5 truths about B2B content marketing

Business-to-business isn’t boring, uncreative or all the other clichés you’ve surely heard. We bust the myths to help you build buzz with your B2B marketing game.

BY Marla Clark
Imagination Contributor

The B2B landscape is littered with clichés that make me (and other B2B marketers) yawn—and a little bit sad. Having created content for companies across multiple industries for more than two decades, I’ve seen and heard them all, including these gems:

  • B2B is boring.
  • B2B is unimaginative.
  • B2B is overly rational and uninterested in real emotions.
  • B2B is rigid.
  • B2B is arduous.

To which I say: #tired.

B2B is a lot of things. But blindly assuming there’s truth in the clichés diminishes the strategic thinking, creativity and genuine relationship building that make marketing and selling to other businesses anything but boring.

So let’s forget the myths and absorb these B2B realities.

1. B2B ≠ B2C

Marketing and sales pros who work for companies that sell to other organizations satisfying business interests—rather than to individuals satisfying personal ones—know all too well that the rules of the game are different.

Last year, Imagination Executive Vice President Rebecca Rolfes outlined the key differences between B2B and B2C: “It’s not that B2B audiences don’t want content to be cool or visually engaging,” she wrote. “It’s that their needs often differ quite a bit.”

To wit:

5 truths B2B vs B2C

In both cases, the destination is action. But the road maps to get your target audiences to take action are anything but boilerplate. The industry and products in question, business and marketing objectives, and audience demographics and content consumption preferences (among other things) all shape the strategic path forward. Forget campaigns: This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Forget campaigns: This is a marathon, not a sprint.

2. Businesses are people too

Some argue that the B2B acronym is a bit of a misnomer or, at the very least, a misrepresentation. Why? Because people, not the businesses they work for, ultimately make the decision about which company to buy from. And that means marketers must connect with business audiences on a human level by making them feel heard.

To achieve this, B2B marketers must demonstrate they’ve taken the time to understand a prospective customer’s company and needs, as well as where that company fits into the larger competitive landscape. When asked why they ultimately chose the winning vendor over others, 70 percent of B2B buyers pointed to the vendor’s “stronger knowledge of the solution area and the business landscape,” and 57 percent cited the vendor’s ability to demonstrate “a stronger knowledge of our company and its needs.”

5 truths vendor comparison

Merkle’s 2017 research on B2B loyalty reinforces how important it is to treat prospective customers as business decision-makers and as individual consumers. To resonate, B2B messaging must simultaneously be “emotional, personal, product-focused and business-based,” Merkle found. Indeed, when asked whether personal engagement with a brand or preference for a particular brand in their personal life influenced a business-buying decision, B2B respondents indicated the following:

5 truths brand pref

3. Decision-making is a team effort—and a time-consuming one, at that

One of the most important distinctions between B2B and B2C marketing lies in the complexity of the B2B decision-making process. It can take months—or, in some cases, a year or more—to evaluate vendors and commit to a provider, depending on the size of the company in question and the industry in which it operates.

At the root of this complexity is the sheer number of people involved in the process. CEB characterizes it as a “consensus sale,” noting that, on average, 6.8 people are involved in a B2B purchase decision—up from 5.4 in 2015. Multiple people bringing their emotions—and biases—to the table is a unique challenge for B2B marketers since there’s often one person in the group who functions as a “champion” for the winning vendor, recent research from B2B Marketing shows. Nearly 6 out of 10 times, this champion’s opinions are cited as the biggest influence on the final decision.

And this brings us back to Truth No. 2: Businesses are people too. You can’t forget the humanity of the people making buying decisions for their company. “While companies often form purchase committees to provide a more objective approach, the research proves individuals don’t switch off their emotions when they come together,” says B2B Marketing Deputy Editor Paul Snell. “B2B marketers must engage with the heart if they want to win over the head.”

The number of decision-makers weighing in is only one piece of the puzzle, however.

Also complicating matters is the business customer’s fixation on ROI and simplicity. A growing focus on risk mitigation, as well as pressure to invest only in solutions that will lower costs, increase efficiency or drive higher ROI, forces B2B buyers to scrutinize (and often second-guess) what is and isn’t worth pursuing.

