October 25, 2021 Content Chat Recap: How To Engage An Executive Audience Through Content Marketing and Thought Leadership

A #ContentChat header image that says today's topic is how to engage an executive audience through content marketing and thought leadership, with guest Sarah Greesonbach.

Marketing teams often target company executives, including C-suite and comparable VP-level decision-makers, given the undeniable purchasing power and influence that executives have at their organizations. However, executives are known to be short on time and can be incredibly difficult to break through to—unless you know the best practices for engaging an executive audience.

In this #ContentChat, we’re joined by Sarah Greesonbach, founder of B2B Content Studio, to discuss how to engage an executive audience through content marketing and thought leadership. Read the full recap below where we explore how to break through to executive audiences, the type of content that tends to resonate with an executive, what not to do when contacting execs, and more.

Q1: How does an executive audience differ from other customer personas from a content marketing standpoint?

Executives often make decisions for others, focusing on strategic advantages for the organization. Non-executives typically make decisions for themselves.

In my view, the difference comes down to the definition of the word executive.

An executive is often making decisions for others — a non-executive is often making decisions for themselves.

A1 // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

A1 An executive audience is typically less concerned with brand or tactical features. They want the big points, the strategic advantages. They’re the ultimate decision makers, and they have less time to research. #contentchat

— Martin Lieberman (@martinlieberman) October 25, 2021

Agreed. That’s why having an executive summary for your research report or e-book is a must when creating content tailored for this audience. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

Executives value overviews, explanations, thought leadership, and skimmable content because their time is short. They need the top-level details in an easy-to-digest format. Non-executives have more time to explore how-tos, guides, and tips and tricks that help with day-to-day details.

Executives can use overviews, explanations, thought leadership, and skimmable content that makes connections obvious. Non-executives can use how-tos, guided insights, tips and tricks, etc. A1b // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

A1: @AwYeahSarah is making some great points. I always think the execs have less time/brain space to dedicate to your content, so you need to make the important selling points clear with data and a compelling value prop. #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) October 25, 2021

A1. Executives tend to have broad perspectives and may be purposively ignorant of details. They’re drawn to content that quickly informs of benefits like increased rev or profits, lower costs, better efficiencies.

They may consume more content outside of biz hours. #ContentChat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) October 25, 2021

Being purposefully ignorant is absolutely an executive skill. Specialization FTW Tod! #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

And they often are consuming that content on their iPad or other mobile device. Which some content formats perform better on than others. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

Many executives have assistants and staff that distill information for them and help maintain their social media profiles.

This is where the conversation of H2H gets heated up. In this context, all the important readers are humans.

But some humans are reading on behalf of others, and some are reading for themselves.

A1c// #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Excellent point. Was wondering if anyone would mention this. Execs often have ghostwriters and ghost-social posters. (I’ve been one of them.) So the “execs” who consume content and engage on social often aren’t even the execs themselves. #contentchat

— Martin Lieberman (@martinlieberman) October 25, 2021

The key is to remember that all marketing is human to human.

This is such a good point. @SFerika and I were discussing the H2H aspect this morning on the Let’s Get Real livestream. This is an important point to not leave out. #ContentChat https://t.co/kh80eyjINp

— Shane Shaps (@520eastbrands) October 25, 2021

Was talking about this with @SaraRosinsky too. I think beginners and advanced marketers need different lessons. Beginners need to know there’s’s a difference! Advanced marketers need to forget the difference. 😛 #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

In B2B settings, in particular, content can often feel like it’s tailored to an org chart box and not to the human being who’s actually in the role. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

Focusing on ROI and FOMO for executive-focused content can be an effective approach.

Focus on ROI + FOMO are usually a great combination. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

Personally I hate using FOMO… but you know what? People need it! People will literally ignore you until they feel like they’re missing out or going to lose something. Human nature. #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

I’m with you on that! FOMO doesn’t typically work for me unless I am missing out on adorable puppy or kitten photos. But I’ve had some execs that it was the best lever to use to get their attention. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

Q2: What type of content tends to resonate with an executive audience?

Sarah recommends focusing on NICE topics for executives: New, innovative, complex, or expensive.

N-I-C-E serves as a really good screen for what’s worth talking about. Is it New, Innovative, Complex, or Expensive? Executives want to know about it. A2: // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Content created for executives needs to be well written and personalized to their specific needs or situation.

But it has to be really well written. Executives are well-read, well-connected, and under a lot of pressure. They’re not going to stop and read for 10 minutes unless it’s really well done and exactly on point for their situation. A2b // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Demonstrate the value of a concept or product by showing the impact. Use statistics like money saved, money earned, decrease in time spent on tasks, or more to appeal to executives.

A2: In the past, I’ve liked to use case studies with clear ROI that shows $$ saved or the potential $$ earned. Numbers can often speak louder than words. #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) October 25, 2021

Case studies and proprietary research projects can be especially effective at appealing to executives (if approached correctly).

