Top 10 B2B Content Marketing Research Insights That Should Guide Your Strategy

August 30, 2016

Close up of Two Hands Holding an Open Map

Imagine you’re a B2B buyer tasked with researching a solution. Do you start calling companies, asking to speak with a sales rep? Or do you search the web to learn more about the solution first? If you said the latter, pretty much everyone on Earth agrees with you, which explains the following:

  • Content marketing spend in the UK is projected to double by 2020.  
  • In North America, 88% of B2B marketers already use content marketing.
  • For companies and agencies in South-East Asia, content marketing is the top marketing priority for both brands and agencies in 2016.

These stats carry two implications for the world’s B2B marketers:

  1. Engagement. The most likely way to build awareness with - and acquire - B2B buyers in the coming years, no matter where they are in the world, will be with content.
  2. Competition. It used to be that content marketing itself was a competitive differentiator. Now it’s the norm. And for consumers, it’s the expectation.

The brands that win the content game over the next decade will do so with a rock-solid strategy and fierce commitment to quality. Here are 10 research-backed insights to ensure your B2B content marketing strategy is primed to succeed in 2017 and beyond. 

Insight #1: 90% of a buyer’s journey may be complete before a prospect reaches out to a salesperson

Source: Forrester

Takeaway: The percentage of the buyer’s journey that is completed online, without help from sales, continues to increase year-over-year. It’s clear that buyers prefer to use content to:

  • Narrow down their list of potential vendors
  • Self-educate anonymously before connecting with a sales rep

To succeed in this landscape, B2B organisations need a strategy for using content and social media channels to reach the right people, at the right time, with the right message. Successful teams will account for all touch points in their content strategy, from top-of-funnel queries, to the various stages of the sales cycle, to support, to advocacy.

In this digital age, it’s increasingly important for marketing to play a bigger role in helping sales not just get ‘your’ message in front of a customer, but to make it ‘their’ message – something that the buyer cares enough about to talk to your rep and to do something that upsets the status quo as a result.

Laura Ramos, Vice President, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research

Insight #2: 81% of non-C-Suite employees influence purchase decisions

Source: Google/Millward Brown Digital, B2B Path to Purchase Study

Takeaway: It’s common for B2B content marketing campaigns to target senior level executives and the approach makes sense: 64% of the C-suite has final sign-off authority. But so do 24% of non-C-suite employees.

When we look at who actually influences purchase decisions (below), it’s clear that non-C-suite employees do the heavy lifting behind the scenes. While other companies ignore non-C-suite employees to their own detriment, your company can create a groundswell of support among audiences who are not only receptive to new ideas, but can also inspire action.  

  • Google/Millward Brown Digital, B2B Path to Purchase Study
To sum it all up, you can’t find Mobilizers on an org chart. They’re not the VP of this or the senior director of that. Role and title don’t matter. They’re individuals who mobilize irrespective of the org chart, not because of it.

            Brent Adamson, co-author of The Challenger Customer

Insight #3: Depending on the industry, 3.1 to 4.6 additional departments inside a company influence the purchase process

Source: Rethink the B2B Buyer’s Journey

Takeaway: As buying committees expand, vendors who make their presence known company-wide have a decided edge. This means marketing and sales teams need to collaborate on a strategy that involves educating more than the primary decision maker. 

Insight #4: 74% of buyers choose the company that was first to add value as they are defining their buying decision

Source: SAVO, Techniques of Social Selling: Just Do It!, 2014

Takeaway: When it comes to gathering valuable information, B2B buyers value breadth, depth, and original ideas. B2B organisations should aim to create thought leadership content that demonstrates clear expertise on a given topic and contains a unique and defensible point of view. When B2B buyers face information overload, it’s thought leadership content that gets noticed and shared.

True thought leadership starts with empathy. Can you tell me the top ten problems your audience has at any given time? How about the top ten aspirations? Are you thinking through where your audience wants to be compared to where the market is going?”

            Brian Solis, Principal Analyst, Altimeter Group

Insight #5: 71% of B2B researchers start their research with a generic search

Source: Google/Millward Brown Digital, B2B Path to Purchase Study

Takeaway: This doesn’t mean B2B marketers should ignore branded search terms. What it means is that, in most cases, branded search terms shouldn’t take priority over the generic search terms buyers use. Google’s research also reveals that buyers not only use search as their #1 resource for research, they’re spending more time with search as well.

