Complete Guide to B2B Content Marketing | Strategy & Definition
What is B2B Content Marketing?
B2B content marketing is the art and science of using targeted, relevant, and high-quality content to appeal to your target audience, solve their problems, increase brand recall and affinity, and eventually foster enough trust for them to want to work with you.
B2B content marketing aims to reach out to professionals in other businesses.
This means it must do two things: First, provide real and demonstrable value. Second, deliver an evocative brand image. The confluence of these two factors will ensure your B2B content marketing strategy tugs at the appropriate levers.
How Do B2B and B2C Content Differ?
The main difference between a B2B content marketing strategy as opposed to its B2C cousin is in the messaging it encompasses. As we mentioned before, B2B content must provide actionable insights and guidance above anything else. If it fails to do that, then the strategy has missed the mark.
B2C content marketers, however, have the freedom and flexibility to be more fluffy and invest in brand-building strategies.
For an example of B2B content marketing, let’s take a look at American Express’ content marketing approach.
The multinational financial services company is best known for its corporate credit cards, meaning one of its key audiences are businesses looking to scale to the next level.
Its blog tries to win over both small and medium-sized business owners by giving them actionable tips and advice on how to better manage their respective companies.
Source: American Express
The landing page design is friendly, there’s liberal use of white space, and the title “Insights and
Inspiration to Grow Your Business” really drives home what the company is trying to achieve.
It doesn’t give across the image of a stodgy, uptight financial services company incorporated over a century ago. If you didn’t know any better, you might think that this was the blog of a hot new fintech startup.
Source: American Express
And if you navigate further, you’ll see that American Express covers almost every aspect of running a firm in today’s day and age. Yes, there’s even insight into social media strategy!
What it’s trying to do instead is cultivate trust and reassure audiences that it’s here to help. After all, business owners who sign up with American Express won’t just do so on a whim. B2B purchase decisions only come about after a long-term analysis, and American Express realizes that.
Key to understanding B2B content is also the B2B content marketing sales funnel.
Source: Selfish Giving
As you can see, your B2B content strategy and approach differ as you move down the funnel. At the top, or the information stage, you’re merely solving queries and problems. If you deal with those correctly, your audience will start liking you.
That’s when you nurture them by offering social proofs like endorsements and testimonials. A webinar might also go a long way to establish further clarity about your product.
Eventually, a B2B purchase decision is driven mostly by your product’s value proposition:
- Is it able to solve the specific problem of the B2B researcher?
- Will it generate effective ROI for the firm?
- Was the product successfully implemented by other companies in the same niche?
B2B content must seek to answer these concerns first and foremost.
B2C purchases have a higher degree of emotional triggers attached to them. Consumers prefer brands that can weave elements of storytelling into their marketing campaigns, thereby pushing these triggers and compelling users to take action.
Speak to your audience using their language
When you write B2C content, you are writing to persuade an individual: you are convincing a homeowner that she would benefit from a new fridge; you are convincing someone that their would-be fiancée may only say yes to a particular brand — and perhaps size — of a diamond ring. The ‘voice’ will differ depending on the context.
B2B marketers must use industry jargon.
Each piece of content should include business terms (KPI, TCO, ROI, scalability, hub, and so on) and terms specific to the target industry (for example, in healthcare: accountability care, clinical integration, CSC, clustering, and so on.)
That’s because you must write your content in a language that’s familiar to them.
Further Reading on B2B Marketing
- The B2B Buyer’s Guide to Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency
- B2B Social Media Best Practices
- How to Build An Effective Marketing Strategy for an IT Company
The decisions are bigger
Picture this: you’re a key decision-maker at a big company. You need to find the right data visualization software to check on the health of your business and keep a growing roster of employees in check, and most importantly, cut costs and boost ROI.
This choice will involve tens of thousands of company dollars, years of investment, an ongoing relationship with the vendor, and — possibly — your job.
The stakes are therefore much higher for decision-makers in B2B; B2B content must be persuasive, informative, avoid sales-y tactics, and present an air-tight argument for your business as the ultimate solution to their ‘problem.’
The purchasing cycle is longer
A B2B purchase decision could take several months to complete, perhaps even longer. And therefore, your content must involve a strategy to A) completely convince them of the product’s worth at the outset, and B) keep them reassured throughout the sales cycle.
Practically speaking, this necessitates the following:
- An abundance of different informational content — be it blogs, ebooks, whitepapers, webinars, and case studies — before approaching a decision;
- A strategy in place to keep the client in-the-loop throughout the sales cycle, including newsletters and videos
Types of B2B Content
Despite the constraints placed upon B2B content writing, such as writing in industry jargon and having to do the ‘heavy lifting’ of swaying company decision-makers, B2B content creation is a creative and fast-evolving field.
