B2B Content Marketing

The ultimate guide to audience growth

What is a B2B content marketing strategy?

A B2B content marketing strategy is essential for all businesses who want to generate leads online. A solid strategy will answer all of the following questions:

  • Who is my target audience and what are their goals?
  • What can I create that will help them achieve their goals?
  • Where does my audience go for advice and expertise?
  • How will I drive traffic through paid, owned and earned media?
  • What content do I need to create for the middle and bottom of the funnel?
  • Who can I partner up with?
  • How much content should I publish?
  • How will I measure the effectiveness of what I’m doing?
  • What team structure, processes and tools are required?

Strategies are rarely perfect and you should reflect on what’s working and what’s not as you go along. But you should always have a documented strategy before you begin.

An imperfect plan is better than no plan.

Why is having a B2B content marketing strategy so important?

Without a documented B2B content strategy you’re winging it.

You won’t have analysed your audience, sized up the competition or defined how you’re going to add value. You might see some growth, but it will be sporadic. And you’re more likely to engage in short-term, tactical activity that doesn’t go anywhere.

An effective strategy will gather momentum as your traffic grows, delivering better results month-on-month. And over time you’ll be able to refine that strategy as you learn more about what works and what doesn’t.

Perhaps most importantly, a strategy allows you to do more with less. By consistently doing things which are likely to achieve the desired results, you trim the fat, you focus on what works and you waste less time and money.

What’s the difference between B2B content marketing and B2B lead generation? 

It’s important to understand the difference between the two in order to do both well.

Lead generation is the process by which businesses generate demand and line up prospects for sales to contact. It focusses on moving customers along the decision journey from never having heard of your brand to being die-hard advocates. If you need a refresh on the customer journey, here’s a handy diagram from Highspot I often turn to:

Basically, lead generation focusses on the needs of the business.

Content marketing, when done right, focusses on the needs of the customer. It identifies an audience and focusses on adding as much value for them as possible. It’s an integral part of your lead generation strategy. Without creating targeted, high-quality, search-optimised content, potential customers won’t know that you exist. And they won’t be able to find you when they need your help.

If you don’t make a clear delineation between the two, you risk creating content which is self-serving and of little interest to customers. Or, on the other hand, producing a high volume of content with no realistic process for converting that attention into sales opportunities.

The first step in defining your B2B content marketing strategy is identifying your audiences and their goals.

Who are my target audiences and what are their goals?

Be specific. For example, I’m targeting client-side and agency B2B marketers who want to improve their rate of lead generation through strategic content marketing.

Everything that I create is focussed on helping them improve their campaigns. I don’t publish anything self-serving. By helping them to improve their campaigns, I’m demonstrating expertise – and that in itself is enough.

Lots of marketing departments have access to a set of customer personas. This is a good start, but make sure you identify not only the demographic info but also the goals.

It’s the goals, not the demographics, that will dictate what you create. This is because it’s better to target by intent (what people want to do) than demographic (gender, age, interests, etc). Their goals should also be closely related to the product or service you offer.

If you’re struggling to think of your customers’ goals, go speak to your sales team. No one knows your customers better than sales. Ask them to imagine that they’re sitting down with a customer for the first time and trying to learn more about their challenges, something they will have done a thousand times. List out five to ten common things that are raised as frustrations or challenges they want to overcome.

Narrow it down to specifics, the kind of thing that you could type into Google and get an answer for. Broad, vague goals are impossible to target.

Here’s an example of a goal which is too broad to target: ‘business transformation’

And here’s an example of a targeted goal: ‘spending less time in meetings’

Where does my audience go for advice and expertise?

Now that you’ve identified some target audiences and their goals, figure out where they currently go for advice. This will be your competition.

Make a list of the top 10 sites that are owning the goals you’ve outlined. Ask yourself the following questions:

Who’s in my competitor set?

Not just brands, publishers too. Anyone that you will have to compete with in order to get your audience’s attention. You also want to note how large they are and whether you’ll be able to compete. For instance, a small consultancy probably isn’t going to be able to go toe-to-toe with Deloitte or IBM.

If your goals are being owned by big players, you may need to narrow your focus.

What topics are performing best?

This can be judged by high numbers of comments (if they’re enabled), social shares or strong rankings on Google.

Which formats are performing best?

Blogs, videos, webinars, tutorial videos, reports, whitepapers – which formats do your audience seem to prefer? This can be judged using the same metrics as above.

Are there any goals which you identified earlier which aren’t being covered?

Do some searches for the goals you identified (using language the customer would use) and see if any of them are not being talked about.

Are there any goals which are over-crowded?

If some of the goals are already being mobbed, it may not be worth your time focussing on them unless you can bring something novel to the table. 

What can I create that will help my audience achieve their goals and cut-through the noise?

