You’re probably here because you’re a B2B marketer looking to build a B2B content marketing strategy.
If that’s not you, this guide will likely be quite boring. It’ll be long, and I’m not sure why you’d spend the time reading it.
But if you are an ambitious B2B marketer…well, you’re in the right place.
You are OUR target audience. And that’s what B2B content marketing is about…reaching you!
So, since we’ve effectively shown that we know how to do B2B content marketing (proof being you’re reading this), let us teach you what we know.
I’m going to map this out from the top all the way down the most minor detail:
- What is B2B Content Marketing?
- Why Does Content Marketing Matter for B2B Brands? AKA why should you spend time and money on this?
- What are the differences between B2B content marketing and B2C content marketing (spoiler: they’re not as different as you’d think)
- How to create a B2B content marketing strategy (the quick start guide with resources for further reading)
- Brands Doing B2B Content Marketing Right (AKA Examples)
Want to make money? Drive pipeline? Impress your boss? Make money appear from your pretty words?
Then lass uns das machen, Leute.
What is B2B Content Marketing?
B2B content marketing is the process of using content to feed buyer needs at every stage of the sales cycle.
The ultimate goal of any type of content marketing is to drive ROI for the business. In the B2B case, this is usually to drive pipeline (leads, qualified leads, sales demos, meetings).
Usually, though, it’s hard to drive BOFU conversions (at least solely), so smart programs are designed to create content for every step of the buyer’s journey. And the buyer’s journey can be modeled in different ways (which we’ll cover below).
Basically, you’re creating content assets, whether they’re blog posts, YouTube videos, Tweets, LinkedIn posts, or podcasts, to try to drive business growth.
Measuring business growth doesn’t always need to be in terms of simply leads. For example, some programs are designed to generate goodwill, trust and authority (for example, our program at Omniscient generates a few leads per month, but it’s mostly designed to establish authority).
We gauge the success of our content marketing program largely qualitatively (during sales calls, we ask how they found us, and it’s usually through the podcast), but also with leading indicators like search rankings and podcast growth.
B2B content marketing done right answers prospect’s questions, positions your brand as an industry leader, and captures leads from the top of the funnel to the bottom.
It can also be used to assist sales teams (this is called sales enablement or sales acceleration), improve retention (this is called customer marketing), or form partnerships (this is called co-marketing).
Essentially, B2B content marketing is a huge basket of different strategies and tactics, so what it looks like from one company to the next could be totally different.
Why Content Marketing Matters for B2B Brands
Most people tend to think of B2B content marketing as dry and boring. But that’s bullshit.
You’re not, after all, selling to a business. You’re selling to a human that works at that business.
While B2C brands evoke more levity (think: Magic Spoon cereal compared to something like DAM software), B2B brands have perhaps even more potential to succeed with content marketing.
Buyers have less of an emotional pull (though not zero emotional pull) to the products they’re researching, which means they need to be drip-fed solid information that alleviates fears, tackles objections and reduces friction in the buying process.
Basically, the biggest driver of B2B purchases (in my opinion) is fear. And second would be greed. B2B buyers want to make more money for their company or to reduce the risk of a bad purchase decision. There’s literally no better way to assuage doubts and to increase motivation than content marketing.
Without content marketing, leads might not know that they need your product or what it can do for them. Content lets you map this out for them and make sure they’re getting the information they need at the exact time they need it.
It works at all layers of the funnel:
- For lesser known brands, engaging in thought leadership (podcasts, original research reports, contrarian essays, and high level content) introduces potential customers to your brand.
- Mid funnel content helps solve specific problems they have, through tools, tips, templates, tutorials (and other T words that I can’t think of).
- Bottom of the funnel content *sells* them. Done right, it can reduce your CAC program-wide and accelerate the sales process (as well as driving net new leads).
What Are the Differences Between B2C and B2B Content Marketing?
Aside from the fact there’s usually less emotion involved in B2B purchases, content marketing in the B2B arena comes with its share of challenges and differences compared to B2C:
- Sales cycles in the B2B world tend to be longer, which means brands have to retain the attention of prospects for much longer
- The goal for B2B brands is to become an expert or industry authority rather than to entertain consumers and build brand awareness
- There are usually more people to please in the B2B pipeline since purchases have multiple gatekeepers and are a company-wide process
I’ll add one more challenge: in most industries, B2B content marketing is much more mature. Thus, there’s way more competition. It’s relatively easy to make headway in most B2C spaces, because most brands are simply compelled to pour money into Facebook ads and get direct-response conversions.
B2C content marketing is pretty straightforward. Content is geared directly to the end buyer who is the ultimate decision-maker. Brands simply need to keep their attention long enough to convert.
