Success in marketing always requires the ability to overcome challenges. That's as true in the B2C arena as it is in the B2B world. However, B2B marketers face numerous challenges that their B2C counterparts do not. B2B products are often highly complex, buying-decision chains involve more people, customer bases are narrower, and purchase cycles are longer. At the same time, business-serving industries like technology and consulting services are crowded with participants and extremely competitive.
"For B2C marketers, emotion still drives purchase, and tuning your message to deliver peak emotional potential for your audience can have an impact that's quantifiable quickly," says Kevin Nabipour, partner and managing director of content strategies at Allison+Partners, a global marketing communications agency. "For B2B, however, nurturing cycles are long, and ROI takes time to cook."
What's more, the marketing function at many B2B organizations is not always the driving force it could be, thanks to a misalignment with sales.
To succeed in this challenging environment, B2B marketers must find ways to differentiate their products or services from the competition with tactics that are cost effective, align with the organization's overall marketing and growth strategies, and deliver measurable results to the bottom line. Many are finding that content — personalized, relevant, and properly distributed — can help them meet those challenges.
Widespread Usage but Spotty Success So Far
The vast majority of B2B organizations already use content marketing, according to the B2B Content Marketing "2018 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends — North America" report. More than nine in 10 say they use it as a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience. Fifty-six percent describe their organizations as extremely or very committed to content marketing.
However, many B2B marketers still have a long way to go in capitalizing on all content marketing has to offer. Only 24 percent rate their efforts as extremely or very successful, versus 74 percent characterizing them as minimally or moderately successful.
One factor behind the disconnect between high usage rates and perceived success may be the lack of a systemic approach to content marketing at many B2B firms: Just 37 percent report having a documented content marketing strategy. Thirty-eight percent say they have a strategy, but it's not documented; 19 percent don't currently have a strategy but plan to develop one within a year; and 6 percent intend to keep muddling along with no concrete plan for the foreseeable future.
"Content is an essential component of getting B2B buyers through their decision gates, particularly with complex products and services," says Kara Alcamo, VP of media and digital activation services at the digital marketing agency R2i. "Personalizing content throughout the funnel allows you to draw them in faster and then address those unique decision drivers to accelerate their path to purchase."
It's Getting Tougher to Break Through the Clutter
As more and more B2B organizations embrace content marketing, it gets tougher and tougher to break through the clutter. "There is more content being produced than ever before by marketers, so the need for true quality is an imperative," says Liam Moroney, VP of integrated marketing at NewsCred, an enterprise content marketing platform.
Creating content that does not have true thought leadership will only result in wasted effort, with no SEO value, Moroney says. He cites BuzzSumo data showing that only half of all content is shared four or more times across all main social networks — down 50 percent since 2015 — and a Beckon report that suggests just 5 percent of content pieces account for 90 percent of total content engagement.
Data is an important tool B2B marketers can use to create better, more effective content. Data makes it possible to segment accounts and personas, to understand buyers' needs and how and where they consume content, and to measure the actions they take after consuming content.
"Data can show what content formats, creators, and channels are the highest-performing," Moroney says. "Ultimately, these metrics help determine overall performance, provide insights into content strategy and distribution, and help to inform optimal CTA (call to action) location placement to drive conversions."
Data-based insights can also help marketers create more effective content for generating leads and accelerating the buyer journey, Moroney says. "In addition, marketers can show the monetary value of their content marketing program," he notes.
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