You’ve got your audience insights and you’ve checked out the competition. Now you need to bring it all together and define what you’re going to produce and how you’re going to share it.

B2B brands often default to blogging. Blogs are the workhorse of B2B content marketing strategies but they’re not always the best format for the audience.

For instance, if your area of expertise is quite technical – programming or web development – video walkthroughs of complex tasks may be more useful. Or if you’re a consultancy that sells in-depth understanding of one area of expertise, monthly webinars may be more accessible than extremely long blog posts.

You also need to consider how you’re going to make yourself heard over the competition.

It’s no good doing what the competition are already doing. You either need to do what they’re doing but better – in more detail, in a more consumable format, on a more regular basis. This is sometimes called ‘skyscraping’ – seeing what works and one-upping it. Or you need to do something totally different to stand out.

The most important thing is not to be mediocre. Sadly, the vast majority of B2B marketing is mediocre and as a result gets ignored. Corporate blogs which get updated once a month, monthly newsletters which add no value, two-penny animations which get uploaded to YouTube and forgotten about.

The internet is full of fascinating, high-quality content. If you can’t compete with that, you’re going to get ignored.

How will I drive traffic through paid, owned and earned media?

There’s no point in creating content that no one sees. There are countless ways to drive traffic these days, so it can helpful to break it down into paid, owned and earned media.

Paid media

Traffic that you pay for in the form of advertising. This can come from social ads, Adwords, display ads, influencers or paid content partnerships. Paid media can deliver traffic fast but it is expensive in the long run. And when you stop spending, the traffic stops, making it not very sustainable.

Owned media

Traffic driven from communities that you have grown over time. Examples include social media accounts, email lists or your own sales team. Traffic from owned media can take a while to build, but it’s sustainable and will continue to grow over time. Also, because followers have to opt-in, they tend to be a more engaged and relevant audience than you can get with paid.

Earned media

Traffic that is driven by unpaid, third-parties, examples include SEO, partnerships and brand advocates. Earned media is particularly important for SEO backlinks.

Your traffic strategy should include one tactic from at least each of these. Which tactics work best for your business will be something you learn over time. Keep a close eye on your analytics to see where the traffic is coming from and iterate all the time, doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

Driving traffic is a huge topic and I’m keen to stay focussed and not go down the rabbit-hole on traffic strategies. However, I will say this – focus on search.

Search traffic is valuable as it is ‘high intent’ traffic. The user has done the legwork (searching and visiting) which means they’re more likely to be close to purchase. It also builds up over time, creating a reliable traffic source that fuels itself. Social and paid media are, by contrast, low intent, expensive and short term.

Search traffic is slow to build and much harder to do well than social or paid. But if you’re serious about B2B content marketing, you want search to be your primary traffic source.

What content do I need to create for the middle and bottom of the funnel?

In the past, content marketing used to focus primarily on the top of the funnel or the early stages of the decision journey (see diagram I mentioned earlier if you need a refresh).

However, in order to streamline the customer journey and take some of the legwork off of sales, marketing departments increasingly produce content for the middle and bottom of funnel as well. This content is usually shared with prospects directly by sales or automated email marketing. This is often referred to as sales enablement.

Common examples of sales enablement content include:

  • Product info / datasheets
  • Demo videos
  • Competitor / product comparisons
  • Case studies & testimonials
  • Product ratings / reviews

Because we’re dealing with the bottom of the funnel, there is likely to be much more of a product focus.

However, you still need to keep the customer in mind. Ultimately, the goal of sales enablement content is to identify and resolve any final questions the customer has about your offering or experience. You shouldn’t be trying to convince them to buy – that’s what your sales team is for.

Who can I partner up with?

Very few businesses operate in isolation. Almost all will have a network of partners, suppliers, clients, customers and peers.

Similarly, effective B2B content marketing is rarely a solo venture. You’ll notice that the brands you identified in your competitor research that are doing content well are probably collaborating frequently with other brands.

If you want to compete with them, you’ll need to do the same. There are a few reasons for this:

It’s good for SEO

Backlinks to your website are a key feature in pushing your site up the rankings and partners are a great source of these links.

It’s good for social

The more people you can get to distribute the content you create on social the better.

It keeps things fresh

On a purely qualitative level, mixing things up with partners keeps your content fresh and helps it feel less repetitive.

It makes you look good

You’re only as strong as your network. The more connected a business looks and the more trusted partnerships it has, the more appealing it becomes. Also, featuring your business on your partners’ channels will get you in front of new audiences.

The big thing to remember is that partnerships go both ways. Don’t reach out to partners looking for help if you’re not willing to give it back. Actually, a good way to initiate these things is to ask if they mind you sharing and linking to their content on your own site or in your newsletter. Then, when you’ve done that for them, ask if they’d be happy to reciprocate.

How will I measure the effectiveness of what I’m doing?

