How can you stand out as a B2B marketer, capture floods of leads and convert more customers than your competition?
It all starts with keeping your finger on the pulse of content marketing.
When you’re across the latest trends in B2B content marketing, you’re in a position of strength to plan for the future.
What’s more, you can proactively adapt your strategy to get better results from your investment.
This intel is even MORE important when you’re in the middle of a global pandemic and things are shifting at warp speed.
So what are the key takeaways from the past year in B2B content marketing, and how can you apply them to your business?
In this cheat sheet, we round up the biggest B2B content marketing insights you need to know in 2021.
How B2B marketers are creating and distributing content
What separates high-performing B2B content from the rest
The impact of the pandemic on B2B marketers, and how they adapted
The best strategy for a B2B blog
... and much more
Ready? Let's get started.
1. 83% of B2B marketers say their success is due to the value their content provides
Every year, Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and Marketing Profs release a report covering the benchmarks, budgets and trends in content marketing. The 11th Annual B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: Insights for 2021 report surveyed B2B content marketers who said their organization has used content marketing for at least one year.
From these survey respondents, roughly a third (31%) said their organization had been extremely successful or very successful with content marketing over the past 12 months. All of these companies had one common thread: creating content that offers value.
83% of all marketers said their B2B content marketing success boiled down to the value their target audience get from the content. This is miles ahead of other success factors, such as new content, content strategy changes and search rankings.
It’s not just enough to have a blog or create white papers — you need to make sure that your potential customers get genuine VALUE from your information if you want to rake in the rewards from B2B content marketing. This starts with having the right themes or pillars in place to structure your content, and developing content for every stage of the customer journey.
What does this mean?
It might mean creating white papers to educate your audience, writing blog posts to share the latest news in your industry, shooting videos to show what your product looks like in action, or case studies to demonstrate the value of your offering for a potential buyer.
2. 94% of B2B content marketers changed their strategy because of the pandemic
According to CMI, almost all B2B marketers made some sort of change to their content strategy as a result of the pandemic. 83% said they made quick changes, and 4 in 5 said they felt the changes were effective.
So what did they switch up? A lot — but here are the top three:
70% changed their targeting and messaging strategy
64% adjusted their editorial calendar
53% shifted their distribution and promotion strategy
On the flip side, only 1 in 4 revisited their buyer personas and only 20% changed their KPIs.
Let’s get into the good points first. Most content marketers switched up their targeting, messaging and distribution, which was absolutely critical to adapt to the impact of the pandemic. Timely and relevant content is a fundamental part of any content marketing strategy — and the definition of ‘relevant’ changes depending on the macro shifts in the world. Even when everything is going smoothly, it’s a good idea to regularly revisit your content strategy and calendar to ensure everything is still useful for your audience.
But these numbers also reveal a HUGE missed opportunity.
See, big changes affect your customers much more than you realize, both in the short term and long term. They might shift their priorities, face new challenges, cut back on spending, or do a complete 180 with their strategy, products and services. However, the majority of companies didn’t even look at their buyer personas to see how their values or goals might have changed during COVID-19.
The same goes for metrics. If you’re changing your content strategy, you need to go back and see if the numbers you’re tracking are still relevant and line up with your goals. Otherwise, your objectives will take you one way, while your KPIs will pull your team in another direction.
3. 73% of the top content marketing performers nurture their audience
The main point of difference between top content marketing performers and the rest?
PURPOSE and ACTION.
Content Marketing Institute found that the top B2B marketers used content marketing incredibly well across the entire sales funnel, from brand awareness to nurturing leads.
Here’s the breakdown of how top performers use content marketing:
73% use content to help nurture their subscribers/audiences/leads, compared to 38% for those that are least successful
60% leverage content to build a subscribed audience for their brand, compared to 25% for those that are least successful
64% say content successfully helped them generate sales and revenue, compared to 41% for those that are least successful
On top of this, the top performers are also more likely to work with a documented content marketing strategy, and to use metrics to help measure their content performance.
Deliberate and strategic content marketing touches every stage of the sales funnel. The best B2B content teams focus on creating great content all the time — and you should too.
Here’s the thing: the sales funnel for B2B marketing isn’t linear. You can’t control what customers see at every stage of the buying cycle, and you can’t expect them to follow your path to conversion to a tee.
So what you CAN focus on? Simple: building a relationship with your audience with genuine, useful content that addresses a real problem they’re trying to solve. When you shift your focus from generating awareness to creating trust and loyalty, you’ll see the benefits on your top and bottom line.
