Content marketing proves its value through pulling its audience in rather than pushing messages out – when it is directed towards business-to-business (B2B) prospects as well as consumers. Yet executives say they are put off by B2B marketers who cannot resist linking their content to a sales effort, according to new research by the Economist Group in association with Flagship Consulting.
Generating new ideas is the main reason B2B audiences engage with content marketing, according to 75% of the 500 business executives surveyed, while 71% say they have been put off content because it seemed more like a sales pitch. More than a third go as far as saying they have been turned off because they found a piece of content marketing not to be trustworthy.
The study also questioned 500 B2B marketers, with the vast majority (93%) admitting that they feel bound to demonstrate a direct connection between content marketing and sales of a particular product or service. Three quarters of respondents feel the need to mention that offering regularly within the content.
Flagship Consulting managing director Mark Pinnes says: “The single biggest mistake most people make in B2B content creation is that they think of it as a straightforward lead generation tool. The research shows that your audience will trust high-quality content that helps them research a business idea, gain insight into the marketplace, or gain knowledge of an area in their own business – they are here to learn. The truth is that only very rarely are executives actively shopping for a product or service.”
There appears to be a fundamental confusion among B2B marketers about why they produce content marketing. The majority (85%) claim they create it for branding reasons, not for the purposes of direct response. Indeed, two-thirds of executives who have received timely and useful content have developed more favourable perceptions of the brand producing it.
However, most marketers also say they primarily measure the performance of content marketing by the number of calls from prospects and customers.
The prevalence of using sales as a performance metric for content marketing is likely to be driven by a lack of any better ideas for measuring it, the data suggests. A third of B2B marketers feel they don’t have sufficient metrics for measuring return on investment in content (ROI), and 40% do not believe ROI is sufficient.
Yet most marketers also claim their content strategies are generally understood by their own organisations, with 65% saying they involve board-level colleagues. However, only 35% believe content is “highly understood and integrated”.
Pinnes advises: “Link brand measures to your content – track your performance over time, online and offline. You will see affinity with your brand grow as you help your audience more and more.” He adds that there is value in tracking the sales impact of content, but this will be because “high quality content can bring your sales team into contact with people who are genuinely looking for your service”, rather than because of explicit calls to action.
In terms of media channels, B2B marketers are generally better off opting for traditional methods of distribution that they know their audience uses, as opposed to putting development effort and resources into mobile and video formats. The majority (85%) of executives prefer text over audio and video, with 78% engaging on a laptop or desktop machine. Only 7% use smartphones to consume business content and only 5% say videos are helpful.
Yet Pinnes also believes there are valuable channels that are often left out of a content plan: “People are happy to spend on the development of the core content, but don’t work hard enough to repurpose it for all the appropriate channels. The last 5% of effort it takes to turn a research paper into Slideshare or a LinkedIn post can drive another 50% of value.”
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is also often overlooked, as most executives seek out business ideas via search engines, but fewer than a third of B2B marketers have an SEO strategy in this area.
Despite their content marketing failings, the risks of putting off prospective customers by getting it wrong and the generally muddled thinking that appears to be widespread, nearly all the B2B marketers surveyed – 93% – plan either to maintain or increase their investment in content over the coming year.
If that is the case, there are fundamental inadequacies in their strategies that will need to be addressed first.