What you’ll learn:
- What is B2B content marketing?
- What steps go into setting up a B2B content program?
- The many benefits of B2B content marketing
B2B content marketing involves using different types of relevant, informative content to expand your audience, further engagement, establish authority, arouse demand, and generate leads.
It’s a simple-enough definition, but there are nuances and variations galore that can go into a successful B2B content marketing campaign. In this article, we’ll cover a lot of that ground. Buckle up!
So just what is B2B content marketing?
The definition above is paraphrased (cribbed?) from one of the true gurus of content and digital marketing, Neil Patel. As he points out, B2B content marketing is the strategy, tactics, and analytics involved in meeting the need of your audience for specific, actionable information and insights they can apply to improve their own businesses.
It’s your job, if you’re investing in B2B content marketing, to make sure the content you deliver meets that standard.
It’s more about the content than the marketing
One thing to always remember, however is this: B2B purchases take place over a long cycle compared to those of B2C. B2B buyers do a great deal of due diligence and exploration in making their recommendations and final decisions. Forrester tells us that 70% to 90% of the B2B buyer journey is over before they contact you.
How have they been spending that time? Objectively researching their purchase options. It’s important, therefore, to engage them with B2B content that really satisfies their hunger for objective facts, insights, and authentic information.
That means avoiding the cardinal sin of Bad Content Marketing: Turning your content assets into sales pitches for your own B2B products or services.
By giving them information and insight, not hard-sell and hype, you’re already helping them potentially solve problems. Even a good case study about your latest customer success isn’t “selling” because you’re simply explaining how your offering performed using the customer’s own words.
The secret sauce is self-service
B2B sales processes were headed online even before COVID-19 arrived, but that migration accelerated enormously during and after the pandemic. B2B buyers now make about two-thirds of their purchases online, and have been spending far more time doing research digitally than meeting with sales reps.
In making purchase decisions, these B2B buyers are looking for self-service tools empowering them to locate and digest the insights and data they need without having to deal with the sales team. The problem here, for B2B content marketers, is personalization: The B2B buyer expects it, even across multiple digital channels, just like her/his B2C counterpart. So it’s crucial to deliver targeted content that meets the real needs of your buyer personas.
In making purchase decisions, these B2B buyers are looking for self-service tools empowering them to locate and digest the insights and data they need without dealing with the sales team.
One challenge here for B2B content marketers is personalization: The B2B buyer expects it, even across multiple digital channels, just like her/his B2C counterpart. So it’s crucial to deliver targeted B2B marketing content that meets the real needs of your buyer personas, and to make it easy for them to find and engage with.
Have you ever used ad blockers to keep pop-ups from interrupting your web experience? B2B buyers are actively avoiding engaging with salespeople for much the same reasons: To keep their focus on obtaining objective information so they can make calculated decisions about purchases.
It’s why email spam filters and call and text screening are facts of life that sales reps have to cope with daily. Plus, as more Millennials enter decision-making positions, there’s even more need to provide self-service omnichannel environments.
How to engage them in the face of all this? Stand this process on its head and have them come to you, on their terms, to source the B2B content they’ll deem valuable.
How do you get started? Develop a B2B content marketing strategy
“Strategy” is a big-sounding word that might send a shiver down the spine of some folks. But it’s actually fairly simple to come up with one if you take it one step at a time.
First off, create buyer personas that describe, in detail, who your prospective targets may be. Remember there may be multiple individuals in different roles who are part of the buying decision process, so factor that into your persona-building, since each of them will have different pain points and expectations.
Your content needs to align with each persona’s pain points, aspirations, or needs. That may mean you create multiple content assets for any given account in order to speak to each persona.
This way, you’ll know what kind of content to feature in the specific places where it’s most likely to engage specific personas.
The next step is to segment and target these personas according to their behaviors: For instance, if you’re marketing SaaS platforms, where is a CTO or CIO finding information on your website (or other digital touchpoints) versus a software architect or procurement specialist? Analyze how each persona uses your site. What blog posts are getting attention from Persona A, versus Persona B? Which of them downloads a case study?
This way, you’ll know what kind of content to feature in the specific places where it’s most likely to engage specific personas. In other words, once you know your targets, determining the tactics comes much more easily. You’ll be able to map content to each persona’s buyer’s journey and your sales funnel with precision.
Tracking persona behaviors is more critical than some B2B marketers realize: If you’re deploying the wrong content in front of a given persona, you can not just lose a lead but even drive them off, never to return.
Conduct a B2B content audit
Conducting a content audit should take place at the same time you’re developing your B2B content marketing strategy, or even as a precursor to it.
Do you know how many content assets you may have in your inventory, or how many are “live” right now on your website? Too many companies don’t have a handle on the amount of content they already own or know where it’s been published.
That creates big problems in maintaining message and brand consistency, SEO, and the impression you give to your targets. If you’ve got a white paper or video online that’s a decade out of date, what does that imply about your business?
(Don’t laugh – we’ve seen it happen!)