Insight #6: There’s a disconnect between buyers and marketers as to what constitutes effective sales content

Source: Rethink the B2B Buyer’s Journey

Takeaway: Avoid hunches when deciding which types of content to create. Instead, use engagement metrics or better yet, talk to prospective buyers to find out which content – whether it’s your content or a competitor’s – they found most valuable during their decision-making journey. As you can see in the chart below, assuming your audience doesn’t want product info or demos might be flat-out false.

Insight #7: Smartphones and video play a significant role in the modern B2B research process

Source: Google/Millward Brown Digital, B2B Path to Purchase Study

Takeaway: It seems like just yesterday you couldn’t read an article about millennials without wondering whether the first generation to grow up with the internet would ever fit into the workforce. Today’s millennials influence and make B2B buying decisions.

So it makes sense that there has been a 91% growth in B2B researchers using smartphones throughout the buyer’s journey, with a 52% jump from 2012 to 2014. And it also makes sense that nearly half of B2B researchers watch 30+ minutes of video during their research process. About 20% (1 in 5) watch over an hour of content. 

The implication for brands is that focusing solely on word-based content not optimised for mobile is destined to appease a smaller portion of potential buyers over time. It’s important to package up content to suit the various channels and format preferences of your target audience.

Insight #8: Account based marketing (ABM) has been shown to increase B2B marketing teams’ contributions to the sales pipeline

Source: Sirius Decisions

Takeaway: Given its ability to attribute sales results to marketing efforts, it’s no wonder that SiriusDecisions found that 92 percent of B2B marketers view ABM as a “must have” business strategy. Larger deal sizes, improvements in customer health scores, and increases in marketing-sourced or influenced pipeline were also among the benefits of brands using ABM.

Sales teams have traditionally sold to accounts rather than contacts. With ABM, marketing teams use the same approach. Think of it as ditching the net and fishing with a spear. If you feel like your marketing efforts could benefit from added precision, check out The Sophisticated Marketer’s Crash Course in ABM to learn more. 

It’s just good marketing. Whether you call it flipping the funnel or flattening the funnel, it’s about aiming at a more well-defined area of that funnel (i.e. your best buyers) and treating those buyers in a much more personal way while focusing on the account as a whole.

Justin Gray, CEO of LeadMD

Insight #9: B2B buyers are 7.2x more connected than the typical LinkedIn member, and are 9.2x more likely to share content

Source: Rethink the B2B Buyer’s Journey

Takeaway: Buyers are engaged with their social network, and that means relationship-building opportunities for marketers and sellers. In fact, LinkedIn’s research found that buyers who use social media reported stronger relationships with their vendors, on average. B2B organisations should have a clear strategy for using social media to initiate and strengthen relationships with potential buyers and customers alike. Especially when you consider that 85% of B2B buyers believe companies should present information via social media. 

We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.

              Erik Qualman, Motivational Speaker, CEO & Bestselling Author


Insight #10: Content shared by employees receives 8x more engagement than content shared by brand channels

Source: Social Media Today

Takeaway: If buyers want company information via social, it stands to reason that companies are reaping rewards by answering the call. For instance, 80% of B2B social media leads come from LinkedIn and 50% of LinkedIn members report they are more likely to buy from a company they engage with on LinkedIn. But dig deeper and it becomes clear that employees are the biggest driver of social media results for brands:

  • Not only does content shared by employees receive 8x more engagement, it’s re-shared 24x more frequently when shared by employees versus the brand.
  • Only 2 – 8% of employee social networks overlap with brand networks
  • Leads developed via employees’ social activity are 7x more likely to convert than other leads

In the social and content era, every employee can participate. Every employee can ignite conversations with potential buyers and influencers, which is why facilitating content and social initiatives among non-sales and marketing team members should be part of your content strategy as well. By simply sharing content, every employee can be an awesome B2B content marketer, not just the marketing department. 

When content becomes an ingrained element of an enterprise’s culture, the culture functions like a well-oiled engine, producing, circulating, and begetting content, creating numerous efficiencies in the process.

             Altimeter Group 

You can lead your B2B organisation to success in 2017 and beyond. We can help.

For 100+ pages on creating a smarter B2B content marketing strategy that works with the modern buyer’s journey – featuring advice and insights from the brightest minds in the business – download The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing