? We define it as in-depth, value-focused content that’s both relevant to your core business and helpful to your target audience.
Cool, but what does that actually look like? Here are some characteristics of cornerstone content that taken together set it apart from other marketing content:
- Robust and well researched: It is often created using insights from original research and/or input from subject matter experts. This isn’t a quick 500-word piece that you hand off to someone with no industry experience to write in an afternoon.
- Offers value to your audience: It answers their key questions on a specific topic and/or it helps them understand options for addressing their pain points. Said differently, it’s educational – but in a “wow, that’s interesting/helpful!” kind of way, not in a “this lecture is boring me to pieces” kind of way.
- Often evergreen and highly shareable: It has long-term relevance and can be chopped up and shared repeatedly. One cornerstone content asset can be the starting point for a web of smaller pieces of content in different formats, giving you lots of mileage and reach.
- Something your audience would actually seek out: No one says, “I really want a copy of that 500-word blog post.” A state-of-the-industry report or a detailed how-to guide, on the other hand, are types of content your audience is more likely to make an effort to find and access.
- Something your organization is proud of: It’s something you’d share with prospects because you know it’s well researched and offers value. This is subjective, but from our experience, you’ll know it when you see it.
Although ✅ web pages and ✅ in-depth blog posts are commonly cited as examples of cornerstone content, it can also include things like ✅ industry guides, ✅ surveys, ✅ ebooks, ✅ podcasts, etc.
Ultimately, we see the format of the content as less important than its substance.
Show me the value of B2B cornerstone content
Cornerstone content focuses primarily on providing value to its readers/consumers rather than directly promoting your products or services. So it’s fair to ask: why would a B2B business create cornerstone content? What’s the value to you?
When it answers your audience’s questions, addresses their pain points, and provides useful information, cornerstone content can support your marketing efforts in 4 key ways:
- Audience building. It acts as an audience magnet, helping your target audience discover your brand and content through social sharing, SEO, and other distribution channels.
- Foundation for content marketing efforts. It gives you quality foundational content that you can continually repurpose, remix, and share to drive your content marketing.
- Subject matter authority. It can help you build authority, so that when your audience thinks about topic X, they think about your brand.
- Trust. It helps you build trust and nurture long-term business relationships because you’re providing value rather than aggressively selling.
This emphasis on building an audience and nurturing a long-term relationship is especially important in B2B marketing given that only 5-10% of your audience is likely to be in buying mode at any given time.
What ✔️ Why ✔️ How❓
Goals and ideas are great. Now for action.
The details will vary depending on the specifics of your B2B business and cornerstone content plans. However, these are generally the 4 key steps to creating great cornerstone content and using it to support your business goals:
💡 Choose the right topic (relevance): Identify where you excel / stand out / have unique expertise.
- This means having a clear understanding of your niche, core focus, and target market – and where these intersect. If you’re fuzzy on any of these, this is a good place to start.
- Audience interviews and social listening can then help you home in on specific topics that are relevant and of interest to the people you’re trying to reach. Real world input is better than assumptions here, although analysis and reading between the lines also have a role to play.
🔬 Dig deep (research): Get insights from your target audience and your subject matter experts.
- That’s right: more interviews! Now is the time to make it rain questions.
- What are your biggest frustrations? What are the biggest opportunities you see on the horizon? Why is that important to you? What do you mean by that? You get the picture…
🔥 Do it right (quality): Create content that’s well written / designed / recorded.
- Can you tell the difference between photos taken by Daisy the office manager and Debbie the professional photographer? Well, so can your target audience.
- You’re investing in cornerstone content that will have a long and productive shelf life, so you’ll thank yourself later for investing in expertise – whether that’s design, copywriting, videography, creative direction, or all of the above.
📢 Spread the word (distribution): Get it in front of your target audience with SEO, social, and other distribution channels (ongoing efforts).
- The only thing sadder than a piece of B2B cornerstone content that sits unused in a dusty folder is the marketing team that created it, full of high hopes for audience building and world peace. In other words: get that content out into the world!
- With countless distribution channels, it’s important to put a strategy and plan behind your efforts. This means understanding where your audience hangs out and tailoring your content formats to each channel. And although there are “free” channels for organic distribution, a combination of paid and organic distribution can help amplify your efforts, so don’t forget to add a budget.
Looking for a real-world example?
This is how we created a niche industry guide for Raymond James Limited, a leading independent investment dealer in Canada, as a piece of cornerstone content to support their efforts to recruit financial advisors.
This guide was downloaded over 500 times within the first six months. And three years on (hello evergreen🌲), Raymond James is still using this guide to build its audience and support its recruitment efforts.
Building your audience with B2B cornerstone content
Good news, bad news time.
🙁The bad news: building an audience with B2B cornerstone content takes time. If you’re under pressure to boost sales NOW, this is not the solution you’re looking for. (Also, it may be time for a frank conversation with your leadership team about how B2B marketing actually works.)
🙂The good news: if you get the relevance, research, quality, and distribution right, B2B cornerstone content can be an effective audience magnet that helps you build and nurture an audience with long-term staying power.
If you provide value to your audience, they will reward you with their interest and attention, which you can then nurture into a business relationship. Invest long term, benefit long term. At least, that’s how we do it.