It’s no secret. Everyone knows the biggest problem B2B content marketing faces today. Well, actually several give B2B marketers fits.
Which one am I talking about?
Making B2B content engage and actually drive more leads. How bleak does the situation look?
Not good. Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report surveyed 3,714 B2B marketers from around the globe. The report defines “effective” as “accomplishing your overall objectives.” CMI asked B2B marketers to rate themselves. Shockingly, just 30% of B2B marketers rate themselves as “effective”. And that was down 21.05% from 38% in 2014.
And Heinz Marketing quotes IDG Connect as saying “86% of buyers say content is neither useful, relevant, nor aligned with needs of people in the buying decision.” That makes B2B buyers information-rich and knowledge-poor.
The natural question to ask then becomes, “If marketers’ typical approach to B2B content doesn’t work, what does?”
I’ve been on a personal quest to find out over the past several months. Let me explain some of the top elements of lead-generating B2B content.
Show Your Buyer Why They Need to Change Their Behavior
CEB Group research published at Harvard Business Review shows exactly what buyers want. They feel they must learn something new about their business and have a compelling reason to change their present behavior.
This explains why you can craft useful, interesting, and in-depth information, yet still not generate the leads you want. You have to make more of the right content based on your knowledge of your buyer and their industry and problems.
SaleCycle actually had the stomach to admit on Econsultancy that 80% of its B2B content failed.
They were creating lots of content, but most of it wasn’t about topics that interested their prospects. Content that taught prospects facts, stats, and best practices about sales worked. Client stories worked too. However, their content about careers and company culture, though useful, absolutely bombed by comparison.
So, SaleCycle learned that lots of in-depth content doesn’t necessarily work. But they found what did through their analytics.
Include Emotion in Your B2B Content
You hear it all the time: B2B buyers are intelligent, sophisticated people. They only need the facts. True with some aspects of marketing (especially white papers).
But remember, they’re human beings and have emotions too.
What does research say about emotions in the B2B buying process? They play a far larger role than you think. Check it out:
B2B buyers make highly emotional decisions. (Image Source)
In fact, Kapost goes so far as to claim emotions matter more to buyers than logic and reason.
Are they completely outlandish in their claim?
Joint research among CEB Marketing Leadership Council, Motista, and Google also found:
“Not only did the B2B brands drive more emotional connections than B2C brands, but they weren’t even close. Of the hundreds of B2C brands that Motista has studied, most have emotional connections with between 10% and 40% of consumers. Meanwhile, of the nine B2B brands we studied, seven surpassed the 50% mark. On average, B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers.”
Why would this be?
Think about it, well, logically. With many purchases, B2B buyers find themselves in an intensely emotional situation.
They spend a lot of money on their purchases. At least several other people get in on the decision, so they want to look good. Make a bad decision, and they’ll lose an abundance of credibility and respect, and possibly their job. They want to go with the safe option, the one practically guaranteed to give them good results.
Consumers, on the other hand, generally make small purchases that don’t put a big dent in their budget. If the purchase doesn’t work out, they get angry, and often can get their money back. A few family members might be upset too.
But, it’s just a little money. And they have plenty of competing choices to choose from. So for many consumer purchases, it’s not a big deal to make a bad decision.
Possibly the greatest example of emotional marketing in B2B is IBM’s famous slogan from the 1980s:
“No one ever got fired for buying IBM.”
Why did it work so well? With so much at stake for B2B buyers when buying computer hardware back then, they wanted to make a safe decision. No one wanted to lose their job, or a lot of respect, for going with an unknown competitor.
So, the slogan appealed powerfully to buyers’ desire for safety, security, and predictability. Like Apple today, IBM was the dominant tech company of the 1980s.
And of Course…B2B Buyers Use Logic Too
While buyers use more emotion in their decision than consumers, they also have to line up all the facts. But most B2B content doesn’t give them what they want in this respect either:
“66% of technology buyers feel that digital content needs to be more aligned with organizational objectives and relevant to the decision making process.” – IDG Connect survey
How do you do this? It’s a simple process, but it isn’t easy. Skilled marketers learn the questions B2B buyers ask throughout the sales cycle. They answer those questions with content.
Does that sound anything like what your sales team does? If they’re good at what they do, your sales team should already know these questions and answers. So, it’s just a matter of having a productive conversation with sales.
But, not all marketing and sales teams have positive relationships. If you don’t have access to this data, you have a number of tactics you can use to get it:
- Ask sales if you can silently observe a few of their phone calls
- Talk with customers you recently acquired because you know they love you now (you could offer a reward to the customer that’s chosen)
- Check out B2B software review websites like G2 Crowd
- Watch your competitors’ content, and especially the pieces that get the most social shares
- Review your own analytics as you gather data, focusing in particular on how many buyers took your desired next step, which could be done easily with the Kissmetrics funnel report
- Find and follow industry websites and thought leaders and watch the hot topics
- Follow your buyers on Twitter and LinkedIn to see what they talk about
- Do a Twitter advanced search using some of the keywords your buyer might use, and see what questions come up
- Search and follow the most relevant topics to your buyer on Quora
In my opinion, talking to sales, listening to their conversations, or talking directly with customers gives you the fastest and most useful results. When that’s not possible, you’ll have to research multiple sources online and construct the sales cycle from scratch.
The Amount of Trust Buyers Give Your Content Depends on Its Source
How your buyer comes into contact with your content directly affects the amount of trust they give it. If they stumble across a blog post or get the exact same content from your sales team, they place a far different level of trust in it.