Conversely, B2B is slightly more complex. Impulse buys are rarely a thing, especially when your product incurs a four, five, or even six-figure investment. On top of this, the decision-maker tends to lean on other team members to research their options before a final decision is made.
Caveat: tons of B2B brands are selling in a bottoms-up fashion nowadays, better known as product-led growth. You don’t need to sell to the VP of ops if you’re Loom; you just need to sell to an individual contributor and spread it through the company.
Likewise, Evernote makes most of their money from B2B deals, but tons of individuals use it as a simple note taking app.
So like I said above, there’s actually not as big of a difference between B2C and B2B content marketing as you might think.
Price point and competition matters much more. Whether you sell to consumers or business, you’ll still need to figure out a way to win at SEO (if that’s your distribution channel of choice), convert customers, and do so economically.
How to Create a B2B Content Marketing Strategy
Flying by the seat of your pants is never a good strategy (unless you’re Stephen King)
In fact, it’s the complete opposite of having a strategy. Luckily, if you carry out all the necessary steps and are consistent in your efforts, creating a successful B2B content marketing strategy doesn’t have to be too complicated.
A winning strategy, in my view, has nothing to do with how many webinars or infographics you put out. Rather, it’s a concrete answer to the following questions:
- How will you generate tangible ROI with content (and in what timeframe)?
- How can you create a compounding and scalable channel that you can reinvest in over time?
- How will YOU specifically win at this strategy?
- What are you NOT going to do?
If you can answer those questions, you’ll be ahead of 95% of business-to-business marketers in general.
When we get more into the nitty gritty, your content plan should consider:
- Who you’re targeting
- What questions your content will answer
- Your goals and KPIs
- The content formats you’ll use
- What channels you’ll promote content on
- When you’ll create and publish content
- Who is included in the process
- How you’ll measure your success
1. Customer Research
Customer research is one of those obvious things that no one really does right. Buyer personas are mostly a waste of time, at least done the way they usually are.
Instead of creating some imaginary person like Marketing Mary, it’s best to learn this stuff:
- Buyer goals
- Their challenges
- Job roles involved in decision-making
- Key pain points
- Buyer fears
- Where they consume content and get information (who they trust)
I’ve created robust user personas in the past, but that’s something to do after you’ve got some traction and have tested some hypotheses. It’s usually better to do some lightweight research, create some assumptions to be tested, and get some actual live feedback.
You’ll learn as you go, as well. Customer personas shouldn’t be static. If you’re not learning more about your buyers every day, you’re doing something wrong.
A lot of basic understanding can honestly be done through SEO research – what keywords people are searching for (and what your competitors rank for) is literally telling you what people want (including the search intent).
There are many other ways to learn about your customers depending what tools you have available to you.
How to Learn More About Your Customers
The biggest mistake B2B brands can make is assuming they know who their buyers are and what they want. Instead of taking a shot in the dark, consider using:
- Google Analytics: check your audience demographics to see who is actually visiting your site. This isn’t always representative of your target audience, by the way. It could just be the audience you’re CURRENTLY reaching. Also check out what pages people are converting on, which pages have higher than average exit rates, etc. I’ve got a whole article on content analytics if you want to dive deep here.
- Surveys or Interviews: speak to real prospects about their wants and needs
- Customer Support: ask sales reps and your customer support team to identify any common traits among your customers
- Social listening: use social media platforms to tap into the conversations your target customers as well as influencers are already having. This works with forums and communities as well.
- Go to conferences or host your own: the single best way I’ve learned about my customers is to BECOME my customer. When I worked at CXL, we threw two conferences every year and I went to 6 more. The conversations I had there were more valuable than every single survey I sent combined.
Use Google Analytics to get the basics on your customers.
All of this should be done in the pursuit of creating useful content – stuff that actually solves pain points. Research for the sake of research is often a form of procrastination.
2. Map the Buyer Journey
Just like in the B2C world, B2B buyers go through a buying journey.
Also, while the journey is pretty linear for B2C consumers, it can be more of a meandering path for B2B buyers. Mainly because there are often multiple people involved in the process, multiple options to weigh up, and a budget to adhere to.
Think about what your customers need at each stage:
- Awareness: what are their biggest pain points and what problems do they need solving? How can you answer these questions to alleviate that pain?
- Consideration: what other solutions are you up against? How can you position your product as the best solution?
- Decision: what do buyers need to take the plunge and invest? How can you make sure you give them all the information they need to do this?
3. Topic Ideation
Now you know who your customers are and what they need at each stage of the buying process, it’s time to come up with content ideas.