Case studies are also that FOMO + ROI combination that works so well. “Look at how much our competitors are realizing from this approach” is so powerful. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

A2: I’ve worked on a lot of proprietary research projects whose primary audience was the C-suite. While some of the individual pieces of derivative content spoke to other personas, the data points were designed to meet an executive’s information needs. #ContentChat https://t.co/S8g9nwOVlU

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

Never underestimate the power of an interesting story.

One kind of content that will never fail is interesting people telling interesting stories.

Find someone who’s just as passionate and successful with the industry or topic as the executive is, and ask that person to share their perspective.

A2c // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

And be sure to repurpose all of your executive-focused content for new formats across social media and other channels.

Then you can take a page from @TheCoolestCool and repurpose that piece into a dozen social promos, sound clips, video clips, and infographics. A2d // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Q3: What are the main ‘don’ts’ of trying to engage an executive audience?

When engaging an executive audience, don’t waste their time…

If you want to engage an executive audience, don’t waste their time. They’ve got a lot to do, and they’ll resent you if you suck up their time without a real benefit for them. A3 // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Also don’t be ‘cutesy’ or flippant..you can be engaging and interesting, but get to the point quickly and don’t waste their time.

— Speechwriter-in-Your-Pocket (@SpeechwritingU) October 25, 2021

Don’t sell to them…

If you want to engage an executive audience, don’t sell to them. They already know they can buy things, so they need your ideas, not your sales pitches. A3b // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Don’t use jargon…

If you want to engage an executive audience, don’t use jargon. We use jargon as codewords for what we mean, but jargon gets really confusing or boring really quickly. A3c // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Yes! I was going to echo this. I think some marketers hear ‘exec’ and think they need to load up the copy with buzzwords and industry jargon. Whether they’re exec or entry-level, no one likes jargon. #ContentChat https://t.co/6RXMGQxPFB

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) October 25, 2021

Don’t ignore the ROI…

If you want to engage an executive audience, don’t ignore the ROI. Until we can cure this fatal flaw, everything in marketing and business comes back to money. Content for executives should always talk about value and ROI. A3d // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Don’t assume all executives have the same priorities…

If you want to engage an executive audience, don’t assume all executives care about the same thing. CEO, CIO, CMO, CCO… they represent different departments and goals, and their content interests will be a little different, accordingly. A3f // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

This ends up being a great SEO opportunity where you can create different versions of the same content, each slightly tweaked and targeted for a different member of the C-Suite. A3g // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

And don’t inhibit non-executives from finding and engaging with your executive-focused content. As mentioned above, many executives have assistants and staff members who assist them in finding relevant content.

A3: When it comes to engaging an executive audience, don’t go out of your way to exclude traffic and promotion to non C-suite titles. The exec you want to reach may not be the person doing the research/curation. So don’t exclude them from being able to access it! #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

Check out this ISTMA research to learn the top five business priorities for executives.

A great summary of that came from ITSMA research (https://t.co/Ap9VCoCZwX) with five top business priorities for executives:⁰

A3e // #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/YGxizuTdqZ

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Q4: How can marketers learn more about the needs of their ideal executive audience?

What is the best way to learn about an executive audience? Talk to them directly. Interview or survey your current and past customers, prospects, competitors, and other executives you can access.

There’s no easy way to learn more about the needs of your ideal executive audience. You have to talk to them. Current and past customers, your prospects, competitors… go right to the source. A4 // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

After 10 years in B2B marketing, I’m still shocked when I encounter a marketing manager who has never talked to a customer and can’t answer basic questions about why customers want to use their products. A4b // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Content doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s not a box you can check and a MQL or a lead will appear. The stakes are high — but so is the payoff if you decide to do it right. A4c // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Without talking to your customers when developing content for them, you are greatly limiting your ability to meet their needs and create effective content.

Not talking to your customers when developing content for them is like voluntarily putting a blindfold on yourself.

You’re slashing your chance of success in half because you can’t see what it is your readers really want and need.

A4c // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

It is so discouraging when you hear sales or executives won’t allow their marketing team to talk to customers. It’s like asking a tailor to make the perfect dress for someone whose measurements they don’t know, for an undisclosed occasion. You are set up to fail. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

I’ve had clients that wouldn’t even allow me to talk to sales. It’s now one of my upfront demands depending on the goals. #ContentChat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) October 25, 2021

Seriously. If you can’t talk to them, there’s a cap on how much good you can do. That’s on them. #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

If you can’t have those candid 1st person conversations, there is a lot of work in our sphere that you can’t really sign on to do in good faith. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

Consider compensating the executives for their time. This can include access to your own company’s executives, new product features, access to a BETA program, or more.

A4: In previous jobs, we’ve reached out to those execs to ask for their time in a short phone interview. They’re obviously very busy, wo we made sure to compensate them somehow, but we set aside time for real, candid, in-person convos. #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) October 25, 2021

I find that providing them 1:1 access to your own company’s executives, or a long-requested custom feature are often the right incentives to gain their participation. Especially for a bigger commit like a customer advisory board. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

Absolutely! And access to beta versions/beta testing has helped, too. #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) October 25, 2021

You can also hear from executives at industry roundtables, events, and through C-level research.

