The Advanced Guide To B2B Content Marketing
What do HubSpot, Drift, Arrow Electronics, SAP, WP Engine, Ahrefs, and NextView Ventures have in common?
They’re all B2B companies that have used content marketing to drive tremendous growth.
As business-to-business verticals get increasingly crowded and competitive, B2B content marketing can be your secret weapon that differentiates you, builds your brand, increases your visibility, attracts traffic, drives leads, and ultimately increases revenue.
In this guide to B2B content marketing, we’re going to walk through the reasons that content marketing is so valuable for B2B brands, how to develop an effective strategy, and the most effective types of content to create.
What is B2B Content Marketing?
B2B content marketing is, as you would guess, a form of marketing that involves the strategic planning, creation, and marketing of content that is specifically intended for B2B businesses. It involves creating content like blog posts, white papers, ebooks, research reports, webinars, videos, podcasts, infographics, and more that are intended to bring value to the target audience. The content should ultimately drive audience action.
The content typically doesn’t promote the brand, but is often used to educate or entertain the audience. Overall, content marketing for B2Bs includes content planning, production, as well as distribution.
When done well, B2B content marketing can help you establish your expertise, position you as a thought leader, clarify your brand personality, expand reach, increase organic search traffic, advance your audience through the customer journey, generate leads, engender brand love, and ultimately, boost sales meetings, and ultimately increase revenue.
B2B vs. B2C Content Marketing
Though there are similarities between B2B and B2C content marketing, a few key aspects make B2B unique.
First, B2B content marketing is more results-driven. B2C content is often geared toward a broad audience and serves primarily to drive awareness. B2B content, on the other hand, is targeted toward a very specific audience and tied to specific business goals, like list-building or lead generation.
Second, B2B content marketing requires deep expertise in your specific industry since you’ll be speaking directly to other business professionals. In your messaging, it needs to be clear that you understand how to resolve their pain points and enable them to achieve their goals.
Third, with many B2B sales, the purchase decision making process involves many actors. There’s the ultimate financial decision maker, but there’s also typically an executive buyer responsible for the business decision. In addition, there are often influencers and a technical assessor involved. Each of these buyers is going to have different criteria for assessing the value and viability of your offering.
Fourth, with B2B you’re likely dealing with a much longer customer journey. It’s important that you have content that speaks to each stage of the journey, answering the specific questions in their minds along the way.
Finally, above all else, B2B content has to be valuable. Don’t publish fluff or thin content and expect to gain any traction. If you want to stand out in a crowded industry, your content should be unique, valuable, and useful. Give people a reason to consume your content. If you are publishing the same type of content as everyone else, then you don’t give potential customers a reason to engage with your content. The most successful B2B content marketing strategies have valuable content as the centerpiece.
Why B2B Content Marketing is Important
B2B content marketing matters now more than ever. Several reasons for this.
First, it has a high ROI compared to other marketing channels. According to Statista, 30% of marketers believe that content marketing has the highest ROI of any marketing channel.
Approximately 47% of buyers view three to five pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep. And according to HubSpot, marketers who prioritize blogging receive 13X more ROI than companies that don’t. Wyzowl research uncovered that 84% of video marketers believe that video has helped them generate leads, while 78% report that video has directly helped increase their sales.
Second, B2B content marketing helps establish you as an authority in your industry. This is critical since B2B sales often involve large dollar amounts and multiple decision-makers. You need to be seen as trustworthy, and consistently publishing high-value, authoritative content helps establish trust between you and B2B buyers. As mentioned earlier, having various types of content that map to the customer journey enables you to answer your prospective client’s questions through the funnel.
Third, B2B content marketing is an effective way to build relationships with prospects. With content, you’re able to cover the entire customer journey with useful, helpful, and impactful information for your audience. With repeated engagement, you’re able to deepen the relationship and build brand love. On top of this, content also affords you plenty of opportunities to differentiate your brand.
Finally, it serves as an effective customer retention tool. By consistently providing your existing customers with a wealth of engaging content, you repeatedly deliver additional value. You also remind them of your expertise. In essence, you give them more reasons to stay loyal to your brand.
So, as you can see, there are significant benefits to content marketing for B2Bs.
How to Develop a B2B Content Marketing Strategy
Your marketing team will achieve greater success with content marketing if you develop a well-defined, documented strategy. If you just start cranking out content without a definitive plan in place, you likely won’t see the results you hoped for. Worse, you won’t have a path for continued optimization and compound results over time.
