Content is critical for all brands. It’s the building block of your B2B content marketing strategy and should be prioritized like every other critical business decision.
Why this matters:
The battle for attention is alive and well. B2B decision makers are skewing younger and savvier in using the internet than ever before.
The days of posting an image with your CEO’s headshot and a quote from Forbes are long gone. And if you’re still posting press releases on social media, that must be stopped immediately. Instead, technology customers and buyers want insights into how products and services can help them solve technology challenges and achieve their business goals.
This post will highlight the importance of data-driven insights to inform a B2B content strategy and show real examples of making it happen.
What is a B2B Content Marketing Strategy?
A B2B content marketing strategy is a roadmap to how enterprise brands create, distribute, and promote content across digital channels.
Most of the time, the content strategy is owned by an internal content or editorial team, and it’s usually a subset of a larger digital marketing strategy. This could get confusing if you’ve never worked for a large company. The CMO will require each internal team to build quarterly or annual plans integrated into a larger marketing strategy. After that, each team would go off independently and develop their strategy separately.
PR would work with their agency to identify target media, events, and executive communications with a messaging strategy. The demand gen marketing team creates a series of lead gen programs and campaigns with targeted creative, media planning, and other direct marketing tactics. The event marketing team will plan for their annual customer event and determine which industry events to sponsor and attend. Usually, the social media team will input these separate plans unless it’s a more sophisticated enterprise company. If so, the social team will create a B2B social media plan. And lastly, the content team will determine which assets will be made for the year. Most likely, they will be responsible for all the branded content for owned media channels, so the plan would also include a B2B SEO content strategy.
It’s not uncommon for the content team to collaborate across all these other teams since their content will be used differently to support each marketing activity.
B2B Content Marketing Starts With a Strong Narrative
I’ve seen this happen a million times. Brands will start the B2B content creation process and map out all the digital assets they will create for the year. They’re planning for eBooks, white papers, a series of blog posts, reports, and videos.
They’re creating a strategy to determine which assets will be gated and which ones won’t require an email address to download.
They are hiring agencies to produce all these high-quality, high-value digital assets. The creative is stellar. Each digital asset is “on brand” and maps to a strategic content pillar, a product launch, an event, or a campaign. The B2B content strategist will then work with the other marketing teams and map out a content distribution strategy for each channel.
One fundamental step that B2B content marketing teams fail to do is build a narrative informed by insight and audience data. Maybe it’s an oversight. They don’t know what they don’t know. Maybe they forgot. Or maybe, they don’t care.
It’s no wonder marketers are confused about their content not performing effectively. They went through all the proper steps to create their messaging, map their content, and integrate globally with marketing teams. The problem is that the content, the narrative, and the story are self-serving. It provides very little value to B2B buyers and other audiences.
One of the most innovative ways to build a content strategy for enterprise businesses is to use audience data and B2B content analysis. The insights from this analysis will help inform a narrative relevant to the audience you are trying to reach and in alignment with your brand message.
Type of B2B Digital Content Formats
Once you have nailed down your brand narrative and key messages, the next step is to translate those messages into various content formats. Several types of content could be leveraged across the Internet and social media channels. Here are a few:
- Blog Posts: This is pretty self-explanatory. When social media first started to take off, blogging started to decline. Most people don’t realize social media content’s shelf life is less than five minutes. The blog content has a shelf life of forever, meaning that if it’s written the smart way and optimized for search, you can reap the benefits of a blog post for years in Google search results.
- White papers & eBooks: Most white papers are very technical. There’s a lot of text, and it’s very academic. I prefer eBooks because it’s more visual and less structured, and you can write more liberally about a topic.
- Podcasts: Podcasts started to take off with American Life’s Serial. Most people don’t realize how difficult it is to produce a podcast, given the technical requirements of sound and audio. You must also be dedicated to managing guests, recording new episodes, and promoting them across social media channels.
- Video: There are several types of video on the Internet. There’s a long-form video that can be hosted on YouTube. There are short-form videos on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram stories.
- Case Studies: Case studies are typically really short one-page PDF’s that highlight a specific use case, an example of a customer success story.
- Infographics: Infographics are visual ways to display data. Typically infographics are very large and are hosted on the company website. There is also something called infograms, one data point usually animated and posted on social media and linked to the larger infographic.