As well as using the information garnered from your customer research, you can tap into tools and carry out extensive first-hand research to dig into what buyers might need from you.
Here are some key ways you can do that:
- BuzzSumo: see what content is getting the most shares and get topic inspiration
- AnswerThePublic: identify the most common questions people are asking about your product or industry
- Keyword Research: discover what SEO search terms people are using to find products like yours
- Competitor Research: use an SEO tool like Ahrefs to see what content is performing well on your competitors’ sites
- Social Listening: check out what conversations are happening on social media around your industry
AnswerThePublic suggests tons of topic ideas based on real-life consumer questions.
Also, tie in your content marketing with existing marketing campaigns. Content done in isolation is leaving a lot on the table. In my ideal world, all of this is integrated.
For example, we do a lot of webinars called Office Hours. We try to plan podcasts that have similar themes to be published in the weeks before these. We also create content for social media platforms (Twitter & LinkedIn primarily) that drive interest and desire for the topics at hand.
All of these efforts and media channels have synergistic effects.
4. Content Creation
Creating content is the fun part, as this is where all the research comes together.
There are two practical things to consider at this stage: the format of your content and where the content will fit in the sales cycle.
“Quality content” is meaningless and table stakes. Content should be created with a singular purpose in mind and should serve that purpose to the best of its ability. Sometimes that purpose is to drive conversions, educate buyers, drive search traffic, drive backlinks, or even just help out current customers. Make sure you know that purpose.
The most successful types of content for B2B brands are:
Blog posts: research shows that prioritizing business blogging can lead to 13x more positive ROI. Blog posts can be guides, how-tos, tutorials, and educational pieces that leads can find through search engines and on social media. Generally speaking, long-form content does best for B2B in my experience.
Example: Intercom creates timely, informative blog posts.
Whitepapers and ebooks: show off your expertise and industry knowledge with longer, downloadable content like whitepapers and ebooks
Example: HotJar has a range of ebooks and downloadable guides for prospects to browse through.
Research posts: carrying out first-hand research and writing it up can generate high-quality backlinks and boost your industry authority.
Example: HubSpot is renowned for its first-hand reports.
Videos: more consumers than ever are seeking out visual forms of content like video. You can use an online video editor to create tutorials, interviews, and product demos
Example: Oberlo has dedicated a corner of their website to video content.
Podcasts: as one of the fastest-growing content types, podcasts let you build relationships with potential buyers and establish your position in the market.
Example: Buffer has two podcasts that target two different segments of its audience.
Case studies: show potential customers what your product can do with case studies and customer stories.
Example: Wistia has an entire section of their site dedicated to customer success stories.
Templates and checklists: give readers practical content in the form of templates and checklists they can customize for their own use
Example: Orbit Media Studios publishes a selection of checklists.
Newsletters: There’s a commonly cited statistic that email generates $38 for every $1 spent (a whopping 3800% ROI). This is most likely bullshit, but email is still one of the top channels. Honestly, I really only care about email marketing and SEO as owned channels for content marketing. Social shares are great to get initial traction, but you should always try to get emails and focus on lead generation. You can also make your newsletter fun and not just a sales pitch.
Example: Asana’s weekly newsletters share tips, blog posts, and a customer spotlight.
It’s important to determine which content formats will best suit the needs of your prospects. For example, busy managers might not have the time to sift through a 200-page ebook, but they might relish a series of short three-minute videos.
Free marketing tools: I consider this a form of content marketing, but others call it “engineering as marketing.” But think about Bankrate’s calculators and HubSpot’s website grader. Amazing backlink magnets as well as lead generation tools.
Think about how these different types of content fit into the content marketing funnel as well:
- Awareness: blog posts, podcasts, and videos are great ways to attract potential leads and educate them on their pain points
- Consideration: whitepapers, ebooks, and research posts can help you stand out against your competition
- Decision: case studies and newsletters are great for taking leads to the final stage of the buying cycle
Once you’ve decided what content formats you’ll create and what topics you’ll dig into, it’s time to lay it all out in a content calendar.
This will give you a bird’s eye view of what content you’re creating, your posting schedule, where each piece fits into the marketing funnel, and what help you need to create each piece.
When creating your content calendar, it helps to include information like:
- The title of the piece
- What format it will take
- Who will create it
- What pain point it tackles
- When it needs to be created
- Which customer persona it targets
At this point, you’ll also need to consider what help you’ll need when creating content. Do you have enough people internally to create the kind of output you want, or will you have to bring in external freelancers and contractors?
Content marketing teams are usually some variation of this:
- Head of Content
- SEO manager (sometimes on the content team, sometimes not)
- Digital PR manager (build links!)