“Content marketing must connect to the core business purpose: serve customers and affect the bottom line” - @EditorStahl via @CMIContent.
4. Nearly 72% of all B2B companies have a blog
Earlier this year, Backlinko analyzed the content marketing efforts of more than 502 B2B companies.
The main insight?
That the majority of B2B companies (71.7%, or 3 in 4) have a blog. Big or small, this is the one thing that most organizations have in common.
For most of these businesses, blogs are their main content marketing hub (not to mention a massive source of organic traffic).
To back this up even further, Backlinko added another nugget of wisdom to their research from another study by FocusVision. According to this content marketing report, B2B decision-makers typically read 13 pieces of content before making a decision — and the majority (70%) is read DIRECTLY on a business’ website.
If you’re one of the 28% of B2B companies that don’t have a blog, you’re already starting 2021 off on the back foot. These numbers help to highlight just how important these types of content are to most B2B content marketing strategies.
A company blog is a powerful tool to provide valuable information to your audience as they move through the sales funnel from awareness to consideration and conversion. Even if some of your content marketing is happening off-site on LinkedIn or Medium, blogging is still useful. It brings users back to your website, where they can learn more about your company, browse your products and services, and access additional types of content.
Another benefit of blogging? SEO. An effective B2B content marketing strategy can help your website rank higher for key search terms that your audience is looking for. Higher rankings = more qualified traffic to your site.
5. Educational blogs receive 52% more organic traffic than company-focused blogs
This one’s another valuable insight we want to highlight from the Backlinko report. Based on the blogs surveyed, there are four different content types that companies are sharing on their blogs:
Company news and updates
Educational content that’s designed to provide value to the reader or help solve a problem
A mixture of news and educational content
Industry-related news and developments
More than half (51%) of all companies opt for the mixed approach, which combines educational content and company news.
Backlinko also found that educational blogs receive a whopping 52% more organic traffic than blogs focused on company or industry news.
While it’s easy for B2B blogs to quickly transform into a place to house the latest company news and press coverage, these don't necessarily make for the best user experience - and they're definitely not the main reasons why customers convert. Focus on creating valuable new content that helps your potential customers solve a problem, or thought leadership pieces that build trust and position your company as a frontrunner in the industry.
These educational pieces are also a prime opportunity to rank for industry-related keywords. Work with your SEO team to research keywords related to your sector or products and services, then develop content to try and rank well for these in search engine results.
6. Long-form content performs best in the B2B space
Last but not least on the SEO front: content length.
As you can see from Backlinko's graph above, the top 10% of blog posts are far longer than those in the bottom 10%. This is particularly important when it comes to SEO: the data shows that the top 10% of posts that rank well in organic search are almost triple the length of the bottom 10%.
All things considered equal, a longer B2B blog post will generate more shares, build more backlinks from a wider number of referring domains, and bring in more traffic almost all of the time.
Try to aim for at least 1,000 to 1,500 words if you're creating content for a blog post. Structure your content into headings and subheadings, and use images and lists to break up long-form pieces into digestible chunks for your audience.
7. Almost half of all B2B content marketers outsource at least one form of content marketing activity
CMI found that 49% of all teams surveyed outsource at least one piece of content marketing activity. As expected, small businesses outsource the least, while roughly 60% of medium and large companies say they outsource some form of content marketing.
What are these companies outsourcing? The numbers say it all: content creation. More than 86% of all B2B organizations work with an external partner to create content, while 30% outsource their content distribution.
This links in with another finding from the same survey. Of the respondents that reported low levels of success with content marketing, 63% said they encountered challenges with content creation.
Unsurprisingly, the top three challenges for developing content in B2B marketing boil down to expertise and budget:
69% said they struggled to find partners with adequate topic expertise for their content ideas
51% had issues with budget
42% found it challenging to find partners who understand/are able to empathize well with their audience
Outsourcing and partnerships aren’t nice to have. They’re vital.
If you want to get ahead with your organization's content marketing, you need to make sure you have the right resources at your disposal. That means having a team of content creators you can trust to help deliver the goods.
This is even more pressing in 2021. With hiring freezes and limited budgets, you NEED to find the right partners if you want to create useful and relevant content that delivers.
Another great source of expertise? B2B influencers. These experts can add an extra layer of trust and credibility to your business. Plus, it’s a great way to build backlinks to your website and increase visibility for your brand.
