What is the “Age of the B2B consumer” and what does it mean for professionals creating B2B marketing content? Jon Clements of Manchester B2B PR and content marketing agency, Metamorphic PR, captures the latest thinking:
The B2B buyer who was previously a “rational, loyal customer who went through the sales funnel in an anonymous, linear way” has become a “more emotional in decision making”.
So says Laura Ramos, VP principal analyst at Forrester Research, who adds that the newly-forged B2B consumer “will expect a whole new kind of relationship, largely driven by [B2B] marketing content produced by companies.”
In a recent webinar* hosted by the Content Marketing Institute she cites the shift in buying power for consumers created by technology which is now starting to affect B2B decision makers: the stats according to Forrester point to 68% preferring to do business-related research online – up from 50% two years ago – with 62% drafting final supplier lists from digital content gathered “on their own”.
Making B2B marketing content work better
However, according to Ramos, a lot of existing B2B marketing content is “failing to connect with decision makers”. When asked, 66% of buyers felt there was “too much material from vendors”, with 57% of it “largely useless” and 58% offering “more style than substance”.
B2B content marketing tactics need refreshing and regulatory moves like the GDPR are, Ramos says, “a gift” to encourage building better customer relationships and ROI for marketing.
“[it will] encourage teams to think more about deeper, personal relationship work to close the deal and content marketers can lead the way to that conversion; seeing past lead generation to create great content,” Ramos said.
But what does “great content” actually mean in practice? In short:
The interesting point from Forrester’s findings among B2B buyers is that the most popular content tends to be shorter, digestible and more interactive. However, that doesn’t negate the need for long-form content; in fact, linking to longer content (detailed reports or studies) from shorter pieces adds value to the summary pieces.
The foundation for creating B2B content marketing that works is, according to Forrester, based on the concept of “Cornerstone Content”. This is about investing in: “deep, rich, data-backed content with narrative and customer stories that can then spin off into other content across the buyer journey.”
The benefit of having this content resource is being able to “fuel customer interaction in an omni-channel way”, by delivering consistent messages and information at any stage.
One example focusing on security intelligence company, LogRhythm, shows how a major piece of content can be translated into a variety of other content formats.
EMPATHY: making it (almost) all about the customer
The area where I would contend the public relations profession has an inherently strong ethos is in finding and providing a story that resonates with the audience; in other words, empathising. This is probably developed from years of trying to get journalists interested in client stories where no payment changes hands; getting a result depends solely on the merit of the story and relevance to the audience.
This requires empathy with the journalist’s readership: focusing on a story (a.k.a content) that relates directly to them.
Laura Ramos reiterates this point in the context of B2B content today: “Empathetic content isn’t about you. Customers don’t care about you but whether what you offer can solve their problem. Company websites mostly talk about themselves and their products rather than customer issues/problems.”
She talks about the need to create a business conversation that leads to a dialogue about what you do and how it solves customer problems.
Case study: Brocade
Technology company Brocade couldn’t outspend its biggest competitor, Cisco.
So, to stand apart it created a series of humorous and empathetic cartoons to appeal to networking engineers and their frustration with the way certain technology worked.
The company’s campaign was responsible for driving three times more engagement than any other of its activities.
As part of the key to successful B2B content creation, Forrester found that 50% of B2B consumers prefer reading whitepapers in an interactive web format vs PDF. Also, 61% want to be able to input specific information to generate customised output.
In the LogMeIn example, the company gives users the chance to do a self-assessment which leads to a tailored report showing how your company performs with customer engagement and what you need to do to improve.
Engaging with the sales organisation
How should the use of content for the respective marketing and sales teams align? According to Forrester, like this:
Measuring the impact of B2B content
Where, traditionally, the metrics for content have been driven by lead generation Forrester asserts that – today – customer experience metrics will begin to sit in equal measure.
The next steps advice contained in the accompanying slide speak for themselves:
Ultimately, ask yourself:
- Can your great content go further and work harder across channels and formats?
- Cornerstone Content – what are the conversations and themes you want to own?
And, ASK FOR HELP!
Working with expert content creators will help B2B companies think beyond their products and services and create useful content that is of substance as well as style – and will help you take ownership (or at least a greater share of voice) of the topics and issues that matter to your customers and your business.
*The webinar from the Content Marketing Institute, Beyond the Lead: How Content Marketing Builds Lasting Relationships, is available to listen on demand.