The Beginners Guide to B2B Content Marketing
Your place to start if you're new to content marketing.
In this guide, we will cover the following topics:
By the end of this guide, you will have a comprehensive understanding of B2B content marketing and how to use it to achieve your business goals. So let's get started!
This guide is designed to teach B2B marketers the various aspects of content marketing. We hope that by reading this guide, you'll have a better understanding of how to create and implement a content marketing strategy that will help your business succeed.
As B2B marketers, we often face the challenge of how to create content that will resonate with our target audience. It can be difficult to know where to start or what type of content will be most effective. However, by understanding the different aspects of B2B content marketing, we can create material that is both informative and engaging.
What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
Content marketing is not a new concept. In fact, content has been used as a form of marketing for centuries. One of the earliest examples of content marketing comes from John Deere, who published The Furrow in 1895. The magazine was created to provide farmers with information about the latest farming techniques and equipment. It was so successful that it is still being published today.
The Michelin guide is another great example of content marketing. The guide was created in 1900 by the Michelin brothers, André and Édouard. At the time, they were working for a French tyre company called Michelin & Cie. The brothers realized that if they could convince drivers to take longer journeys, they would sell more tires. To achieve this, they published a free guide that listed hotels, restaurants, and car mechanics across France. The guide was so successful that it is still being published today.
What are the benefits of content marketing?
There are many benefits to using B2B content marketing as part of your overall marketing strategy. Here are some of the most important ones:
1. Helps build thought leadership - When you produce high-quality, informative content, you position your company as a thought leader in your industry. This can help you win more business and build trust with your target audience.
2. Generates leads - B2B content marketing can be used to generate leads for your sales team. By including calls-to-action (CTAs) in your material, you can encourage your readers to take action, such as signing up for a free trial or requesting a consultation.
3. Strengthens relationships with customers and prospects - B2B content marketing can help you build strong relationships with your target audience. By providing them with valuable information, you can show that you are invested in helping them succeed. This can lead to more loyal customers and improved customer retention rates.
4. Increases website traffic - B2B content marketing can attract new visitors to your website and encourage existing visitors to come back more often. This can help you boost your search engine rankings and get more leads through your website.
5. Improves sales and conversion rates - B2B content marketing can ultimately help you increase sales and conversion rates. By providing your target audience with the information they need to make a purchasing decision, you can encourage them to buy from your company.
6. Reduces marketing costs - B2B content marketing is often more cost-effective than traditional marketing methods, such as paid advertising. This is because you can produce high-quality content without having to spend a lot of money on ads.
What Are The Different Types of B2B Content Marketing?
Before we jump into types of content, it’s important to distinguish between content types and distribution channels. A content type is the container, or shape, of where we put the content. A distribution channel is how that content is sent. For example, white papers, case studies, e-books, and videos are all types of content. Email, social media, websites and trade shows are all examples of distribution channels.
When the company is in control of the channel, there’s no media cost to use them. These are referred to as owned media. If your company hasn’t built such a channel, you will need to spend money to build and reach your audience. This is called paid media. Lastly, there’s earned media. This is what provides the incremental reach of your content based on how many people share it with people who are not in your owned or paid group. Earned media varies based on how good your content is and how easy you make it to share.
In this section, we don’t go over every possible type of content; there are just too many. For example, a printed book is technically a content type, as is a documentary film. The cost in time and money of these content types preclude their use by most businesses, however.
1. White paper and research report
A white paper and its close cousin, a research report, are common types of content used in B2B marketing. They are appropriate for presenting an academic perspective, which means being sure that what you provide doesn’t feel like marketing or promotional material. Educational and informative, this content type is relatively long, ranging from six to twenty pages, and often more for research reports. The longer format means that someone who reads the whole paper spends up to twenty minutes reading it, which can boost the metrics.
It’s common to gate such content, which means requiring people to provide their contact information before they have access to the white paper or report. Companies can invest several months as well as substantial cash in the research, writing, editing, and design required to create a white paper, and even more if the end product is a paper based on original research such as an industry survey. The payoff comes when people are interested enough in it to be willing to share their business contact information. This is how most companies gather leads.
Besides attracting external audiences, white papers and research reports can fill internal purposes of larger companies or academic institutions. For example, several years ago, Northwestern University undertook a large project to align its many departments over many campuses underneath a global brand. How did the university go about communicating with its many faculty members, deans, and other administrators? A committee of the Northwestern Board of Trustees wrote a white paper to help articulate the new vision.
2. Blog post and article
Blog posts and other types of articles are popular with marketers because they are extremely flexible content types. They allow words, images, and sound or video to be combined onto one page. They also enable companies to more easily reap the benefits of search engine optimization.
Developing an article for a blog or other outlet requires the writer to research a topic—which may include conducting interviews with subject-matter experts—create an outline, draft the piece, have the content edited and, lastly, proofread before it’s published. Once an overall design has been established for a blog post or other article type, not a lot of additional design or production work is needed. Most web CRMs allow content to be published instantly.
Blog posts can be generically published for the reader from a brand. Recently, however, there has been a movement toward content coming to the reader from specific individuals, often with their own unique perspectives. There’s something about knowing that a blog post comes from a particular individual that makes it more credible. Publishing content from the individual also means companies can more easily scale their content, because every post need not be written by one writer. Although various writers will have different perspectives and will focus on different topics, it’s important to have editorial standards in place for all blog content, to keep the reader’s experience consistent.
Think beyond publishing content on only your own company’s platform. It can be hard to build one individual’s or company’s own audience, and one way to expand it is to borrow someone else's audience. If the audience for a different platform likes the content, some of them will seek out other articles from the same source and follow the writer or company on social media.
Consider publishing articles in external publications. For example, SpencerStuart, a global recruiting and leadership development firm, published “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture” in Harvard Business Review. As a result, the firm reached a whole new audience via the business journal’s readers, and it ended up with a published article to use for its own content marketing purposes.
