What Is B2B Content Marketing and How To Do It Effectively in 2018

August 1, 2018

In the digital age, content marketing is how companies build trust and familiarity with their audiences. It is especially important in business to business (B2B) marketing, where decisions are often guided by these factors.

Let’s take a deep dive into B2B content marketing: what it is, how to develop a comprehensive strategy, and how to use LinkedIn for B2B marketing.

What is B2B Content Marketing?

B2B content is central to the LinkedIn experience. Professionals scroll through their feeds for many reasons, but chief among them is the enrichment and advancement of their careers. They want to find information that makes them more knowledgeable and more successful in their jobs.

Companies that can deliver relevant, useful insights become valued resources. At this point, those companies are well positioned to attract attention, gain business, and earn referrals. This dynamic is at the heart of B2B content marketing.

Content marketing is broadly defined as the act of “creating, publishing, and distributing content for a targeted audience online.” Desired outcomes include generating leads, expanding the customer base, increasing sales, growing brand awareness, and building communities.

While all forms of content marketing are important, it is arguably most critical in the B2B space, for three primary reasons:

  1. Business decisions, more so than consumer decisions, tend to be based on rational motivations. Reliably good content helps inform these decisions and create consensus within buying committees.

  2. The best content marketing speaks directly to a specific audience. B2B products and services tend to have more narrowly defined target markets than B2C.

  3. B2B decision makers are increasingly autonomous in researching purchases. The advantages of being discovered, and viewed as trustworthy, during this process are immense.

There are a number of content marketing definitions that go deeper, or address specific aspects of the concept. Jay Acunzo defines content marketing as “solving the same customer problems as your product but through media you create and distribute.” Seth Godin calls it “the only marketing that’s left.”

You can scroll down to the bottom of this post for different takes from reputed industry experts. But first, let’s walk through the process of putting together a B2B content marketing strategy.

How to Create a B2B Content Marketing Strategy

According to the B2B Content Marketing 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report, 91% of B2B organizations use content marketing.

However, only 56% say they are “extremely committed” or “very committed” to content marketing, and only 37% say they have a documented strategy in place.

With this in mind, we’ll break down the elements of today’s most effective B2B content marketing strategies. Solidifying this framework requires answering several key questions by looking inward (What do we do/know better than anyone else?), outward (Who exactly are our customers and competitors?), and forward (What are we ultimately going to achieve?).

Define Your Audience

The more data you can gather around your audience – their interests, their habits, their common pain points – the better you will be able to create content that reaches them and strikes a chord. Analyze your existing customers to create profiles and personas that will direct your efforts going forward.

You’ll want to develop intel around these four audience dimensions:

  • Demographics: Basic categorical information about your B2B customers, both at a company level – industry, company size, location – and an individual level – job title, seniority, skills. You can do this easily & accurately with the LinkedIn Website Demographics.
  • Psychographics: When you look at the typical decision maker you hope to engage, what are their attitudes and aspirations? Where do they hang out online? How can you be most helpful to them?
  • Technographics: Almost every business today relies heavily on technology. What tools and software do your customers and prospects use? How can your solution fit with their existing setups? Which needs are likely to develop in the future?
  • Search Habits: How do these companies and their buyers go about researching online? Which social channels do they look to for information? Which search terms and keywords do they use? Which sources and influencers do they trust? You can use tools like SEMRush & Answer The Public to find out.

Define Your Unique Expertise

Now that you know your audience, you’ll want to determine where you can be most valuable to them. Which topics are your company and its reps most knowledgeable about? Try to be more precise than general.

For instance, at LinkedIn, we like to think we know marketing and content marketing. But lots of people know these areas and cover them extensively.

Where we really specialize is B2B marketing – most specifically, subsets like audience targeting, B2B social media marketing, and objective-based B2B content strategy. These are the subjects we are immersed in every day. They are where our skills, experience, and passion meet. Where do yours?

Ideally, your content mission should live at the intersection of your audience, your expertise, and your opportunity in the market. That last part will be determined by the next step.

Conduct Competitive Research

Who are your competitors? Which other companies sell similar products and services? Which brands pop up before and after yours on a search results page for targeted keywords? Who does your audience engage with on social media?

A vital component of B2B marketing strategy is taking a hard look at what your competitors are doing. This isn’t so you can copy or mimic them – quite the opposite. You want to identify white space: “where unmet and unarticulated needs are uncovered to create innovation opportunities.” Then you’ll know exactly where to set your destination.

Pick Your Platforms & Formats

A company blog is essential for just about any B2B content marketing strategy today. This is a powerful inbound vehicle and a place to continually develop your brand voice. Given the generally low investment, blogs also tend to deliver strong B2B marketing ROI.

