State of Content Marketing: B2B Tech
We really don’t think about content marketing as being part of our funnel. It’s part of our mission. —Rand Fishkin, co-founder, Moz
B2C marketers can’t have all the fun. Sure, they can get an SNL star to spoof Fifty Shades of Grey like Audi did, or create a blockbuster movie entirely about their product like LEGO. But just because B2B technology marketers aren’t selling something as sexy as a new car doesn’t mean they can’t engage their audiences in equally exciting ways.
Aside from their products, companies in the tech and enterprise industries have something that their consumers will always want: information. And one of the best ways for brands to deliver that information is through content marketing. It’s much easier to grab people’s attention with a helpful video or infographic than a dry press release.
According to the Content Marketing Institute study “B2B Content Marketing: 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America,” 86 percent of B2B marketers use content marketing, but only 38 percent believe their efforts are effective. Still, 70 percent say they are creating more content than they were last year, and 55 percent plan to increase their content marketing spend in 2015.
For B2B companies to succeed as publishers, a few crucial questions have to be answered: What will they spend that budget on? How will they use it to create more effective content campaigns? And what types of content will marketers produce in an attempt to engage consumers?
In this e-book, we’ll dive into popular B2B marketing trends that have emerged in the B2B tech industry. We’ll also look at brands—HubSpot, GE, Buffer, and SAP—whose impressive campaigns offer models for those looking to pack a punch. As we’ll cover in greater detail below, these leading brands are showing others that they don’t need to sell a shiny car in order to create high-quality marketing campaigns.
Image via Syda Productions
Good old-fashioned blogging
For all the talk about exciting and innovative new content formats, blogging remains the most common content marketing outlet for B2B marketers—and for good reason. According to Demand Gen Report’s 2014 “B2B Content Preferences Survey,” out of 11 different types of content, blog posts are most likely to be shared by B2B buyers, with 40 percent saying they share them frequently. Blogs are great platforms for showcasing many different types of content: text, video, infographics. These blog posts can be any length, although the industry is trending towards a mix of longform and shortform. BuzzSumo found that long content is more viral than short content, and as a result, experts are predicting that medium-sized content will die out.
One of the biggest advantages of company blogs is that they provide an easy way to showcase a range of expert voices—from staff and executives to freelance writers and guest writers from other companies.
For example, Moz, an SEO software company, has been building a blog audience for a decade with insights for marketers and an honest, transparent look at the successes and challenges of its business. Pieces like its “Beginner’s Guide to SEO” have generated a great deal of buzz and positive feedback, and have provided a constant source of inbound leads. Moz’s blog is composed of content from a community of freelance writers, guest contributors, and its three-person in-house content team.
Though not in the tech industry per se, one of the great examples of this is American Express OPEN Forum. The credit card company took blogging a step further by creating an interactive content hub and opening it up to its community of small-business owners, cultivating an audience of millions by publishing advice from experts and inviting entrepreneurs to submit questions for the writers and other OPEN Forum members to answer.
In addition to a blog hosted on your own domain, another great platform B2B companies are leveraging to establish thought leadership is LinkedIn. The social site is built for professionals to connect with one another, and now that LinkedIn has given every user the opportunity to publish content directly to the platform, marketers can share their insights with colleagues and potential customers. With paid distribution, marketers can also sponsor content like e-books and blog posts, and hyper-target that content to a very specific readership.
According to the CMI’s studies, 87 percent of B2B marketers use LinkedIn to distribute content (tying Twitter as the most-used platform) and cite LinkedIn as their most effective social media platform.
Case studies and white papers
According to Demand Gen Report’s 2014 survey, white papers are the most popular form of content among B2B consumers (78 percent), with case studies following at a close second (73 percent). These two types of content allow B2B marketers to fully explain the benefits of their products and outline how they can help potential clients; they have stronger narratives than press releases and are often more structured than blog posts.
These more detailed pieces of content have become so beneficial that Genpact, a business services company, built an international brand newsroom to churn out over 40 high-quality case studies and white papers per month.
Skype sessions and digital hangouts have their appeal, but it’s hard to beat face-to-face communication. According to the CMI’s study, 90 percent of B2B enterprise marketers use in-person events as a marketing tactic. In fact, they’ve replaced videos as the tactic B2B enterprise marketers use most often.
In-person events can take various forms, including conferences, trade shows, and networking parties that bring people together and spur real-time discussion.
If you can’t sufficiently get your point across through text and don’t have the resources to throw a party to meet potential clients in person, webinars can be a simple way to communicate with your audience and generate leads. According to the CMI’s report, 70 percent of technology marketers say webinars and videos are the most effective tactics they use.
HubSpot, an inbound marketing and sales platform, uses webinars as a key component of its successful marketing mix. HubSpot CMO Mike Volpe said on Quora that he believes HubSpot was the first company to hold a webinar about using Twitter for marketing and PR. That webinar, launched in 2008, had over 3,000 registrations and helped HubSpot build its social channels, as it used Twitter to generate questions and fuel discussion. Just a couple of years later, in 2010, HubSpot’s most popular webinar, “The Science of Facebook Marketing,” had a whopping 13,000 sign-ups.
In 2012, 59 percent of B2B marketers said email was the most effective channel for generating revenue, according to BtoB Magazine. Now, more brands continue to jump on that bandwagon as they become better acquainted with marketing automation services. Email marketing can help B2B marketers retain readers and send informative content directly to the inboxes of those who have already expressed interest in a brand. This idea is echoed by Moz co-founder Rand Fishkin, who cites the company’s biweekly email newsletter as one of the most effective tactics Moz has used for growing an audience. On that same note, Buffer also doubled its sign-ups month over month in the summer of 2014 by using email marketing.
Image via Hubspot
HubSpot has created one of the most dynamic B2B blogs in the content marketing space with its Hubspot blogs. Google anything related to inbound marketing and you’re likely to see a handful of HubSpot pieces near the top of the search results. Rightfully so. As GrowthHackers points out, HubSpot founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah literally wrote the (e-)book on inbound marketing in 2009.
Segmented into three main blogs—Marketing, Sales, and Agency—HubSpot’s content hub features unique and informative pieces like “14 Mesmerizing Cinemagraphs That Show Off Facebook’s New Ad Format,” “The ABCs of Finding the Hottest Prospects,” and “18 of the Best Email Subject Lines You’ve Ever Read.” HubSpot’s content drove over 2 million views in January 2015, which is an impressive stat for one of HubSpot’s key content metrics: visits.
Along with traffic, however, HubSpot’s main objective for its blogs is to drive leads. Over time, the company has optimized them for this purpose. Volpe said on Quora that placing a call to action at the bottom of every post tripled the number of leads that came in from Inbound Hub.
Joe Chernov, VP of content at HubSpot, told Contently, “I’ve joked that content is to inbound what theArc Reactor is to Iron Man. Content drives search, search generates traffic, traffic yields readers, readers become leads, and leads fuel sales. Without content, that very fundamental process stalls.”
“Content is to inbound what the Arc Reactor is to Iron Man. Content drives search, search generates traffic, traffic yields readers, readers become leads, and leads fuel sales.”
The driving force behind this process is HubSpot’s in-house content team, which is split into two groups: one for shortform blog content and another for longform offerings such as e-books and podcasts.
What are the benefits of producing content that lives on your own site? Chernov likes to quote Volpe on this one, who’s fond of saying, “We don’t like to build houses on other people’s land.” In other words, constructing your own content hub from scratch will take more time and resources than just publishing to a third-party site. However, its benefits will be far greater because you will develop a loyal audience of consumers returning to your brand’s domain looking for information that will help their own businesses.
“We don’t like to build houses on other people’s land.”
Speaking of owned media, the company also spun off HubSpot.tv, a video hub dedicated to inbound marketing that’s also associated with Inbound.org, a community discussion site for marketers, founded in 2012 by Shah and Moz’s Rand Fishkin. It has since grown to over 30,000 members.
“HubSpot is not only a company, but it’s also the catalyst of a movement,” Chernov said. “And as a community has coalesced around that movement, it’s our job to nurture and foster it.”
As B2B marketers are coming to learn, the best way to do that is through content marketing.
Six years ago, would you have associated General Electric with awesome stories about robots and 3D imaging of the human body? Probably not. But you can now, thanks to GE Reports, the tech conglomerate’s online magazine.
“I basically ignored press releases and really focused one hundred percent on storytelling,” Tomas Kellner, GE Reports’ managing editor, told Contently. “My stories have real protagonists who are trying to solve real problems and reach real outcomes.”
“I basically ignored press releases and really focused one hundred percent on storytelling,” said Kellner.
For example, last year he published a story about the development of new software that allows machines to talk to each other. These machines can even tell operators if something is wrong or if their systems are going to break down. It’s not a piece that blatantly promotes GE, but it does tell a cool story that should be relevant and interesting to almost every tech field.
Kellner said, “[The stories] have to be newsworthy enough so a person who is in no way connected to GE or interested in GE or owns GE stock would still walk away and say, ‘This is a really cool piece of information, like I said, I didn’t know before, and this is a really cool company. Maybe I should come back and check on them more often.'”
