What is B2B content marketing? An A-Z guide

Posted on 25th November 2020 by Rob

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The web is awash with brilliant B2B content, and well, some not so brilliant B2B content. And as the content universe grows each day, B2B marketers know they need to work at it. But how do they make content marketing work for them? Here is Skout’s A-Z of content marketing to guide marketing professionals through everything they need to know.

A is for Authenticity

In 2019 an estimated 4.4 million blog posts were published every single day, and many were B2B focused. Consider the boom in digital marketing that COVID-19 has led to and these figures are likely to have risen sharply since. To achieve cut through, B2B content marketing must provide increasingly authentic stories and genuinely helpful info to audiences.

B is for Brand Awareness

According to the Content Marketing Institute, brand awareness is the most commonly achieved B2B content marketing goal. 86% of B2B professionals surveyed said they ticked this box, compared to 70% managing to generate demand and leads, and 45% building a subscribed audience. Although content marketing has merits right across the customer journey, there’s clearly a greater focus on top of funnel awareness.

C is for Customer Loyalty

I was talking to a B2B marketing friend last week who said, “why do we obsess about content to attract new MQLs, but forget the needs of our customers?” It’s true. Again, the Content Marketing Institute says over 50% of all B2B content produced last year was aimed at the top of the funnel, compared to just 11% that was created for existing customers. B2B marketers must ensure that the content journey continues all the way through the customer lifecycle to deliver engagement and repeat buying.

D is for Data

Bad data kills great B2B content! We recently interviewed a marketing data expert who said, “using data means replacing decisions based on hunches with decisions based on evidence.” So many times, content is created without considering what audience data is telling us about previous campaign success rates, audience preferences, or appropriate messaging. In the B2B marketing alphabet, D should always come before C!

E is for Earned Media

Make content, slap it on your website and social channels, sign a sponsorship deal to promote it – job done. No! There’s a bunch of stats that say earned media (B2B PR) is an incredibly powerful sales enablement tool. As this blog says, “traffic from earned media was 56% more likely to complete a goal (i.e. registrations, subscriptions and downloads) and these sessions lasted 33% longer.” The clue is in the name; ‘earned’ means you’ve had to work for it, so it should work harder for you.

F is for Failure

OK, we all know that ‘failing to learn is learning to fail.’ It’s a cliché but it speaks volumes in B2B content marketing. Marketers must learn from the past by analysing campaign failures as well as successes and adapt their plans accordingly. As business functions go, marketing has struggled more than many to be taken seriously over the years and it is often at the mercy of sales demanding leads and finance demanding ROI. The truth is that failure is just part of success. Marketers needs to test and try things to know how well they work. After all, sales don’t win every deal they pitch for!

G is for Gating

Gating content can be a useful strategy for collecting vital information about leads progressing along the marketing and sales journey, but it’s often overused and has negative effects on brand visibility and SEO. In this useful gated content guide, HubSpot says around 80% of B2B content is gated. We would argue that it should be more like 20%! A piece of content will need to contain the crown jewels to make it worth a recipient handing over their personal data to view it. ‘Over-gating’ or gating at the wrong stage of the customer journey, is often a sign of an overly simplistic content marketing approach.

H is for Hyper-personalisation

Technology is making it increasingly possible to personalise at scale. According to Social Media Today, Gartner says that companies investing in online personalisation technology are outselling their competitors by around 30%. Demandbase’s latest Account Based Marketing (ABM) study showed dedicated ABM budgets rose 40% from 2019 to 2020. B2B marketers are investing more in targeted and personalised contact with key accounts and so they need hyper-personalised content to make this investment worthwhile.

I is for Integration

46% of B2B marketers struggle to integrate content across multiple channels, despite many seeing integration as crucial to success. This means avoiding ‘one trick ponies’ in a content marketing strategy. If more than one communications channel is in play (and let’s face it that’s probably the case in 100% of B2B organisations) the content marketing strategy must start from an integration point of view. Too often it starts with an idea for a great piece of content, with little thought given to how it can be delivered as an integrated campaign to maximise its value.

J is for Junk mail

Around 85 out of every 100 B2B marketing emails sent don’t get opened by the recipient. That’s a lot of wasted emails! It shows that despite heavy investment in content production, cheap and cheerful ways of delivering that content to ‘leads’ are still very much a la mode. Rather than just ‘send it and see’ they should ensure they are being more targeted with their content outreach. Effective targeting is as important as the content itself.

K is for Knowledge

If knowledge is power, in B2B content marketing it is the number one super-power! Research from the Content Marketing Institute says that the top performing B2B content marketers are those that prioritise information of genuine value to their audience over their own organisation’s sales or promotional messages. Tapping into the organisation’s genuine expertise as a basis for content is far more effective than peddling a thinly veiled sales ploy.

L is for LinkedIn

LinkedIn should be a great B2B content marketing tool. But sometimes I look at it and think it’s just a great tool for people who like to show off their content to other B2B marketers! Seriously though, with over 722 million members in more than 200 countries, LinkedIn is incredibly useful at reaching an engaged business audience. To do so effectively however, content marketing and business professionals need to spend just as much time on building their engaged following as they do on preparing the pieces of content that they are going to feed them.

M is for Measurement

If a marketer can’t measure the effectiveness of his or her content assets, then they should question whether it was worth producing it in the first place. The Content Marketing Institute once again tells us that only 9% of B2B marketers considered their organisation to be a ‘sophisticated’ content marketer that provides “accurate measurement to the business.”