But there are many choices to be made within this marketing channel. Where will the content be hosted? Which topics within your area of unique expertise will be focuses? Will you just create text-based posts or add other formats like infographics and B2B video to the mix? What about producing ebooks or white papers?

Being active on social media should also be a given. Similar to blogging, it’s a relatively inexpensive channel with considerable benefits in terms of visibility, credibility, engagement, and relationship-building.

But here too there are many additional choices to be made. Which social networks should be your cornerstones? What types of content will you publish and share?

In laying out your B2B content marketing strategy, it’s always advisable to align your channels and content types with different stages of the buyer’s journey. A full-funnel approach involves customizing your messaging and assets to address different questions and needs based on a buyer’s mindset, with informational content at the awareness phase transitioning to deeper and more product-centric content as they move toward a final decision.

Define Your Goals and What Success Looks Like

To be truly strategic in our B2B content marketing efforts, they need to be working toward clear and measurable goals. Each tactic and piece of content should support these predetermined goals in distinct ways.

Sometimes, the objective is simply brand awareness or thought leadership, in which case vanity metrics like impressions and clicks can be informative. But when it comes to generating leads and growing business, you’ll want to rely on sales-driven metrics, like conversions and marketing-attributed revenue.

Here’s how LinkedIn B2B marketing products support some common objectives:

  • Sponsored Content: These native ads on LinkedIn help boost awareness and engagement. Use them to amplify your messaging to strategic audiences on the platform. Sponsored Content can also help you generate B2B leads through the integration of Lead Gen Forms.
  • Sponsored InMail: Enabling you to contact prospects through LinkedIn messenger, this format is most useful for fostering deeper engagements, building relationships, and driving registrations for an event or webinar. It works best with CTA-driven content speaking directly to its recipient (similar to email marketing content). Sponsored InMail can also integrate with Lead Gen Forms.
  • Display Ads: These pay-per-click ads can meet any number of goals by driving targeted traffic to your website or select landing page.
  • Conversion Tracking: Use this feature with any of the ad formats above to measure how effectively the ads are pushing you toward your goals. Conversion Tracking helps you gauge whether users are taking the desired next step after clicking through.
  • Matched Audiences: These customized target tools allow you to reach people you already know (existing contact lists, website visitors, accounts you’ve researched) on the LinkedIn platform.  

SEO should also be a consideration as you map out your B2B content strategy and objectives. Which keywords do you want to rank for? Which long-tail terms present less competitive opportunities? How can you improve your visibility for high-value intent keywords through organic and paid tactics?

To learn more about these key topics, here are a few recommended posts from the LinkedIn Marketing blog:

Create Your Content Calendar

With any kind of content creation, consistency is key. Mark Schaefer frames the importance of content consistency as such: “You need to become part of the fabric of your audience’s life. And that means being reliable.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be creating new content everyday. But if you want to build a loyal and engaged blog readership, they should be able to count on finding new posts at a regular cadence. And if you want to stay on the minds of your social media followers, you need to stay on their feeds.

Make decisions around posting frequency and build out a calendar containing content details like title, format, and target keyword. Establish accountability by giving someone ownership over these platforms and initiatives. Hold regular meetings or status calls to keep things on track and moving forward.

Here at LinkedIn, we have a blog call at 10:00 am every day and we structure it like a daily newsroom stand-up. Our calendar is documented a few weeks out (living on a simple Excel online doc), but we use these meetings to adjust the specifics and assign responsibilities for them on the fly. That way, we stay nimble in terms of our production and are able to deliver on our one-post-per-day promise (at least!).

Test and Learn What Works

If developing a successful B2B content marketing strategy was easy, everyone would be knocking it out of the park. The digital marketplace is complex. Decision makers are busy and sometimes fickle. Content marketing trends change often.

The best bet for B2B marketing that achieves your goals is experimenting, testing, and constantly tweaking. Start pushing out a variety of content, through different channels, and see what’s working. Adjust your approach based on KPIs that track back to our overall content and business goals.

There’s no shortage of best practices, guides, and expert advice out there, but ultimately no two businesses or situations are the same. Testing and tinkering is the only way to confidently ensure you’re moving in the right direction. We advise making these evaluations quarterly, if not monthly.

As our own Megan Golden astutely puts it, “If you’re not testing, you’re losing money.”

Slowly Build Up an Influencer Community

One final consideration as you build out your B2B content marketing strategy is to incorporate influencers. We’re not talking about paying social media “celebrities” with big followings to peddle your goods; B2B influencer marketing is a long-term strategy focused on building and strengthening business relationships with people who are trusted and respected within your niche.

Guest blogging, jointly hosted webinars, and co-created assets are great ways to integrate influencer marketing into your B2B content strategy. Not only can those you partner with amplify the reach of your content, but they also infuse the credibility they’ve already established with their (and your) audience.