Regardless of what social media channels you use for constant distribution, it’s important to have a B2B content strategy that integrates across all areas. Here are a few brand storytelling examples, in case you are interested. I should also note that some brands deploy employee advocacy programs to drive brand reputation and engagement.
Defining Your B2B Content Marketing Strategy Goals
Defining your digital content marketing strategy goals is critical to reaching audiences with stories that break through the clutter and drive impact. The 2021 State of Digital Content Report from Altimeter provides insights on how to think about this framework.
The Altimeter study asked, “What is the primary goal of your digital content marketing strategy?” I wasn’t as surprised with the answers as I was with the percent distribution:
- 35% Create brand awareness
- 28% To position the brand as thought leaders
- 16% Provide customers with helpful information
- 15% Generate leads
- 7% Support sales
I would have thought the priority of defining content marketing strategy goals and measurement would have been more focused on sales enablement, ROI, generating demand, or mapping content to the B2B sales funnel.
Part of me suspects that the respondents worked in diverse job functions, from public relations to marketing. This might explain why many survey respondents were focused on top-of-the-funnel content marketing goals.
What’s important is that your content strategy goals should be integrated so that the tactics can purposefully drive users through the buyer’s journey. This would address top-of-the-funnel metrics like brand awareness, thought leadership, and bottom-of-the-funnel metrics like leads and sales.
One thing that stood out to me in the report was providing customers with helpful information. And if you think about it closely, it makes perfect sense.
Documenting why your customers are calling the call center and creating content matching those inquiries is genius. Not only are you providing content that addresses customer needs, but you will also own the search results for those search queries, giving you the opportunity to convert those users into customers. This is the perfect example of using data-driven insights to inform a B2B content strategy and plan.
I was surprised to see that supporting the sales team was a low priority in defining content goals. I have worked with several sales teams over the years, and one thing is consistent. They are starving for more thought leadership content that they can use to share on their social media channels and for other social selling initiatives.
This should be a priority for content marketing teams as it aligns directly with substantiating an ROI metric.
Using Data-Driven Insights for Content Strategy for B2B
If the content is king, then data is the kingdom. In the B2B ecosystem, data is now a required part of a content marketing strategy for several reasons.
First, the complexities of the B2B purchase cycle mean that it’s not enough to put content marketing plans together with proper planning. Instead, companies must now use data-driven insights to learn more about their audience and create content that will impact purchasing decisions.
Second, B2B companies must track their content performance within digital channels before committing more resources.
Third, potential customers receive information from multiple sources within the buyer journey. They use search engines to research, read white papers, and Reddit threads, watch YouTube videos, and engage with other buyers online. And since the buyer journey can be 6-18 months, B2B marketers cater to a highly educated audience about technology. This means that they must bring value when posting content or engaging with their prospects or be at risk of being criticized publicly.
The most important question you must ask is, “Is my B2B content strategy targeted enough to break through the clutter, reach my audience and create demand for my business?” If you can comfortably answer yes, you can stop reading this post now. If not, then let’s keep going.
Here’s a B2B example of using data-driven insight about a software engineer audience.
B2B Example of Data-Driven Insights
We recently built an audience of about 53K software engineers and used a segmentation methodology to cluster them into smaller sub-segments. The segments were clustered based on shared bio terms, unique interests, characteristics, and specific demographics.
One segment self-identified as interested in or currently using Python and Machine Learning for software development. We examined the data to see if we could extract any specific insights that might help inform our B2B content strategy.
The buying mindset was explored using affinity data to see how this segment of developers is influenced to buy products and services. The data shows that the top two factors influencing this audience are their peers & colleagues and product utility.
We uncovered the top influencers for each developer segment, not topical-based influencers but other influential developers and engineers. Then, we combined that data with their unique media affinities. This data tells us what media publications they read and share with their communities.
Looking at this data, you can piece together how impactful data-driven insights can be when rigor is applied to an influencer content strategy.
Not all B2B audience data is based on follower relationships of affinities. Affinity data is calculated based on the percent of an audience that follows a media publication, brand, or influencer. The challenge with this data is that it’s dated and may not reflect what is currently relevant to an audience.
One way to understand what’s top of mind for an audience is to analyze their social media mentions over time and in real-time. It’s important to reiterate here that audience research is the key to a successful B2B content strategy, so this isn’t a “nice to do if you have time.” However, skipping this step could mean the difference between hitting your marketing KPIs and not.