8. The top three metrics tracked by B2B companies include website traffic, email engagement, and website engagement
When it comes to measuring content performance, CMI found that 81% of all companies use metrics to track success. The most common metrics tracked in the last 12 months include:
Website traffic, such as page views and backlinks
Email engagement in the form of opens, clicks and downloads
Website engagement metrics, such as time on site, bounce rate and form completions
Conversions of traffic to subscribers, leads to sales, and so on.
Social media metrics like time spent, views, and shares
On the other hand, only a third of companies track the cost per acquisition and PR mentions. Interestingly, just over half (57%) measure search rankings, even though SEO performance and organic traffic are two of the main benefits of having a company blog.
CMI also asked marketers which goals they achieved successfully using content marketing in the past year. Based on the results:
87% successfully created brand awareness
81% said content marketing helped build credibility or trust
79% believe their content helped educate audiences
75% said content marketing contributed to lead generation
68% built loyalty with existing customers
Tracking the right metrics matters. Your content marketing KPIs guide you in the right direction and set you up for success. If your KPIs aren’t lined up with your goals, it makes it THAT much harder to achieve the great results you’re after.
The main metrics that you track should link directly back to your business objectives. Let’s take a look at those goals above. 75% of marketers say content marketing helped with lead generation, but only 37% track the cost per lead — which makes it a LOT more difficult to measure the ROI of their efforts. Likewise, only 57% measure search rankings, even though SEO is a HUGE part of increasing brand visibility and building credibility online.
Revisit your KPIs often (not just during life-changing events like the pandemic). Have you overlooked any metrics that may be relevant now, which weren’t relevant 12 months ago? Make a point to do this often with your team, and you’ll find that content marketing will work much, MUCH harder for your business.
9. 70% of B2B organizations plan to invest in creating content in 2021
Looking ahead to 2021, Content Marketing Institute asked respondents to select the top five content marketing-related areas that their organization would be likely to invest in. The creation of content topped the list with 70% of marketers planning to allocate budget to this area, followed by website enhancements (66%).
Less than a third (31%) said they would invest in getting to know their audience better, and only 17% said they believed their company would invest in additional staffing.
Remember the findings from earlier? Content creation is a huge challenge for B2B teams, so it’s no surprise that more businesses are planning to invest in this area. However, given that most businesses plan to keep the same head count, there’s going to be HUGE competition for influencers and content creators with industry expertise — so make sure to get in early and start building your network, stat.
It’s also surprising that only 1 in 3 marketers want to invest in audience research at such a turbulent time. As we touched on already, the more you know your audience, the easier it is to create valuable content that speaks to their needs. Invest in getting to know your customers again after the pandemic, and you’ll have the upper hand when it comes to developing content ideas that educate and convert.
10. 89% of all B2B marketers distribute content via social media, and 83% invest in paid social media advertising
On top of content production, CMI surveyed respondents to see where they distribute their organic content, such as case studies or white papers. Unsurprisingly, owned channels are the most popular by a landslide. 89% said they use social media platforms, while 87% use email and 86% use their website/blog.
Unlike B2C content marketing, the main social media channel for B2B teams is (unsurprisingly) LinkedIn. A whopping 96% of respondents say they use LinkedIn, followed by 82% saying Twitter and Facebook. Only 62% use YouTube.
When it comes to paid media, 72% said their organization used paid content distribution channels in the past 12-month time span, which was a decrease compared to 84% this time last year. However, the percentage of marketers using paid channels increased:
83% use social media advertising and promoted posts (compared to 60% this time last year)
65% use SEM/PPC (compared to 51% this time last year)
Where you distribute your content is equally as important as the content you develop. From these numbers, it’s clear that LinkedIn is still the king when it comes to B2B marketing, and a must-have for every organization.
This data also reveals an opportunity to use YouTube. YouTube is a great platform to build engagement and credibility, increase social shares, and rank well in search. It's 100% worth exploring YouTube as one of your new media channels in 2021 (particularly as in-person events fall to the wayside).
The final word
As we kick off 2021, it’s important to take a step back, regroup, take a look at what your competitors are doing, think about your audience, and adjust your strategy accordingly.
No matter how you look at it, the basics are still the same. Developing useful and relevant new content is one of THE most important advantages you have when it comes to B2B marketing. If you create B2B content that’s valuable, optimized for SEO and distributed effectively amongst your audience, you’ll skyrocket your leads and revenue.
Feeling like it’s easier said than done? That’s why we’re here — to do the heavy lifting for you. Get in touch with us now to claim your FREE audit, and learn how your content marketing can work harder for your business in 2021.