In the B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: Insights for 2022 report by Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and Marketing Profs (sponsored by ON24), it was found that 62% of the most successful B2B content marketers have a documented content strategy. In comparison, only 11% of the laggards had a documented strategy. No shocker there!
When crafting your content strategy, follow these steps:
1. Determine Your Content Marketing Goals
The first step in developing an effective content marketing strategy is to determine the goals you want to achieve through B2B content marketing.
- Do you want to expand reach?
- Drive more organic search traffic?
- Generate more leads?
- Increase brand love?
The goals you set will affect the types of content and topics you choose, as well as how you distribute your content.
For example, if you want to increase brand awareness, your strategy might include launching a podcast or publishing blog posts that target top-of-the-funnel keywords. If you’re instead looking to increase high-quality backlinks to your site, you might decide to create free online tools. If your goal is to generate leads, then your strategy may include publishing downloadable white papers or conducting webinars or hosting events, where you’re capturing their email in the process.
2. Establish Key Metrics
Establishing key metrics will help you measure the effectiveness of your content based on your goals. You can then make adjustments and optimizations as necessary.
In the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs report mentioned earlier, it was found that among the most successful content marketers, 90% measure performance. Among the laggards? Merely 39%. Measurement matters!
Tie your content marketing goals to specific, measurable key performance indicators (KPIs). If you want to increase organic search traffic, for example, your KPIs might include:
- Number of Google page one ranking keywords for non-branded terms
- Monthly organic search traffic to your content
- Performance of specific topic clusters
- Number of referring domains and backlinks
If you want to track conversions from your content, your KPIs might be centered on:
- CTA clicks
- Mailing list sign-ups
- Webinar registrations
- Click-through to product/service pages
- Contact form submissions
To effectively track key metrics, you also need to know what your baseline was prior to implementation. This allows you to determine what strategies and tactics are working, what you need to change, and whether you are actually achieving content marketing success.
3. Define Audience Segments and Buyer Personas
To maximize your content marketing performance, identify the target audience segment of your content pieces respectively. By customizing each piece for a specific segment, it’s more likely that your content will resonate deeply.
Buyer personas are essentially profiles of the different types of customers you serve within each audience segment. They help you better understand their perspectives, concerns, pain points, etc. so that you can attract their attention, engage with them more deeply, and drive them to the actions that matter most.
Some information you may want to include in your B2B personas:
- Job title
- Who they report into
- Criteria for promotion
- Company size
- Pain points
- News and information sources
- Product or service features desired
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4. Determine The Specific Questions Going through Their Minds
Similar to keyword research, you also want to determine the specific questions your prospects are asking as they progress through the buyer’s journey. Knowing the questions allows you to shape content that specifically answers those questions and removes any roadblocks that keeps them from moving forward.
What Eye Tracking Studies Reveal
If you don’t answer the specific questions running through their minds as they arrive on your website, you risk them abandoning your site and seeking their answers elsewhere. The Russian psychologist Alfred Lukyanovich Yarbus conducted eye tracking studies where he showed each study participant the same painting. But prior to showing each person, he would ask each individual a question. Depending on the question, the area of the painting they viewed was different.
For example, if he asked how old the people in the painting were, the study participant would look at their faces, and would not look elsewhere. If he asked what their status in society was, they would look at their clothing, and would not look at their faces.
Relating this to your website, if your content is not aligned with specific questions running through their minds at that time, you’re likely going to miss the mark and lose them.
You can answer questions directly on your website, in blog posts, FAQ pages, tutorials, webinars, etc. What’s more, because so many Google searches are in the form of a question, providing direct answers to questions in your content increases the odds of you ranking on the first page of search results and even securing the featured snippet.
Uncovering Their Questions
If you’re not sure what questions your audience is asking, see the “People Also Ask” results in the Google SERPs.
In addition, a tool like Thruuu can be very helpful. You type in any keyword or phrase the SERP analysis tool returns variations on how that phrase is used in search queries. Want to see the top 10 questions being asked? How about the top 100? With Thruuu’s advanced filtering options, you can uncover all of the top questions being asked online.
You can also check out Google Question Hub, which lists questions that your audience is asking yet are as of yet unanswered online. This is an opportunity for you to get out ahead of your competitors. (Although keep in mind that Google Question Hub is still very much hit or miss. For some topics, the questions it presents are laughable at best.)
5. Differentiate Your Brand
Use your content to highlight what makes your brand unique. Content is different than many other forms of marketing in that it provides you with room to express your thoughts. This can be as simple as a single, short paragraph, a 50-page, long-form report, or a 10-minute video.
