I get this quizzical look when I pitch content marketing to my B2B clients all the time. The implied questions is: Does B2B content marketing really work?
In fact, B2B content marketing is one of the cheapest and best forms of marketing to prospects as well as maintaining the relationship with existing clients.
Don’t believe me. Here are some fun facts from the Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI) 2016 Report on B2B content marketing.
Here are key findings from that report (in case you don’t have time to read this entire post)
- Most B2B firms use content marketing and plan to increase their investment in it
- Only about 1/4 of firms think they’re experts in content marketing, the rest are just dipping their toe in or feeling their way around
- Creating engaging content is the #1 challenge facing B2B firms
- Firms spend too little on content marketing, with those who say they’re effective spending 2X as much as others
- Metrics used to evaluate success aren’t robust enough to offer clear guidance leading to success. 57% of respondents cite measuring success as their biggest challenge
B2B firms use content marketing
The question of why use content marketing if you’re in B2B arises. I mean, your customers aren’t on social media much, are they? Well, you’d be surprised how many firms either use social media to communicate with customers, listen for mentions, or use social media as individuals. All these folks hear what you’re saying across outlets for content marketing. But, social media isn’t the only outlet used in B2B content marketing, even though it’s the most commonly used. In addition, B2B firms use a host of content marketing tactics, including blogs, email marketing, and white papers.
B2B marketers who use content marketing are able to reduce the cost of leads, increase awareness and position themselves as thought leaders — Artillery
And, it seems like most B2B firms in the Content Marketing Institute’s survey agree — with a whopping 88% of firms using the tactic.
Of course, the big question is which of these content marketing tactics yield the highest ROI?
That’s a more complicated question. First, you have to look at the types of content, then the distribution of that content, which is all mixed up in the graphic above.
Let’s look at types of content, first. According to eMarketer, featured articles, followed by video and white papers deliver the highest ROI, although the data is from 2013 and includes all firms using content marketing, not just B2B content marketing.
Next, let’s look at the ROI of distribution strategy, where you can see that email marketing blows other distribution tactics out of the water. One metric I’d like to see is social media distribution, but, unfortunately, it’s not there. But, according to McKinsey, email marketing delivers against social, generating 40X more conversions than social media marketing. Not surprisingly, LinkedIn is cited in the study as the most effective social media tool for bringing in revenue.
Experts versus novices in B2B content marketing
In the study, Content Marketing Institute found that most B2B marketers are still learning the ropes, with only 24% saying they’re mature in their use of content marketing and another 8% saying they’re sophisticated. This might explain why most respondents (70%) said they’re not getting what they want out of their content marketing efforts.
Creating content is the biggest challenge for B2B marketers
This fact isn’t surprising since the effort necessary to product valuable content on a consistent basis, then repurpose that content or supplement it with the variety of types of content (video, white papers, blog posts) and distribution outlets (email, social, etc) necessary to achieve content marketing success if staggering.
Many firms buy content produced by others or use it by permission. For instance, Business2Community syndicates my content, along with 100’s of others, to their readers. Huffington Post has 1000’s of citizen journalists turning out fresh content every day. Other firms, including IBM, find great content then license that content for their website. Here’s one of mine on IBM’s website. I don’t really recommend this strategy, although I cash the licensing checks, because Google gives preference in search to the original content.
Others have teams of content marketers creating original content.
Firms spend too little on content marketing
And, maybe that’s because lots of responding firms felt they were early on the learning curve, but spending on content marketing, as a percentage of overall marketing spend, was small. The average content marketing spend was just 28% of marketing budget, which is below the average for B2C firms — 32%. Of course, about half of respondents plan to increase spending over the next 12 months, but that likely isn’t enough to generate the returns they want.
In my experience, managers still feel content marketing is too new, too risky and are reluctant to increase (or sometimes even allocate) budget for content related activities. Taking a risk-averse position by spending a small amount on content marketing is often a self-fulfilling prophesy as the CMI study shows that the least effective performers from their study only spend 15% ,on average, of marketing budget on content as compared to the most effective, who spend 42% of average.
In marketing, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.
B2B content marketing lacks data-driven strategy
The CMI study found too few firms have a comprehensive strategy that’s communicated through a mission and written strategic plan — only 13% of ineffective and 53% of more effective content marketing users have a written content marketing strategy. And, that’s bad.
Potentially more concerning is the state of monitoring when it comes to content marketing. In this years’ CMI study, respondents were asked to identify metrics used to determine success, which includes website traffic, lead quality and sales. What’s lacking in this result, which may be an artifact of how questions were asked, is that B2B content marketing isn’t using sophisticated analytics, including multi-channel attribution models, or effectively monitoring performance across the entire funnel.
In B2B marketing, those relationship elements that follow after traditional conversion, are especially important and acknowledge that it’s 5X more expensive to attract a new customer than retain an existing one.
B2B content marketing firms need more robust metrics to help guide strategic and tactical decision-making, they need dashboards, and, in some cases, real-time metrics capable of guiding content marketing efforts.
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