A4: If you’ve worked in very large companies, you may not have ever interacted with your own executive leadership team, let alone someone else’s.

Luckily, there are industry roundtables and events where you can hear from execs first-hand, and C-level research too. #ContentChat https://t.co/60b5GzgO1H

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

Publications like Industry Dive and FierceMarkets put on these kinds of events all the time… great place to grab insights. #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Q5: How do you recommend marketers break through the noise to reach executives? What examples can you share?

Dark social—the concept that a majority of internet activity happens behind closed doors—is prevalent with executives (especially in highly regulated industries or at publicly traded companies).

With this question, I wanted to give a shout out the fascinating subject of dark social. It’s the concept that the majority of Internet activity actually happens behind closed doors. Executives are especially notorious for this. A5 // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Which is just to say, executives are online (ITSMA found that 88% of executives use online channels, including blog posts, social media, webinars and other virtual events, to research solutions and keep up with industry trends) https://t.co/Ap9VCoCZwX… BUT

A5c // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

A few links for more info from @SmartInsights (https://t.co/b89N61LfBS) and @Hootsuite (https://t.co/ssiSQF3LQY) A5b // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Especially true of highly regulated industries and publicly traded companies. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

Totally! Execs often won’t even engage with their own company’s social posts publicly. But they’ll email to say they liked something. (Or didn’t like it.) #contentchat

— Martin Lieberman (@martinlieberman) October 25, 2021

100% agree! And if they are on social, it’s a social media manager or ghostwriter often creating and managing that content. #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) October 25, 2021

Because of this, it is often best track measure your success by referrals and shares in dark social, like forwarding an email or pasting a link.

… when planning executive content, sometimes social shares or vitality is not the best measure of success.

The best measure of success is referrals and shares in dark social (FWDing an email, pasting a link).

A5d // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Executives increasingly engage in private communities on Slack, Circle, and other sites.

For the next generation of execs, a lot of this activity is happening in private communities on Slack, Circle, etc. where executives have 1:1 relationships with people they trust not to stick them with a hard sell.

A5e // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

I’ve worked with a number of execs who share a TON of content via Slacks and emails, and almost nothing 3rd party on public social media platforms. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

Q6: Are there any mistakes you see content marketers make in their executive-targeted content marketing?

The biggest mistakes to avoid include not tailoring your outreach for the individual…

A6 A big mistake is simply *not* targeting. What will work for or engage a director-level person won’t necessarily be as effective for a VP. (And vice versa.) Know your audience. #contentchat

— Martin Lieberman (@martinlieberman) October 25, 2021

Agreed! And understand what the titles look like in your industry. In some organizations, a Managing Director is a considerable decision-maker with a budget. In others, almost everyone is VP and above and is an individual contributor. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

Great point. Just because a topic might be relevant for different levels in an organization doesn’t mean one use piece of content for all audiences. Each audience might have different:

Content type (blog, email, video…)
Delivery channel
Details
#contentchat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) October 25, 2021

Assuming people will read something simply because you wrote it…

Big mistake in executive content: assuming people will read it because you wrote it.

You have to earn attention with every line you write.

A6 // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Rehashing tired concepts that just add to the noise…

Big mistake in content for executives: rehashing tired concepts like “future proofing” and “the post-COVID environment.”

If you’ve seen it enough to know it’s a buzzword, executives are tired of it, too.

A6b // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

And providing too much context.

Big mistake in content for executives: providing too much context (unless it’s intentionally a backgrounder).

They already know what’s happened over the past decade — they are in the industry!

A6c // #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

Q7: How should marketers measure the success of campaigns targeting executive audiences?

Since this audience is unique from some of the others you may be marketing to, how do you measure the success of your campaigns? Do you measure it in the same way as other audiences? #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) October 25, 2021

To measure the success of executive-focused campaigns, ask new leads how they heard about you.

I saw someone say recently that multi-channel marketing attribution is a $bn problem for whoever solves it… I agree.

Happy to be wrong, but I think the only clear data is asking a lead how they heard about you. #ContentChat

— Sarah Greesonbach (@AwYeahSarah) October 25, 2021

When I ran an eCommerce company we had two attribution fields in the CRM. One that the customer selected in a “how did you hear about us?” form field, the other was a hidden field that was filled in based on the actual source. Both pieces of info were useful. #contentchat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) October 25, 2021

I would love to see the correlation between what they said and what the actual source was, i.e. what stood out for them. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

Use unique download and viewing links to help see the true reach of a piece of content.

I like to be able to track whether the content had an effect on the final sale, which means having multitouch attribution in place, so I can see every piece of content that contributed to a deal. Having unique download and viewing links can also help see true reach. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 25, 2021

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