Also consider becoming a guest contributor on someone else's platform. LinkedIn’s Marketing Solutions blog is one example of a platform with a lot of different contributors. Ever since it decided to publish contributing writers, the blog publishes content much more frequently, up to four to six pieces of new content a week. This is a win for both LinkedIn and the contributing writers.
If you need to get the attention of someone you don't already have a relationship with, an e-book is a good way to do it. They’re usually longer than an article, but shorter than a white paper or research report. They tend to be more casual and, often with lists, tips, or checklists. Most important, e-books shouldn’t focus on what a company has to offer. It should help the customer solve a problem.
E-books usually have more interesting designs and a variety of visual elements to capture the audience's attention. Because of this, creating an e-book requires a designer as well as a writer and is likely to take more time to create. Because people usually read e-books on desktop or laptop screen or a tablet, a design with pages that are 8.5 x 11 is fairly standard.
Make sure that at the end of your e-book you have a strong call to action. What do you want the audience to do? Be as clear as possible. This is usually the time to pitch your product/service. Make sure they know your company offers services related to your content.
4. Case study
Case studies are great at telling the story of how a product or service has helped a customer. It's always more effective when someone else tells a story on your behalf, and in this case your audience will relate to the situation of the customer telling the story.
Put another way, “Don't take it from us, take it directly from our client.” Using this content type to show social proof is very effective. A customer with big brand-name recognition makes your content even more credible.
A case study usually includes several sections: background or context, the challenges or challenges the customer faced, the solution your company provided, and the impact or results. Use the same organization for all your company’s case studies so that your audience understands how you tell these types of stories.
Generally, case studies should be no more than one or two pages long, since they are brief snapshots of what has happened. The best case studies are based on interviews with the customers themselves and include direct quotations, which humanize the story and enhance the social proof.
Obviously, you need to get permission from the person or company featured in the case study. When interviewing your customer, try to get real numbers and specific results instead of generic descriptions. Sharing results in case studies is critical to making them believable as well as a more interesting read. If your client isn't comfortable sharing the raw numbers, offer to use percentage changes to communicate the impact without providing detailed data.
Case studies can live online as well as web pages or PDFs. Some companies choose to distribute printed-out color PDFs as well. Depending on the company, topic, and potential readers, sometimes spending more on the visual presentation and production values makes sense.
For example, commercial real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle used beautiful photography to illustrate “Every Building Has Story,” a leave-behind for prospective customers that showed what its design teams did to transform different types of spaces. The skillful presentation, supported by a website, captured the attention and imagination of Jones Day’s prospective customer, and the physical publication was an effective reminder of what the company had to offer.
The popularity of video continues to grow. Videos are great at telling stories and capturing audience attention. It’s also easy to watch a video, which requires less effort than reading.
Video was once very costly to produce. With more affordable equipment, however, today it's possible to create a cost-effective video. However, it’s still a complex project to produce. You usually need three to five people to create it: someone to develop the vision, someone to shoot the video, someone to capture the sound, and then someone to edit what’s been captured.
If you're lucky, you can find one or two people who have multiple skills. For example, the creative director can also shoot the video and perhaps even edit it. This approach can reduce both production costs and production time.
Live online video is a newer approach that is gaining traction. It started with companies like U-Stream and Meerkat. Today, virtually every social media platform has live-streaming. The appeal of live-streaming is that it’s very efficient to make (since there’s no editing). And, since there’s only one take, what’s being communicated is very authentic—which can make it more interesting to the audience. However, live-streaming can be stressful to create, since no editing means you can’t go back and do anything over again.
6. Buying guide
A buying guide is a great type of content for prospects just starting to consider purchasing a category of goods or services. It helps them to understand how they should be thinking through and going about making their decision. The goal of a buying guide is to educate the customer in a neutral way. You want to describe how the entire category works and how a prospect should evaluate making a decision. You can even list out the pros and cons of each of your competitors, similar to how your customer would think about it.
The key here is to do so in an unbiased way. If you can do that, they’re more likely to consider you. You want to get your customer to think like this: “This company really helped me understand how to think about this decision… I should include them as one of the companies I’m considering since they seem to know what they’re talking about.”
Buying guides can have design elements to them, although it doesn't need to be as splashy as an e-book. It’s usually longer. It's not uncommon for a buying guide to be eight to twelve pages long.
Publishing a magazine seems to be a dream come true for many B2B marketers. There’s something enticing about a thick, printed magazine as the final product. I recommend magazines only if you are serious about making a long-term commitment. If you create a quarterly or monthly magazine, usually it’s better to either build it in-house or work with an outside agency that specializes in magazines.
What's nice about the magazine approach is that a printed magazine is a physical piece. You can mail it to a customer or offer it in person. The obvious downside is the cost. Depending on how many you print, the cost might range anywhere from $1 to $5 per piece.
When you choose a magazine as your content type, don't expect to see a short-term return on investment. What’s the best way to measure it? Customer research tends to be an effective measurement tool. You can ask your customers things like the following:
- Do you have a more favorable impression of our company after reading the magazine?
- How would you describe our brand after reading the magazine?
Magazines tend to be chosen by larger companies, with bigger and more stable budgets. Even at larger companies, it’s not uncommon for a magazine to be printed for only two or three years. Then there's an initiative to reduce company costs, and inevitably someone says, “Do we really need to print this thing? Can't we just distribute it online?” The answer, of course, is, “Sure, we can create content and distribute it online. But that diminishes how its purpose is filled, because the physical copy of the magazine is what makes it interesting.” So, again, if you want to publish a magazine, be sure there’s a long-term commitment to do so.
8. Interactive content and tools
Most of the content types discussed in this chapter are examples of one-way communication; you're essentially talking at your audience. With interactive content, the audience role is more active. Examples of interactive pieces are quizzes, assessments, calculators, and games.
