This guide was published in November 2019 and was last updated in February 2020
Hello and welcome to our comprehensive guide on how to build an effective, lead-generating B2B content marketing strategy.
In this step-by-step guide, we'll cover everything from thinking about a content marketing strategy to reporting on its success. No matter how experienced a content marketer you are, this guide offers something for everyone.
If you want to read a specific section, just click the links in the contents below. You can return to the contents at any time using the 'return to top' link in each section.
For those of you who are new to B2B content marketing, we would recommend starting from the very beginning to ensure you think about your B2B content marketing strategy in the right way.
But before we dive in, what is a B2B content marketing strategy?
Content marketing is an approach whereby businesses use content - blogs, eBooks, case studies, market research, videos, podcasts and so on - to attract, engage and convert website visitors.
It's the most cost-effective marketing strategy and can help support a business' long-term objectives, be they brand awareness, lead generation, revenue or growth.
A content marketing strategy is essentially the plan of attack; how these content assets are brainstormed, created, published and promoted to meet a particular objective.
The right way to think about planning your B2B content marketing strategy
Where do you start with a B2B content marketing strategy?
Content is still king.
Though more than two decades have passed since Bill Gates’ seminal article, Content is King (1996), content marketing remains – and overwhelmingly so – the single-most powerful and cost-effective means of B2B lead generation.
Nowadays, every business understands the power of content marketing; they’ve heard the praises, seen the reviews and read the statistics. If they haven’t, they’re already long behind the competition.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing gets three times more leads than paid search advertising (Content Marketing Institute, 2017). Similarly, 72% of marketers said that having a good content strategy was "key to their success in 2018". (B2B Content Marketing, 2018 via HubSpot).
But while every business understands the value of content, few implement content marketing campaigns or strategies properly. Indeed - in 2018, only 39% of marketers had a documented content marketing strategy, and while that number jumped to 65% in 2019 - there's still a whopping 35% of marketers without one. (IMPACT BRAND)
Often, businesses go head-first without devising a content marketing strategy or blithely assume the audience wants to hear about their product or service. As a result, their campaigns fall at the first hurdle or fail to generate the interest and leads they think they deserve.
But here's the thing:
There’s a lot of content out there. Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad, but most of it is entirely out of date. So the main challenge for businesses is standing out and providing people with useful, helpful and relevant content.
Your prospects don’t have time to read content that doesn’t answer their most pertinent questions – and the bitter truth is that they don’t care about your product, they don’t care about your service, and they most certainly don’t care about your new office opening.
As well as the above, a content marketing strategy can fail because of:
In today's digital-first world, your prospects want
If you don't offer any of the above - you can bet website visitors will click off your website and visit your competitors' instead!
So your B2B content marketing strategy needs an overhaul. It’s time to stop writing for your business and start solving for your customer. And that’s exactly what we’re going to cover in this guide.
But before we start – there are just a few things you need to think about. These questions will lay the foundation for your B2B content marketing strategy and we’ll cover them in more detail afterwards.
It’s a question we often ask prospects and clients and, for many of them, it’s the first time they’ve really thought about it.
Some of them have answers, of course – business leaders, marketing managers, technicians, engineers – but few have gone about researching their customer base and identifying the challenges they have before creating a B2B content marketing strategy.
As a result, the content they create (while well-written and interesting) can be wide of the mark and fails to resonate with their target audience(s). Sure, it reaches people and receives views – but there’s no engagement beyond that initial click or view.
Eventually, they become frustrated with how B2B content marketing can take a long time to provide results – gradually reducing the amount of content they create – and invest their time and efforts elsewhere.
But the great thing about content creation is that there’s never a bad time to get started. You just need to ensure you know who you want to speak to and how to speak to them before you start creating.
An example from another world...
In banking – there’s a process called ‘Know Your Customer’, alternatively known as know your client or simply ‘KYC’.
This process is essentially where a business verifies the identity of its clients and assesses their suitability for particular products or services, along with the potential risks of illegal intentions – i.e. money laundering.
It’s a well-established process but ultimately, it enables banks and other financial institutions to know who they are dealing with and tailor their products and services accordingly.
And it isn’t limited to just banking. In some way, shape or form, every industry has its own routine to identifying and understanding target customers and in marketing, we use ‘buyer personas’.
As harsh as it sounds, marketing isn’t about you. It’s not about your brand; it's not about your product and it’s not about what you do.
It's all about helping your customers.
Your B2B content marketing strategy should, therefore, focus on solving the business challenges your customers have. They want answers, help and advice – they don’t want to be sold to.
By educating customers, demonstrating you get what they’re going through and can help them resolve their challenges, you can quickly build trust.
So, what are the problems you are trying to solve?
It all comes back to your buyer personas: what are their pain points, business challenges, and drivers for change? Once you have this information, you can start creating content that really does resonate with your target audience.
OK, here’s the kicker: even if you create a B2B content marketing strategy, there’s no guarantee that your content will generate views, traction, leads, sales – at least, not until you create stuff that’s unique and interesting.
It’s all well and good writing blogs, eBooks, etc – but if you’re saying the same thing your competitors or other businesses are saying, people won’t get any value from it.
But perhaps more importantly – a lot of the content available doesn’t answer the ‘difficult questions’, provide comparisons or suit the way that people search or educate themselves.
The responsibility falls to you, as an expert in your particular area, to answer the questions that people have, provide comparisons so that they might educate themselves, and ensure the content you produce is 10x better than what’s out there already.
