Estimated read time: 7 minutes
Playing not to lose is always a bad strategy. But it’s especially risky right now.
SMBs are focused on navigating the new normal. And while it’s always hard to get their attention, it’s even harder with everything they are dealing with today. The stakes are also higher than ever for B2SMB brands. Many SMBs are cutting back their spending, given the economy, and being choosier about who they do business with. Mark my words: Only the companies that play to win with SMBs will stem attrition, let alone see any growth, for the next 18 months.
So, what’s the difference between playing not to lose and playing to win? Many companies think they’re playing to win because they’ve come up with a cool catchphrase or a better way to convey their benefits. That’s not even table stakes today.
Playing to win means creating something truly meaningful and POV-changing for SMBs—not just another piece of marketing pretending to be compelling. Marketing messaging, whether on your homepage or in your content, needs to go well beyond your product benefits. It needs to be driven by the outcomes SMBs want and need.
It also means your entire marketing team understands that and has the mandate to really serve SMBs.
Examples of ‘Playing Not to Lose’
There are many telltale signs of companies “playing not to lose.” Here are four we see regularly:
- Same old messaging. Brands repeating the same themes and topics again and again, just in slightly different ways, instead of adapting them to current SMB needs.
- Centering content around products. Content is developed around the call-to-action (CTA) and selling something, not around the mission of telling engaging stories and providing highly useful information.
- Relying on subpar “experts.” Rather than using subject matter experts (SMEs) with the best insights on the topic at hand, they rely on people who clearly aren’t true experts. This leads to content that barely scrapes the surface—creating more questions than answers—and that isn’t POV-changing.
- Unwilling to take risks. During the pandemic, we’ve seen many content marketers simply ignore the elephant in the room and refrain from talking about the crisis because it’s a downbeat topic, even though it’s certainly what every SMB is thinking about. By not confronting topics everyone is thinking about, it conveys that you don’t “speak SMB.”
How to Play to Win
So, what do B2SMB brands do when they are playing to win? Here are three common traits of brands effectively winning over SMBs with their content:
- They give their content marketing team freedom, creative license and the directive to make an impact on the reader. They don’t constantly remind their team to “play it safe” and avoid potentially controversial topics that SMBs care about, just because they might be seen as rocking the boat. Note: This might involve some scrapes with the legal department (some of these battles are worth fighting).
- They tell consistent stories across the buyer journey. While they produce content on a wide range of topics, their overarching messaging remains steady. This means that the message provided through marketing stays consistent when delivered by the sales team.
- They include SMEs with the true expertise and insight. They find the best people to be sources of information for their content—which often means looking outside their organization to external experts who help to transform SMBs daily.
Example of Winning
Though not a B2B brand, Life Time Fitness’ Experience L!fe magazine offers what that audience wants—engaging, well-researched articles—and the magazine is easily mistaken for any other popular consumer health and wellness magazine sitting on someone’s coffee table.
For example, the June 2020 issue had a fascinating article titled “Can Psychedelics Change Your Brain?” that looked at emerging research on psychedelic drugs and how they could provide some mental health benefits, such as easing anxiety, depression and PTSD. Not many brands would risk writing about potential health benefits of illicit drugs—but Life Time seized the opportunity. That article alone tells me that the magazine’s editors are dedicated to providing thought-provoking content, and they clearly have been given the directive from leadership to write about even controversial topics that members need to know about or are curious about.
Content like this tells readers that this isn’t just another piece of marketing collateral. It’s informative, useful and interesting, and by being all that, it brands Life Time really well while making the reader receptive to Life Time-related content and ads in the magazine. Life Time is clearly playing to win.
The Results Are In
SMBs are getting marketed to all the time, and they don’t have time to read or digest everything produced for them. Playing not to lose, in addition to not being a whole lot of fun, results in your content being ignored at best, and can cause damage to your brand. To play to win, you have to earn their time—and that means giving them the most useful and engaging content possible.
And by the way, when you play to win and really make an impact, you gain the additional byproduct of getting your employees fired up behind your mission and marketing.