These two-way experiences are powerful for you and your audience. Beyond just capturing your audience’s attention, you are finding out what’s important to them. If you execute this content type the right way, this information is used to determine the messages you send in the future—or perhaps even remove from the mailing list the prospects who are not a good fit.
One of the leading companies in interactive content is Outgrow. Its platform allows companies to easily create and distribute interactive content. You can spend as little as five to ten hours creating a piece of interactive content within the platform before being ready to launch it. Plus, no coding is involved, so it’s easy to use.
SEO companies use the tool approach all the time. They ask you to enter your website address and they evaluate how effectively your website works. This approach is useful to the marketer, since they're not just telling you how great they are, they’re showing you what your weaknesses are. It’s rare for a company to be able to show value this quickly and directly. And a real person isn’t doing the work behind the scenes of an SEO company; with its tools, it happens automatically.
An early pioneer in interactive tools as free content is HubSpot. The company created a tool called Website Grader, launched it in 2006, and has graded more than four million websites since. After you provide your website URL, the tool, now called Marketing Grader, breaks out technical performance for a variety of categories, such as page speed, mobile friendliness, and SEO. It is also a great tool for competitive research. I've done many competitive assessments that showed how other companies’ websites were performing. Actual website-performance data for competitors is a useful window into those companies.
With Ceros, another interactive content platform, you can create experiential content that’s embedded into any web page. Adding this dynamic content to a blog post is very effective. With the use of this platform, I’ve seen increases by more than 25 percent of engagement metrics such as the time on the website and the amount of content shared. This is not uncommon. As Ryan Brown, head of brand strategy at Ceros, told me, “When you reimagine something from static to experiential, the marketing metrics always perform better.”
What Questions Should You Ask When Planing out your B2B content?
As you start to plan your B2B content marketing strategy, it's important to ask yourself some key questions. This will help you create material that is relevant and engaging for your target audience. Here's a list of the top 100 questions to ask yourself when planning out your content -
100. How will content help your customer?
Don’t fall into the trap of creating content that only supports your business agenda. Great content always solves a customer problem. If you’re not helping your customer, they won’t engage with your content.
99. What business problem are you solving?
Why is this important? Once you identify the problem, this will clarify your investment. And once you have this clarity, you’ll have a better chance of getting your leadership on board.
98. When should you start seeing results?
Most people think they’re going to have success in the first couple of months; this is usually not the case. Creating an effective program takes time. Make sure you set these expectations up front.
97. How much budget do you need?
Don’t just think about the cost to create content. Factor in things like marketing automation tools, resources to analyze the program, and research.
96. Who’s going to create it?
Do they already work at your company? Do you need to hire a content marketing company? Finding great talent is hard, so make sure you have a good plan in place.
95. Do you have the right marketing automation tools?
This one can get confusing. The good news is there are a lot of options based on your budget. Many times, you can use free, or low-cost tools. If you need something complex, there are more expensive enterprise solutions.
This seems pretty basic, but some companies still don’t have one. Make sure you’re familiar with CAN-SPAM, as well as GDPR if you operate in Europe. You need a clear plan for how to store and use data.
93. What kind of internal governance is needed?
Do you work at a large company? If so, you’ll need a clear governance plan to align everyone. You may think governance will slow you down, but it actually helps you in the long-term.
92. Will you have someone from IT?
Make sure you don’t take on everything yourself. Things can get tricky with the tools you need and how you’ll integrate them into your current technology stack. Have someone from IT support your team.
91. Does your leadership team believe in inbound marketing?
Make sure they know the philosophy of inbound marketing and that it takes time to see results. If you don’t set their expectations, they’ll lose interest before your program can succeed.
90. What channels and formats will you use?
There are many ways to share and distribute content. While you don’t need to figure everything out up front, you should have a general idea of how you want to tell and deliver your story.
89. What will your content look like?
Does your company have brand standards in place? Do they cover what different content formats should look like? If not, you’ll want to create them. This will save you time and create more consistency for your audience.
88. Who should you invite to your kick off?
Make sure the right people are in the room, but limit it to 5-8 people. You can always send a recap of the kick off to others. Or, you can have a follow-up session if needed.
87. Will you focus on lead generation or branding?
Why do you need to decide this up front? First, it brings clarity to why you’re creating content. Second, you want to make sure your team has relevant experience based on your goals. Lead generation and branding require unique skill-sets
86. How will you organize your editorial calendar?
This can range from using a simple Excel spreadsheet, to a full enterprise software solution. The tool doesn’t matter, it’s more about making sure you plan everything out 3-9 months in advance.
85. How will you share results?
Who will you send it to? What format will you use? You’ll want a simple update for your leadership, but the core team should have something more robust so they can optimize the program.
84. How will you work with Sales?
Don’t ignore Sales. Why? Your content will help them be more successful. Plus, once they see the value, your budget conversations will be easier. Make the relationship investment with Sales – your content will get better and you’ll have more support.
83. Who is your target audience?
Seems like a pretty basic question, right? Make sure you’re clear about the main audience. If you end up creating something for everyone, your content won’t work as well.
82. How will you balance content and distribution?
Ever hear the saying “Content is King, but distribution is Queen, and she wears the pants?” Before you start creating, know how people will see your content.
81. What will you spend on paid media?
Don’t be fooled into thinking people will magically discover your content. That may happen, but it takes time. You may want to invest in buying keywords, targeting specific buyers on LinkedIn, or partnering with a media company.
80. Will you feature your customers?
If you’re putting together case studies, identify your top customers. You’d be surprised how willing they are to help.
79. Does Legal know about this?
You’re probably not creating anything too controversial. But not involving Legal or Compliance can get you in trouble. Ask them to provide some guidelines up front.
78. Will you use an employee advocacy program?
Looking for additional distribution? Employee advocacy programs are a proven way to increase reach. Once you have enough content, you’ll want to set one up.
77. How much will you invest in SEO?
Optimizing your website helps with long-term performance. Don’t think of this as a one-and-done effort, though. You’ll need to constantly optimize the content to maintain your rank.
76. Will you customize your content by vertical?
If you want your content to work harder, consider creating unique versions for your top verticals. This way you can provide relevant information based on the specific audience you’re connecting with.
75. What topics are important?
Once you have an overall strategy in place, map out different topics. Ideally, share these with your customers beforehand to validate their importance.
74. What are your competitors doing?
Don’t be obsessed, but you should have a general understanding of how they’re using content. You can use basic SEO tools to gather quick insights into how their content performs.
73. What customers do you want to attract?
It’s rare that you’ll have one audience type. Make sure you have a good understanding of your different segments. If you have a Research department, tap into their insights.
71. Do you have a CRM system?
Hopefully, you already have one. This is essential to storing your customer information. Long-term, this will be your biggest asset, so make sure the one you have works well.
70. When will you publish your content?
There’s no magical answer here. Each company has different nuances. Think about things like what day should you publish. Also, think about how you might anchor your content to industry or seasonal events.
69. How will your content be unique?
What’s the one thing your company is really good at doing? Try using that to stand out. It’s not just about having a unique design. The DNA of your content should be unique, as well.
68. Have you quantified the value of a lead?
If you know how much your average lead is worth, you’ll be able to better justify your investment. Work with your Sales or Finance team to get this critical information.
67. How good is your relationship with Sales?
If you don’t have a good relationship with Sales, you’re at a big disadvantage. Sales is a great source of insights. They can also connect you with customers to talk about content needs.
66. Do you have the right team?
Sure, your existing team might be able to stretch into new areas. But you’ll need highly qualified content creators. If you can’t build this function inside your company, consider working with a content collective like 26 Characters.
65. Who is in charge?
Make sure there’s one person in charge. There will always be multiple internal agendas to balance. Having one leader will maintain the focus of your program.
64. Will you need a steering committee?
If you work at a big company, the answer is yes. Make sure to balance your steering committee with PR, Research, Sales, and Customer Service. You’ll also want an Executive Sponsor.
63. Will your employees create content for you?
Many companies will use their employees. If you use this approach, make sure you have editorial standards in place. This ensures every piece of content feels connected.
62. Where will your content live?
Will the content live within your website, or is it a microsite? Who maintains the content? Make sure you weigh the pros and cons of each. This can get tricky, so make sure you polish up on your diplomacy.
61. What metrics are most important?
You should have one or two metrics that determine success. Yes, you’ll need to measure a lot more, especially to understand engagement. But make sure the team knows what your top measure of success looks like.
60. What existing marketing programs can support this?
Don’t build your program in a vacuum. Think about how you can integrate your content program into existing marketing efforts.
59. How will you launch your program?
Be smart about how you start off. Pilots are a great way to start small before making big investments. Positioning something as a pilot gives you more flexibility if something doesn’t go as planned.
58. Will you need research?
Great content marketing programs are always grounded in customer insights. Do you really know what your customer needs? If possible, invest in research. It will increase your chances of success.
57. Who will pay for everything?
Marketing usually provides most of the budget. But you’ll quickly learn that everyone wants in on the action. You may want to setup an approach where other departments split the costs. Figure this out up front so there are no surprises.
56. How will you roll out the program?
Think about how you announce your program internally. Will it be one big announcement? Or are you going to have individual meetings with different departments? Manage this carefully to make sure people support it.
55. Will there be an author for each piece of content?
You’ll need to decide if your content comes from the voice of the brand, or individuals, or both. There are pros and cons for each. Have a point of view about this going into your meeting. And know that content from people comes across as more authentic and usually performs better.
54. Do you have editorial guidelines?
Just like all brands have graphic standards, you should have editorial standards, as well. These outline your overall messaging approach and communication style.
53. Will you need to hire anyone?
Think about the talent you’ll need. You may want to borrow existing employees to help. However, be careful about this approach since creating content is a full-time job.
52. Do you really know what you’re getting into?
Content marketing is not something to try on a whim. Make sure your leadership knows this when you decide to build a program.
51. What content exists today?
You don’t always have to start from scratch. There’s usually an abundance of existing content you can leverage. Look for it and repurpose it.
50. Will you need to setup new processes?
Content marketing is complicated. Make sure that you or someone on your team has a knack for creating processes. This will minimize confusion and increase efficiencies.
49. Will you need agency support?
The good news is you’re not alone. There are plenty of content marketing companies that can help. For example, 26 Characters can help you with training, building your overall strategy, or creating content.
48. Why are you going to be successful?
Not all content marketing programs are successful. Why will you have what it takes to build a solid program? Will you have the right distribution? Will you have quality content creators? Make sure you convince yourself before you convince others.
47. What partnerships can you form?
Creating content is hard, but the real challenge is getting distribution. What companies can you work with to get your word out? Can you put a barter agreement in place? Are you going to submit content to media outlets?
46. How will PR be involved?
Working with your PR team is essential. Some PR teams might actually own the content marketing function. Make sure you work with them to maximize your exposure.
45. Does your CEO know what you’re doing?
If your CEO knows about the project, chances are you’re going to have more success. In big companies, this also helps when rolling out the program because people will take it more seriously.
44. Will you need to conduct research?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you know what your customer wants. Research provides great insight into what content you should be creating. Don’t underestimate the value of research.
43. Did your content help your customer?
You’ll want to build some feedback mechanisms into your program. Without these in place, internal debates about “did it work” will go on forever. Rating systems or surveys are a quick way to gather these insights.
42. Do you have the right culture?
Culture can be tricky. Hopefully, your company values customer centricity and is open to exploring new ideas. Why is this important? Your content needs to be about genuinely helping your audience.
41. How will you organize your content?
Do you have a taxonomy in place? If not, are you going to create one as part of this project? How you organize your content can take weeks and months to determine, so think about this upfront.