After writing the Boolean queries, we wanted to interrogate the data to understand if software developers talked about anything specific to Python and Machine Learning. Even if it was just a tiny nugget of information that might help use these data-driven insights to inform a more targeted B2B content marketing strategy.
The below conversation analysis reveals some interesting insights about this audience.
- Data Science
- Machine Learning
- Python 3
Each of these Python subtopics is colored in a different shade of red, emphasizing the size of the conversation. For example, programming almost accounts for 50% of the conversation. by looking at the subtopics clockwise, the size of each one becomes relatively smaller. In other words, while programming is the most critical conversation, Python 3 is the smallest.
There is a secondary layer on the outside ring of these five topics. By digging a little deeper within that programming topic, you’ll notice keywords like learning, beginners, project, and tutorial. This tells me that a subset of these engineers are learning Python and talking about courses they are taking on Udemy.
Instead of reading through 100K social media mentions to get to those data-driven insights, clustering the conversation like this saves time and reveals potential white space. Developers use these keywords, phrases, language, and hashtags when engaging on social media. This is a significant insight for marketers because this information can inform a B2B content strategy.
Audience Data is Critical for a B2B Content Marketing Strategy
Similar to the above snapshot of a buyer persona looking at the top three software developer audience segments, below is a deep dive into just one of them. As a reminder, this B2B audience data does not consider all developers; it’s not until you compare one segment to another that you realize how different they are.
I will not talk about each data point, but I will cover a few that I believe are 100% actionable and can be used to inform a B2B content marketing strategy. This data is based on follower relationships and then calculated against a general business index. There are some areas where we used conversation data.
Buying mindset: This tells me that the top 2 characteristics that drive purchase are the utility of a product and word of mouth. Product utility can help you formulate a narrative that positions your product’s usefulness to the software development process. The second point tells me that if your customers are Python developers, it might make sense to formalize an influencer program, customer advocacy program, or both.
Buyer’s Journey: This section of the buyer persona represents the segment’s conversational patterns related to the purchase funnel.
- Issue-driven discovery: Knowledge and skill gaps lead to the issue-driven discovery of new tools and systems that help keep the business moving forward.
- Trusted research & peer reviews: Trusted research and peer reviews help validate their ideas and opinions and feel confident in their decisions.
- IT & business value: The tools, systems, and products that address critical areas for both IT & the core business will be more interesting.
- Safety in numbers: The latest and greatest might catch their attention, but they will buy more mature solutions with more extensive adoption & built-in flexibility.
- Vengeful vendor management: Transparency and trust are crucial to customer loyalty. Bait and switch marketing tactics or misleading sales practices that affect the interoperability of tools within their network can deter renewal.
Top Social Media Channels: It’s intuitive that software developers use GitHub to read various Reddit posts. But it’s also good to know which social media channels they use when discussing other technology platforms and general topics.
Top Communities & Conferences: This might not be useful as you develop your B2B content strategy, but it is helpful to understand which conferences and events software developers attend and which ones they’re talking about.
Top Podcasts: This data can be helpful for demand-gen marketing teams and inform specific media placements. Based on the type of podcast, it can also notify clear messaging. If you have executives or influencers that are a part of the LinkedIn Podcast Network, you’ll want to ensure that you capture all the right metrics to ensure success in this media platform.
Top Analyst Firms: A few sections should be explained in detail. The data highlights the leading analyst firms the developer audience follows on social media. We’ve also extracted the top analysts as well. You’ll notice no direct one-to-one correlation between the analysts followed by the developer audience and the analyst firms. We also identified the top research reports shared by this audience through conversation and link share data.
Top Media Publications: The unique media affinities tell us which technology publications are most followed by this audience. This data here is all about your content distribution strategy. PR should be using this data to inform their media relations. Your digital marketing team can potentially buy media on these publications through the Google Display Network and a direct media buy or sponsorship.
Using data-driven insights to inform a content strategy for B2B and enterprise companies might sound complicated. That’s because it is, and it’s much work to ensure you use the correct data to inform the right narrative, create the right content, and engage in the right channels.
Altimeter Report: Digital Content Strategy Drives Business Results
Digital content is the fuel that drives business results. I just finished reading Altimeter’s latest research, State of Digital Content Report. The report highlighted key insights into digital content strategy, channels, and which content formats perform best in various industries and regions. It also identifies trends in innovation, current organization and governance practices, and key metrics for measuring success.
