B2B content marketing is often seen as dull, but it's cost-effective and crucial for raising awareness, driving revenue, and increasing ROI. Learn how to plan an effective strategy in this ultimate guide.
Compared to B2C, B2B content marketing is often perceived as dull and uninteresting. Furthermore, many companies feel that content marketing does not fit their way of selling, consuming too many resources. The fact remains, however, that search engines like Google love fresh, regularly updated content that meets the needs of their users.
In fact, B2B content marketing remains the most cost effective way for companies to raise awareness, drive revenue, and increase ROI. It increases social presence, establishes authority, and delivers a constant stream of well-qualified leads.
Content marketing should form the backbone of your digital marketing strategy. However, the many strategies and tactics can often feel overwhelming. It’s therefore not surprising that 63% of businesses don’t have a documented content marketing strategy. In this guide, we’ll help you plan an effective B2B content marketing strategy that sets your company on the path to success.
What is B2B Content Marketing?
The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as a strategic approach to creating content that attracts and retains qualified customers. Further, content marketing describes how you create and promote content to raise awareness, build trust, drive traffic, and increase sales.
In B2B content marketing, you’re promoting your brand to other businesses who could benefit from your product and services. Common forms of B2B content include blogs, articles, social media posts, newsletters, white papers, and infographics.
Differences Between B2C and B2B Content Marketing
In both B2C and B2B content marketing, sellers strive to address customer pain points, ultimately aiming to drive revenue. However, the customer journey — the path taken by a customer from discovery to purchase — is radically different. In B2B buying, the decision making process is often longer and buying motivations are also different.
Because B2C brands are more concerned about creating brand recall, B2C marketers focus on creating emotional connections with their audiences. B2C content is bite-sized and easily digestible, designed to entertain rather than educate.
B2B content marketers use a variety of formats to educate and engage, including webinars, case studies, podcasts, white papers, guides, and articles. Professionals use this information to learn more about a topic and make better decisions. For this reason, contrary to certain misconceptions, B2B content isn’t bland and unremarkable, but engages its audience through highly relevant information.
The customer journey
B2B buyers are often looking to acquire something that’ll make their lives easier and improve the bottom line. It’s likely there are several parties involved, each with their own needs and goals.
Larger organisations may also set up steering committees to guide their interactions with various suppliers and ensure that all their needs are met. For this reason, B2B buyers consume a lot more content than B2C buyers, often taking several months to reach a decision.
B2C audience segmentation is fairly simple and may be as simple as targeting a certain age group or geography. In B2B marketing, however, audience requirements are much more specialised, often driven by regulatory, economic, functional, technological, and other constraints.
Why You Need a Content Marketing Plan
Far from achieving content marketing ROI from a few pieces of content, an effective content marketing plan is structured around a comprehensive content creation and distribution strategy. This places the right content, in the right format, and on the right channel in front of your ideal audience.
Thus, a well-structured B2B content marketing plan places your product or service in front of your ideal customers so that they’re encouraged to learn more about your brand and do business with you rather than your competitors.
Your B2B content marketing plan also serves as a roadmap that guides your efforts and prevents your marketing team from losing sight of their objectives. Therefore, your team can invest all their time and effort into solving pressing commercial problems for your audience.
How to Build a B2B Content Marketing Plan
While every B2B content marketing strategy is unique, every plan begins with well-defined objectives. Content marketing is especially effective because it targets business customers directly, offering a cost-effective way to generate leads and maximise return-on-investment from each piece of content.
Engaging content raises the profile of your company and inspires trust in your brand as you continue to solve the problems of your audience. An effective content marketing strategy follows from:
Complete alignment between customer needs and the content produced.
Involvement from senior leadership, product and sales teams.
Adaptation to audience feedback obtained from engagement stats, comments, surveys, and more.
Adherence to KPIs and goals.
A solid content marketing strategy helps justify investment and gives direction to your marketing campaigns.
Ultimately, the aim of B2B content marketing is to convert your audience into users of your products and services. Unless your content resonates with your audience, they won’t progress through your sales funnels. It makes sense, therefore, to learn as much as possible about your audience and how your content can help fulfil their needs.
You may be tempted to think your audience is too broad to pinpoint any useful characteristics. However, analytics tools such as Google Analytics can capture a host of useful information, such as age, gender, location, and interests to help you form a solid understanding of your audiences’ needs and interests.
Analytics tools may also reveal tangentially relevant subject areas, opening up new avenues for marketing your brand. Once you’ve formed a complete picture of your audience, you can build a strategy around each buyer persona.
Your competitors may also provide useful insights into your audience. After all, they’re competitors precisely because they target the same audience. Find out what your competitors are offering their audience and think about what you can offer that’s different. This will help you form unique selling points and highlight your strengths to your audience.
Analyse your sales funnels
B2B sales funnels are often complex. It therefore pays to understand where different pieces of content fit into the various stages of your sales funnels. Spend time with your sales team and other stakeholders. This will help you understand what your buyers want so you can map out an effective strategy that addresses their needs at each stage of their buyer journey.
As mentioned previously, you can also gather information from your analytics tools to form a complete picture of your sales funnels. In addition, interactions on social networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn are increasingly relevant to understanding buyer sentiment. Tools like BuzzSumo and Google Trends provide real-time feedback about which topics are trending in your industry.
Use multiple forms of content
Whilst you can communicate a substantial amount of information through text, too much text can overwhelm your readers. Furthermore, many buyers prefer to engage through other forms of content such as video, podcasts, and infographics.