“Many companies have forgotten they sell to actual people. Humans care about the entire experience, not just the marketing or sales or service. To really win in the modern age, you must solve for humans.”
— Dharmesh Shah, CTO & Co-Founder, HubSpot
Now we’re into the technical stuff.
For those of you unfamiliar with 'keywords' - they're essentially the words and phrases you use to enable search engines (like Google) and people to find your website and content online.
In the early days of the Internet, websites would be littered with keywords - using every single variation of a word possible to ensure that pages would be picked up by search engines and served to searchers - regardless of intent.
Fortunately, search engines are now a lot better than what they were five years ago but you still need to signpost your content so it can be found by searchers. This means search engine optimising (SEOing) your content.
When we talk about 'content types' we're referring to blogs, eBooks, case studies, infographics, videos - essentially what kind of content asset you're going to create.
Each content type has its advantages and disadvantages - and how and where you use them will affect overall engagement. For example, a short promotional video on Instagram will be infinitely better than a blog post on the same topic on LinkedIn.
In today's world, it would be accurate to say we’re in the age of video and consumable media. Think Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok. People like watching things. It’s easy and more engaging. Reading still has a place at the table but that’s often reserved for when people – your prospects – have time to do so… and more often than not, they don’t.
You also have to think about how your target audience goes about consuming media and where they hang out online. Your B2B content marketing strategy needs to be built around how your prospects like to consume content.
According to Smart Insights, the top-performing content assets are:
After laying the groundwork for your activities, it’s time to create and publish your content. You’ll need to use your buyer personas and keyword research to devise practical ideas, as well as a content management system (CMS) to host and publish your content.
Choosing the right CMS is crucial because not only will it support your B2B content marketing strategy and creation (acting as both a platform, calendar and an archive) it’ll also be the nucleus of your website.
Want to choose the right CMS for your business? Check out this blog.
We would suggest putting a lot of thought into this.
For the most part, all social media channels are free – but they differ in terms of their target audience, ease of use and return on investment.
Twitter is great for brand awareness and conversing with others in your industry but not so good for direct lead generation or advertising your content (because the platform is inundated with material). Expect to see more quotes, statistics and infographics on Twitter.
LinkedIn, on the other hand, is great for building rapport, demonstrating expertise, conversing with other professionals in your industry and building authority. It’s also quite good for lead generation. Expect to see more blogs, articles, comments and discussions on LinkedIn.
All social media platforms fulfil a specific role so it’s up to you to work out which ones will work best for your business.
When businesses cut budgets in the past, marketing was almost always the first to go. This wasn’t because marketing was ineffective, it was because marketing teams couldn’t monitor or track the performance of activities (there were no analytics platforms back then).
Currently, tools exist to monitor, track and report on the success of marketing initiatives, so you just need to ensure that everyone is aware of how your B2B content marketing strategy benefits the rest of the business.
What this means is that you need to have a clear idea of ‘success’ for your content marketing strategy. So make sure to agree on what metrics you will track to gauge performance in relation to a specific goal. For example, the goal might be to increase lead generation by 50% by March 2020. It’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. It’s a SMART goal.
To track performance in relation to this goal, you would most likely look at ‘conversions’ and monitor them until March 2020.
As well as having goals, you also need to have some kind of attribution reporting set up so that you can tie value back to specific marketing activities. For example, if a piece of content results in or contributes to a sale, you need to know that.
Before creating brand-new content, look at what you have already and how it’s performing. In our experience, it’s much easier to revise old content and use that as a foundation than create brand-new assets.
With a little refresh (i.e. new information, calls-to-action and links to other valuable content), your older content can be used to drive organic traffic and lead generation activity. You can read more about how to repurpose old content and the benefits here.
This is just one of many content quick wins that you can take advantage of relatively quickly and bolster your content marketing strategy.
(Just some of the content we've updated over the years)
That concludes our preamble. Hopefully by now you know everything that needs to be considered before diving into B2B content marketing. The businesses that get ‘frustrated’ with content marketing are almost invariably those that have no answers to the questions above.
But that’s not a problem – we’re going to run through every part of a B2B content marketing strategy in detail, so you can develop campaigns that work and generate leads..
Now that you've gone through the above and have an idea of how you want to deal with each aspect of your B2B content marketing strategy - let's go into the detail and explain how to develop a strategy.
So, what's the first step?
Before you create any content, you need to work out the goals of your B2B content marketing strategy: what do you want to achieve by creating content?
The goals you create should be SMART - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely. This will ensure you focus on goals that will deliver greater impact.
For example, you may want to increase website visits, generate more leads or increase revenue. Either way, your goals will ultimately define your B2B content marketing strategy, including what content you create and how it's promoted.
Here's another example: if your principal focus is brand awareness, most of your content assets will be thought leadership articles, blogs, comments, research reports and videos. These content assets are either easy to create and distribute (i.e. blogs, comments and videos) or present original insights (market research and thought leadership) that develop awareness of your brand.
Also, these content types will be picked up quickly by target media outlets (if you have a PR team, they’ll be able to utilise a lot of the above content – particularly research reports), enabling you to earn quality backlinks.
On the other hand, if your focus is lead generation, most of your content creation will be focused on assets that are typically gated behind forms: eBooks, white papers, market research reports, product demos and so on. These content assets are specifically designed to drive conversions.
