B2B buyers have spoken: here’s what they want from your content marketing

The findings of this year’s Demand Gen Report on content preferences show that podcasts and blog posts are more valuable than ever

April 18, 2018

What do B2B buyers really want from content

The ultimate goal of B2B content marketing is to generate demand for your solutions and influence buying decisions in favour of your business. It’s difficult to achieve these things without a clear understanding of what B2B buyers want from your content. That’s why it would be crazy to ignore the Demand Gen Report annual survey of content preferences for B2B buyers. This year’s report makes very interesting reading – especially if you’re a fan of podcasts, webinars and original blog posts backed by data.

In many ways this is a demand generation survey for the ‘Content Shock’ era. It shows that content has more influence over B2B buying decisions than ever, with 49% of buyers saying they rely more on content to guide their decisions than they did a year ago – and 78% consuming three or more pieces of relevant content before talking to a salesperson. However, it also shows that time-poor B2B buyers are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of content out there. In response, they’re adopting definite strategies for deciding which content has value – and which doesn’t.

B2B content marketers need credible ways to signal value
More than three quarters (78%) of buyers say they are placing more emphasis on the trustworthiness of a content’s source than they did a year ago, and 65% say they are consciously focusing more on credible content from industry influencers. The barriers to entry for B2B content are going up – but so too are the rewards when you signal value and credibility in the right way. Choosing the right formats for different stages of the buying journey is a big help – and the Demand Gen Report has some very interesting insight to offer on what this looks like.

Why you need a podcast strategy
Podcasts, one of the many content formats to have been pronounced ‘dead’ by psychotically early-adopting marketing bloggers, are actually more influential than ever. Almost two thirds (64%) of B2B buyers describe podcasts as a content format that they value in the early stages of the buying process – that’s more than for any other content format apart from Infographics (76%) and B2B news sites (65%). They also view the time they spend engaging with podcasts differently. When asked how long they would typically spend, 29% of buyers responded that the question was irrelevant – that’s because they listen to podcasts in their entirety no matter how long they are. Over half of buyers are listening to podcasts for 20 minutes or more at a time.

There’s another reason for buyers self-selecting podcasts as the format they want to engage with: the best podcasts involve conversations. That means more than one person, appearances by subject matter experts, alternative perspectives – and not one, overly-controlled brand message. The Demand Gen Report shows that, in the early stages of the decision-making process, this is exactly what buyers are looking for. They give greater credence to content that involves third parties or analysts rather than just coming from brands. In fact, 64% say that they frequently see content from third-party analysts as credible.

Blog posts are still the lynchpin for B2B content
Blog posts are the other content format that demand generation marketers can’t afford to ignore. The number of B2B buyers engaging with blogs during the purchase process is up from 66% to 71%, with the majority engaging with each post for 5 minutes or more. This is impressive when you consider the growing range of content formats battling for buyers’ attention. Blog posts are on the up because of their accessibility (66% of buyers think companies should make it easier to access their content), their easy shareability (blog posts and White Papers are the most shared form of content), and the very visible forms of engagement that they generate. They also provide an obvious opportunity to showcase original data, which 75% of buyers say should feature more in B2B content, and insights from thought leaders and analysts, which 62% say they want more of.

Webinars are a lead gen marketer’s dream
Applied expertise is particularly valued in the mid-stages of the buyer journey – and this helps to explain why webinars are still such an effective tactic in building consideration amongst B2B buyers. Roughly half (48%) of buyers describe webinars as the most valuable form of content at this point in their decision-making – and they spend longer engaging with webinars than any other content format. Along with White Papers, webinars are also the content format that buyers are most willing to exchange their contact details for – and along with their perceived value, this continues to make them a powerful lead generation tactic, moving the demand gen process forward.

Case studies: turns out Sales was right all along
Case studies are a format that content marketers can take for granted – we produce them because sales asks us to, but it’s easy to be skeptical about the level of engagement they drive. LinkedIn’s research into the evolving B2B buyer journey shows how the views of sales and marketing on the effectiveness of case studies tend to diverge. This report shows why the marketers who underestimate case studies are wrong. Buyers want evidence of real business benefits and ROI in the later stages of their purchase journey – and they identify case studies as one of the most valuable formats in providing it. After ROI calculators, they are the second most valued form of content towards the close, selected by 42% of buyers.

How to signal credibility for content – don’t ignore vanity metrics
Content formats, then, can play a big role in signalling that yours is the content worth engaging with. However, they are far from the only factor. The demand gen report emphasises other techniques too. B2B marketers need to raise the profile of their subject matter experts through authored blog posts, commission original research with a clear value to their audiences, and invite influencers and analysts to participate alongside them in podcasts and webinars. They also need to focus on the depth and length of content. Research from LinkedIn and Buzzsumo shows the critical role that the length of blog posts plays in establishing their reach and authority.

B2B marketers also can’t afford to ignore the value in vanity metrics. Roughly two-thirds (64%) of buyers say they give more credence to content that is associated with peer reviews and user-generated feedback. That makes comments on a blog post, for example, one of the most important considerations when deciding whether to engage with content or not.

It’s worth remembering too, that the most important trend in content consumption amongst B2B buyers is to favour content that comes from a trustworthy source. This puts more value than ever on social media shares and the content channels that help to drive them. Over half (52%) of B2B buyers share content on LinkedIn, second only to email when it comes to establishing content credibility in this way.

How will B2B video change demand generation?
New formats such as B2B video will no doubt change the demand gen picture over the coming year. It’s going to be fascinating to see how video in the LinkedIn feed impacts on the time that buyers spend engaging with this form of content – and the frequency with which it’s shared. Already, 49% of B2B buyers are engaging with video content during the purchase journey, with half of them spending more than 5 minutes with each piece of video on average.

The role of video in B2B demand generation will be governed by the same key factors as other forms of content. It must be original, featuring data and expert perspectives where possible. It must be targeted to establish relevance to a particular sector. It must be easy to access, and it must be positioned in an environment that encourages shares, comments and other all-important signals of credibility.

B2B buyers are being pretty clear and unambiguous about what they want. B2B marketers will always do well to listen to them over the coming year.