You may be an old hand at B2B content marketing — if so, this isn’t the article for you. However, if you’re new to it (or have moved from B2C to B2B), what follows should present a useful primer.
The business-to-business (B2B) landscape never stands still. It’s in a state of continual evolution (with sharp periods of revolution thrown in now and then for good measure). But, while individual tactics change and shift, most companies today recognize the importance of a well-crafted content marketing strategy to drive growth and deepen customer engagement.
In this article, we’ll explore the key components of effective B2B content marketing, how to create high-quality content and how to distribute and promote your content to achieve maximum impact.
Content marketing has become an essential part of pretty much every successful B2B marketing strategy. It allows businesses to connect with their target audience by creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content. It helps remove friction from long sales cycles. And it enables brands to increase their reputation for being the go-to companies in their sectors.
As with many over-hyped terms, content marketing means different things to different people. It can be everything from publishing articles and blogs to drive inbound traffic and search rankings through to developing thought leadership to establish credibility and differentiate your brand in the market.
At a basic level, B2B content marketing is a systematic approach to creating and sharing content that’s designed to educate, inspire and motivate your target audience(s).
The goal is to build trust and credibility with your audience, positioning your company as a leading brand in your sector. It keeps you front and centre so that when a good-fit customer is looking to solve a problem and needs help, your name will naturally flow from their fingertips.
The content itself can take many different forms — blog posts, whitepapers, case studies, videos, ebooks, podcasts etc. While people can get hung up on formats, this should be pretty low on your list of priorities. Far more important is that you create high-quality content that resonates with your target audience and which is targeted at key stages in the B2B sales cycle.
Everything else is garnish.
B2B buyers are more informed and empowered than ever before — everything they need is just a search away. (Pretty soon, it’ll be just an AI chat away.)
Customers are savvy, information-hungry but also frequently overwhelmed. So while they’re looking for content to inform their purchasing decisions, with the deluge of average-to-poor content on the internet, they’re looking for information sources that stand head and shoulders above the rest for quality.
According to Content Marketing Institute research (PDF), 91% of B2B marketers use content marketing to reach customers. And a Demand Generation Report study found that 61% of B2B buyers will read three to seven pieces of content before speaking with a salesperson.
In short, content matters. A lot.
B2B content marketing is no longer optional, it’s fundamental to success. By creating and sharing valuable content, you can attract and engage your target audience, build brand awareness and ultimately drive conversions.
But aren’t we just talking to people? Isn’t this less B2B or B2B but H2H (human-to-human)?
Yes and no.
While the basic principles of content marketing are the same across B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing, there are some key differences.
B2B sales typically take way, way longer (especially at the enterprise level). They involve many more people (all with competing agendas). And the risks of getting it wrong can be huge – both for the company and for the individuals making the decision. It’s why B2B content needs to be highly educational and informative, providing value at every stage of the buyer’s journey.
For the most part, B2C sales are fast, low-risk and involve just one or maybe two people. B2C content tends to focus on consumer desires and aspirations. As a result, it’s typically more entertaining in nature.
Importantly, however, virtually all decisions are emotionally driven and made by people. So claiming that B2B is rational and B2C is emotional is just plain wrong. What’s more, it’ll lead to boring B2B content that’ll be largely ignored by customers and prospects.
Strategy is primarily about identifying the barriers to the outcome you want to see and devising a systematic approach to overcoming them.
Content will be an important part of the picture but not the whole picture. It should directly link back to the overarching marketing strategy which should connect to the business strategy.
In devising your approach, there are some core fundamentals you’ll need to get right…
The first step in developing your content marketing strategy is to define your goals and objectives. These might include increasing net new revenue, accelerating the sales cycle, improving your search ranking, attracting the best talent — the list is almost endless.
The key thing is to have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and how you’re going to measure success.
For example, if your goal is to generate leads, you might measure success by the number of good-fit opportunities generated through your content marketing efforts. If your goal is to increase website traffic, you might track the number of unique visitors to your site each month. If it’s about growing revenue, you may measure sales that have been influenced by content consumption.
Next, you’ll need to identify your target audience. Who are you trying to reach with your content? What are their pain points and challenges? What information do they need to make an informed buying decision? By getting to know your audience, you’ll be better able to create content that resonates with them and drives results.
A common approach is to create buyer personas. But a word of warning: make sure these personas are rooted in real-world data and what actual buyers are trying to achieve. It doesn’t matter that your persona is called Susan, that she’s time-poor and has a dog named Charlie. It does matter that she is a cybersecurity manager who’s struggling to deal with too many false-positive alerts from her current solution.
By creating detailed, relevant, actionable buyer personas, you can ensure that your content speaks directly to the people who are most likely to become customers about the things that actually matter.
This will depend on whether you’re focusing on an always-on publishing approach or a time-bound campaign to drive demand (or both).
Having a plan will keep you on track and help you avoid ‘random acts of content’.
In doing so, you’ll map out a schedule/sequence of content, ensuring that each piece aligns with your goals and speaks directly to your audience.
When creating this, it’s important to consider the entire customer journey. From awareness to consideration to decision-making, each stage requires different types of content.
By creating a mix of content types focused on each stage of the journey, you can ensure that you’re helping move more customers from apathy to action.
There are numerous types of content in the B2B content marketing world. You can create everything from guides, blogs, whitepapers and case studies through to ebooks, videos, podcasts and more. Deciding what format to use will depend largely on your goals and the preferences of your audience.
For example, if your goal is thought leadership, longer-form content like newsletters, ebooks and multi-part videos tend to work well. These types of content provide in-depth information that can showcase your industry knowledge. But, if your goal is to build engagement, shorter-form content like social media updates and research snippets can be more effective.