Depending on what you want to do, you may not have content at every stage of the buyer’s journey – i.e. content created specifically for brand awareness is typically at the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey – in other words, the reader has yet to find out about your business and its solutions.
Keep the above in mind when you’re thinking about your goals.
As mentioned earlier, you need to know your audience. This means creating buyer personas – but what are they?
Pardon references to The B2B Marketing Lab, this video was created before we merged with MPULL to form Huble Digital.
What is a buyer persona?
A buyer persona is, according to HubSpot, a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer. It’s based on market research, actual data about your existing customers and a few (educated) assumptions.
Buyer personas help you to understand and relate to the people you want to market products and services to – including the challenges and business problems they face.
Admittedly, businesses make a lot of mistakes when it comes to buyer personas. One of the most prevalent mistakes is that 99% of them are stereotypes and based purely on job titles.
We used to be guilty of doing it ourselves.
"Rather than focusing on the behaviour and needs of our buyers, we ended up creating buyer personas based on job function. As a result, our content never really considered the wider business implications of a specific issue, meaning we were missing out on a lot of interested parties."
So rather than the above, we now focus on the behaviour and needs of our buyers – regardless of their business function (though this can help to segment the challenges, i.e. revenue and profit will be more important to a CEO than a marketing manager).
Here’s an example, if you provide HR software – with the old approach your target audience would only be those in HR looking to implement a new HR system. What about those who want a new HR system but don’t belong to HR? They may want a new system to make it easier to book holidays or track professional development needs.
What we’re saying is, make sure your personas are challenge/objective based as opposed to function or responsibility. And, once you’ve created them, make sure you use them!
1) Start with your customers and do research
Look at your existing customers to identify underlying trends and shared characteristics. You can then use this information to broadly define your personas.
Consider interviewing existing customers and using them as a basis for specific buyer personas. Cross-reference any educated guesses you have made with the actual information you have on customers.
You want to avoid creating too many personas – so focus on the main pain points and business challenges that most of them have. If you want to have a clear delineation between personas, otherwise your B2B content marketing strategy will be far too broad.
2) Identify customer goals
On the flip side of pain points and business challenges, what do your ideal customers want to achieve and how can you, your product and/or service help? Thinking backwards as well as forwards (and using the data you have) will enable you to build profiles that match who you are looking for.
Of course, not all of these goals will be matched to what you can provide – but that doesn’t matter. It’s about getting to know your potential customers and providing them with solutions.
(An example buyer persona document following a questionnaire)
3) Understand how you can help
Where does your business come into the process? How can you help these customers and why should they work with you? Understanding what you can and can’t do for customers is absolutely essential – because this will ensure you only ever work with people who are a “good fit” for your business.
4) Talk to prospects
In order to understand the whole purchase decision process, you need to interview prospects as well as customers (both good and bad to determine fit). Use the data you have on potential prospects to work out how and why they came to your business.
5) Talk to your sales team
Who does your sales team engage with on a daily basis? What questions are people asking them and where are these people from? Your sales team has the most exposure to those you want to work with so make sure you utilise their insight and expertise to build profiles.
6) Check out your competitors
Another really good way to work out who you should be targeting is to look at your competitors and see what they are doing with their content, social media and paid advertisements. You can use their approach as a basis and refine your personas from there.
After developing your buyer personas, you need to run a content audit. A content audit is where you look at all of your content assets and assign them to specific stages of the buyer journey.
But what is a content audit?
A content audit is the process of cataloguing and analysing all of the content on your website, including its performance. It enables you to see what you have (and don't have), as well as what you should be creating more of. Also, if you assign content to specific stages of the buyer's journey during your content audit, you'll see which stages lack content.
Check out this template from Distilled - it's pretty comprehensive and it's free!
For example, we often find that companies have a lot of awareness and education-stage content but very little consideration, evaluation or rationalisation-stage content. This can make for a very patchy B2B content marketing strategy.
In simpler terms, this means they usually have a lot of informative blogs and videos at the top of the funnel. These content assets are helpful for those in the earlier stages of the buyer's journey - pre-awareness, awareness and education - but fail to effectively position the business as one which should be considered.
After doing a content audit, you'll be in a better position to optimise existing content - whether that's through the inclusion of links and calls-to-action, lead flows or more up-to-date content.
The buyer journey can be segmented into the following stages:
This is the stage before awareness – the point where a prospect is unaware that they have a problem or challenge that needs solving.
During the pre-awareness stage, prospects aren’t searching for businesses or brands like yours. They might not even know these businesses and brands exist.
The whole point of having content at the pre-awareness stage is to raise awareness and gain awareness. Think about news stories, comments in media, blogs on prolific websites, conferences, trade shows, paid social advertising, PR – all of these methods are great for getting your business out there.
You’ll no doubt be familiar with this stage if you’ve created B2B content marketing strategies before. At the awareness stage, your prospects understand their problem/challenge and might be looking to find more information about it.
The goal here is to get new contacts to like you – and you can do this by creating relevant, high-quality content that answers questions and provides solutions. Think about creating pillar pages that tackle topics in depth and personalising your content.
EXAMPLE: Think about that feeling you get when you start to feel sick. At this point you aren’t deciding what doctor to go to (you’re just starting to feel unwell), you’re thinking about medication you can take and need some suggestions.
The distinction between awareness and education is the amount of effort given to finding out more about a problem/challenge and the solutions available. At the education stage, prospects will dedicate 100% of their effort to finding the information they need. At this stage, blogs, eBooks, how-to guides and videos are strong assets to use.