Look at how much buyers trust content, depending on the source it comes from:
B2B buyers still trust recommendations from their peers more than anything else. (Image Source)
So if you pay any attention, you probably hear non-stop about “influencer marketing.” According to these stats, since buyers trust peer, colleagues, and independent content most, influencer marketing is a worthwhile approach.
It’s not just another fad destined to go away. For what it’s worth, B2B buyers’ minds have worked this way for decades. Count on getting your content into their peers’ hands as a valuable marketing tactic for many years to come.
Buyers, Including Millennials, Want Their Content in a Certain Format
You may have heard about 2016 being “the year of video marketing.” Snapchat, Instagram, and even Pinterest also get touted as the next biggest channels for B2B marketers. Periscope even gets some attention.
The real question: should you even spend any of your time working on channel strategies?
According to research from The Economist, no. Both veteran and young professionals still prefer plain ol’ text:
Most business professionals still prefer text content over any other format. (Image Source)
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any video in your B2B marketing strategy. I’m not saying that.
But, if you drive yourself mad because you don’t have a podcast, webinar, video, infographic or whatever, relax. B2B buyers don’t need anything fancy schmancy.
Just give them new and compelling information that gives them the business case for change.
Each Content Type Has an Ideal Place in Your Sales Cycle
You have such a massive mix of content to choose from. Blog posts, white papers, case studies, newsletters, videos, infographics…
What should you create, and where should you target it in the buy cycle? Eccolo Media surveyed B2B buyers firsthand to find out. And here’s what they found:
Where the most common types of content work best in the sales cycle. (Image Source)
Basically, content works well before the sales cycle even begins, and best during the early and middle sales cycle.
To gather the data, Eccolo Media surveyed more than 100 B2B marketers. 33% were influencers while 67% were decision makers ranging in age from 20 to over 60, and holding positions from manager to vice president at all sizes of companies.
And they also give some interesting data you don’t see on the above chart: 80% of survey respondents thought it was “important” or “very important” to get content on an ongoing basis after their purchase.
Eccolo Media found B2B buyers want these types of content post-purchase:
- 36% want “thought leadership” content
- 30% would like technical support and updates
- 25% love new product info
- 9% find customer stories useful
Define What Content Marketing Success Looks Like
To find out what buyers want, you have to define what success means to you. Once you know that, then you can determine whether you’ve given buyers what they want (or not).
Now, all kinds of debate exists as to how you know you’ve succeeded. Some say MQLs. Others SQLs. Others look at follower counts, likes, and shares.
And then you even hear about brand new metrics like “return visitor rate (RVR).” Which should you trust?
I personally like two indicators:
- The number of buyers who take the next step (whatever that is) you ask for in your content gives you a good indicator of what you will see in your final conversion goal (MQLs, SQLs, sales, revenue)
- Looking at the correlation between increases in your key metrics and changes in your revenue or profit. For example, when you see an increase in prospects who try a demo following a white paper, you notice a jump in revenue too.
And I like these because it’s so difficult to get B2B buyers to take the “next step,” regardless of what that is. B2B marketing expert Ardath Albee looks at that action as a sign of commitment, which is hard to get from B2B buyers.
Address the Fear of Loss
Should you focus on benefits or fear?
Many B2B marketers today would say you should sell benefits. And it’s not wrong to sprinkle benefits throughout your content marketing.
However, if you want action, you should focus on avoiding pain. Legendary marketer Dan Kennedy says:
“When you understand that people are more likely to act to avoid pain than to get gain, you’ll understand how incredibly powerful this first formula is.”
With this quote, he speaks in relation to his PAS (problem-agitate-solve) marketing formula. If you click the link above, you can learn about the formula in great detail.
The gist is:
- Start your copy with the prospect’s problem
- Agitate the problem by describing all the emotions they feel
- Talk about the solution you have for them
You’ll see more action when you focus on fear of loss instead of only highlighting benefits in your copy and content.
Sales Should Actively Reach Out to Prospects with Case Studies
You’ve heard the stat: 60% – 70% of B2B content just sits around, collecting digital dust. How do you make a cohesive, usable system that produces qualified leads with that?
Well, you can start with case studies. Because out of all content types, 84% of 319 execs surveyed at companies with $1 billion or more in revenues say they would respond positively when vendors initially reach out with sales emails that include case studies (more than any other content type).
You can see the full data below:
What execs trust most when your sales team reaches out to them with content. (Image Source)
With case studies, the closer the focus customer’s success story matches your prospect’s situation, the higher the response rate.
Don’t have case studies matching the prospects you want to attract? Time to write some. Your sales team knows many customers that succeeded. Offer your sales team $1,000 for the customer that you end up profiling. You’ll get more suggestions than you need.
Now You Can Stop Wasting Your Time and Do More of What Works
Over the next few years, I think we’ll see more B2B content marketers finding success. Everyone rushed to join the craze so fast, thinking content would be a quick fix to all their marketing ailments.
But now, with reality becoming clear, many will have to evaluate what works, and what doesn’t. And with this research in hand, you can stop wasting time and money and beat your competitors to high-ROI prospects.
About the Author: Dan Stelter, “The B2B Lead Gen Guy,” crafts persuasive content that makes attracting qualified leads effortless for B2B service, software, and tech companies. Learn how you can avoid 7 humiliating B2B content mistakes that frustrate buyers when you download your free special report.