These days there’s no question that great content is a foundational element of any marketing strategy—especially in B2B. In fact, according to Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI) 2017 benchmarking report, 89% of B2B marketers use content marketing to “attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
And thanks to yet another insightful report from CMI—the latter objective is our focus today.
Last week, CMI and SmartBrief released their How Content Influences the Purchasing Process report, featuring data and insights collected from 1,200 SmartBrief subscribers. The aim of the report was to dig into the minds of those who are actually consuming content, and uncover what types of content are most influential, how decision-makers perceive vendor content, and more.
From a marketer’s perspective, the findings both reinforce and redefine how marketers should be crafting their B2B content marketing strategies. Below I share five key statistics from the report, and some associated takeaways that can help you both bolster and boost your content efforts to drive action by decision makers.
Marketers know that the modern buyer’s journey is becoming increasingly self-directed. After all, this shift is arguably what drove the emergence of content marketing in the first place. So, it’s no surprise that CMI and SmartBrief’s report revealed that an overwhelming majority of decision-makers are conducting their own research before making contact with a vendor.
The big takeaway: Simply put, decision-makers want to be educated. Thanks to the rise of the internet, social media and mobile technologies, buyers are more empowered than ever to take things into their own hands. As a result, marketers need to double-down on their efforts to guide people through the purchasing process by creating content for each stage of the sales funnel.
For the TopRank Marketing team, this means leveraging the Attract, Engage, Convert model, as well as an integrated mix of tactics, to craft customer-centric content that’s easy to find, consume and share.
Since decision-makers are often taking research into their own hands, it stands to reason that they’re consuming information from a variety of sources. According to the report, 66% of respondents admitted to using sources other than vendors to initially collect information.
But perhaps one of the most interesting revelations was that 40% say the information source isn’t a big concern. In the end, they just want good, credible information.
The big takeaway: As long as the content is credible, the source doesn’t matter. While an organization’s owned channels may never be a one-stop-shop for all prospects’ needs, the report encourages vendors to ensure their websites are up-to-date. In addition, since your prospects will likely come into contact with your brand in a variety of ways, marketers can take the lead on evaluating how their brand is being presented across all channels (i.e. printed materials, social media, third-party review sites, in-person events, etc.) to ensure consistency and build credibility.
As marketers, it’s our job to dig deep to understand who our audience is, the challenges they face and the questions they’re asking. But perhaps we’re falling a little short in this area.
According to the report, the No. 1 most important quality for content during the purchasing process is that is speaks to the specific needs or pain points of the decision-maker. Product or service specifications, and educational rather than promotional, came in at No. 2 and No. 3 respectively.
The big takeaway: Give the people what they want by delivering best-answer content that is tailored to specific niches, scenarios, pain points or questions your prospects/customers are asking.
But where do you start? From my perspective, your first stop should absolutely be your sales team. These folks are in the trenches every day and can give you detailed insights on customer characteristics (i.e. job title, company name, company size, etc.), as well as the challenges they’re looking to solve. Then conduct keyword topic research, and analyze your website and social data to learn more about how your prospects are searching and how they’re engaging with your existing content.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, CMI and SmartBrief found that 80% of decision-makers ranked peer recommendations as their No. 1 purchasing influencer. But the No. 2 spot went to original research, with 74% of respondents rating it as influential. Furthermore, many of the most “traditional” content marketing tactics such as eBooks (33%), blogs and articles (21%) and email newsletters (21%) landed toward the bottom.
The big takeaway: It’s time to expand your content mix. To revisit CMI’s 2017 benchmark survey, social media content (83%), blogs (80%) and email newsletters (77%) were ranked as the top three most-used content marketing tactics. But as stated above, these are less influential in purchasing decisions.
So, if you want to really connect with decision-makers, it’s probably time to step up with more robust and engaging content offerings such as webinars, on-demand product demos and—if you have the bandwidth and budget—original research.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should completely abandon blogs or email marketing. Every organization’s content mix will be different depending on the industry and business objectives. Take stock of what you’re doing, and use the data and insights you have to draw some conclusions about what is and isn’t working. This will help you make decisions on where to ramp up your efforts, and where you can start dabbling with different content types.
Generally speaking, purchasing decisions are a group effort. But how are decision-makers communicating with one another? According to the report, the vast majority (82%) of decision-makers are sharing content via email with other colleagues. The next most popular channels are conference calls (64%) or through a shared document or folder (36%)—with social channels coming in at 5% or less.
The big takeaway: Social sharing metrics don’t give you the full engagement picture, so don’t fret if your shares are looking a little low. From my perspective, the bottom line here is the more you tap into the unique content needs and pain points of your audience, the better chance your content has at making an impression on all decision-makers.
Are you surprised by any of the findings in the report? Tell us in the comments section below.
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