Many B2B companies make the mistake of focusing strictly on explanations, no matter how dry and boring they may be. They believe that as long as the information is accurate (even if it’s not all that useful), then they’ve checked the box for “content marketing”.
But that’s missing the true power of content marketing.
Use your content as a powerful method for breaking through all the noise.
Capitalize on content to differentiate your voice and your brand. Be different. Be distinctive. Be Unique.
6. The Importance of Creativity in B2B Content Marketing
With enormous amounts of content being published every day, it can be challenging to stand out and grab the attention of your audience. This is one of the reasons why creativity is so vital.
If you and a competitor are publishing content on similar topics, being creative in the way you approach and/or present the information can give you an edge. After all, given the choice, would you rather consume content that is dry and boring or content that’s engaging and captivating?
Creativity underscores all business progress. It simply cannot be commoditized. With creative content, you gain a competitive advantage. Any company can produce content. But what you should strive to do is be creative, think laterally, and innovate in order to deliver a wholly unique experience to your audience.
Use content to build a moat around your business!
Craft Compelling Content
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7. Create Evergreen Content
Given the amount of time and effort required to create outstanding content, you want to focus on publishing as much evergreen content as possible. “Evergreen” refers to content that is always relevant and useful, regardless of when it’s published or when it’s read. Ideally, you want a significant percentage of your content library to be evergreen so you can continue to reap the benefits long after the content is initially published.
This is precisely how to build content that compounds in returns over time.
Creating evergreen content requires focusing on subjects that are still going to matter months, or even years down the road. Rather than always trying to hop on the latest trend, take the time to identify key topics that will continue to be at the heart of your audience’s pain points, interests, and challenges. Then, plan out content around these topics so your library of content is always relevant.
8. Develop Content Ideas and a Content Calendar
Once you’ve developed your B2B content marketing goals and buyer personas, it’s time to start developing content ideas. When considering what content to create, you want to take into account:
- SEO keywords
- Target audience segment and persona
- Location in the customer journey
- Content format
- Where it will be published and consumed
- Timing (For example, content focused on “trends” tends to perform best at the end or very beginning of the year.)
- Desired outcome and CTAs
Your goal is to create content around topics that are highly relevant to your target audience, in formats and locations that will help you achieve your content marketing goals. Equally important is ensuring that your content delivers as much value to your audience as possible.
After developing your content ideas, those ideas need to be mapped to a content calendar. The content calendar should include milestones involved in creating and publishing each content piece, as well as who is responsible for each task. This ensures that everything keeps moving efficiently and you’re able to publish consistently.
9. Strategically Use Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
High-quality content is your ticket to better B2B SEO results such as greater organic traffic and leads. However, even if your goal isn’t specifically more organic search traffic, a good percentage of your content should be optimized for search engines. SEO helps you align your content with your audience’s interests. Plus, if you don’t focus on SEO, you’re missing out on an opportunity to have more potential customers visit your website.
Optimizing content for organic search requires:
- Doing topic and keyword research to determine what potential customers are searching for at each stage of the customer journey
- Creating high-value content that is optimized for primary, related, and long-tail keywords
- Using a clear, easy-to-navigate website architecture so that both Google and users can understand how different pages are related to each other
Generally speaking, the more SEO is an integral part of your B2B content marketing strategy, the better business results you’ll achieve from your content.
10. Build Trust
An important job of your content is to build trust with your audience. If you’re delivering valuable insight, content marketing achieves this in spades.
For any business to start a conversation and engage with you, they need to trust you. This is an essential building block of any B2B relationship or transaction.
With this in mind, aim to deliver exceptional value with your content. Truly strive to help them. Empower them to solve problems. Enable them to achieve objectives. Prove that your team is their trusted advisor.
And don’t forget third-party validation of your authoritativeness. Share client case studies and testimonials. In the Stratabeat blog, you’ll notice that we include logos of publications in which we’ve been published, from Chief Marketer to CMO.com, CNN.com, MarketingProfs, and MediPost.
Do all of this, and you’ll achieve higher ROI with your content marketing efforts.
11. Content Atomization
Content atomization is the process of taking a larger piece of content, breaking it down into smaller, stand-alone pieces, and then publishing those smaller pieces in multiple formats.
For example, you could take a lengthy blog post and break it down into dozens of individual social media posts or take a section of the post and turn it into a SlideShare deck.