40. Who will measure your results?
Once your program is in place, who will actually be doing the tracking and reporting? Anyone can pull a basic report, but you may need someone with more complex skills to generate additional insights.
39. What’s your overall mission?
Don’t just jump in and start creating content. Make sure you have an overall mission. Is it inspiring? Is it bold? Otherwise, your content will feel like a bunch of one-offs.
38. How will you work with other teams?
Do you have the bandwidth to support other teams? The key is to set clear expectations up front. Don’t just start creating free work for everyone. You’ll eventually have to come back later and tell them you can’t do it anymore.
37. What’s your definition of success?
While you should have a consistent definition of success, don’t think you’ll achieve it within a couple of months. Content marketing takes time. Make sure you set short and long-term goals.
36. Who will be the project manager?
Hitting your publishing deadlines is part of building a winning content team. You can designate one person as a producer, or you can provide tools for the team to manage their own schedules.
35. Will you refresh your brand standards?
You’ll most likely need to create new branded templates to bring your content to life. Make sure you partner with your brand team. They can either create the templates for you or you can have someone on your team design the templates with their guidance and feedback.
34. Will you gate your content?
There are two schools of thought: The first is to gate your content so you understand who is accessing it. You’ll use this approach if your main objective is lead generation. The second approach is to not gate it to ensure more people see it.
33. What content will be shared by Sales?
Not all your content needs to be published for everyone. It might make sense to share some of your content exclusively through your Sales team. Why use this approach? It makes the customer feel like they’re getting access to exclusive content.
32. Will you allow guest posts?
Not all your content needs to come from your company. Are there other companies you can partner with? These types of shared guest posts can go a long way. Think about how you can increase the reach of your content with a win-win partnership.
31. Will you optimize for mobile?
While mobile optimization isn’t new, you’d be surprised how many people overlook it. Always test your content on mobile devices. Or even better, design your content primarily for mobile.
30. How can you leverage existing events?
Think about what existing events are happening within your company or industry. Once you find them, attach your content to them. This will increase the utilization of your content.
29. Do you know what you’re getting into?
Content marketing is not for the faint of heart. Understand what you’re getting into. If you’re in charge, you need to set the right tone from the start. Also, know that you’re never actually done creating content.
28. Are you going to curate any content?
Some companies use curation as a way to engage an audience. This approach makes sense if you want to provide a neutral perspective. If curating content helps your customer, you should do it.
27. Will you need stock photography?
Make sure you have a budget for photography. You don’t necessarily have to use photographs in your design, but if you do and don’t budget for it, you’ll find yourself up against the wall.
26. Does your team have publishing experience?
Don’t assume your designer knows publishing and don’t assume your writer knows long-form content. Can they learn it? Sure, but it might take a while. Understand what you’re getting into if you don’t bring on new talent.
25. How will you inspire your team?
Setting the right tone from the beginning is critical. Creating a team culture that values problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity is essential.
24. Who has the most editorial control?
While there isn’t always an easy answer, be prepared to think through difficult situations. Who is the editor-in-chief? And under what circumstances do they not have the final say?
23. What’s your balance of push vs. pull?
Effective programs use push and pull marketing. Know how to combine both to engage your customers.
22. Does your team know how to tell stories?
Creating content isn’t as simple as putting pen to paper. You need to tell a story. Make sure your team knows at least the basics, like how to create tension, withholding information, or how to hook your audience up front.
21. How much will it cost?
Probably more than you think. Make sure you understand what should be accounted for in your budget. Don’t forget about software licensing, proofreading, or stock photography.
20. Will you have anything interesting to say?
If not, people aren’t going to be interested in your content. You can get all the other things right, but if people think your content is boring, you’re not going to get any traction.
19. Do you have original data?
People love when data is incorporated into content. It gives them the proof they need to form an opinion. Make sure to share compelling data if you have it.
18. Under what circumstances will you remove a post?
Think about what scenarios would justify removing a post. Would you take it down because it’s not performing? At what point should a controversial post be removed? All things to think about before you publish.
17. How will you engage your customers?
Publishing your content is half the battle. Make sure you spend just as much time promoting and engaging with customers. That’s the real way to get more exposure.
16. How will your content help people buy?
Have an honest conversation about how your content is helping your customer. Are you too focused on your product or service? Make sure a majority of your content is focused on the customers needs.
15. Who is responsible for ideas?
The answer, of course, should be everyone. But make sure there’s a clear person in charge of organizing the ideas. Make sure people know that everyone is expected to bring new ideas to the table.
14. Do you know what your customer needs?
This is an easy question to ask, but a hard one to answer. When was the last time you sat down with your customers and really listened? Make sure you know what they need.
13. Who will sign off?
Each piece of content will probably have a different answer. Ask this question up front so you know how to plan. If someone outside your company needs to review it, factor that into your schedule.
12. What type of reporting do you need?
Have a plan for how often you’ll look at results. Most likely, you’ll want to check performance on a new campaign several times a day over the first couple days. After that, weekly and monthly reporting should work.
11. How will you re-engage a customer?
Once your content is read, are you going to do anything? The best content marketers can string multiple pieces together. For example, “we noticed you read this article… you might also like this.”
10. How is your content performing over time?
Make sure you know how your content performs over time. For example, you may have a piece of content that works really well 2 months after you launch it. If so, think about ways to promote it again.
9. How much time will you spend optimizing for SEO?
You need to know the basics of SEO to make sure your content will be seen. But don’t go too far with keyword stuffing otherwise your content won’t make sense.
8. What’s the shelf-life?
You’ll want to decide up front so you can plan accordingly. If it’s an evergreen piece of content, make sure to avoid examples that might date your piece.
7. When’s the best time to publish?
If you’re going to send out emails, or distribute your content though social media, timing can be everything. Make sure you know what days and times work the best. You should test this over time.