B2B Content Marketing Quotes

Speaking of influencers, we’ve collected some of our favorite content marketing quotes of all time to offer added perspective and inspire you on your journey. Here’s how several industry leaders answer the question “what is b2b content marketing?” and where it fits in today’s business strategies:

“Actually talk to your customers. Use the language that they use. Talk about the things they talk about. Never feed salad to a lion.” Jay Acunzo, Vice President, NextView

“The reason we struggle with content marketing is because we haven’t started with ‘Why?’ Customers don’t care about your vanity metrics. Ask them, ‘How can I help?’” Kristina Halvorson, CEO and Founder, Brain Traffic

“For those of you who think comedy won’t work for your brand, ask yourself: Will it work for your customers?” Tim Washer, Writer/Producer, Cisco

“Visual content, more creative storytelling, and interactive content contribute to experiences that inform and create an emotional connection with buyers. Brands are still creating more content, but it's held to a higher standard by customers.” Lee Odden, CEO, TopRank Marketing

“Great marketers have immense empathy for their audience. They can put themselves in their shoes, live their lives, feel what they feel, go where they go, and respond how they'd respond. That empathy comes out in content that resonates with your audience.” Rand Fishkin, former Wizard of Moz

“A good content marketer can empathize with their audience and can therefore understand what topics they should create content on, what tone of voice to use, and what channels to promote the content in.” Pawan Deshpande, CEO, Curata

“Content marketing is like a first date. If all you do is talk about yourself, there won’t be a second date.” David Beebe, Vice President, Global Creative + Content Marketing, Marriott International

Content Marketing Strategy

“There is no content strategy without measurement strategy. Before embarking on a content initiative, irrespective of medium or platform, it’s important to know what you want to achieve.” Rebecca Lieb, Principal, Conglomotron LLC

I think the strategy, the commitment and the cadence are more important than the calendar.” Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group

“It's democratic. Anyone, anywhere, with any budget can develop a valuable audience over time and make an impact. In other words, there are no excuses for not doing this well, as long as you have a plan and execute against that plan.” Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute

“Curation is a natural and necessary extension of content creation. That is, as great as your content may be, your audience wants to learn from other experts and differing perspectives.” Pawan Deshpande

“More content is not better. What’s the worst case scenario if we slow ourselves down and do some analysis?” Kristina Halvorson

“In the future I see a democratization of content creation through content relationships with famous influencers (brandividuals) and niche influencers alike. There's upside to content co-creation for both brands and contributors. The influencers get exposure to the brand community and the brand gets exposure to better quality content shared with an entirely new audience.” Lee Odden

“Content marketing is a commitment, not a campaign.” Jon Buscall, CEO, Moondog Marketing & Media

“Pushing out content you want to publish is a lot different than executing a successful content marketing program that connects with customers by delivering meaningful experiences that are contextually relevant.” Ardath Albee, CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist, Marketing Interactions

“The new era demands a focus on ignition, not just content, on trust, not just traffic, and on the elite people in your audience who are spreading and advocating your content.” Mark Schaefer, Executive Director, Schaefer Marketing Solutions

“We need to create a business strategy for our content.  That means saying no to many channels and content types, and focus on where we can build an asset, an audience, over time.” Joe Pulizzi

“Given that content marketing isn't just about producing content, but about earning traffic to it as well, SEO should be a cornerstone of any content marketer's repertoire.” Rand Fishkin

Content Marketing Execution

“Eliminating distractions holds true for all marketers. Whatever it is you’re trying to do, make that a priority and find a way to block out everything else.” Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, Marketingprofs

“Content is the emotional and informational bridge between commerce and consumer.” Jay Baer, President & Social Media and Content Marketing Strategist, Convince & Convert

“Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.” Andrew Davis, Professional Speaker, Monumental Shift

“To stand out from the swell, we must quietly say only what is important. Briefly and with care.” Brian Solis, Principal Analyst, Altimeter Group

Content Marketing Measurement

“If your website was a city, there would be a highway of visitors flowing through it. But if you don't know where that highway is, you don't know how to guide traffic. You don't know where to put the billboards.” Andy Crestodina, Cofounder & Strategic Director, Orbit Media Studios

“Too many marketers cobble together marketing tactics because of shiny object syndrome, chasing competitors, or simply acting on intuition. If data about your buyers reveals their preference to use search for top of funnel discovery and then forums to flush out solution ideas, then it makes sense to use SEO and social media to be where your customers are. If they like white papers, create them. If they prefer events, then host them.” Lee Odden