A B2B whitepaper is a long-form content piece that’s designed to go deep into a specific industry or an issue affecting the industry by explaining the problem and its causes alongside proposed solutions and the benefits of it.
Whitepapers are an excellent way of demonstrating your mastery over the subject, compelling your audience to look towards you as a go-to source.
It’s possible that a B2B whitepaper might incorporate the following structure:
- Market analysis. This section discusses business drivers, target customers in the industry, and technical abstracts from market research companies. The market analysis provides the scope to support the proposed product as the best solution.
- Implementations. This section serves to present successful implementation of the solution, from obstacles to the application to success. It may include testimonials, which are highly persuasive in sales.
- Product analysis. Here’s where you harness the power of visuals: through charts, graphs, and other easy-to-digest formats, you lay out the technical specifics of the product in a few pages.
- Unique selling points (USPs): Here, you persuasively outline the key features that set the product apart from the competition.
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For example, this whitepaper by IBM neatly addresses two key concerns that each business owner might have about running their firm in today’s digital age.
Titled “Better Business Outcomes with IBM Big Data & Analytics,” the whitepaper displays mastery of what big data is and how corporations of all sizes can use it to improve their business. Of course, it trumpets IBM Watson – the company’s answer to a neural learning network.
Webinars are online seminars designed to convince a business that your product is the ideal solution for their problem. Webinars harness the powerful medium of video to provide lots of product detail, face-to-face interaction and emphasize brand credibility.
They are more cost-effective than in-person meetings and meet a virtually limitless audience, including decision-makers at different points of a company. They are also shareable with a broader audience, thus establishing brand trust and authority in your field. 60% of marketers use webinars as a critical piece in their content marketing strategy, highlighting their usefulness.
Let’s take the example of Kissmetrics, which helps SaaS and e-commerce companies supercharge their marketing tactics via analytics. Neil Patel, who runs Kissmetrics, says “webinars are one of my favorite ways to convert traffic and subscribers into real customers.”
He touts a conversion rate of up to 22%, meaning almost a quarter of attendees end up being paying customers.
Source: Goto Stage
Email content marketing
B2B email content marketing has an ROI of up to 3,800%, which is why 93% of marketers use the medium in their campaigns.
For example, CB Insights, a firm that tracks venture capital and markets a data-driven B2B market intelligence platform, consistently hits it out of the park with its email marketing.
The email above is an excellent example of how the company keeps its branding human and doesn’t try to market itself as a boring financial services provider.
Its messaging, however, is relevant to its audience of investors, venture capital firms, and other folks interested in startups and technology. Cannabis, after all, is estimated to be a nearly $200 billion industry in the next seven years.
Email marketing can also include:
- Welcome emails (after a lead signs up; helps them get started)
- Company updates (press releases announcing new product features, company news, etc.)
- Inactive user emails (gently suggesting encouraging contacts to interact with the content)
- Webinar or event invites
- Year in review emails
- Notification of new blog posts
Social media content
You may assume that social media is the forte of B2C companies, but that’s not always the case. The right B2B social media strategy template involves the platforms relevant for your business as well as clearly defined campaign objectives.
For example, look at Jon Deere’s Twitter page.
Does it look promotional at all?
Here are some of its Twitter posts:
Here’s another, just a few tweets below:
John Deere’s social media strategy isn’t focused on driving sales. Instead, it tries to build up its brand and show its community outreach efforts. That’s a valuable approach given how its customers – farmers and other folks in agriculture – prioritize their family values.
Other than organic social media, B2B companies can also choose to engage with paid social campaigns. Paid social combines mediums like PPC and PPM (Pay Per Thousand views). It can be a very flexible method of finding and engaging with your target audience.
According to HubSpot, B2B companies that blogged 11+ times a month had 3.5 times the amount of traffic than those who blogged only about once a month. A company blog can:
- Improve organic search rankings, given that it provides a business’s website with frequently refreshed content relevant to prospects;
- Offer opportunities for conversion, with a CTA bringing visitors to a landing page at the end;
- Present opportunities for back-links, and for guest posts, which generate more traffic, and through the implied or stated endorsement of the guest writer, lend more authority to your company’s voice;
- Provide opportunities for adding keywords and metadata, or data that tells search engines about a website, including meta description fields, meta-tags, and so on. High-quality keywords and metadata can help improve organic search;
- Nurture leads who are not yet ready to become customers, saving overhead on more direct engagement like phone calls or in-person meetings.
Even the world’s largest and most recognizable companies aren’t ignoring blogging. For example, let’s look at McKinsey, one of the foremost names in management consulting and corporate transformation.
Titled the “McKinsey Global Institute,” the company’s blog looks to unearth new trends in business and how digitization is disrupting key sectors.
Much like how it sounds, a microsite is a mini-site — sometimes as small as one page — that is associated with a brand’s website but exists independently, with either its own domain or a subdomain. A microsite usually drives home one idea, with a clear CTA (call to action) involved.
A microsite can be useful for:
- Notifying visitors of a promotional campaign, upcoming event, or product release;
- Being a resource centre with relevant business insights and tips for business owners in your field;
- Serving as a content hub to showcase each specialty within a business.
No one claimed B2B content marketing has to be boring. Visual content is becoming more and more critical – keep the text short and direct, include lots of statistics, and ensure you have an eye on stylistic trends to keep your infographic as appealing as possible.
Topics and approaches can include:
- A visual outline of a recent news-worthy event, and how it affects your industry;
- Explainer or how-to-guides specific to your industry;
- Holiday-themed infographics (that can consist of a year-in-review content or tie to a seasonal promotion);
- State-of-the-industry reports visualized as an infographic
Video is a compelling medium and is another excellent method of proving that B2B content marketing doesn’t have to be boring. Science shows that since humans perceive a whopping 83% of the world with their sense of sight, video engages us like no other medium. Plus, a video ad is 12 times more likely to catch your attention than a text ad.
Salesforce creatively displayed this to significant effect. By using a well-crafted video showing its partnership with Barclays, it was able to demonstrate how its proprietary software can help other businesses looking for sales management solutions.
A successful video-related B2B marketing video must create a compelling video experience related to business content, targeting other businesses. Video is an excellent opportunity for B2B content marketers to merge creativity and strategy.
Case studies are powerful tools in the B2B content marketing wheelhouse because they can provide leads with credible evidence of a business or product helping a client or set of clients in your industry.
They harness the power of B2B storytelling with their presentation of a narrative: problem, process, solution. The addition of client quotes or testimonials can further emphasize the credibility of the case study.
This case study highlighting Optimizely’s partnership with Google Analytics Suite starts by identifying the problem, then dives into the approach deployed, and finally, the results. That’s an effective method of highlighting how the product was able to solve a unique business issue.
Podcasts as content marketing B2B strategy are back in fashion, and in a big way.
Research shows that more people are listening to podcasts in vehicles, through smart speakers, and other platforms.
Another upside: when people start listening to podcasts, they tend to listen for weeks because podcasts are episodic. 500 million is the projected figure for spending on podcast ads by 2020, and companies are already seeing the results.
Copyblogger, for example, hosts a weekly podcast that analyzes best practices in content marketing, copywriting, email marketing, and conversion optimization.
That sounds counter-intuitive. Why should Copyblogger, which makes money by developing content marketing plans for companies just give away its trade secrets for free? Again, that’s because the company (rightly) believes it’s important to provide valuable information to build trust.
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Research and Planning
Launching a B2B inbound marketing strategy isn’t something done on a whim. Unless you carefully hone in on your target audience by leveraging buyer persona examples, you might as well be poking around in the dark.
A buyer persona is a characterization of your ideal customer based on both your market research and real data about your existing customers.
An in-depth buyer persona will help in answering the following questions:
- Where are your key company decision makers from?
- How old do they tend to be, and what is their gender?
- Where do they shop for products like yours?
- What are their ‘go-to’ platforms to discuss business-related problems and concerns and how can you effectively target them at these watering holes?
Any good content strategy requires keyword research to help build the buyer persona and to use in all content (blog posts, web pages, etc.).
Keywords are terms that are relevant to your product. So, for example, a company selling chef’s tools might include basic keywords like ‘spatula,’ ‘kitchen’ ‘paring knife,’ etc., and more specific ‘long tail’ keywords like ‘best chef tools toronto 2019.’ Specific keywords in a company’s ‘niche’ help keep a website competitive and reach your target audience better.
Keyword research tips
Here’s the tricky part: there is no one correct way to find the right keywords. You will need to use a blend of tools and methods, for example, checking Google autofill suggestions relevant to your business, using tools such as SEMRush, Ahrefs, Moz, and Wordtracker.
Plus keywords differ at each stage of the buyer journey.
Tools such as Ahrefs also help you identify what keywords your competitors are using and determine the difficulty of ranking for your target keywords. You can start by focusing on easier keywords that have a higher chance of ranking well.
