The C-Suite won’t read your white paper, no

C-Suite won't read your white paper

One of the bigger things that makes me gag on my latest Chipotle burrito is when I go chase some freelance clients and someone tells me their website and associated content has a ‘C-Suite audience’ or ‘appeals to the C-Suite’ or something similar.

In most cases, that’s just a flat-out lie.

Let’s start here, though, in case you’re unclear: what exactly is the C-Suite? Well, typically it refers to positions in an organization like CEO, CFO, CMO — get it? They all begin with “C,” typically meaning “chief.” In essence, the C-Suite are the primary decision-makers of each department/silo in most organizations, especially the ones driven by hierarchy — and because hierarchy isn’t going anywhere, the C-Suite by and large is here to stay.

So, oftentimes the C-Suite are the final decision-makers and arbiters of new ideas — and especially new ideas that involve spending any money on something. So if you’re pitching a product or service to a company, be it freelance copywriting (oh hey!) or some multi-million dollar vendor solution, chances are you need some buy-in/sign-off from the C-Suite, or at least the S-Level (SVPs, etc. — “S” meaning “senior” in most cases).

How do you get this buy-in from the C-Suite, though?

The C-Suite and busy: Gatekeepers

Remember this one?

That’s the essence of how the C-Suite deals with most new concepts, because:

So please, please, please — do not say with a straight face to anyone that your content is read by a C-Suite audience, or that your white papers, E-Books, and blogs are consumed by the C-Suite. They’re not.

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Here’s how the game really works:

  • The C-Suite has gatekeepers
  • These are traditionally SVPs or long-tenured employees or admins
  • Those are the people that read the white papers and the blogs and the Fast Company links
  • You hit those people and maybe the stuff gets in front of someone in the C-Suite
  • It’s all about gatekeepers, though
  • Any sales advice / targeting concept for the C-Suite is all about gatekeepers, too — you’re not targeting a CFO, per se; you’re targeting the person with the CFO’s ear who can convince the harried CFO that this is a good idea/service/product

The C-Suite, priorities, and incompetence

These two elements are fairly important to remember, as well:

Add those two things up and here’s what you come to:

  • Many in the C-Suite spend time focusing on the area they “came up” through — finance, marketing, ops, etc.
  • They do this to avoid incompetence and be seen as a strong leader, even though what they’re really doing is just micro-managing
  • They’re often unclear on priorities — and especially non-CEOs
  • This happens because many CEOs are ‘trained’ to treat all their lieutenants as the most important person on the team
  • This creates confusion over which silos matter and which don’t
  • Organizational priorities end up unclear
  • Employees run around chasing their tails

With all this stuff going on at the C-Suite level — drastic attempts to avoid incompetence and define priority — coupled with the idea that management isn’t intuitive and work isn’t a logical place (it’s an emotional one), do you really think they’re reading white papers and blogs? They’re not. They’re counting beans, chasing revenue dragons, and calling all-hands meetings. Some CEOs might dive into a few blogs here and there, but it’s probably less than 2 percent — if it’s that high.

The C-Suite and the content marketing supply-demand problem

More and more, organizations are producing content — call it ‘content marketing’ or ‘inbound marketing’ or ‘what hath HubSpot wrought upon the world?’ or whatever else you want to call it.

Here’s the problem, though: the supply of content is steadily increasing. The demand for content (how much we can realistically read in a day) is basically holding constant. As such? There’s a big content marketing supply-demand problem.

A given CEO (Widgets, Inc.) in a given industry (producing widgets) in a given vertical (B2B widgets) has tons of demands on his/her time, including:

  • Meetings
  • E-Mails
  • Calls
  • Breathlessly analyzing financial metrics
  • Dressing down subordinates
  • Internal presentations
  • 3-hour ‘client’ lunches
  • Etc.

I would almost guarantee you that the marketing side of companies targeting that industry/vertical — who have probably done a persona called ‘Charlie CEO’ around this guy above — have produced about 8-10 pieces of content each geared towards our man Charlie the CEO. Let’s say there’s 10 marketing companies targeting him. That’s 80-100 pieces of content he could be reading. Look at the bullets above. You think he’s reading them?

The C-Suite doesn’t read your white papers. The gatekeepers might, but the C-Suite ain’t got time for that shit.

Is anyone truly excited to read white papers, even good ones?

I’ve written dozens, and I still gotta assume the answer is oftentimes no — especially because oftentimes, they all say the same shit.

Look, white papers and E-Books and blogs can be awesome for conveying information — heck, I’ve been blogging consistently for the better part of 2.5 years and it’s led me to new relationships, new careers, etc. It’s a big deal in my life, even if most people find this blog by searching true crime stories from 1984.

But I also understand that most marketing is really about referral, because if you’re going to make a big purchase or decision — you’re going to rely on others you trust. The rest of marketing is typically a series of tips and tricks we throw at things because we’re not sure how marketing needs to evolve.

White papers fall into that. You’d hope — hope — that C-Suite guys aren’t reading the tips and tricks content, but really reading the stuff that could drive decision-making. Again, you’d hope that’s true — but scroll up to the part about incompetence.

Ted Bauer