Money and ease of use matter to B2B decision-makers—a lot. Three in 4 buyers said they conduct a more detailed ROI analysis before making a final decision—up 11 percent from 2016, according to Demand Gen Report’s research. Interestingly, deployment time/ease of use now carries nearly as much weight as the price tag, with 80 percent of B2B buyers calling deployment/ease of use “very important,” compared to 75 percent who ranked pricing as such. Said one survey respondent: “As the company grows and our goals become loftier, each purchase carries more weight, more risk and costs more.”

“B2B marketers must engage with the heart if they want to win over the head.”

Paul Snell
Deputy Editor, B2B Marketing

The biggest wrinkle is perhaps best defined as doing one’s homework—and trying to avoid the inevitable, crippling crush of information overload. Nearly 8 in 10 B2B buyers surveyed by Demand Gen Report said they spend more time researching purchases, and 75 percent reported relying on more sources to evaluate their options.

How does this research start? Most often, it’s via their favorite search engine—typically Google. Per Google research:

  • 71 percent of B2B researchers start their research with a generic search; B2B researchers do 12 searches on average before engaging with a specific brand’s website.
  • 49 percent of B2B researchers who use their mobile devices for product research do so while at work.

Wading through the muck to find real value—and answers—is clearly a huge pain point for B2B buyers. But here’s the good news …

4. Content influences B2B purchase decisions

Companies can stand out (and win over these buyers) with content!

Nearly half of self-educating B2B buyers surveyed by Demand Gen Report last year reported that they relied more on content to research and make B2B purchasing decisions, and 99 percent of them said they want that content to include insight from industry thought leaders. Personalization is also important, with 67 percent indicating that they prefer content organized by business role, 64 percent wanting content organized by industry and 49 percent seeking content organized by their specific vertical.

What kinds of content are they seeking? “Prescriptive” content is the sweet spot, with nearly all survey respondents preferring it:

5 truths content preferences

Better still, package related content together—58 percent of survey respondents prefer it that way—and optimize it for mobile devices.

Need more talking points to convince your peers that your company’s website needs relevant content?

5. Content really works

And finally, we’ve seen that content marketing drastically moves the needle for businesses trying to convert other businesses into customers.

In Chief Marketer’s annual survey of B2B marketers nationwide, content marketing tied with SEO/SEM for second place on the list of channels that serve as the largest source of customer leads for B2B companies:

5 truths channel leads

Content marketing also produces high-ROI leads, coming in third behind email and SEO/SEM and live events, which tied for second:

5 truths ROI leads

Aberdeen Group’s latest research on content marketing’s impact also found that:

  • B2B marketers with buyer-aligned content enjoy double the revenue attributed to their content marketing efforts, compared to those without it.
  • B2B marketers using content for lead generation generated 3.3 times the number of marketing qualified leads as their peers.

And if you really want to stand out, create content that showcases the thought leadership that exists within your company and drives industry conversation about trends, challenges, opportunities and more. It can deliver results if done well, as evidenced by a 2017 Edelman/LinkedIn research study in which 45 percent of B2B decision-makers on LinkedIn said thought leadership directly led them to decide to do business with a company. On the flip side, content that’s perceived to be poor quality led 30 percent of respondents to remove a company from consideration.

Bottom line: If you can’t invest the time and resources to create high-quality content, you’re probably better off sticking to product-focused collateral.

"The only way to consistently grow in B2B is to be better than very good. … Find something that organizations need and be the very best in the world at it.”

Seth Godin

Separating fact from fiction

Best-selling author and big brain Seth Godin once offered this advice for succeeding in B2B:

“If you’re very good at what you do, you won’t grow. Because lots of people are good at what you do. No one is going to (refer and send) you business just because you’re very good. … The only way to consistently grow in B2B is to be better than very good. … Find something that organizations need and be the very best in the world at it.”

More than a decade later, that wisdom holds.

To win over B2B audiences, B2B marketers must make a genuine, concerted effort to get to know them, understand their needs and frustrations, answer their questions and solve their problems. I could conclude by reminding you that the stakes are higher in B2B sales and marketing, but that would be such a cliche.

published: November 05, 2018