New Data Shows the Future of B2B Content Marketing Strategy
Content marketing isn’t just here to stay—it’s taking over.
That’s according to the 12th annual B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report produced by the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs.
Digital marketing professionals around the country participated in the survey, answering questions about everything from budgets to outcomes. Responses overwhelmingly show a shift in marketing focus to content marketing, both in the past year and forecasted for 2022.
What does that mean for your company?
B2B content marketing at a glance
When it comes to business-to-business industries, content marketing is nothing new. (Almost three quarters of survey respondents said their company has a content marketing plan in place. Of those who don’t, 22% said they planned to implement one within the next year.)
At its foundation, content marketing is the practice of creating content that provides value (like blog posts, white papers, videos and more) and distributing it to a target audience.
B2B content marketing offers many benefits. Various content formats can support different stages of the marketing and sales funnel. Content found by potential customers via search engines can drive organic traffic, support brand awareness and generate leads. For existing customers, video content or a blog post can underscore the company’s position as an industry leader. A sales team can even close sales by sharing content directly with leads—informing, inspiring and reassuring them that they’re making the right choice.
Even better, content marketing can also give brands actual data and strategic guidance on which to base their overall marketing strategy.
It’s an effective tactic that requires a strong B2B content marketing strategy, creative content ideas, thoughtful keyword research and, of course, the capabilities to create and distribute high-quality content. For many B2B marketers, though, content marketing is just one tactic among many they’re expected to execute.
But according to the 2021 study, it’s becoming more and more important.
Diving into the Marketing Profs and Content Marketing Institute study
Content marketing remains a major component in many companies’ overall strategy despite the pandemic. In fact, answers to open-ended questions in the survey suggest that for many companies, the pandemic only highlighted the need for content marketing, pushing them to strengthen their content strategy and invest more in content creation and distribution. “Without in-person events and face-to-face selling,” the study reported, “many who had previously paid little attention to content marketing suddenly became aware of its power.”
Of the survey respondents who are familiar with company spending, 43% said their company spent more on content marketing in 2021.
Even more impressive are the results of content marketing. Eighty percent of marketers reported their efforts led to increased brand awareness. Other achievements included increased customer loyalty and brand trust, and higher lead generation and sales revenue.
But creating that content is just step one—to attain all those achievements, it has to reach its target audience. Enter social media.
Social media platforms continue to play an important role
B2B content marketing would be nothing without LinkedIn. To absolutely no one’s surprise, the platform is most B2B marketers’ preferred way of distributing content. Survey respondents reported LinkedIn as more effective than other social media channels for both paid and organic content distribution.
While promoting B2B content via LinkedIn is often more expensive than other social media platforms, its targeting options usually make it the best avenue for reaching a business-oriented target audience. This rings especially true for building brand awareness and moving ideal customers through the sales funnel.
Content marketing in 2022
B2B content marketing will continue to reign in 2022. Don’t believe us? Follow the money.
Of the survey respondents who are familiar with company spending, two-thirds said their business’ content marketing budget for 2022 was likely to increase.
But the most popular content formats are beginning to change. As usual, blog content remained the most common type of content marketing—90% of respondents said they used short articles or blog posts within the last 12 months. And brands that created long-form content like whitepapers and ebooks saw better performance than those that didn’t.
Videos and events, both in-person and hybrid, showed promising outcomes, and marketers are planning to invest more in videos, webinars and events as a large component of their overall content marketing strategy in the foreseeable future.
Optimizing your content marketing efforts for 2022
A heavier emphasis on B2B content marketing is great for the target customer—it means more educational opportunities and resources created around their needs. But it also means more competition for marketers.
Half of survey respondents (51%) said it has become increasingly difficult to capture the attention of audiences.
The answer, of course, is a strong content creation and distribution strategy.
The key to a successful B2B content marketing strategy
The most successful B2B content doesn’t necessarily have the most keyword research or right keywords. It’s not the fanciest video or celebrity-led webinar. It’s also not necessarily long-form content or content backed by a massive budget.
Instead, the best B2B content is that which provides the most value to target customers.
According to the survey results, the top contributing factor to successful B2B content marketing was the value the content provides.
Great content addresses existing and potential customers’ pain points, solves problems and supports the company in building trust.
Too often, a company’s B2B content marketing strategy starts and ends with touting the company’s strengths and capabilities. Those topics can be included in the eventual content. But a strong B2B content marketing strategy starts with knowing the target audience and their goals, pain points and needs. From there, the company can create content that speaks to those issues and positions the brand as a solution and resource.
Maximum content creation with minimum effort
A robust content calendar doesn’t require one million content ideas and tons of content marketing work. It’s easier than that—you just have to recycle.
Repurposing content assets in different formats helps get the most mileage out of a single concept. Transcribe a webinar to create a blog post or long form content piece like a white paper. Take feature-length video content and create four shorter videos to share on LinkedIn. A single statistic from a company-sponsored research survey can become a social media post.
Your customers aren’t on every channel, reading and watching everything they see. Make sure your email subscribers see what your social followers do, and vice versa. Of course, you’ll still want to segment audiences and pay attention to individual customer personas—but when you publish content, distribute it on any and every channel that makes sense.
Using resources wisely
What about the people executing all this B2B content marketing?
For most companies, the content creation team includes dedicated in-house employees. The most effective teams are cross-functional: Just like many technical experts can’t write a compelling, search engine optimized-blog post (too boring), many in-house marketers can’t create valuable, useful content on their own (too elementary). But together, harmony: in-house marketers can harness thought leadership and insight from team members across departments and roles.
Outsourcing often complements in-house teams. Fifty-seven percent of the most successful marketers in this year’s survey outsource some of their content marketing efforts. Outsourcing content strategy and content creation comes with its own challenges—budget, of course, as well as ensuring the content creation team has the adequate topical expertise and can empathize with the company’s target audience.
The right content creators don’t need to be specialists in the topic. A brand and its employees are the subject matter experts. The content creators are the content marketing experts. With collaboration, strategic interviewing and thorough research, a content marketer will be able to translate the ideas and concepts shared by subject matter experts to create content that is both valuable and enjoyable to consume.
Evaluating a B2B content marketing strategy
B2B content marketing can be done on a budget, with free tools available for everything from keyword research with Google Keyword Planner to evaluating performance with Google Analytics.
Analytics technology topped the list of B2B content marketing tools used, and for good reason: leadership teams want to know about content performance and return on investment before they’re willing to invest more.
Common key performance indicators (KPIs) for B2B content marketing include impressions, click-through rates, conversions and more. Free tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console can track these, and paid tools like Ahrefs, Moz and WhatConverts can track keyword rankings and lead generation.
Still, content marketing is vital for areas of the marketing funnel that are difficult to measure, like brand awareness and demand generation. Marketers (and their superiors) need to remember that just because a tactic can’t directly be connected to a lead or sale doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value.