EXAMPLE: Let’s use the example of feeling sick once again. At this stage, you’re doing research to understand what ailment you have, having done some self-treatment, and reading every bit of content you can to educate yourself.
Remember: there’s a lot of ‘educational’ content online – some of it good, some of it bad and a lot of it entirely out of date. As mentioned earlier, think about what makes content unique. You need to cut through the clutter and to do so you need to provide something valuable to the reader. In exchange, they’ll continue to frequent your website and read your content.
Now that your prospects have educated themselves on the options available, they’ll start to look at potential suppliers and evaluate options. They’re no longer thinking about alternatives to solve their problem but looking at possible solutions (which could include those your company provides).
So, at this stage you need to produce content that helps prospects (and website visitors) to understand your product/service. The goal is to get them to choose your product and/or service, as well as how you are significantly better than the competition.
EXAMPLE: Sticking with the ‘being sick’ example, it’s at this point that you would try to find a doctor and see if they are available to see you.
As for content assets to use at this stage – eBooks, market research reports, comparisons, case studies and product sheets will help to demonstrate your knowledge and position your product.
At this point, your prospects have a shortlist of options and are sifting through a variety of solutions. To catch their attention, your website and content need to stand out.
Our advice? Make sure your website has loads of high-quality content tailored to your personas and has calls-to-action to allow website visitors to engage in different ways.
EXAMPLE: You’ve finally got a shortlist of doctors and your symptoms have worsened, you’re now evaluating each individual doctor to see who can best suit your needs.
Now your prospects have a shortlist of options but they need to get buy-in from other stakeholders or decision makers.
EXAMPLE: You’ve evaluated the doctors but need validation from someone else who has used that doctor before.
At this stage of the buyer’s journey, you need to focus on removing as much friction from the process as possible, as well as providing the prospect with content they can share with their wider team (think references, return on investment models, case studies, project proposals).
Now we’re all familiar with this stage (after all, we’ve all gone through the process of buying a product) but in the B2B space, the ‘decision’ is much more complex.
At the decision stage, paperwork is being signed and a product or service has been selected. The prospect, now customer, is working with you on the contract – so it’s up to you to make the process smooth and seamless.
EXAMPLE: You’ve decided on a doctor and they’ve called you in for a consultation. You’re expecting the consultation to be thorough – with a detailed breakdown of your current health and options. You want the doctor to be supportive but not invasive.
As for the content you can use at this stage, think product tip shits and user guides, proposals to highlight your pricing structure, training programmes and customer reviews.
Just because you solved your customer’s problem, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any other issues they need help with.
The ongoing delivery stage is all about delighting your customers. It’s about going above and beyond for your customers and finding solutions to their other business challenges.
For example, a customer might need website design and development services but not know that it’s something you provide. Instead of outright selling it to them, you could help them by providing useful content on website design and development via a lead nurture workflow. When the time is right, they will speak to you to see if you can help – at which point you can tell them about the options you have.
EXAMPLE: You’ve recovered from your sickness and your doctor has provided you with several suggestions to avoid being sick in the future. They’ve also asked if you could come in regularly so that they might check your health and make sure everything is OK. This is the kind of service you’re looking for.
Now that you know what you want to achieve, who you want to target and where the gaps in your content are, you can start to brainstorm content ideas for your B2B content marketing strategy.
Sit down with marketing and sales and try to come up with ideas related to the pain points of your personas. We find that the best way to come up with content is to start with an initial idea or topic.
For example, HubSpot Website Design; what is it that our personas are struggling with in relation to HubSpot website design? From there, we'll list out as many topics as possible that coincide with our personas and our area of expertise. Then we'll work backwards and cull any 'weak' or irrelevant ideas.
In essence, try to think of unique angles you can take on content or ideas that are already out there. Consider doing your own independent research to build an industry report.
Often creating unique content isn't so much as having a new idea but taking an old idea and giving it a different spin. For instance, think about Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. What do all of these movies have in common? At their most basic, they're the same!
These stories all have:
What makes these movies so great is how they take something ordinary and make it extraordinary through a different spin on the story.
So at every opportunity, try to do things differently! This will help your B2B content marketing strategy to stand out and attract the right people. Maybe it's a case of creating a video rather than a blog or breaking an eBook down into a series of podcasts. Think about how your audience likes to engage and consume your content!
You can also use HubSpot's blog ideas generator if you're stuck.
If you find there are common themes, why not use them as topics for topic clusters? There are loads of benefits to doing so.
Once you have your ideas - you need to validate them with keyword research. It's pointless creating content that no one is looking for.
That said, there may be times where you know your prospects have a particular problem or challenge but can't find any keywords that accurately reflect it. In these instances, it's best to look for closely related terms or to own the term itself and build a sphere of influence around it over time. This can be done through regular content creation, PR and promotional activity. It's a great way to build authority on a topic that no one else has covered but can take time.
Instead, it's often much easier to target established terms with low competition. We would advise looking for keywords with low or medium competition and good search volumes (more than 50 searches a month).
As well as targeting terms for your content - you need to understand the intent of each search. For example, terms with 'how to' are informational - the searcher's intent is to acquire information. Then you have transactional searches, i.e. 'buy marketing automation', 'subscribe to b2bml blog'. The intent here is to perform some kind of activity or make a purchase. Then you have navigational searches; these searches are to find certain pages - i.e. 'log in' or 'b2bml website'.
These are just simple examples but you can quickly see how the intent of a search can affect your keyword choice (and the nature of the content you create). To go a step further, rather than just choosing terms based on the intent mentioned above - ask website visitors, prospects and customers why they executed these searches - what did they want to find? This will help inform your content creation as well.
What is a topic cluster?
A topic cluster model involves creating a single ‘pillar’ page – which is something like this page, actually – that provides a broad overview of a specific topic. The pillar page will usually tackle several topics related to the main topic. These ‘other’ topics will be expanded upon (think of a pillar page like an eBook laid out as a web page) and each segment will link to a blog post or article that provides more detail on the topic. This is known as cluster content.
You might be wondering why topic clusters are important and why your content strategy should revolve around them and here’s the answer: search engines have changed; they no longer look at just keywords but are increasingly concerned with topics.
Search engines today are far more concerned with understanding the context and intent of a search and look at several parameters, including the search query, when delivering search results. So keywords alone are not enough!
Check out the video below from HubSpot for a quick crash course on topic clusters!
A visual example of a topic cluster
So having read the above, if you were to create a topic cluster on cloud security - with the main pillar page being cloud security - some of the cluster content could be:
And so on. Each bit of cluster content would build upon what was discussed on the pillar page and link back to it.
Your pillar page would be optimised for a broad keyword term you want to rank for (using the example above, it would be ‘cloud security’) while the cluster content would target long-tail keyword terms.
The result is that your cluster content will generate targeted traffic and any value attributed to any page in the cluster is shared amongst the entire cluster as everything is linked. Over time, as the authority of your pages increases, your whole cluster will receive an SEO boost, improving your keyword rankings overall.
But topic clusters also provide more structure to your content, making it easier for crawlers (search engine bots) and website visitors to navigate your website.
You go from this..
Other content brainstorming methods you can use
1) Ask your audience
Who is better placed to tell you about the content you should be producing than your audience?
After all, they are the ones with the pain points and business challenges.
There’s nothing embarrassing about asking. In fact, your customers and prospects will appreciate that you’ve asked them for their opinion and involved them in your marketing (also goes a way to building trust).
You can get some really interesting insights from market research surveys, so we would recommend doing some!
2) They Ask You Answer
We’ve been reading Marcus Sheridan’s They Ask You Answer and it’s really helped us with generating content that solves problems.
For the longest period of time, we were producing content (though high-quality) that wasn’t really being engaged with – and that’s because we weren’t answering the right questions for our prospects.
Since reading They Ask You Answer, we’ve overhauled our process to focus on pricing, reviews, comparisons and the like in regards to what we do. The inherent issue in the B2B space is that so many businesses are reluctant to do these things as they fear it’ll reflect badly on them.
But here’s the thing: when you’re honest and transparent with your prospects, you build trust and increase the likelihood of them working with you. Think about the last time you went to a store without price tags. It just doesn’t happen unless you’re shopping on Savile Row!
You need to show or explain your service and/or pricing.
People are accustomed to seeing a price for a product or service, so it makes sense to show yours. When you don’t divulge your pricing, you give your prospects something to worry about. They subconsciously avoid you because they have no idea what they’re getting or for what price.
But by showing your pricing and explaining why it costs as much (or as little) as it does, you can build trust and encourage prospects to work with you. Similarly, when you talk about your failures (and how you’ve learnt from them) you show prospects that you’re not afraid of doing things differently.
This candid approach to business is much more human and authentic – and that’s precisely what’s lacking in today’s world of B2B content marketing. If you’re able to provide this information, prospects will visit your website and you will be shown on Google as you’re targeting terms/content that no one else wants to write about!
3) Market research
Built on original research (surveys) to provide accurate industry insights – market research reports are perhaps the alpha and omega of content formats.
Providing you ask the right questions, market research reports can give you a comprehensive view of your industry – from business challenges and goals to employee sentiment and the overall ‘mood’.
You can then use the statistics from these reports to support, frame or even create content; e.g. 75% of marketers feel video content is a necessity in 2019, three-thirds of marketing managers can’t prove ROI, and 90% of marketing executives expect their job to be automated by 2022.
These are all headlines that could potentially find their way into news media – so you can even use your content for PR and link building.
Find out how you can use market research to fuel content creation at scale - spending significantly less and maximising your return on investment.
4) Keyword and competitor research
OK – so while keywords are less important than they were maybe 5 years ago, they still play an important role.
Optimising your content for specific keyword terms ensures that searchers can find it and that search engines understand it.
For your regular content, you’ll want to target long-tail keyword terms that are relevant to what you are discussing. No point optimising your content for something it’s unrelated to – you’ll start getting irrelevant leads.
Start by compiling a list of all the long-tail terms you want to be found for and cross-reference them with the pain points/business challenges your buyer personas face. This will ensure you only ever create content that’s relevant. Of course, if you can’t find your ideal terms, feel free to compromise by targeting broader terms – Google (and other search engines) will be able to understand the context of your article and serve it for relevant searches.
Use tools like Google AdWords’ Keyword Planner to conduct your keyword research. You’ll be able to filter keywords by region, competition, volume (i.e. how many people search for it each month) and much more.
If you’re stuck, take a look at your competitors. What terms are they being found for and competing for? And, most importantly, can you create content better than what they are ranking for?
As you know, there are loads of different content types, each one having its own advantages. Here’s a full list:
Check out the section below for more information on creating a market research report!
How can you create a market research report? Well, start by deciding on a topic relevant to your target audience, i.e. digital transformation in UK SMBs:
Think of a specific question you want to ask in relation to that topic,
Think of a series of sub questions related to the main question,
Then compile your list of questions and then send them to a research house to commission.
Once the research is in, filter through it to find the juicy stats
Use these stats to build your market research report
Maximise the value of the research report by breaking it down into other content assets
Market research can really help fuel your content creation at scale. If you're looking to create content that stands out and provides unique insights, it's definitely worth considering!
A core part of your content creation and management is the content management system (CMS).
If you have a CMS already, don’t worry about this section. If you don’t, you need to get one. A CMS will enable you to create, publish and organise your content with ease.
With the right CMS, you won’t have to call up a website development agency when you need to add new pages or website content. You’ll also have complete control of your website. Of course this does mean that you’re responsible for its ongoing maintenance and updates but it’s nice to be able to do what you want.
(G2 Crowd's grid of the top content management systems available)
If you need help evaluating the content management systems available - we've done a blog assessing the best on the market. Check it out here.
What's your content schedule like?
As well as getting a CMS, you also need to come up with a content schedule. You have all of these search engine optimised content assets in different formats for different stages of the buyer journey – but when are you going to put them live?
You can’t put all of your content assets live at once. That’s too chaotic and bad for promotion.
Instead, spread out your content so that you can maximise your promotional activity and build interest.
If you have no plans to produce a research report or new web page, you can then increase the number of blogs or videos you create. It’s all about being flexible and dedicating enough time to the promotion of assets.
For the time you spent creating these assets, spend twice as long promoting them. This way you'll get the best return on investment.
We believe in creating high-quality content at scale. It’s how you deliver value and get your content noticed. You can’t create just one blog a month, it'll be swallowed by the abyss that is the Internet!
You have to remember that new content is created every day, so if you’re not doing the same, your visibility online will suffer, and you’ll fail to build a following of people interested in what you do.
Think of it this way: every bit of content you create is a new web page on your website with its own unique URL – meaning more opportunities to rank and drive targeted traffic back to your website.
You’ve got a bunch of experts at your disposal, so why not use them as spokespeople and content creators for your business?
Sure, it can be hard to start with – but we’ve managed to do it and now everyone in our business writes a blog each month. That’s 30+ blogs each month – all of which are search engine optimised and relevant to our target audience. They even share the content on LinkedIn and engage with their following.
So, how do you get all your employees writing? Here are a few tips:
With everyone blogging, you'll be able to demonstrate the breadth and depth of your expertise and scale your content creation. It’s no longer the content team doing all of the work.
Also, with your team creating and sharing content on your website and on their social media profiles, they’ll be seen as industry experts and authorities on their specific topics.
However, if all the above fails, one option is to outsource your B2B content creation. There are challenges keeping it in-house – but also issues when outsourcing it. We’ve written blogs on both topics, check them out below:
Make sure you think carefully about how you want to proceed before deciding to keep content creation in-house or outsource it!
Your content won’t be going anywhere unless you promote it. Sure, people will find it via search – eventually – but you need to be using other promotional channels to generate awareness and interest. Once your campaigns are done, organic traffic will be the only thing that keeps people coming back to your content.
So, what other channels can you use to amplify your B2B content? You can use social media, paid advertising and email marketing. They are all essential to the success of your B2B content marketing strategy. Check out the options below.
When Twitter was created way back in 2006, it was all the hype. As a social networking service and microblogging platform there was, quite frankly, nothing like it.
Of course, that came with its own share of hurdles. Being the first of its kind meant that Twitter had to learn things as it went, setting precedent for the platforms that followed.
Twitter is still a social media monolith, that much is true, but there’s a lot of noise on the platform that you have to fight through to be seen and heard.
It’s not as easy as it was to build a following on Twitter, but the platform works well if you’re trying to increase brand awareness. However, you do need to dedicate a bit of time to it if you want to get likes, retweets, shares and so on. Half of all content gets zero shares!
Use the platform as a means to share industry news, developments, tips and tricks. Make sure you don’t share too much of your own content, no one will interact and the algorithm will gradually push you down search listings for spam.
Have a healthy balance – try 70% other content, 30% your own. Also, converse with others, retweet and like their posts, follow back people who follow you, answer questions, show your expertise and get your employees involved. You don’t want to look like a bot now, do you?
When you do share your own content on LinkedIn, include the relevant hashtags, an image and a catchy bit of copy that really makes people go “Ooh."
For you as a B2B marketer, LinkedIn is a potential goldmine. It provides you with a direct line to those who you want to sell to – decision makers – and gives you the necessary tools to engage them.
According to Hootsuite, 80% of B2B leads generated via social media come from LinkedIn.
That said, in order to achieve success on LinkedIn you need to follow some strict guidelines… first and foremost being: no incessant self-promotion.
LinkedIn is a community and you have to treat it as such. This means any content you create and share on LinkedIn needs to be relevant to your followers and valuable. If you were to post constantly about your products and services, people will quickly unfollow you.
Our advice? Start by getting involved in other conversations on LinkedIn related to what you do. Then, start sharing some of your own content – maybe commentary on industry news, new software, video and developments. Ask your potential customers questions and share statistics that prompt them to respond. Build a dialogue, not a monologue.