6. How will your content translate between channels?
You may need to repurpose your content so it works in multiple channels. Don’t think it’s as easy using the same copy and design for everything.
5. Are you going to refresh old content?
If your content lives on a website, you should update it. Why? Google will know your page has been refreshed and they’re more likely to drive additional traffic.
4. Are you performing any tests?
This question should actually say, “what test are you going to perform?” Make sure you have a testing plan in place to optimize content. Start by using known best practices in the industry, and then see what works for you.
3. How savvy is your Sales team?
You’ll want to work closely to make sure they understand and appreciate what content can do. Some may resist implementation because they lack technical skills. If this is the case, invest in training to help them.
2. Who is your biggest supporter?
Tap into this person and their enthusiasm. Think of them as an influencer who can get other people excited. This will only help your program build more credibility.
1. Who is your biggest skeptic?
Not everyone will embrace content marketing. If you know who they are, meet with them one-on-one and talk about their concerns. It’s better to have the conversations individually instead of a group setting.
What different ways can B2B Companies use to create content?
Usually, the hardest part of content marketing is creating the actual content. People starting out in content marketing often think the content will come naturally—but they soon realize just how tricky content creation is without experienced writers and designers.
There are six main ways to create content. As with any other marketing project, you’ll need to consider the budget, how long-term the commitment is, how quickly you need the finished content, and how much time you can dedicate to it.
Option 1. Build an in-house team.
If you can make at least a two- to three-year commitment to content marketing, building an in-house team is the way to go. You can start with a team of three or four people who can execute both online and offline work. You’ll need a writer, a designer, and someone who can monitor and analyze the content’s performance.
The ability to hand-pick team members is the main advantage of building an in-house team. Doing it will take some time, however. It’s not uncommon for finding, interviewing, and onboarding employees to take two to three months. Among the additional advantages of an in-house team is that it’s pretty cost effective if you have enough work for the whole team. Your costs are fixed each year, and you can create as much content as you can schedule for the team.
Through working together and using similar processes to create similar content over time, the team will also become very efficient and able to create content faster. In addition, a full-time in-house writer will eventually develop expertise about your business’s subject matter.
Naturally, building your own team has some disadvantages. It can be hard to find the right talent. Why? Many content creators are independent contractors because they enjoy the flexibility of working on multiple brands and being able to say no to a project or increasing their rates when busy. And if one of the content creators leaves, it can throw a wrench into everything for a couple months, until the person can be replaced.
In addition, building an in-house team requires spending a substantial sum upfront. You need to factor in expenses like office space, benefits, and training. Plus, if you want to expand the team over time, you’ll need to factor in hiring someone to manage the work.
Option 2. Hire an agency.
Love-hate relationships between agencies and their clients are not uncommon. Some agencies are great partners. Others say anything to win the job and figure out later whether they can deliver it. Some agencies focus too much on their own agendas, such as winning awards, which causes headaches for their clients.
However, hiring an agency is an excellent approach if you want to both scale up your content marketing quickly and tap into people who know how it should work. These benefits come at a premium, of course, since agencies have to make money to survive and grow. Clients are often frustrated by the high cost, but that comes with the territory. Most agencies will bill based on the hourly rates of their various team members. Some are open to considering fixed-bid pricing, but only when they are comfortable with the scope of what’s being created.
In addition, agencies are not known for having lean teams. It’s rare to find an agency of only two or three people. Midsize agencies usually staff an account with four to six people. As for large agencies, it’s not uncommon to have six to twelve people on an account’s team. Extra layers can slow down the content creation and increase its cost.
Of all the B2B content-creation models, using an agency is the most unpredictable for clients. The team assigned to an account often changes over time, because someone either left the agency or wanted to work on a different account. And it’s not unheard of for agency leadership not to spend as much time on your account as they should, perhaps, because instead they are focusing on winning a new account or increasing their margin on a fixed-bid project, and only show up for client meetings.
When the relationship is scoped right and the people on the account are good, an agency can produce outstanding work. They usually excel at conceptual thinking, generating big ideas and creating campaigns rather than just a bunch of one-off deliverables. Upon hiring an agency, you can instantly leverage its process, people, and knowledge. It’s relatively easy to find and hire an agency, although the scoping process can take some time.
If you need to create content quickly, you could use an outside perspective, and are willing to pay a premium, working with any agency is an excellent option.
Option 3. Use a staffing firm to find freelancers.
I’ve used staffing firms before, when I worked inside Fortune 1000 companies. They’re a great model if you need quick access to specialized talent and don’t want to invest time in finding the right team. Within twenty-four hours of our initial phone call, the firm's account representative had two or three candidates ready for me to interview over the phone. Most of the candidates could start working within a couple days.
The primary benefit of using a staffing firm is the avoidance of the red tape required to hire a company employee, which can take weeks or even months. No long-term decisions are required; if you need someone for a three- or four-week project, that’s completely fine, as long as you have set with the firm upfront the expectations for the length of the project.
The main disadvantage of working with a staffing agency is that it can take up to 50 percent of the worker’s total hourly billable rate. This raises the chance of the person you’re working with being underpaid, based on his or her market rate. And, if underpaid, the person is less likely to want to have a long-term relationship with the staffing company, or with you.
But if you like the agency’s persons, can’t you work directly with him or her and pay the worker’s own billable rate? Nope. Most staffing agencies have both clients and freelancers sign one-year non-solicitation agreements that prevent them from working directly with each other. You can, however, choose to pay a one-time fee to “convert” a freelancer into your company’s full-time employee. This is a fair approach, and going down this path would probably be a little less expensive than paying a recruiting fee.
Another disadvantage is that a staffing agency handles only the matchmaking and billing. It isn’t around during the project and brings no thinking to the table, which can be frustrating. You need to be comfortable with the staffing agency finding the right person for you, and that’s it.
Option 4. Find and manage freelancers yourself.
