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B2B Content Marketing: What it is, how it works and why it might be worth it

Content Marketing has long since become an established part of corporate marketing strategies. In the B2B sector in particular, value-added editorial content can play an integral part in an often rather complex and lengthy customer journey. Nevertheless, scepticism towards Content Marketing still exists due to a lack of clear understanding of its potential for a company. Additionally, organizations often struggle to take a strategic approach to using it in the most effective way. In this article, we therefore want to explain the essence of Content Marketing, explain how it works, and convey the multiple benefits of a content strategy in the context of B2B.

What is Content Marketing

Content Marketing is basically the expression of a paradigm shift that can be observed in overall marketing communication. It manifests itself in a modern form of advertising that differs significantly from classic ways of promotion. Taking the customer’s perspective has become ever more significant in this context. It is a matter of focusing on and addressing customers’ problems and thereby generating attention for a product or rather for a solution to their problems instead of relying solely on proactive advertising.

At this point, Content Marketing strategy comes into play by putting the spotlight on the customer, his concerns, interests, preferences, and needs. The challenge: using informative content to arouse his curiosity, convey competence, and thus build lasting trust in a brand. And all this with value-adding content throughout an entire customer journey, rather than sales-driven headlines that focus on the product.

How does Content Marketing work?

At its core, Content Marketing relies on persuasion through content rather than motivation to buy. In other words, it is not about marketing a particular product, but rather about genuinely putting the individual customer in the spotlight, by addressing his or her specific problems and then formulating a feasible response. The key is to develop a trust-based relationship with customers by supporting them with meaningful and beneficial information at every stage of the customer journey and therefore along the entire marketing funnel.

It shows that those strategies are particularly successful which place special emphasis on customer needs and in which promotion only plays a subordinate role. A survey by the Content Marketing Institute, for example, indicates that in the B2B sector in particular, 88 percent of the most successful B2B content marketers place a high priority on customers’ need for comprehensive information. On the other hand, only one in two of the less successful companies does so.

The overarching goal is thus to engage and convince the target audience through value-added content, winning them over as clients and retaining their loyalty in the long term. With informative, advisory and entertaining material tailored as precisely as possible to suit the audience’s specific needs. The positive side effect: Content Marketing might outperform other forms of advertising in terms of costs, lead generation and, ultimately, churn rates.

Why is it relevant today?

The relevance of good quality content has always been a given. Ultimately, today’s Content Marketing does not differ greatly from traditional PR practice. With the possibilities of digitalization, however, further levels are opening up with regard to publication possibilities and thus towards the purpose of obtaining digital outreach.

At the same time, a declining relevance of classic advertising formats and advertising media can be observed. Customers are becoming increasingly indifferent to conventional advertising mechanisms and are now able to selectively consume exactly the content they are genuinely interested in. At the same time, people have learned to largely tune out advertising. Underpinning this trend is a change in media consumption behavior.

The phenomenon of second screening, for instance, refers to the fact that people are increasingly watching two monitors at the same time. As the supposed ‘main program’ is running on the big TV screen, the viewer is simultaneously surfing the Internet on his or her cell phone, with a correspondingly reduced level of attention for both ‘worlds’.

Content Marketing is an excellent response to fill this ‘gap’: With user-oriented types of content that correspond precisely to the wants and wishes of that particular clientele. And it is not just an advertising message being sent out, but instead something that the user discovers on his or her own and based on its relevance. Be it via the company’s own blog, on social media, external news portals or any third-party publishers: There are huge opportunities available for content publication. And while this strategy is already firmly integrated in the B2C area, it offers at least as much potential in the business to business area.

What are the key objectives of B2B Content Marketing

I. Brand Awareness

Content Marketing can contribute significantly to creating awareness towards a company and its image as a brand. Awareness is particularly important in that people tend to have more trust in brands they know, which in turn increases peoples’ willingness to buy their products. In this respect, engaging articles and blog posts in the B2B sector are very effective in generating initial attention for a brand. Similarly, the use of social media channels can play a role in positioning a brand in the market which is not to be underestimated.

A potential client who comes across an intriguing news article while researching a specific topic is unlikely to immediately buy your product, but will recall a worthwhile read. If he again stumbles upon a useful piece of information or eventually downloads a white paper that helps him solve a specific problem, he will have already had another positive experience with the brand, which in turn boosts trust in the brand and increases trust in your competency.

II. Lead Generation

A well-designed content strategy follows a holistic approach taking into account the entire customer journey in order to provide audiences with a comprehensive brand experience, thus creating and further qualifying leads. In the B2B sector particularly, lead nurturing needs to be carried out with even greater care compared to the B2C market, where purchasing decisions are more likely to be taken on impulse.

While certain topics may be particularly suitable to attract initial attention and to generate early marketing leads, it is important to keep those engaged in the follow-up for instance, by providing knowledge demonstrated in more specific pieces of content, such as webinars or a sophisticated guide. And eventually, further down the funnel, at the stage of a purchase decision, in the form of case studies, which can be a final lever towards turning a lead into a customer.