B2B Sales Funnel
We’ve touched upon the B2B sales funnel at various points in this article, but it’s important to reiterate how content differs at each stage of the funnel.
At the top of the funnel, or the awareness stage, your audience isn’t aware of your product or solution. Your audience is merely looking for answers to their problems.
So if you run a content marketing agency, one potential question you could answer is “how do I improve my inbound marketing leads?”
Surely enough, the top search result for this query is from an inbound marketing agency.
As you move down the funnel, search queries start becoming more specific.
The middle of the funnel (MoFU) stage will incorporate terms like “advantages of,” “benefits of,” and other modifiers. That’s because your audience is now actively considering options to their problem.
And lastly, bottom of the funnel (BoFU) content is primed towards leads who are ready to convert. Content at this stage could theoretically be any kind – infographics, ebooks, or even blog posts – but it must convince the reader that your product is the best one to solve their problem.
Creating content calendars
A content calendar will help your B2B content planning strategy as it helps establish the kind of content you wish to create and publish. This also assists marketers in planning content around specific holidays and events, such as Easter, Thanksgiving, or even national donut day.
This template is a useful place to start.
B2B content distribution
Once you’ve published your content, you must invest the time to promote it effectively too.
Otherwise, you’re merely waiting for your customers to find you. But in this age of content amplification, you must go the extra mile and distribute it on the networks that they might typically read new posts.
LinkedIn, Quora, Twitter, and HackerNews are popular platforms where industry professionals hang out and exchange articles of interest. Your social media B2B content distribution plan can include these or pull in even more platforms, like Facebook, into the mix.
B2B content syndication
To further spread your content, you could look into syndicating your posts with popular industry blogs and other publications. Syndication exposes your company to a new segment of readers and also adds SEO value provided your syndication partner grants you a backlink to the original piece.
Analysis and Optimization
Simply publishing B2B content isn’t enough. It’s equally important to analyze and optimize your content pieces to make sure they’re performing in a manner that corresponds to industry best practices.
According to BuzzSumo, high-performing pieces of B2B content routinely get over 1,000 social shares with a median number of 5 backlinks.
Engagement metrics will further tell you whether your audience finds your content useful, informative, and actionable. Low engagement means it might need an augment or more compelling body copy.
Further Reading on B2B Marketing
- LinkedIn Video Marketing Best Practices
- Don’t Sleep on Podcasts In Your B2B Content Marketing Strategy
- B2B Marketing Framework To Capture Qualified Leads
B2B content marketing examples
1. Deloitte Insights
Deloitte is a recognizable company in the professional services space and works in a vast cross-section of industries spanning almost every vertical.
While some marketers may assume that this involves appealing to several buyer personas – the reality is that most companies leverage Deloitte because of its top-tier expertise.
Source: Deloitte Insights
Deloitte’s content marketing expands far beyond simple blog posts. It also offers podcasts, videos, and downloadable ebooks.
2. Dell Perspectives
Source: Dell Perspectives
Interested in how technology is shaping our future? Dell Perspectives does a wonderful job of discussing how disruptive technologies will impact all sectors of the economy – from media to healthcare and financial services to transportation.
B2B content marketing statistics
Some B2B content marketing statistics you should know:
According to HubSpot:
- 55% of marketers say blog content creation is their top inbound marketing priority.
- One in ten blog posts is compounding, meaning the traffic to that blog increases over time (with help from organic search).
- Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got almost 3.5 times more traffic than companies that published zero to four monthly posts.
- B2B companies that blogged 11+ times per month had almost three times more traffic than those blogging 0-1 times per month.
- B2C companies that blogged 11+ times per month got more than four times as many leads than those that blog only four to five times per month.
- Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got about 4.5 times more leads than companies that published zero to four monthly posts.
- 43% of B2B marketers say blogging is their most important type of content.
- Titles with 6-13 words attract the highest and most consistent amount of traffic.
- 9% of marketers plan to add Medium to their marketing efforts in the next 12 months.
- 42% of companies have hired a designated content strategist executive.
- Content marketing gets three times more leads than paid search advertising.
- 97% of marketers are using prescriptive content (content that outlines a formula for success).
- 45% of B2C marketers believe visual content is their most important type of content.
- LinkedIn is the most effective social media platform for delivering content and securing audience engagement.
- 47% of buyers viewed 3-5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep.
- 96% of B2B buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders.
B2B marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. Each vertical and industry has its own set of unique problems to solve and deserves a more in-depth and curated approach.
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