- Content Designer
- Content Writer
- Content agency
Make sure you have the required resources to make your B2B content strategy a success.
5. Scheduling and Distributing Content
Once you start publishing content, it’s all about distribution – a.k.a. getting your content in front of the right people.
Content should ideally be created with the distribution channels in mind. For example, relevant content for search engines might not do as well as a viral piece on Twitter. Sometimes content is specifically ordained to be sharable. Sometimes not.
Distribution is both a long term compounding effort (in the case of SEO and email signups), and sometimes short term and focused on initial traction (social media marketing, influencer marketing, paid ads, etc.)
The goal is to build more and more on your distribution channels over time, thus creating a moat.
It’s hard to compete in SEO against HubSpot. If you have an email list of 100,000 people, it’s easier and easier to get attention on your content, offers, and products every subsequent time you launch or publish.
Focus on the long game.
6. Measuring Success
Many marketers are resigned to the fact that, because you can’t measure every aspect of content marketing success, it’s not worth measuring at all.
Again, I call BS.
You’ll never measure every aspect of your paid ads success either, but I bet your boss wants to know if the $100k you spend on Facebook ads is driving any revenue.
So I say: measure content marketing success. Map your content marketing KPIs. Create lagging and leading indicators based on your goals.
Obviously this stuff is hard to do, and it’ll never be perfect (no, there are no marketing tools or attribution models that can do it perfectly).
How do you tell if a buyer finally decided to invest because of your latest case study or because of your sales reps?
It doesn’t make it easy when a lot of content marketing activities revolve around raising brand awareness and becoming a thought leader.
That being said, here are some metrics you might want to track:
- Organic website traffic
- Blog views
- Number of email subscribers
- Keyword rankings
- Conversions from content.
Ignore vanity metrics like overall traffic, social shares, “engagement” (when ill-defined), and the number of articles you’re publishing. Better to have a low amount of traffic and high conversions than vice versa. This means you’re creating the right content for your audience, not just content for content’s sake (which is a big old waste of money).
A really cool thing to do is connect your CRM to your Google Analytics, or blend the data in a tool like Data Studio, to map content marketing activities from your blog post to your landing page to your lead forms to your sales pipeline and beyond.
This level of granularity unlocks the potential for optimization at whichever step in the process is underperforming.
Brands Doing B2B Content Marketing Right
An entire library segmented into different content types means LeadPages has a variety of content available for people at different stages of the sales cycle.
Canva is renowned for its incredibly extensive collection of templates that businesses can use. On top of that, it has a number of tutorials, courses, and blog posts to help tackle the various pain points its buyers might have.
3. Single Grain
Single Grain knows that its audience is all about marketing. To target prospects at different stages of the sales cycle, they have a range of content options including marketing training, two different podcasts, a blog, and a bootcamp.
Where to Learn More About B2B Content Marketing?
This guide is a good start. It’s obviously not everything you need to know.
So where should you continue your education?
In my opinion, you should opt for action instead of endless education. At least after you’ve got good foundational knowledge. Marketers can spend hours a day reading blog posts, thinking it’s productive. It is…but only to a certain extent.
So fire up Clearscope or Surfer, build a content brief, write a piece of content, and promote it. What happens? What can you learn and improve on?
That’s the best way to learn in my opinion. Not reading endless Content Marketing Institute articles written by thought leaders who haven’t run a content program in years.
But if you insist, here are some great resources:
- Our podcast (it’s phenomenal – weekly long form convos with practitioners)
- Our course (it’s long and arduous, but if you’re serious, it’s comprehensive on strategy and SEO).
- CXL’s blog (more generally about marketing, but they’re masters at B2B content marketing so you can learn from how they do it)
- Copyhackers (incredible content and copywriting advice)
- Superpath (slack group – awesome resource for learning directly from peers)
- Traffic Think Tank (paid community, but incredible people there)
Get Your B2B Content Marketing Efforts Off the Ground
Content marketing is a powerful tool in the B2B world – and it can still be just as exciting as its B2C alternatives. Not only does it help you generate traffic and leads, but it establishes your brand as an authority and gently guides prospects through the sales cycle.
Start by learning who your customers are and what they want. Use this information to create different types of content to help tackle their biggest pain points and answer their most pressing questions. Most importantly, make sure your strategy is consistent and that you continue to measure your results.
Strategy matters. I hope I’ve made that clear. But your marketing tactics matter, too. A good content marketer – B2B or B2C focused – looks at the forest as well as the trees. The details as well as the gestalt.
Want to know how we do it? Learn the content strategy framework we use with our clients to drive incredible growth in our content strategy course.