“How quickly is your content accelerating the funnel or shortening the buying cycle? If your leads are coming in by way of your content and they are much closer to purchasing your product, that’s a clear sign of success.” Jason Miller, Global Content Marketing Leader, LinkedIn

Creativity in Content Marketing

“In a sea of mediocre content, a brave tone can be a big differentiator.” Ann Handley

“Just as your content needs to target customers at every step of their journey with you, it also needs to appeal to their rational and emotional sides. Every customer needs to have their interest piqued, engagement provoked and confidence built.” Mark Wilson, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Blackberry

“Creative writing and visuals are essential for the human side of SEO, because they attract links, shares and engage visitors to become buyers.” Lee Odden

“If you don’t have anything interesting to say as a brand, you’re just a product.” Spencer Baim, Chief Strategic Officer, Vice Media

“B2B marketers obsess about the rational at the expense of the emotional.The best stuff combines both.” Doug Kessler, Creative Director & Co-Founder, Velocity Partners Ltd

“If you can take your personality and inject it into the message you share, you’ll be one step ahead in the content marketing game.” Jason Miller

Storytelling and Content Marketing

“I don’t make unconventional stories; I don’t make non-linear stories. I like linear storytelling a lot.” Steven Spielberg, Filmmaker

“Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” Jonathan GottschallAuthor, The Storytelling Animal

“The world has changed. Most content stinks. Attract people through stories they love.” Michael Brenner

“At the strategy level, marketers are the keepers of the brand and the stories of the organization. Leaders of the marketing organization should be infusing the organization’s stories into each piece of content.” Nancy Duarte, Principal, Duarte, Inc.

“Maybe stories are just data with a soul.” Brené Brown, Founder & CEO, COURAGEworks

Content Marketing with Personas

“Create a proof of concept program that you can benchmark against your content marketing programs that are not persona-driven. Prove the value, refine your approach, and then iterate to include additional personas.” Ardath Albee

“Understand the difference between a profile and a persona. A profile is the kind of person who would buy your stuff. Persona is insight on how buyers make decisions.” Adele Revella, CEO, Buyer Persona Institute

Creating Quality Content

“Behind every piece of great content is a marketer, publisher, author who passionately and empathetically sought to help his or her audience. But how do you teach empathy to an executive who has none? The answer is fear. You have to show them that if you don't create the best answer to your customers' questions, someone else will.” Michael Brenner

“Content that builds trust is human, personal, relevant, it isn’t greedy, and it doesn’t trick people. If the recipient knew what the sender knows, would she still be happy? If the answer to that question is yes, then it’s likely it’s going to build trust.” Seth Godin

“Content that understands its audience will be good content. Content that doesn’t, can’t be.” Doug Kessler

“If it’s not relevant, it’s just noise.” Jason Miller

Content Promotion

“We need to produce content that naturally earns links and content that's likely to earn links once we do the right kinds of outreach.” Rand Fishkin

“People don’t find content by mistake, or by accident. Every content plan needs a complementary promotion plan that combines paid, owned, and earned media.” Matthew Gratt, Digital Marketing Manager, Continuum Analytics

“Influencer marketing at its core is about developing real relationship to ultimately champion your influencers to market with you.” Amanda Maksymiw, Senior Content Marketing Manager, Lattice Engines

Content Marketing and Technology

“Technology may change the way we communicate, but the relationship building truths will always stay the same. Stay true to them, in life and in marketing.” Ekaterina Walter, Global Evangelist, Sprinklr

“Tools are great, but content marketing success is about the wizard, not the wand.” Jay Baer

“Never bring an opinion to a data fight.” Andy Crestodina

“Marketing is art and science. For a while we over-indexed on art. Now we risk over-indexing on science.” Alicia Dietsch, Vice President of Marketing Communications & Operations, AT&T

“Marketing and IT have to move beyond just understanding each other’s acronyms and actually develop a cohesive strategy that actually DOES facilitate the buyer’s journey with great content-driven experiences. Sadly, this is mostly still done in silos.” Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer, Content Marketing Institute

Content Marketing Inspiration

“Real content marketing isn’t repurposed advertising, it is making something worth talking about.” Seth Godin

There are no mistakes. Only gifts.” Tim Washer

“Too often, feeling intimidated becomes our excuse not to be awesome.” Scott Stratten, President, UnMarketing

“You can increase the bottom line while, at the same time, help your customers live better lives or get better jobs.  Content marketing is the only kind of marketing that provides ongoing value, whether you purchase the product or not.” Joe Pulizzi

Stay Updated on Industry Trends and Best Practices

Change is the only constant. It’s an adage that so often rings true, and certainly applies to the world of B2B content marketing. Keep pace with our weekly What’s Trending in Marketing, and never forget to stop learning.

For more B2B marketing education, we hope you’ll subscribe to our blog.

Topics