Here are six key findings from Altimeter’s Report:
- 41% of brands can tie revenue directly to digital content strategy
- 42% of brands can create personalized digital content based on customer data but only 38% can deliver it in real-time
- Product-focused content (29%) outperformed all other content archetypes, including thought leadership, brand-focused content, company-focused content, and user-generated content, especially in Europe and China
- The biggest challenges for content teams are people related to internal alignment (24%) and hiring the right people (17%)
- Visual content like short-form videos (52%) and images (51%) were the top-performing content formats, rated as more engaging than blog posts, white papers, or podcasts
- Instead of page views, brands are measuring digital content success with metrics such as interactions (3%) and efficiency/cost savings (23%)
Building an agile content creation strategy and storytelling framework must be the main drivers of company communications. It enables brands to own their narrative and tell the complete story. It also ensures that you can tell a relevant story to your audience, assuming you were using social media data to uncover insights. it’s also critical to ensure that you are looking at data not necessarily in real-time but at least once per quarter. Consumer behaviors and culture can affect how people converse online and interact with social media.
It’s good to see that some brands take digital content more seriously and build attribution models to quantify their efforts. I am surprised that “product-focused” content is outperforming other types of content, though. In my experience and specifically with B2B and technology companies, thought leadership usually outperforms other content organically.
However, the B2B companies working with innovative technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing drive a lot of conversation just because their technology is changing how we live culturally and societally. That in itself can drive digital content to outperform other types of content.
It’s great that brands can access real-time customer insights, but they need an agile, creative, and editorial process to execute digital content. It’s difficult, but it has to be done. The age-old conversation of “brand as media company” is one that industry pundits still typically have. I wrote a book about it in 2013. I’ve learned that it’s much easier said than done, and creating a real-time digital content engine takes a lot of work.
As expected, data-driven storytelling drives more engagement than long-form content. At the end of the day, this type of digital content marketing will build strong brand relevance in a digital ecosystem. The challenge is that visual content doesn’t rank on Google. One fix is to package the long-form content into smaller, more shareable visual assets that link back to the original content. Buzzsumo is one platform that can assist marketers with their digital content initiatives. Here’s a Buzzsumo alternative if you are looking for a tool to help.
Q: What are B2B Content Marketing Best Practices?
The first best practice is to read this entire blog post. It gives you a detailed action plan on how B2B content marketing is managed within the enterprise and how to use data to inform a strategy.
In a nutshell, here are a few things to consider as best practices.
Understand your audience: do as much research about your audience as possible. If you don’t have advanced analytics tools, you may rely on primary or secondary research, analytics, or other published reports about the audience.
Build an inclusive narrative: When writing your brand narrative and key message points, remember that your audience isn’t a big fan of marketing. Therefore, it’s critical to weave in the topics and trends important to your audience with your brand narrative. It cannot be all about you. Your narrative must be about your customers and helping them solve their technology and business challenges.
Build a content distribution approach: Data-driven content marketing for B2B is the best approach. However, you must ensure that you distribute that content in the channels where your audience spends their time.
Define the right B2B content marketing goals: You must address everything at the top of the funnel and include non-financial metrics that align with brand awareness and thought leadership. It should also have bottom-of-the-funnel tactics and financial metrics like sales and ROI.
Q: How important is SEO to a B2B content marketing strategy?
This is like asking how important oxygen is to breathe. SEO must be a strategic pillar in your B2B content marketing strategy. Going back to the buyer’s journey, we know that decision-makers use Google constantly to look for information. It is table stakes that your content appears in the Google search results for targeted keywords and phrases. Otherwise, you are missing out on sales opportunities.
Q: What is the difference between a content marketing strategy and a social media strategy?
A content marketing strategy focuses on the story, narrative, and digital assets that need to be developed and in which format. While a social media strategy does account for this, it’s more specific to the execution and considers all the channels, community engagement, customer advocacy, influencer marketing, and paid social.
Q: Is a content strategy the same as content marketing?
Yes and no. Sometimes it’s all about semantics, depending on who you ask. The most significant distinction between a content marketing strategy and a content strategy is that a content strategy will inform everything from a communications and messaging framework. In other words, it goes beyond just marketing.