We talk a lot about content marketing at Actual, because we write a lot of content for our clients. We also pay attention to other experts to keep on top of our game, and among the best out there are the folks at the Content Marketing Institute. Each year the CMI, together with MarketingProfs, issues an annual B2B Content Marketing report (B2B Content Marketing 2019: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America.)
This year’s edition, like its predecessors, was full of great insights, guidance and data. I’ve highlighted 5 key tips here, and I’ve also included a few incisive snapshots from the survey, illustrating what B2B content marketers are doing and planning in their own content strategies.
One of the key tenets we adopted early at Actual is: put your audience’s needs first. This year’s CMI survey data overwhelmingly validates this critical dimension of content development (important note on the 2019 survey: participants had to have been involved in B2B content marketing for at least one year.)
We set very specific objectives for our content: we want it to get found, consumed, discussed and shared, and we want readers to take action. We want the right people to find value in that content, and come back for more.
But on a deeper level something much more critical to our longterm success is occurring. We’re developing a bond with our audiences. This year’s CMI survey underscores that to be the most valuable result of good B2B content marketing.
With that as a lead-in, let’s look at our 5 Key Takeaways from this year’s CMI Report:
1.) Focus on building trust
The value of good content begins with it being about your reader – content they want and need, when and where they are looking for it.
CMI’s Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose: “Every digital experience we create should not only reflect our focus on winning a moment of truth – where the customer is paying attention – but in deepening the trust gained (or regained) in every step that precedes or follows it.”
Rose’s four essential traits content must possess in order to earn trust:
- Risk appropriate (avoid asking for something before proving the value)
- Consistent (deliver reliable content regularly over time)
- Personal (based on reliable information the visitor has willingly given)
- Cumulative (building on what came before)
2.) Talk to customers
This might sound daunting. We all know how challenging it is to engage customers in our own marketing efforts. But positioning your intent effectively should garner you better results: remember that its not about your products and services, its about your customer’s issues, preferences, challenges and needs. This will elicit more interest and engagement from your customers – and translate into more compelling content for your prospects.
But relatively few B2B content marketers research their audience by talking to their customers. Even though effective personas are based on research about real people, the CMI survey revealed that only 42% of content marketers this year said they have conversations with customers as part of their audience research.
Here’s an interesting look at research techniques:
Bottom line: find ways to engage with customers. Here are some suggestions: accompany sales reps on their calls; arrange phone calls with prospects and customers directly; take advantage of in-person events your audience members attend to talk to them.
3.) Educational content – and email campaigns – reign
We recently finished an audit of a client’s content going back one year. We grouped the content into three topic buckets and ranked the top five pieces by performance in each bucket. This uncovered a starting discovery: in the “educational content” bucket, four of the five top pieces of content (all blog posts) had actually been originally published before 2018 – with the oldest coming from 2015.
The point is that educational content, when composed properly, can have real evergreen value. Of course, other elements needed to be present: strong SEO, the crafting of headlines to map to longtail search terms, continued support via paid amplification, etc.
Educational content joined e-mail campaigns at the top of the list of methods and tactics content marketers are using to nurture their audiences. Fifty-eight percent of respondents reported that they’ve used content marketing successfully to nurture audiences leads or subscribers in the last 12 months.
Here’s the list of top 10 methods; are you utilizing any of these?
One final note here: B2B content marketers are still not actively focused on engaging their audiences in community or discussion-oriented scenarios. We expect to see more of this in the coming year.
4.) Experiment with more content formats
More B2B content marketers are using more video – in storytelling and in webinars: 64% increased their use of video in the last year. The use of text-based digital (articles and e-books) and images (infographics, photos and charts) are also on the rise.
Here, from the survey, is a detailed look at the changes in usage of different content formats and types:
What we find is that there are many factors at play in determining the right content mix: the nature of the business, type and role(s) of decision-makers, the overarching goals you’ve set. We are experimenting with greater frequency: with podcasts and eBooks for example, testing and learning about changing media consumption patterns on the part of certain target audiences for whom we are creating content. And we are definitely experimenting with more video, with a big caveat: video is expensive. We’re taking different kinds of approaches with video content purposely produced with a very informal loo and feel in order to establish and gain social traction.
5.) Pay attention to changes in SEO and search algorithms
Forget about spending too much time on artificial intelligence or preparing content for voice search – at least for now. While these topics take up a lot of oxygen in marketing conversations (and 14% of respondents cited AI and 13% noted voice search in the CMI survey), most of us content marketers are much more concerned with staying abreast of the seemingly constant changes in algorithms.
Endeavoring to keep up with what what’s happening in social and search algorithms can feel like a Sisyphean task. The good news: resources do exist. Here is a fantastic asset from experts who spoke at the 2018 Content Marketing World speaking about coping with social algorithm changes.
B2B content marketing is evolving rapidly. What was only recently a novel concept in the marketing mix has become an increasingly more sophisticated function. As a primary example, today nearly all top-performing B2B content marketers – 90% – put their audience’s informational needs ahead of their company’s sales/promotional message.
So, to re-cap:
- Focus on building trust
- Talk to customers
- Educational content – and email campaigns – reign
- Experiment with more content formats
- Pay attention to search and social algorithms
Let us know your thoughts; we always appreciate feedback!