Content atomization allows you to get more value out of the content you create. It also makes it easier for potential customers to consume your content in the way that’s most convenient for them. And, finally, it helps you reach more people with your content since you’re publishing it in multiple formats.
12. Build a Community
A major B2B content marketing trend we’re seeing now is topic-based community building. This type of content is obviously far more interactive than just about any other type of content marketing. A benefit of this form of content is that members get their specific questions answered in real time.
Dave Gerhardt’s Exit Five community has more than 4,000 members. Women in Tech SEO has thousands of members and Superpath (for content marketers) each have thousands, as well. We expect to see more and more of these types of niche online communities over time.
13. Content Distribution
Once you have content created, it’s time to distribute it. Your goal is to get your content in front of as many people within your target audience as possible. There are numerous ways to distribute your content, including:
- On your website: knowledge hub, learning center, blog, etc.
- Third-party platforms: YouTube for video, Spotify for podcasts, etc.
- Third-party sites: guest posts, contributed articles, co-marketing, etc.
- Social media: your corporate accounts, your employees’ accounts, online shares
- Email marketing
- Influencer marketing: influencer collaborations, sponsorship, paid placements
- Paid advertising
- Online forums
Focus on the distribution channels where your audience spends the majority of their time. For example, with B2B content, it probably makes more sense to focus on LinkedIn than Pinterest since most business professionals spend more time on LinkedIn.
Content distribution is just as important as content creation. After all, what good is it if you create a fantastic piece of content but nobody sees it?
Influencer marketing can work in several ways when it comes to B2B content. You can go the traditional route and pay an influencer to promote a relevant piece of content you’ve created.
Types of Content for B2B Content Marketing
When constructing your B2B content marketing plan it’s important to consider the types of content you’ll produce.
The content types you select will depend on your goals, your target audience, and where a piece of content sits in your sales funnel.
You want to create types of content that align with your goals, resonate with your target audience, and help move potential customers further down the funnel.
Thought Leadership Content
Developing thought leadership is an important part of B2B content marketing. Thought leadership content helps position you as an industry leader, and is effective in helping you growing an audience, raise brand awareness, or establish yourself as a thought leader in your space.
To really set you apart, your thought leadership content needs to contain a unique angle or idea. It can’t simply be a regurgitation of what everyone else is saying. Or, if there aren’t any truly “new” ideas in your industry, you can tackle an existing idea in a new way. Infuse it with your personality and even humor. Anything to set your content apart from everything else that has been published.
If you want to improve your company’s reputation, there are few better ways than by showcasing insights and research that are exclusive to your industry. Conducting original research truly does prove that you are an expert in your field and can lead to significant amounts of brand exposure that you wouldn’t get otherwise. It also adds credibility when presenting any studies or findings to potential customers.
Original research can take many forms, including surveys, focus groups, competitive analyses, market trend reports, etc. The key is to identify what you think would be most valuable for your target audience and then create it in a way that will be engaging and easy to understand.
One additional benefit of doing original research is that it tends to generate a lot of backlinks to your website, which is extremely important for SEO. Because you are presenting new insights, people will often cite your research in articles and then link back to your original study.
Blogging is one of the most important elements of B2B content marketing. The ROI of blogging is extremely high.
A blog on your B2B website is the perfect place to share your insights, thoughts, and ideas with your target audience. It’s a way to consistently provide value to potential customers, show that you really know what you’re talking about, and generate leads through strategic calls-to-action.
One caveat to note. If you want your B2B blogging to make a difference in your content marketing strategy, you can’t post short, thin, fluff posts. Your blog posts should be meaty, well-researched, and provide substantial value to your readers. They also should be thoroughly optimized for SEO to ensure that you capturing potential organic search traffic.
Crazy Effective B2B Blogging
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When you share customer success stories, you’re showing potential customers that your product really works. Case studies demonstrate how your product or service has helped another company make money, be more productive, increase their customer base, etc.
Case studies are particularly effective toward the bottom of the funnel, when potential customers are deciding between choosing you or one of your competitors. They can help seal the deal and convince potential customers that you are the best choice for their needs.
White Papers and Ebooks
White papers are similar to blog posts in some ways, but they tend to be more technical, with a narrower focus on a very specific issue. They allow you to truly show off your expertise and industry knowledge, which can be helpful when it’s time to convince decision-makers to purchase from you.
White papers are particularly effective in the middle or bottom of the funnel. They can be used as a lead generation tool to capture those prospects who have already done a fair amount of research and are trying to decide on the best way to approach their problem. They can also be used to help close deals by convincing customers that you are the best choice for their needs.