The frustrating answer to which should you choose is: it depends.
Ultimately, the key to success in B2B content marketing is to create content that provides value to your target audience and which drives the behaviour you want to see. By understanding customer needs and pain points, and delivering high-quality relevant content, you can grow brand awareness, build trust and ultimately drive more leads and sales.
If you’re struggling to create high-quality B2B content that resonates with your target audience, you’re not alone. The bar today is incredibly high.
You’re not just competing with the thousand other blog posts in your industry, you’re up against the very best of industry media. It’s not surprising that so many businesses find it challenging to create content that engages and informs their audience while also driving conversions.
While we can’t cover everything in this article, here are some pointers…
B2B buyers are rarely swayed by an argument whose justification comes down to: Because I think so.
However, they do like being the first to know the latest state of play in their industry. They want to know what’s working, what’s not and what others like them are thinking and doing.
This is why first-party research works so well. Yes, it can mean upfront investment, but it needn’t cost the earth and the results will justify the expense.
Boring, same-old, same-old content is where results go to die.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to go full-on high-kicking razzamatazz with every piece. But you do need to be laser-focused on what your audience will be willing to give up their precious time to pay attention to.
This will be a combination of what you say (something new, interesting, valuable) and how you say it (a format that’s engaging, easy to consume and which gives actionable next-steps).
When planning what you’re going to say, keep asking yourself, “So what?” Why does this matter to my audience? What don’t they know that they should? What mistakes are they making?
Be super careful not to assume that what you find interesting will be interesting to your audience. (Hint: it probably isn’t.) Spending time here will save you a bunch of heartache later.
Second is how you say it. Explore different ways of expressing your ideas (or illustrating them or filming them). Don’t settle for what you see/hear everywhere else.
Work at developing an interesting tone of voice. Play with the rhythm of your writing. Edit, edit, edit.
Some people love the written word. Some prefer something visual to get their 1000-words worth.
B2B often deals with abstract ideas and new concepts. Illustrating new innovations through imagery – whether you use diagrams and infographics or commission a short explainer video — is a powerful way to get your message across. Visual content is also quick to consume (big tick in the box for time-poor audiences) and easily sharable (another tick for expanding your reach and engagement).
Importantly, you’ll need a mix of approaches — text-based, visual, video, audio — if you’re to cater for people with different preferences and learning styles.
As you create content, it’s important your brand voice and imagery remain consistent across all channels.
Remember, your audiences are generally not thinking about you. They are, at best, occasional buyers. So you need to do everything you can to make it easy for them to remember you (this is called mental availability in branding circles).
A distinctive look, feel and tone, consistently applied will help you build trust and recognition with your audience and strengthen your overall brand identity.
To do this, you can consider creating a style guide outlining your brand’s tone, voice and imagery. This can help ensure that all content creators are on the same page and that your brand remains consistent across all channels. Just make sure that this is a living resource, not a dusty PDF that never gets used.
It’s one thing to create great content, it’s another to get it in front of people that matter.
Never underestimate the amount of content ‘noise’ in the market. B2B content marketing today isn’t a case of ‘build it and they’ll come’. (In truth, it never has been.) This means you need to take a robust approach to how you distribute and promote your content if you want to maximise its effectiveness.
The good news is that there is a ton of ways of doing this. The bad news is that there is a ton of ways of doing this. So it’s important you focus on the channels that talk most directly to your target audience.
Sometimes this may mean using mass media channels (eg if you are targeting micro-business owners). Other times you’ll need to go super-niche (eg if you’re targeting buyers of cooling systems for nuclear reactors). There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Social media can be a powerful tool for distributing and promoting your B2B content. However, the days of posting content updates and reaching a large proportion of your followers are long gone. Today, for example, an unpromoted LinkedIn post will reach around 5% of your firm’s followers. It’s similar if not worse across other platforms.
Social media is now a pay-to-play channel. The good news here is that targeting is generally highly granular so you can be confident you’re reaching the right people.
Outside of social channels, you can also promote content via paid media. This may involve some form of pay-per-click (PPC) or an advertising arrangement with a publication/site.
Selecting the right media is key to success in B2B. Spend time determining whether the media you select are must-visit destinations for your target customers.
You may be tempted by the promise of programmatic advertising (broad reach, low-cost) but we’d advise against this given the apparent levels of fraud and lack of transparency over the real costs.
Most B2B companies have some form of database (though quality can vary). You can use this to promote content to people who’ve had previous interactions with you.
More than this, you can quickly develop email sequences that can deliver different types of content depending on how your audience interacts with you (often called a triggered approach). You can reasonably easily score these interactions and increase your knowledge of your audience through approaches such as progressive profiling.
It’s no wonder that email is still the #1 highest performing channel for many companies.
The first thing most customers do when they have a problem and need answers is to Google it. So ranking high for terms they use to find a solution is pretty much a no-brainer.
Content (particularly responsive online content) is almost uniquely placed to help accelerate this process. By having a clear idea of what you need to rank for and a systematic approach to creating content that will help you get there, you can steadily rise through the rankings.
B2B content marketing can be a powerful way to build relationships, drive engagement and generate leads. By understanding your audience, setting clear goals, creating high-quality content and promoting that content through the right channels, you can unlock the full potential of content marketing for your business.
We hope you’ve found this introductory article useful. We’ve lots more for you to dive into on our Content Hub — from the questions you should be asking your CEO to create an effective marketing strategy to how to create content that delivers.
If you’ve got questions or what an initial conversation about your own challenges, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Ball is the founder and managing director at Considered. With a multi-decade career in B2B marketing, he’s worked with world-leading brands such as Adobe, Google, EY and Cisco together with niche specialists in technology, manufacturing and professional services.