By using multiple forms of content you satisfy the needs of multiple audiences while also conveying your message effectively.
Proven B2B Content Formats
Besides the ubiquitous blog post, there are other forms of content available to B2B brands. You should, however, avoid the trap of taking a format-first approach. By adopting a story-first approach, you better grasp what it is you’re trying to communicate. This will naturally lead you to choose the best format to communicate your message.
Because they’re so versatile, blog posts (typically 500 to 2,000 words long) form the backbone of B2B content marketing. In fact, 72% of B2B companies have a blog. Blog posts provide excellent top-of-funnel (ToFU) content and are great for raising awareness, generating leads, and driving organic traffic (SEO).
Email remains one of the most profitable marketing channels for B2B companies. You can use newsletters (typically 500 to 1,000 words) to nurture your leads, promote your products and services, and keep your customers engaged. This keeps you top of mind so they think of you once they’re ready to find a solution to their problems.
Templates, checklists, and tools
Templates, checklists, and tools are very effective ways of generating leads for B2B content marketing. When you offer free resources that help your audience solve their problems, they’ll see you as the solution to these problems and will be open to your offers.
Notice how Smartsheet offers free proposal templates, saving their audience valuable time, and which anyone can use even if they don’t sign up to the software.
Nobody tells your story better than a satisfied customer. Typically 800 to 1,200 words long, a case study highlights how your software helped a customer solve a problem. Because the story is told from a customer’s perspective, this can often be the deciding factor in winning a deal.
White papers (typically 2,000 to 5,000 words) are fact-based documents comprising a mixture of research and storytelling often outlining a new workflow, strategy, or methodology. They make good lead generation tools as they can be offered for free in exchange for an email.
Other types of effective B2B content formats include videos, podcasts, infographics, and webinars.
B2B Content Distribution Tactics
No matter how much effort you put into creating content for your brand, it’s all wasted unless you also have an effective distribution strategy. As part of an effective strategy, you must ensure your B2B content reaches every media channel your audience frequents. These include owned, earned, and paid media channels.
Owned media channels
Owned media describe those channels under your direct control and include:
Your website: A blog-powered website should be your main content hub, setting the tone for your brand and becoming the go-to resource for anything related to your brand. Because Google places increasing importance on mobile usability, you may also need to build a separate mobile site or app. Your website should always be optimised for keywords and usability to improve its rankings in the search engine results pages.
Your email platform: Because email is so personal, it continues to deliver an impressive ROI. Its unique personalisation features allow you to tailor your messages, their frequency, and their delivery.
Other owned platforms include forums where you can build a community and share your expertise.
Earned media channels
Earned media are the digital equivalent of word-of-mouth. As you aim to create interesting and useful content, why limit yourself to your audience? Earned media channels include:
Social media: Social media platforms are a natural place to share your B2B content. Businesses and consumers alike are heavily invested in social media. Therefore, social media users are primed to recommend any content they feel will improve their lives, while also enhancing their standing in the community.
Guest blogging: Guest blogging is particularly relevant if you possess a high level of expertise within your industry. Guest blogging allows you to share your content on other blogs, extending your reach beyond your audience and boosting your credibility.
Collaborations: You can also partner with a brand that provides complementary products or services to your own. Sharing your audiences enables each of you to collaborate on joint projects (such as e-books, white papers, or webinars), lean on each other’s expertise, and boost credibility.
Paid media channels
Search engines, social media platforms, and third party websites enable B2B brands to rent a portion of their digital estate for a price — usually on a cost-per-click (CPC) or a cost-per-thousand (CPM) basis. Paid media channels include:
Influencer marketing channels.
Social media advertising.
Search engine marketing.
Should You Insource or Outsource Your B2B Content Marketing?
As valuable as B2B content is to your brand, it nonetheless requires a significant investment in time and resources to execute successfully. There are three approaches you can use to help you implement your B2B marketing strategy:
Insourcing Your B2B Content Marketing
Using your in-house resources to produce your B2B content seems the obvious choice, especially if you already have subject matter experts in-house. If your subject matter experts aren’t polished writers, you can outsource their writing to professional editors.
You don’t have to limit yourself to subject matter experts, either — any team member can make a contribution.
The downside is team members may have to dedicate a significant proportion of their time producing content, taking them away from their main responsibilities.
Also, the complexities of keyword research, search engine optimisation, content management systems, and others may require a dedicated in-house resource.
Outsourcing Your B2B Content Marketing
There are plenty of agencies specialising in content marketing for B2B brands and this may be the way to go if you haven’t the time or resources to produce your content in-house.
A good agency (or freelancer) will take the time to understand your software and what problems it solves for your target market. This way they can highlight the strengths of your product to your target audience.
Outsourced writers also bring a fresh perspective to your brand, generating ideas you may never have thought of. It may take some time to find the right partner, but once you do they’ll provide invaluable support in marketing your brand.
You may also adopt a hybrid approach — for example, ideating content in-house while partnering with a freelancer or agency to produce the content: you could even employ a full-time marketing manager who delegates your content production to outsourced providers.
Whichever model you choose, B2B content marketing remains critical to the success of your brand.
Content marketing is the most cost-effective way to raise awareness for your B2B brand, generate leads, and convert sales, leaving a lasting impact on your target audience.
A solid B2B content marketing strategy speaks volumes about your credibility and awareness of the challenges and aspirations faced by your target audience.