Finding and managing freelancers yourself is an excellent option if you’re connected to various types of freelancers. Before jumping in, however, you should have experience managing content creators or other creative professionals. You need to understand how the creative process works and the type of structure required to get the best work out of a person. Sometimes it means providing specific guidance. Other times, it’s about defining a problem and letting the freelancer solve it creatively.
If you’re able to find freelancers on your own, this is usually a cost-effective solution. You’re not paying for an in-house team, and you’re not paying the markup fee of an agency or staffing firm.
But, as with option one, the best part is you hand-pick your team. You know upfront who you will be working with, rather than being at the mercy of people who have been assigned to your account. The flexibility of being able to hire a freelancer only when one is needed is a benefit as well. For example, if you need someone to write one or two articles, you can hire a person just for that. You don’t need to commit to paying someone for forty hours a week for three or four weeks.
The biggest challenge of working with freelancers is that their schedules change all the time. Sometimes, they’re available when needed and everything works out perfectly. Other times they’re booked solid and have no time to work with you. This is why it’s good to have in your “stable” of freelancers multiple people who can perform similar tasks—and to plan ahead, so that you can book the freelancers you will need in at least three to five weeks.
Option 5. Use a content marketing platform.
Content-marketing platforms gained traction around 2015, when marketplaces like NewsCred, Contently, Skyword, and Upwork became a legitimate way to find content creators. They work similarly to staffing agencies, except that you go online to search for the workers you need instead of working with an account rep or salesperson. When you find someone you want to hire, you are charged a fee but it is nowhere as steep as a staffing agency’s fee.
These platforms can be great when you have a specific need. For example, using an advanced search, in less than five minutes it’s possible to find a writer who has twenty-plus years of experience, works with SaaS startups, and is an expert in enterprise network security. Once you find what you’re working for, you can review their online work samples to confirm whether they would be a good fit.
Quick, easy access to talent is what makes content-marketing platforms so valuable. Some of them offer services beyond finding talent. For example, Contently has content-management software that helps with collaboration, governance, and performance tracking of content, which could be helpful for those just getting started with content marketing. Some platforms offer packages that include account-management services. This is a nice option for those at larger companies who don’t want to manage a team of freelancers and don’t mind paying extra for help with the heavy lifting.
Option 6. Use a content collective.
A relatively new approach, a content collective is a blend of the agency, staffing, and freelance models. The collective option uses an on-demand approach—that is, the client pays only when its content is being created. It’s ideal for companies that need content marketing but can’t invest a large sum in building a team or signing an agreement with an agency.
Collective approaches are good for clients that don’t have large budgets and are looking for people with expertise. The client receives agency-like service, as someone at the collective manages all the client’s freelancers. And transparency allows the client to know the team it’s getting. Often the client can even hand-pick its content-creating freelancers.
The collective model is also efficient, able to kick off a project quickly. Some collectives have moved to a fixed-pricing model. At 26 Characters, we created a menu of the more popular deliverable items and services that includes various pricing assumptions. It virtually eliminates the scoping process, which is appealing to companies that need to have content created quickly. On the downside, unless a client books a collective’s team for months at a time, a collective won’t have dedicated resources focused only on your business. They might also work across different cities, so in-person meetings with the client can’t be guaranteed. And, because the team members usually don’t work on-site, one can’t enjoy the luxury of walking down the hall and seeing them every day.
As with all the content-creation options, the pros and cons of the collective model must be weighed. But, it’s an excellent approach for those looking to create content and wanting to avoid building an in-house team or contracting with an expensive agency.
How to Create an Effective B2B Content Marketing Strategy
Now that you understand the different types of B2B content marketing, it's time to start thinking about your content strategy. Here are some tips to help you get started:
1. Define your goals
What do you want to achieve with your B2B content marketing? Do you want to build thought leadership, generate leads, or strengthen relationships with customers? Once you know your goals, you can start planning your content accordingly.
2. Know your audience
Who are you trying to reach with your B2B content marketing? What are their needs and pain points? What type of content will they find most valuable? By understanding your target audience, you can create material that is more likely to resonates with them.
3. Create an editorial calendar
A editorial calendar will help you plan, publish, and promote your B2B content. Having a clear publishing schedule will make it easier to stay on track and ensure that your material is timely and relevant.
4. Promote your content
B2B content marketing is not effective if no one sees your content. Be sure to promote your material through social media, email marketing, and other channels. You can also use paid advertising to reach a wider audience.
5. Measure your results
Keep track of the metrics that are most important to your B2B content marketing goals. This could include website traffic, leads generated, or social media engagement. By measuring your results, you can adjust your strategy as needed and ensure that your B2B content marketing is successful.
How Can B2B Marketers Measure the Impact of Their Content?
Measuring the impact of B2B content is tricky. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Throughout the years, I’ve used several ways of measuring the impact. Thinking through the pros and cons of the following five options for a particular situation requires a thorough understanding of the pertinent company culture and sales structure.
Why is this important? If you use a method that isn’t a good fit for your particular situation, the way you measure the impact of your content will be neither practical nor believable. When choosing from the five methods described in this post, consider how easy the implementation would be, what resources and infrastructure are available to you, and how quickly the results must be available. Choose a method your company can stick with, so that the current results can be compared with results from the past.
1. Media equivalency
Put simply, media equivalency is the cost you would have to pay to generate the same number of impressions. This approach can be quickly implemented because you don’t need infrastructure or technical resources.
Here’s an example of how it works. Let’s say your content generated 800,000 impressions on LinkedIn last month. If you used a paid LinkedIn campaign to reach the same target, you would have been charged a cost per 1,000 impressions (CPM) of $14. Eight hundred thousand impressions were generated, which is the equivalent of $11,200 (800 x $14). This is also what’s known as “earned media,” the number of media impressions earned after your message reaches people online.