N is for Nurturing

B2B sales cycles can span years, so content marketing strategies for lead nurturing purposes must take the long view too. The Content Marketing Institute’s research says that B2B marketers favour email newsletters, short articles and blog posts, in-person events, and case studies as the most useful forms of nurture content.

O is for Outbound vs Inbound

The age old question – do you push content out to your leads, or do you let them come to you? The general school of thought these days is that inbound is more in line with digital marketing and letting your potential future customers self-serve content is key. Inbound is also considered more cost effective. Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot recently wrote, “I believe most marketers today spend 90% of their efforts on outbound marketing and 10% on inbound marketing, and I advocate that those ratios flip.” I’m not sure I totally agree with flipping the balance to that degree. Speaking to my own B2B marketing friends, yes, a lot of outbound still goes on and is a crucial part of (successful) long term nurturing. B2B content can be used effectively in both outbound and inbound so both methods should be covered in a content marketing strategy.

P is for Personas

Before doing content, know who the customer is. Develop personas to understand them and to categorise them. Then make sure the content addresses their needs. Simple!

Q is for Qualifying leads

Content marketing can act as a foundation for B2B lead qualification. Users’ responses to different content assets across a variety of marketing channels can tell you what different people are interested in, where they are in their buying journey, and if and when you should make a direct approach. That’s why having a content strategy is so important; it ensures the right content ‘markers’ are in place to make lead qualification possible.

R is for Relevancy (and Responsiveness)

B2B content marketers should always remember that there is a big wide world out there with lots happening! So much content is insular, focusing purely on the B2B organisation’s own world, or their product or service. They must recognise the need to respond to what’s happening in the real world and how this affects their prospective and current customers. People buy – organisations don’t. These issues will be front of mind and having a view or responding to them is a wise strategy.

S is for Storytelling

My business partner shared a great quote with me today: “Facts get checked but stories don’t – they cut through.”

All stories are content but not all B2B content tells a story. This Buffer.com blog explains the science behind the power of storytelling. Neural coupling enables the listener’s brain to relate a story to their own ideas and experiences. The brain releases dopamine when it experiences an emotionally charged event (such as a compelling story) making it more memorable. A well-told story ‘exercises’ many more aspects of the brain than processing facts does. Humans like stories. Build content around stories.

T is for Technology

Technology often has a habit of getting ahead of itself and having to wait for people to catch up. That’s kind of where things are in the B2B content marketing world. This great blog post from Robert Rose, founder and chief strategy officer at The Content Advisory, sums it up wonderfully:

“Marketers are awash in new technology options but primarily still using brute force to find their way to deeper and more meaningful strategies.”

He adds that only 16% of marketers have the right tech AND are using it to their full potential.

U is for UX

UX or user experience feels like something owned by the B2Cers. However, it is just as important in digital B2B content marketing. This UX Collective blog makes an interesting point:

“…there is a huge difference between a consumer and a business customer. Consumers can impulse buy in a way that B2B customers cannot, and because of that, they are looking at their possibilities in a completely different way.”

Perhaps one consideration is the power of content to enhance UX in a B2B setting, in place of the purchasing offers or alternative suggestions that are often a part of B2C UX?

However, despite the differences, we also think its important to remember hat B2B buyers are still human! They want a similar consumer experience from the businesses they buy from.

V is for Video

If 2020 has taught us anything in B2B it’s that there is more than one way to skin a cat. With face to face engagement on hold we have turned to live video as the primary form of communication. While pre-recorded video was already dominant in B2B content marketing before the pandemic, use of audio-visual media has exploded since – taking over events, meetings, media interviews and training, as well as more basic content marketing forms.

W is for Written Word

For all the videos out there however, written content still tops the charts. Not only is it crucial for effective SEO, but when it comes to the crunch, many B2B audiences really do prefer it. This Customer Think blog post explains it. While humans prefer the cognitive ease offered by video, when we really need to think about something deeply, written word is it.

So, we could conclude that both V and W have their rightful places in the B2B content marketing alphabet – but knowing where they fit in the customer journey is what really matters!

X is for X-ray vision

Let’s face it, X is never an easy slot to fill! Don’t produce content that recipients can ‘see through.’ Ensure it has a purpose for them and offers them something useful or helpful. Otherwise engagement will be low and any points gained in awareness are lost to a negative perception of the brand.

Y is for Yammer (and all other internal comms channels)

Think B2B content marketing most of us will immediately link it to sales, customers, leads, prospects, etc. We obsess with the external audience and forget the internal one. Yet, happy, healthy, engaged employees play a huge part in developing happy, healthy, and engaged customer relationships. So why not serve them some great content too? There’s now a multitude of tools and channels available (including Yammer) to help.

Z is for Zen

This is how I’m feeling having got through the entire alphabet! However it is also a good way to sum up what B2B content marketing is all about. The Zen principle emphasises:

  • “Rigorous self-restraint” – don’t go content crazy; strategize and create it wisely, with purpose and plan.
  • “Meditation practice” – producing good content requires a clear and uncluttered mind to develop strong ideas.
  • “Insight into nature of mind and things” – content marketers need to draw on deep knowledge and the impact on the world around them.
  • “Personal expression of this insight in daily life and for the benefit of others” – B2B marketing relies on strong communication channels as well as great content, and communication must be in the context of the beholder.

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

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