I’ve written at length about the best metrics to measure the effectiveness of each stage of your B2B lead generation strategy. In that article you can find the best metrics to measure your on-site content, conversions, email marketing and sales hand-off process.

In this article, I’ll focus on the metrics that relate to your audience and how engaged they are, as opposed to conversions.

On-site metrics

  • Unique visits
  • Visits
  • Pageviews
  • Time-on-site
  • Pages per visit
  • Bounce rate
  • Top performing content / categories
  • Traffic sources

SEO metrics

  • Search rankings for keywords
  • Search impressions
  • CTRs
  • Top performing pages
  • Top performing keywords
  • Bounce rate
  • Average page load speed

Video / podcast engagement metrics

  • Views / listens
  • Average watch / listen time
  • Likes
  • Shares
  • Comments (and content of those comments)
  • Dislikes

You’ll also need to decide what your reporting frequency will be. Some businesses report bi-weekly, some monthly. Some monthly but with quarterly deep-dives. This will be determined by the resource at your disposal – reporting can be time-consuming – and the level of oversight that management require.

How much content should I create?

Backlinko analysed one million search results on Google and analysed the best-performing content. The whole article is worth checking out, but here’s one of the things that caught my attention:

The best-performing posts tend to be around 1,950 words. That is much longer than the majority of B2B content. But that’s what it takes to rank. And as mentioned earlier, search rankings should be your priority. Even if you’re focussing on video or podcasts, those assets should be embedded on your site into high-quality blog posts.

This post, for instance, is around 3,000 words – clearly I got carried away when writing. It’s long form, in-depth and features video and imagery. To return to my earlier point about avoiding mediocrity, if you want your content to be successful, you need to invest time and effort in it.

The other thing to consider is that the more quality content you publish, without a doubt, the more traffic you will get.

So you need to do a calculation. How long will take us to create a high-quality piece of in-depth, long-form content? And how many times a month can we afford to do that?

If the answer is one, then do it once. If it’s four, do it four. But don’t half your word count in order to double your output. That’s a false economy and will destroy the performance of the content.

Another piece of solid advice is to start small and build. Content creation is a creative process. But it’s also a logistical one that requires tight management if you want to publish a regular stream of quality work. It’s better to get used to publishing a small amount of quality content and scale up than shoot for high volume right away.

What team structure, processes and tools are required?

The strategy should map out, in detail, the production process and everyone involved. Including those from outside of marketing, such as subject matter experts. If you’re creating in-depth, quality content, you’ll probably need to speak to service delivery teams – engineers, consultants, programmers and the like. The knowledge holders within your business.

You’ll need to be realistic about turnaround times and the level of participation required. A chaotic process result will result in a chaotic and sporadic final product. And you’re much less likely to secure the buy-in of the knowledge holders if the collaboration is poorly-managed.

In terms of creating a streamlined process, the fewer people involved, the better. The more people you add to a process, the slower that process becomes. Remove as many middle-managers as possible and keep approvals to the absolute minimum required in order to deliver a sound end-product.

The process I use with clients is as follows:

  1. An article idea based on audience insight and search data is approved
  2. A 30-minute briefing call with subject matter experts is scheduled, interview questions shared in advance so they can consider their answers
  3. Immediately after the call, rough outline of article structure is shared as a series of bullet points
  4. Following sign off, a first draft is written and shared with one subject matter expert (who will be the named author) and someone from marketing
  5. Any feedback is carried out and the article is uploaded to WordPress, the link is shared with the team to suggest any final edits
  6. Final edits made to the article

One final point on process, marketing need to have the final say on the execution. That’s the only way to guarantee that the end-result is uncompromisingly customer-centric and optimised for search-performance.

What tools do I need?

There are a dizzying array of tools out there for marketers to use. I’m not going to list the different types of tool in this post, but here are some of the more common ones:

  • Social & content management platforms like Hootsuite
  • Web and search analytics, most commonly Google Analytics and Google Search Console
  • A CMS for your site content like WordPress
  • More powerful search engine optimisation platforms like Moz or SEM Rush
  • Content syndication and data platforms such as Tech Target (more of a nice to have if you can afford it)
  • Dashboard creation for internal reporting such as Klipfolio (again, nice to have but non-essential)

One note on tools. It’s easy to get tricked into thinking that buying up a load of licenses to tools will make your B2B content marketing strategy great overnight. At least, this is what the platforms will tell you.

In reality, you could execute a great strategy with just the first three on that list, all of which are pretty much essential. And you could have all six, but if your strategy is rubbish, they won’t do you any good.

Build a great strategy first. Then look at which tools can enhance it.

Do you need help with your B2B content marketing strategy?

If you’re looking for a freelance B2B content marketing consultant to help out with your strategy creation, feel free to drop me a line using the button below.

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