This type of model has been around for a while. It started when public relations departments wanted to quantify the value of media placements it received. For example, the appearance in the New York Times of your company’s story or quote from an executive has a value. PR departments determined the value based on how much room the coverage took up in the paper and paper’s circulation.
Not everyone believes in media equivalency. Some are skeptical because it’s not a tangible thing. After all, the value generated doesn’t end up as cash in a bank account. While there is something to be said for this approach being somewhat theoretical, I like that it uses market-rate CPMs to determine the value of what it would cost to distribute your message in a paid channel.
2. Lead generation
Most marketers measure the impact of their content by counting how many leads it enables them to capture. As touched on in the blog post, “Content Types,” these leads are captured by gating content behind a required form. The user receives access to the content in exchange for providing his or her contact information. These leads are then handed over to the sales team, who nurture the leads until they become real customers.
The nice thing about this approach is that it measures the direct impact of content on revenue. You can clearly say that a gated article posted on your company website created ten leads, and that three of them converted into actual customers. Add up all the revenue from each of the three leads, and that’s the amount of revenue generated by the content marketing effort.
Then look at how much that particular marketing effort (the article) cost relative to how much revenue it brought in. The result is the return on investment, or ROI, for that article. This is why lead generation is the most popular and noncontroversial way to measure the effectiveness of content marketing. It’s hard to dispute, since it clearly identifies the number of generated leads per marketing effort.
Lead generation also allows your content marketing’s effectiveness to improve over time. After creating various pieces of content, you’ll know which ones work and can tweak the others to improve their performance. The lead generation results of individual pieces of content should affect your approach to creating content. You could make the case, for example, that company resources are better spent on videos than blogs, or that content organized as case studies are downloaded more than general articles. Clearly, a lot of variables, including topic, format, design, and quality of execution, go into the performance of a piece of content, but over time the lead generation results will give you a feel for what’s working and what isn’t.
For this approach to be effective, you need a way to capture the leads and pass them along to the sales team. You also need a sales team that follows up and lets you know how each of the leads has performed.
3. Market research
If you have the resources to conduct market research, it can be an effective tool to measure the long-term impact of your content. This approach uses customer research to measure how people feel about the content you create.
This is a pretty straightforward approach. You can use this as a one-off research initiative or tie it into your company’s existing research. If you have a Net Promoter Score (NPS) program, as discussed in Chapter 16, “How Do I Improve Customer Retention?,” this is an ideal question to slip into that survey.
You can ask a variety of questions to learn about what people think of your company. There are a variety of best practices for how to ask these questions, which we’re not going into here. Just know that the way you ask the questions is really important. And you want to make the questions consistent over time, so that the results are comparable and you can monitor trends over time.
Market research is great because you collect information from your actual customers. The results are helpful for aligning internal teams on what to focus on. After all, it’s hard to argue with an editorial direction when your customers are telling you that’s what they want and need.
4. Sales force feedback
This is a down-and-dirty approach to seeing how content is working. It’s not the best approach, because the feedback is not coming from your prospects or customers. But marketers can take what you learn from their sales teams as directional learning.
With this approach, you send a five- to ten-question survey to the sales team. Ask them if they think the B2B content you’re creating is of any value. Make sure to frame the question in a way that focuses on the customer. For example, “What would your customers say about the content we create for them?”
The strength of this approach is that the cost is extremely low and implementation is easy. You can create a survey in ten minutes and have your head of sales send it out. You can also use this survey to generate new content ideas, since the sales force understands well what’s happening in the marketplace.
A word of caution: what your sales team wants and what your customers want may be two different things. Sometimes customers don’t reveal everything to a salesperson. And sometimes salespeople don’t always ask the right questions to determine customer pain or needs. So, again, don’t use this technique as the only way to understand how effective your content is.
5. Test and control groups
This is the most complex methodology for measuring content-marketing performance. When implemented, however, it can provide proof of the content’s impact. You split the same audience into two groups, the test and the control groups, and test different variables to understand the incremental lift. You need the right tools to set up the tests, but these are standard these days and easy to use.
You can test something as simple as different subject lines or pieces of copy. For example, in testing a renewal direct-mail piece for a fitness company mailed in March, the line “Swimsuit season is right around the corner” drove a lift in overall conversion compared to the control group. It’s amazing to see what one small tweak like that can have on performance.
Tests aren’t always so simple. For example, I’ve tested the effects of a series of tactics in one group of cities and a different series of tactics in a similar group of cities. We then looked at the difference in the two groups’ brand awareness and sales. The results helped us to determine the mix of marketing tactics and budgets that would optimize performance.
The main advantage of using test and control groups is that it’s a data-driven approach that provides a conclusion. You can also perform a chi-squared test to understand how confident you are that you can replicate the test results. Companies that embrace test and control are usually better at making more sound decisions about their sales and marketing. Why? There’s no guessing about the outcome; you letting the numbers tell you how to move forward.
You know you’re in a test-and-control culture when someone says something like, “Interesting idea . . . we should test it.” Letting the data make the decisions also helps reduce internal resistance to adopting new ideas and approaches. Endless debates can be avoided by basing decisions on the numbers.
In summary, content marketing involves creating valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a defined audience — with the objective of driving profitable customer action. The most important thing is to create quality content that resonates with the target audience.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the best time to use content marketing will vary depending on the situation and goals of the individual B2B marketer. However, in general, B2B marketers should consider using content marketing when they are trying to attract new leads, build brand awareness, or nurture relationships with existing customers. Additionally, content marketing can be used at various stages of the sales funnel, from top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) activities like blog posts and eBooks, to middle-of-the-funnel (MOFU) tactics like case studies and webinars, to bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFU) initiatives like product demos
We hope you found this guide to B2B content marketing helpful. Good luck with your content marketing efforts! If you need any help, 26 Characters is always here to help. We're the experts when it comes to B2B content marketing. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you create and execute a successful B2B content marketing strategy.