In terms of content assets that work well on LinkedIn, you’re looking at blogs, videos, news articles, and market research statistics (great talking points for a lot of people). Ensure your posts include hashtags and, where relevant, tag the author.
Instagram is the fastest-growing social media network with 1 billion monthly active users. More than 500 million of these uses are active on the platform every day.
You might be thinking: “But Instagram only works for B2C!” and you would be half right. Certainly, Instagram provides B2C brands with the platform (and tools) they need to market to a targeted audience online, but it can be applied to B2B as well.
You can’t look at it as a lead generator, unfortunately. For B2B, Instagram is more about building brand awareness and giving your following a look at your business’ culture.
You won’t be able to post articles or include links but what you can do is post your video content, making it perfect for that format.
With all of these platforms, spend more time communicating with and about others than you do about yourself. As for posting your own content, try to find the ideal time to post; spread your posts out over a few days for a few months, then do some trend analysis to work out when you get the most engagement.
Not sure which social media channels are right for your business? Check out this blog.
Of course, even after you choose your channels - you'll need a tool to help manage it all. Our weapon of choice is HubSpot but it might not be for you.
To give you a better idea of its capabilities, we've put together an honest review of HubSpot's social media tool. Check it out here.
If you want some quick wins and can afford it, amplifying the reach of your content using paid advertising is one of the most cost-effective methods.
Paid advertising encompasses a number of ‘paid’ activities: pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, paid social and display advertising (though display advertising is more for retail and ecommerce, so we’ll save that for another time).
(If you’re planning on doing a PPC campaign, you can check out how much it costs here)
Each one is different so understanding how they work will help you to decide whether you need them. Check out the information below.
Just as the name implies, you pay for clicks. You advertise your products and/or services online as advertisements and searchers click on them if they are interesting.
PPC is instantly measurable (you’ll see the impact on your marketing activities right away) and because of its refined targeting criteria, you can market to specific people – enabling you to generate high-quality website traffic and leads.
Here are a few best practice tips for PPC advertising:
Also, if you're considering getting started with PPC for lead generation - we have a blog on the do's and don'ts - make sure you check it out.
Paid social advertising
Next up is paid social advertising. As with PPC, you only pay when someone clicks on your ads and you have complete control over who sees them.
You can use paid social advertising on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media platforms (but let’s be honest, they aren’t as important). Ads appear in-platform and take different forms depending on the channel you use.
(Sponsored content on LinkedIn)
There’s a good chance that your ideal prospects use more than one social media channel, so you need to determine which one has the most influence on the purchase process. In other words, where do your prospects spend most of their time online?
If you find that more than one channel influences or contributes to lead generation, split your paid social advertising across those channels, monitor performance and then revisit your strategy in a few months.
Again, you’ll want to be advertising content assets that are relevant to your target audience and optimising your ads for terms relevant to your content assets. Because you can target literally anyone using paid advertising, it’s a great opportunity to generate quality leads.
Done correctly, a paid social advertising strategy can bolster your organic content strategy – increasing visibility of your content assets and traffic to your website, both of which will improve search engine rankings.
While almost considered dead (and pandora’s box post the General Data Protection Regulation), email marketing can still deliver great returns if done right – and is a key part of your B2B content marketing strategy.
According to HubSpot, 93% of B2B marketers use email to distribute content, and 40% say email newsletters are critical to their content marketing success. There is, evidently, still a place for email marketing in the modern mix, but how can it be done well?
1) Start by clearing your lists
If you haven’t cleansed your email marketing database, now would be a good time. You only want to correspond with people who are interested in the content you offer, and uninterested contacts (or inactive emails) can really skew your analytics.
Start with your most active email lists because they’re driving conversions, leads and sales. Look for soft and hard bounces. Soft bounces are usually down to a temporary issue, whereas hard bounces are down to permanent errors (meaning your emails will never reach the recipient).
So, check the email addresses of the recipients with soft and hard bounces, there may be typos. If you continue to get hard bounces after fixing the typos, chances are the domain or email doesn’t exist, or delivery has been blocked by the email server. Remove these emails if so.
You should now have a list of contacts whose emails work. The next step is to identify those who haven’t opened your last x number of emails. It’s up to you to define ‘x’. For example, if a recipient hasn’t opened your last three or four emails, chances are they are uninterested. Identify these recipients and build a list for them, then send one last ‘re-engagement’ email. If they don’t open them email after a week, bin them.
After doing the above, you should be down to those who haven’t opened your last ‘x’ number of emails and those who open them regularly – a much more engaged list of contacts. These are the people that read and maybe even enjoy your content.
Make sure to clean your lists every few months to ensure you’re maximising engagement and getting accurate analytics.
2) Look at your email engagement rates
Having sorted out your email database, have a look at your email engagement rates – how many people open your emails and how long do they stay on them? Do they skim through or click on any links?
If recipients are opening your emails and skimming them, it could be that the copy isn’t engaging enough. On the other hand, if recipients are opening your emails, staying on them for a long time but not clicking any links, it could be that the content on offer isn’t relevant.
Try A/B testing your emails and sending them at different times. Use different content assets and styles for the copy. Send one variation to one half of your subscribers and the other variation to the other half, then work out which emails received the most engagement.
3) Some best practice tips for email marketing
When your recipients literally receive hundreds of emails a week, it can be hard to get yours to stand out.
Here are some best practice tips to increase open rates and click-throughs:
Done correctly, email marketing can support your lead generation and lead nurture efforts. Make sure the content you share is relevant to the recipient's interests (and it should be if you've followed this guide so far), in a format that best resonates with them and uses language that is clear and concise.