With billions of monthly users, social media should play a part in any B2B content marketing campaign. It offers an opportunity to reach potential customers that you may not have had access to before. It also allows you to develop authentic relationships with potential prospects in ways that other marketing channels don’t.
The key to succeeding with social media is giving people a reason to follow you.
If all you post is product updates and company news, most people won’t be interested. However, if you post valuable, informative, and even entertaining content that is relevant to your target audience, they will be more likely to follow you and even share your posts with their own followers.
Also, it’s essential to see social media as a two-way street, not just a platform for you. Social media is a conversation, not a monologue. Respond to comments, engage with your followers, and try to be genuinely helpful.
Despite being around for 25+ years, email marketing is still highly effective. There are numerous ways you can effectively use email marketing as part of your B2B content marketing strategy:
- Creating automated nurture sequences that are sent to new leads
- Pointing current subscribers to new content you’ve published
- Giving product/service updates
- Offering discounts or promotions
- Answering questions from potential customers
Email marketing works best when used in conjunction with other marketing channels, such as your website. Your website is one of the primary places you capture the email addresses of new leads, and then you use email marketing to direct those new leads back to relevant pages and content on your site.
Podcasts have exploded in popularity in recent years and many B2B brands are using them to build their audiences. The unique advantage of podcasts is that they allow you to talk about a topic for an extended period of time while still maintaining the attention of your audience. People usually listen to podcasts while doing other things, like walking the dog, which means you get their attention for a while.
Drift is an outstanding example of a B2B company using podcasts to propel phenomenal growth. Early on, they realized that the conversational nature of podcasts was a great fit for them, given that their brand places a heavy emphasis on conversational marketing. So they went all in, producing multiple podcasts over the years. While it’s certainly not the only reason for their massive success, podcasting has played a role.
Online Calculators and Tools
Creating free tools or calculators and making them available on your website is an effective way to attract new leads, demonstrate your expertise, and build backlinks to your site.
For example, HubSpot has numerous free marketing tools available, including a website grader, persona creator, blog ideas generator, and many more.
CoSchedule has a free headline analyzer that helps people come up with better blog post headlines. That page alone ranks for almost 900 keywords and has generated more than 25,000 backlinks.
Can you create (or hire someone to build) a free, valuable tool for your website? If so, use it to drive organic traffic and backlinks to your site.
B2B Content Marketing Trends
B2B content marketing relies on common principles as outlined in this post. However, there are certain trends that are valuable to be aware of and to capitalize on for improved content performance.
Return to Creativity
Data is important in content marketing planning. But an overreliance on data over the past decade has left many marketing teams producing extremely boring content. Fortunately, we’re starting to see more and more examples of brands taking risks and leaning into creativity again.
As I mentioned above, creativity is crucial to B2B content success. It’s the one thing about your company that cannot be commoditized. Your creativity is a potential differentiator.
Expect to see more niche communities arising around the landscape. Whether Slack groups, Facebook Groups, or private membership sites, communities provide a deeper level of engagement that other content frameworks simply can’t match.
Interactive content generates 2X more conversions than passive content, according to CIENCE. Demand Gen Report found that 88 percent of B2B marketers plan to remake static content into interactive. Expect more surveys, quizzes, assessments, interactive infographics, and online tools coming your way.
Video and Audio Content
Video and audio content are becoming pervasive online. Expect not only more video and audio, but also more multimedia in general. With more organizations and individuals gaining access to faster and faster connections to the internet, it’s only natural that marketers will look beyond text-based content and will be producing far more video and audio.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The market is experiencing an explosion of AI-based content marketing tools. Some of these tools can be extremely beneficial to your content marketing results.
I’d advise against using AI for content creation itself. In our tests, the quality just simply isn’t there yet. But AI-guided content can help you improve your team’s marketing performance in spades.
Content Marketing is a Strategic Approach to Business-Building
If you want to succeed with B2B content marketing, you need more than just content. You also need a robust strategy aligned with your goals that guides your approach, the types of content you create, how you distribute that content, and how you measure your efforts.
Content is unique in its ability to target and engage audience members in any stage of the customer journey. Many marketers look at content as simply something to read, view, or listen to. But it’s so much more than that. Precision engineer your content for maximum impact with your audience at precise points in their journey. Use content to drive audience members to action. Build great content that will thrill your audience. Construct your content to produce real marketing ROI.