As a B2B marketer in the digital age, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You worry that your brand message is not getting across properly to readers, which your competitors create more and more content. Sometimes, you even see them creating better and better content. How do you compete, and win, when you can’t clone yourself (or your superstar subject matter expert)? How can you win when you can’t magically double your budget for the coming quarter?

You look at the content and campaigns that are really moving the needle—and you do more of that, and less of everything else. Even if that means challenging some long standing assumptions.

For example, there’s a myth that’s been passed down by generations of B2B marketers. The myth runs something like this: “The message is everything. Only find the perfect message, and the people will read, understand, and buy. Eventually.”

That myth has fueled the creation of countless PDF whitepapers, eBooks, and brochures that no one’s ever submitted their email address to access, let alone read from cover to cover. Then, like so much ancient wisdom, it rapidly disintegrates under the spotlight of modern science.

Research shows that your chosen medium has a profound effect on reader engagement. From the visuals and design to the content format – it all matters, even when the message is exactly the same.

The message myth busting science

Few people understand engagement like the attention scientists at Lumen Research. In a recent study, they used eye-tracking technology to discover how people read the same content when presented in a PDF versus a Turtl Doc.

Compared to the Turtl Doc, the PDF lost 90% of reader engagement. It’s a result that reinforces the findings of numerous other studies on what engages us quickly and persuasively, and what doesn’t.

Research by 3M found an additional 50% of people can be persuaded by an argument when it’s presented in a format that’s visually rich. We’re also more likely to remember we’ve been persuaded. According to Brain Rules, we recall information 5.5x better when it’s paired with a visual image.

Put simply, what your content looks like really matters and so does the level of active engagement it supports. In one of CMI’s major annual surveys, 87% of marketers agreed that interactive content outperforms static content when it comes to winning reader attention.

If we dive deeper into Lumen’s study, we see just how substantial the impact of a visually rich, interactive experience can be.

On average, Lumen’s participants spent just 16 seconds viewing each page of the PDF on the screen of a desktop device. But when they viewed the visually rich, interactive Turtl Doc under the same conditions, the figure was 117 seconds. They also spent 815% more time engaging intently, with their eyes actively focused on the visuals or text.

Interestingly, presenting the same messages in a Turtl Doc didn’t just move the needle on engagement. It had a measurable impact on participants’ overall perception of the brand behind the content. After viewing the Turtl Doc, participants were 367% more likely to view the brand as “friendly” and 41% more likely to view the brand as “scientific”.

What this means for your B2B content strategy

Your medium matters at least as much as your message. Get the medium wrong and your audience won’t engage with your content. This could leave your message, however well-considered, with a much slimmer chance of hitting home.

Worse still, you risk creating a negative impression of your brand, and making your audience even less receptive when your next content offer arrives in their inbox.

(Incidentally, none of this will be news to the news channels. Reduce the top stories to their fundamentals and the messages are always the same. That’s why channels spend so much time optimizing their ‘medium’ to win and retain viewer attention—and why most of us B2B marketers could learn a lot from the analysts at the BBC and CNN.)

So, how do you remove barriers to attention and engagement?

Well, you don’t need to hire your own team of attention scientists. Simply follow the research and you’ll give yourself an edge over many of your peers.

  • Add attractive, space-creating visuals to your content to catch eyes, accelerate understanding, and make your messages memorable.
  • Make sure your content is interactive, whether that you embed a relevant video or podcast episode, add a reader poll or put a chatbot alongside your reader, to turn your content into a two-way conversation.
  • Everything must look good and work well. Whether the reader is clicking on a trackpad or swiping on their iPhone. In Lumen’s study participants spent on average 738% longer viewing the Turtl Doc than the PDF (even when the PDF was on a desktop, and the Turtl on a mobile device).
  • Use content automation to your advantage so you spend less time worrying about engagement, and more time focused on the ideas that move the needle.

If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a simple exercise.

Your exercise for today!

Find a PDF that your brand has created. Look for one that reflects your current content, but that you haven’t looked at in a while. Now, slip into the shoes of your target audience, and open the PDF on both your computer and your phone.

Ask yourself the following:

  • What’s the first thing that catches your attention?
  • Which sections or images do you find yourself focusing on?
  • Do you find anything distracting or frustrating?
  • Which parts cause your eyes to glaze over?
  • What’s different about your experience on mobile?

Take notes, and use them to guide your content creation process.

One content myth busted. And we’re only getting started.

“The message is everything” is just one of many myths that have led B2B marketers into the realms of content chaos—where content is everywhere, but it’s too hard to read, too poorly targeted, and too disconnected from business needs and goals.

We’ll be putting our lab coats back on, and using the power of science to bust even more myths over the coming weeks.

Keeping up with the latest thinking in marketing psychology is a serious time commitment—and it’s time that many marketers simply don’t have to spare. So why not get a package of bite-sized news and tips, delivered straight to your inbox every month? Just sign up to the Noggin Notes newsletter using the form below.

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