As account-based marketing increases in popularity, C-suite executives have become a coveted audience for the humble content marketer. In some ways, approaching a C-level audience is much like approaching any other audience — you have to know them, identify their pain, and find out where they are most likely to seek out answers to the challenges they face on a daily basis.
This group has proven to be a somewhat elusive target for marketers, with a unique set of challenges, constraints, and considerations you’re not likely to encounter in your broader content marketing segments. Perhaps the largest hurdle marketers face in reaching C-level executives is their own perception of them.
First, I want to dispel a myth. C-level folks DO read content online. In fact, the C-suite is eager to hear what you can do for them.
So, why then does it seem so difficult? Why does this group need additional strategy?
Well, to start, they don’t behave quite like anyone else. An article from the Content Marketing Institute narrowed down three main reasons executives are so difficult to reach:
- Their decisions mean more. Fairly obvious, but the decisions made by this group tend to have a big impact on the rest of the organization. They are heavily focused on outcomes and clear value.
- They rely on their peers. Execs are more likely to rely on advice and information from those they perceive to be their peers and “real” experts rather than self-proclaimed experts. Basically, they are looking for a vouch from someone they know and trust.
- They know what they want. This group has a high-level view of the needs of the organization. So, their time is very valuable. They can’t afford to waste time on weak or overtly sales-y content.
Those three simple factors give some great insight into how executives want to interact with content. The good news? Once you understand their specific needs and preferences, it’s much easier to develop an effective content plan that truly reaches and exerts influence this market.
At this point, it may actually be helpful to create a mini persona profile for your executive target so you can better understand their content journey and needs. Grab a blank piece of paper, rip a corner off, and write a one-word value statement for your solution. You just took your first step into getting in to the mind of a C-level exec. Time is limited and every second must provide value.
Once you’ve done that, here are a few more things to keep in mind as you’re further developing your strategy and content.
Do your research
Looking back at those three elements, one thing is clear: vague content that’s light on facts just won’t cut it. So, put some work into it. Hit your favorite research and data sources and comb them for relevant facts, figures, examples, and projections you can include. Make sure your sources are industry-leading and recognizable to increase the credibility quotient. Make sure you not only think in terms of problems but what the problems cost. When speaking with C-level folks, they need to associate pain with cost.
Make them think
It’s not enough to simply throw in some impressive numbers. Any research you include should support your position and provide useful insight. While your content should be actionable, it’s less about providing step-by-step details and more about provoking thought.
Remember, this audience is very focused on outcomes, so your content should move beyond conventional trends and thinking and really push the boundaries of your topic. Big decisions require big thinking, so show them new concepts and fresh approaches. These executives aren’t looking to repeat what their competitors already know; they’re looking to become trailblazers and leaders in their industry.
To that end, content should emphasize strategy over tactics. This group is extremely focused on ROI and the overall bottom line. An article or video on, say, new software options or how to optimize landing pages is likely to be ignored; after all, they have other smart people who handle those things for them. They are focused squarely on the big picture, so deliver the strategic intelligence that they crave.
Get to the point
You may have a lot of valuable information to share, but remember that your audience may not have a lot of leisure time for content consumption. This is a busy, important audience, often snatching a few minutes here and there — waiting for a flight, hopping an Uber to an appointment, conferences calls that end early — to catch up on their reading.
Keep your message succinct and to the point, and optimize your content for each channel or medium. In articles and white papers, for example, you may want to begin with a bulleted summary to immediately catch their attention with relevant ideas and figures. This way, if they only have time to scan, they at least know what interesting points to look for. Social media posts should highlight an outcome so they have a particular takeaway. And, use multimedia, like video and infographics. Top level execs love to share content that impresses them.
Bonus tip: Work social media for topics
If you find yourself struggling to come up with topics to appeal to your executive audience, get social. Identify a few key execs and thought leaders who represent the type of people you’re trying to reach and give their social media profiles a look. Look at their Klout scores, Twitter feeds, and LinkedIn posts to see what topics catch their attention. Tapping into the “executive zeitgeist” will keep your content strategy relevant and compelling.
The fact is, C-suite executives love content as much as the rest of us — they just have a different set of needs and circumstances than most other segments. Personally, I love the C-suite challenge because it requires good old-fashioned legwork to succeed.
Marketers love to say that CEOs don’t attend webinars. As a blanket statement that’s likely true. But they do watch recordings, on the weekends, early in the morning, or late at night. You get the picture.
At the end of the day, well-researched content created to speak to a particular audience will always be welcome, no matter what the job title. The investment with a CEO or COO or CMO pays dividends however, because you don’t just sell software or widgets to a C-leveler. When you get buy-in from the top down you’ll find that you only need to sell that organization once.
Meet Leah Byrd
As bookworm with a tendency to wander, Leah collects stories everywhere she goes. Seeing the world as an ecosystem of stories has enabled her to bring an authentic approach to marketing that drives connection and advocacy. With a background in education, marketing strategy, and content creation, she is dedicated to creating unified, seamless experiences that maximize ROI. In her free time, you’ll probably find her reading a book with a sleepy chihuahua in her lap, rummaging through an antique shop, trying desperately not to kill her plants, or serenading the dashboard with her husband on yet another weekend road trip.