Using the Present to See the Future: B2B Content Marketing in 2019
Part II: Developing Targets and the Content Aimed at Them
In Part I of this analysis of the state of B2B content marketing in 2019, according to the benchmarking report “B2B CONTENT MARKETING 2019: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends — North America,” we revealed some general data about the current state of content marketing for B2B organizations, as well as highlight aspects of strategy and technology. In this portion of the analysis, we’ll dive into researching an audience and creating content for those targets, as well as investigate marketers’ biggest concerns. Finally, we’ll conclude with the report’s important characteristics for content marketing success.
Researching and nurturing the audience
Fundamental to a good content marketing team is understanding its audience and their needs. So, how do content marketers learn about that audience? Most rely on sales team feedback (74%), website analytics (73%) and keyword research (65%), according to the report. More than half say they use primary or secondary research, as well as social media listening.
“Understanding the audience is the most important ingredient in content marketing,” Richard asserted. “We have to know who they are and what they’re interested in. We want to find out what makes them itch and find a way to scratch that itch for them.”
Just over half, at 55 percent, claim to use personas for CM. It’s a tactic used by more than three-quarters of the most successful marketers.
The audience must be nurtured, and 87 percent use email to do so, followed by educational content at 77 percent. Again reflecting the nascence of AI in content marketing, only 5 percent are utilizing predictive technology. Perhaps surprising is that less than half said they use storytelling/relating to the audience as a nurturing tactic.
All good content has a purpose. Different forms of content marketing are used at multiple phases of a buyer’s journey, which is covered in more detail later. But what do organizations consider most when creating content? Leading the way at 84 percent is building loyalty with existing customers. Sixty-four percent said building relationships with influencers.
Highlighting one of the differences in mindsets of marketers and sales people, the leading concept “always” or “frequently” considered when creating content (as chosen by 73 percent) was prioritizing the audience’s informational needs over the promotional message. That figure jumped to 90 percent in the most successful group of content marketers.
“One of the biggest challenges with content marketing is understanding that the goal is not to push the sale directly,” said Richard. “You’re not selling a product or service. You’re selling the company as a trustworthy business and showcasing your employees as thought leaders. Once you’ve gained the confidence of potential customers, then you can work on closing the sale.”
Other concepts highly regarded by marketers were prioritizing the right content delivered to the right audience at the optimal time (56%) and crafting content based on the buyer’s specific stage of the purchase funnel (52%).
That purchase funnel, which has morphed in recent years, often calls for different forms of content in its various phases. A separate CMI study, conducted earlier this year, determined the most effective content for each phase of the journey. Blog posts and articles were identified as best for early stage prospects. White papers rose to the top for those in the middle stages of the purchase funnel, while most said case studies work best for buyers in the later stages.
Demonstrating that many marketers understand the need for high-quality content, the greatest increase in CM spend over the last year was in content creation, with 56 percent indicating as such, ranking ahead of spending on staff, paid distribution and content marketing technology.
You might be familiar with, or even use the shorthand acronym TL;DR – too long; didn’t read. Its popularity might lead you to believe content marketers are moving toward shorter, more compact content. However, the report hints otherwise, with 74 percent saying they have used or developed long-form content in the past year. Long-form content was considered guides, white papers and in-depth articles. Only 43 percent said they had utilized video snippets, and 37 percent used social media stories.
“The biggest area of growth for us right now is easily in content creation,” Richard noted. “We’re getting more and more requests for white papers, case studies, infographics, etc. Companies are really starting to see the value in the research and information provided to the audience.”
Video has received plenty of attention over the past couple of years, and 64 percent of respondents said they had, indeed, increased use of audio/video content (livestream/video/webinars) in the past 12 months. Sixty-one percent also said they’d increased the use of long-form text content, such as white papers, ebooks, blogs and articles.
Illustrating the growing dominance of digital media, printed text content, including magazines, books and brochures, showed both the smallest increase in use (27%) and the greatest decrease in use (17%).
Often considered both a blessing and a curse, social media has changed the world as well as marketing. For better or worse, it appears to be here to stay. Over the past year, 61 percent of B2B content marketers said they increased their use of social media for CM purposes. Only 5 percent decreased.
Routinely, studies determine LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to be the top three social media platforms when it comes to content marketing.
“Most companies that we work with use some combination of those three, if not all three,” Richard said. “But Instagram is another area of opportunity for some companies – especially if the product has a very visual aspect to it. If you sell heavy machinery, Instagram is probably not for you. But if you’re a travel agency, it’s perfect for sharing images and stories about beautiful destinations.”
You can produce quality content, but it isn’t effective if it’s not reaching an audience. While this year’s report didn’t specifically ask what delivery vehicles were most used, last year’s survey found email, social media platforms and blogs as the top three formats to distribute content.
Two-thirds of B2B marketers say they’ve used paid methods of content distribution in the past year. The main reason marketers said they used a paid vehicle was to attract a new audience, followed by generating traffic when organic search isn’t producing desired results. Just over half said they used paid vehicles to reach a niche audience.
The primary paid methods are sponsored social media (70%) and PPC search engine marketing (64%), which both listed well ahead of banner ads and partner emails.
Concerns, conclusions and making a good content marketer
Successful content marketing can generate interest, sales, and perhaps best of all, advocates for your organization. Among the goals set for CM in the past year, 81 percent of marketers said they successfully created brand awareness, making it the top achieved goal. Educating the audience followed with 73 percent success, closely trailed by building credibility and generating leads at 68 percent each. Notably, only 45 percent said it achieved goals set for generating sales and revenue.
“Today’s customers like to do a lot of research before making a purchase, so the more useful information you have available for them, the better,” Richard added. “If you can deliver the info they want to know, your brand will be top of mind when it comes time to buy.”
As with any industry, marketers have worries. The top concern mentioned in the study was changes to SEO/search algorithms (61%), followed by changes to social media algorithms (45%). Further down the list, but perhaps something to watch going forward, 14 percent said artificial intelligence, while 13 percent said preparing for voice search, which are two of the expected evolutions on the horizon of marketing.
“We’ve seen so many changes in digital marketing in just the last two years. Keeping pace with them is exciting and exhausting at the same time,” Richard remarked.
And finally, the report offered up seven characteristics that embody top performing B2B content marketers. Those traits, many of which were previously mentioned, include: maturity in content marketing; having a documented strategy; staying extremely committed to content marketing; measuring the ROI of your marketing; advanced proficiency with technology; using personas; and being viewed by the audience as credible.
So there you have it, it’s as simple as those seven things to be a highly successful content marketer!