What’s important is that content must be tailored to the various stages of the customer journey to facilitate the smoothest possible experience. And naturally, this journey isn’t over with the very first purchase, but can be extended very effectively using Content Marketing to ensure long-term customer loyalty.

III. Competitive Positioning

Whether it’s value-added content in the form of topical articles, studies or exciting case studies, a wide and varied range of different types of content can be used to express one’s own expertise. The more successfully a company manages to position itself as a trusted authority, the more it can differentiate itself from its competitors and thus gain a competitive advantage.

In the context of B2B, businesses are even more challenged to demonstrate quality in order to stand out from competition. Content Marketing provides an opportunity to demonstrate you understand your clientele’s needs and are capable of assisting them. Fuel the trust in your expertise, let prospects know how you work, how you implement solutions, and position the company as a well-versed partner in the highly competitive marketplace. Use expertise to convince. Needless to say, this is easier said than done. It takes high-quality and unique editorial content. Well-written stories are sharable, extend reach in the relevant market, strengthen reputation and increase exposure in search results.

IV. Organic Visibility

A well-executed strategy leads to higher visibility in the search results. Not only does this directly result in increasing organic and thus non-paid traffic (a note in this context: If you have ever observed unusual traffic spikes, you might be interested in our article on bot traffic), but it obviously has a positive effect on one’s own reputation in the surrounding field as well. If every relevant issue is covered by a brand’s response in search engine results, then the brand will increasingly be perceived as a reliable source not only for users, but for search engines as well.

Search engines reward high-quality content: The more compelling your contributions are, the better your chances for a good ranking in search results and thus potentially more clicks on your website content. Additionally, having a well thought-out strategy allows for real authority to be established in subject fields. It goes without saying this takes time and effort. But once authority has been established, it not just strengthens brand perception, but has a lasting effect on the presence in google’s results lists. Further content on a related field usually reaches higher positions more easily, as Google recognizes the source as an authority (e.g. your blog).

V. A better understanding of your Target Customers’ Needs

What topics are really relevant to your audience? Which topics are less interesting to people? Where do people drop off, and which pieces do they particularly enjoy consuming? By regularly reviewing your content performance, you’ll gain valuable insights to develop an ever better understanding of your audience’s needs and to tweak both content and products accordingly. Before you even start generating possible content ideas, you should try to get as precise a picture as possible of your specific customers, their goals, wishes and needs. Personas are particularly helpful for this purpose: they provide important guidance and orientation for tailoring your marketing planning as precisely as possible to the clients you want to address. You can use our B2B Buyer Persona Template for this purpose.

Excursion: Customer Journey in B2B

The buying process in B2B, is often more complex and longer than it is in B2C. Within the B2B sector, problems to be solved and their complexity are usually bigger and more costly. Company decisions often take several months to be made before the actual buying process takes place. Moreover, the decision is usually made in consultation rather than individually.

Depending on the sector and level of complexity, customers go through correspondingly lengthy cycles from initial awareness to eventual purchase, and different topics are more or less suitable for each step. Initial awareness is usually not based on any specific search. Potential clients presumably haven’t heard of you yet, let alone have any idea of what you offer. Whether it’s via noteworthy blog posts, relevant comments on industry related sources, or engaging social media postings: you can generate initial awareness without customers already actively searching for you.

The different stages

Depending on the sector and level of complexity, customers pass through relatively long stages from initial awareness to the eventual purchase, with different subjects being more or less suitable for each of these stages. Initial awareness is not usually the result of concrete research.

In the awareness stage itself, you can generate exposure for your brand once customers have already identified a problem and are starting to research potential solutions. At this point, you need to provide more specific content, offering the opportunity to position yourself as an expert source of advice via value-adding information and compelling ideas for solutions. Users will intensively look into a specific issue and conduct correspondingly more in-depth research.

Only then do they enter a consideration stage, weighing up alternatives against each other. At this stage, content again plays an important role when it comes to credibly underlining why your company’s product is the right solution for the specific problem. Using rich content around a product to make it more comprehensible and tangible, providing transparency and a very clear idea of exactly how the solution works.

Finally, the purchase decision follows. Be it through interviews with satisfied customers or case studies that vividly describe specific approaches to problems, contextual content can serve as a final convincing factor.

Lastly, the established customer relationship needs to be maintained and more ideally evolved. For instance, tutorial videos can be used to accompany implementation processes, while handbooks and onboarding guides ease the way for getting up and running. However your product appears, a range of suitable types of editorial content can be used to help develop the established customer relationship and, not least, to enable the company to position itself as a suitable partner for subsequent projects and further challenges.

There are good reasons to invest in content as a B2B company

Content Marketing holds tremendous potential for a successful customer journey. Particularly in the B2B sector, the added value of a frictionless experience from initial awareness to a lasting customer relationship using value-adding content cannot be overestimated. For Content Marketing to unfold its qualities, it takes not only time, but in particular a carefully crafted preparation and implementation of a strategy that is continuously monitored and readjusted.

Have you already gained experience with content marketing as part of your business strategy or are you unsure whether it could play a useful role in your B2B marketing approach? Please let us know, and share your thoughts. And if you are looking for support developing or adjusting your content strategy, feel free to contact us! We’d be happy to help!

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