Companies often find, after having conducted a comprehensive content audit, how they already have hundreds or even thousands of pages, documents, videos and other assets, either archived or still accessible to visitors.
So that’s one of the good reasons to conduct a content audit that will allow you to:
- Identify, centrally catalog, and tag your existing content inventory so you understand what you’ve got, either live or archived
- Determine which assets should be kept, revamped, or trashed
- Tag assets to align them with your sales funnels or other marketing efforts and to make them readily searchable: by targeted persona, by step in the funnel, by product, by messaging pillar, and so on
- Identify any gaps in content that need filling to round out your funnels
- Communicate to all stakeholders what’s in your inventory and the methods they can use to utilize those assets
- Update your content inventory on a consistent basis
Here’s another critical undertaking: Audit your competitors’ content so you know what they’ve published and how they’ve presented and promoted it.
Are they using video case studies, interactive website tools, podcasts? What ad or promo channels are they using with content? It’s important to know what types of B2B content you’re competing against within your category.
What are the benefits of B2B content marketing?
A well-planned, well-executed B2B content marketing program will drive a lot of benefits for your organization. The caveat? Unlike sales sprints or ad campaigns, it will take a bit longer for those benefits to arrive in force, since content marketing relies on a number of moving parts: SEO, promotion, publicity, word of mouth, and other factors that may take a while to mature.
But when the benefits begin to really take shape, they’re powerful.
Boost your reputation and authority
Buyers of any kind want to be able to place their trust in a brand, a product, or a partner. That’s particularly true in business, and it’s a big reason why B2B content marketing must project a level of authority, transparency, and trustworthiness. Obtaining the high ground of “thought leadership” is essential to competing for prospect engagement and purchase.
As someone once pointed out, B2B buyers can prove to be more loyal than B2C consumers. They may not make an initial purchase based on loyalty since that’s when they’re making an objective purchase decision. But it’s got to be the right decision. In B2C, nobody ever got pink-slipped for buying the wrong brand of potato chips. If your content and your offerings are truly centered on the B2B buyer’s education and success, they’ll become loyal.
Authentic and authoritative content marketing can help promote that loyalty by being a form of pre-purchase customer service long before they cut a PO.
These days, people want to learn before they buy, be educated instead of pitched.
Enjoy better cost-effectiveness and payback
First of all, that content can be evergreen: Once it’s published, it can continue drawing clicks and views for years. Can you say the same thing about an ad? Plus, when new buyers enter the market (and your funnel, we hope!), that “old” content is fresh to their eyes. Especially if you make a practice of reviewing and updating content to keep it current.
B2B content also offers incredible flexibility. That industry survey or white paper you sponsor or develop can beget a webinar, a conference event, press releases, podcasts, a series of blog posts, and longform and snackable videos extracted from that webinar, and infographics…the list goes on.
The initial investment you make in a substantive piece of content can be amortized in a lot of different ways, across a lot of channels.
Good content improves site traffic and SEO
The lion’s share of online experiences start with somebody accessing a search engine. Therefore, you’ve got to make sure your content is showing up near the top of search rankings. Remember, though, that B2B buyers usually are not searching for a company or brand, they’re making a generic search to see what’s out there that’s relevant to their issue or question.
In the past, online marketers would rely on keywords to help them scale the heights of Mount Google, or backlinking strategies. Nowadays, search intent is increasingly important: What is the user looking for? The content that best satisfies their search intent is what’s going to get the best rankings.
A B2B buyer doesn’t want to dawdle but really wants to convert if they can find the best solution from a trustworthy provider. That’s how great content seeds conversion.
Moreover, the more impressed visitors or other websites are with your content, the more they’ll link it to it. That’s an indicator to search engines that you’re delivering excellent content deserving of better ranking.
This doesn’t mean we should abandon other aspects of SEO, like following good onsite optimization practices, building backlinks, affiliating with influencers, and so on. Now, though? There’s more emphasis on the quality of your B2B content and whether or not it satisfies your audience’s search intent.
Some methods for getting insights into what that “search intent” might be? Check out the browsing and download behaviors of your own site visitors. And conduct a SERP analysis to see what pages and assets are winning the search wars in your category, so you can adopt the same best practices.
B2B content marketing is a sound investment
Thanks to all the benefits outlined above, B2B content marketing amounts to an investment, not a cost. One that offers much more assured returns than other strategies. Some of the data?
- 62% of the most successful companies have a clearly defined content marketing strategy in place.
- B2B marketing teams with the best success rates spend around 40% of their marketing budget on content marketing.
- 80% of marketers say content marketing is successful in driving brand awareness, 75% say it builds credibility/trust, and 70% say it educates audiences.
- 91% of marketers said they’d seen success with their content marketing efforts in 2021.
- 56% of marketers who leverage blogging claim it’s an effective tactic, with 10% saying it generates the greatest ROI among marketing tactics.
- 83% of marketers feel it’s more effective to create higher quality content less often.