When it comes to B2B content creation, knowing how and when to use certain content assets, such as blogs, eBooks and case studies to attract, engage and convert website visitors is essential.
Think of it like this, in today’s world, your prospects can find you through a variety of channels, organic search, social media, email marketing, referrals, offline events, paid advertising – but almost always these channels lead your prospects to some form of content related to their interests, right?
You have to appreciate that content is what enables your business to be found online; to inform and educate prospects; to demonstrate understanding and expertise; and to encourage people to work with you. Without content, you just won’t generate any leads.
For example, blogs are what attract people to your website. They’re often used to build awareness (as mentioned earlier) and include links to other, more detailed content assets. Then you have eBooks, these assets are gated behind forms on landing pages – to access them, you have to share your details (becoming a contact or, in marketing terms a lead, in the process). After eBooks, you have things like case studies, product demos and pricing documents, all of which – should someone download and read them – signify a level of purchase intent. After all, if you weren’t interested in someone’s product or service you wouldn’t exactly look at a pricing sheet…
The content that people look at is indicative of their intent. Someone watching a video or reading a blog might just be looking for more information, but when they actively share their information to download an eBook you know you’re on to something.
With the right B2B content marketing strategy (which has already been outlined on this page), you can move someone from the pre-awareness stage of the buyer journey through to the decision stage.
Want to learn more about creating lead-generating content? Download our free eBook by clicking the button below.
This is where you revisit the goals you outlined at the very start of your B2B content marketing strategy to understand your progress.
At the very least, you need an analytics platform or content management system (CMS) that can capture website activity (page views, submissions, conversions, time on page and so on), as well as a way to attribute value to specific actions visitors take.
It’s here where things like attribution reporting come in handy. Attribution reporting allows you to tie activities back to specific user actions and across multiple channels. You can assign values to specific actions, i.e. if a contact downloads an eBook, assign 10 points or if a contact downloads a pricing document, assign 30 points.
(Attribution reporting, part of HubSpot's Reporting tool)
These are just general examples but it gives you a way to see which channels drive the most activity/conversions, what content assets are involved and the level of user intent.
There are several attribution models – each one offering a different way to assign value to user actions. They are:
The model you choose will depend on your business’ sales cycle and how important specific touch points are in the purchase process. What’s crucial, however, is that you have a way to display the data in a digestible format.
What's important to note is that the information isn’t just for you – it’s also for your wider business. The marketing team will understand the technical jargon, but sales, for example, will only be interested in leads generated and new business opportunities as a result of your content creation. C-level executives, on the other hand, will be principally concerned with how content has affected the business’ bottom line – and therefore will be looking at revenue that can be tied to content creation.
Of course, without website analytics it’ll be impossible to understand the performance of your B2B content marketing strategy or make improvements to it.
As part of our own marketing activity, one thing we do behind the scenes is update, improve and republish old blogs and web pages. We carefully assess old content to identify 1) if it’s still relevant 2) if not, how can it be improved and 3) whether we can add any new links, CTAs or other media to increase its value.
The reason for this is twofold. One, Google loves fresh content, so we want to ensure that all the content we create is up to date and reflective of best practice. Two, we found that a lot of our older articles were still receiving a lot of organic traffic, meaning people were interested in what we had to say.
Now, unless it’s evergreen, every bit of content has an expiry date. It either becomes irrelevant or unrepresentative of best practice, so we – as experts – need to keep our content up to date so people trust us.
We updated one of our blogs ‘What is a buyer persona?’ and within three months, organic traffic to the blog increased substantially. It didn’t take us long – maybe an hour or two – and cost us nothing. A couple of months later, we added a video and guess what? Traffic increased yet again.
That blog now occupies first position on Google for the search ‘What is a buyer persona?’.
Don’t believe us? You can check out the benefits of repurposing a case study (and the proof of how well the above blog is doing) by reading this blog.
Now, our advice would be to develop a plan for repurposing and/or updating old content. When we talk about repurposing we mean utilising the content for other things. For example, if you have a blog that’s performing well – could you perhaps turn it into a video or expand upon it? Maybe there are some aspects that you could improve upon?
As for updating your content, we would suggest scrutinising the detail – there may be new tips and tricks that you can share, or approaches that are much more effective than what you described previously. It’s your job as the expert to be familiar with all the latest developments. You want your audience to trust you? You need to show them you know what you’re talking about!
We are a specialist content marketing agency, comprised of Inbound Marketing experts who know how to attract, engage and convert website visitors through engaging content.
We take the time to understand our clients’ key messages, business goals and buyer personas to develop B2B content marketing campaigns that generate leads and deliver long-term value. Furthermore, we leverage the most suitable channels – based on our clients’ requirements – to amplify the reach of content, enabling us to target existing and new audiences and ensure our clients’ content can be found wherever, whenever.
The best B2B content marketing campaigns are built on sound strategy – one which delivers both the quality and quantity of content required and leverages the right channels for distribution.
We've helped several clients with content creation and you can view the case studies by clicking on the logos below.
Some of the services we offer are:
But before you pull the trigger and enlist our help, please read this blog. It covers everything you need to consider before choosing a content marketing agency. It should help you pick the right agency - the one that understands your business and can create content your audience loves.
If you want to get in touch with us, you can book a no-obligation consultation using the button below.
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