The GE Reports content team is based in-house and works with marketing firm Group SJR. Kellner handles most of the reporting, but he’s developing a team of writers to help research and develop content. “There has to be somebody inside who understands what you’re trying to do and who can manage the copy and [make sure] that the tone is just right, that it fits within the company’s strategic goal,” Kellner said.
Fittingly, the CMI’s recent study found that 86 percent of the most effective tech B2B marketers have a dedicated person who oversees the content marketing operation.
GE Reports’ recent story of note, “Body of Knowledge,” did the near impossible for brands: It dominated Reddit, which is curated by moderators who are notorious for cracking down on any kind of marketing effort. The story focuses on an innovative CT scan machine that produces 3D pictures of a patient’s organs and bones without exposing them to harmful amounts of radiation.
In addition to Reddit, “Body of Knowledge” was picked up by Newsweek, Time, and The Washington Post, as well as by other international outlets. The story’s viral pickup became a catalyst for new readers to discover the amazing stories GE Reports has to offer. Now, Kellner has people coming to him with stories about the latest developments in technology.
Stories like these also establish the benefits of owned media: They drive direct feedback and encourage readers to explore your site, increasing the likelihood they’ll return to your brand for more helpful and interesting content.
“When our CT scan became old news, there were journalists out there who still wanted to run on the story, so they went for the next thing. The way they found out about [other GE technology] is because that story was featured below our CT scan story,” Kellner said. “When you publish a discrete piece of native content, you can’t really do that.”
When Buffer, a social media scheduling app, launched three years ago, it gained almost 100 percent of its new users from content marketing. Buffer’s nascent content operation started with its blog, run by co-founder Leo Widrich, who gained momentum for the company by guest-blogging for as many publications as possible. As detailed on The Content Strategist, Wildrich wrote about 150 articles for other blogs in less than a year, which helped give Buffer the credibility and notoriety it needed to draw in 100,000 users.
The thinking was if Wildrich couldn’t get big sites like Mashable and TechCrunch to write about Buffer’s product, he would just have to take matters into his own hands and write about it himself.
Since Buffer began as a Twitter scheduling app, the blog primarily focused on tips for using Twitter. But as Buffer’s product grew to encompass Facebook and LinkedIn, Wildrich expanded the coverage to include best practices for using those social networks, as well as productivity hacks, psychological studies, and any related stories that readers might find useful. This shift introduced pieces such as “How Much Sleep Do We Really Need to Work Productively?” and “Why We Have Our Best Ideas in the Shower: The Science of Creativity.” As a result, Buffer quadrupled its social reach from 250 shares per post to more than 1,000 shares per post.
The thinking was if Wildrich couldn’t get big sites like Mashable and TechCrunch to write about Buffer’s product, he would just have to take matters into his own hands and write about it himself.
Like HubSpot, Buffer developed enough content to divide its blog into categories: social media, company culture, and engineering. Now, Buffer can cater its content not just to new readers but also returning ones, encouraging brand loyalty.
“For instance, those who may have read blog posts about some of our transparent resources like salariesor pricing will know a bit about our values,” Kevan Lee, Buffer content crafter, said in an email. “Those who read about our social media tips or strategies will understand we’re here to help people and share everything we know about how to help others succeed on social media.”
The site is run by a dedicated team of two: Lee and Courtney Seiter, Buffer’s head of marketing. However, they plan to let anyone from Buffer’s internal team have the opportunity to write on the blog.
“In this way, we kind of look at content as a task force that anyone can join or leave at any time,” Lee said. “In doing so, I’m hopeful that we’ll have the privilege of featuring different voices on the blog and encouraging a wide variety of teammates to share their perspective and learn more about content.”
As Lee writes on Kapost, his team typically publishes four or more 1,500-word posts per week on the blog, with six or more hours of work going into each piece. They also pump out at least one unique visual per post. How do they do it? In order to write 6,000 words each week, Lee wakes up at 5:30 a.m. every morning to write, and he splits each post into a three-day routine: research on day one, writing on day two, and editing on day three. He also recommends minimizing distractions by using a WordPress editor or just writing in a notebook.
Does that sound tough? It’s not so overwhelming if you look at the results. One of Buffer’s most popular pieces of late is the giant listicle “30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself,” which received more than 500,000 Facebook likes, 20,000 tweets, and 400 comments. Not bad for a social media company that had no readers three years ago.
When it comes to measuring the success of Buffer’s blog posts, Lee noted that his team uses a variation of Moz’s One Metric score, which combines data from Google Analytics, on-site metrics, and social metrics to determine how successful a piece of content was by comparing it to the average performance of the content that came before it. At Buffer, they factor in unique visitors, social shares, time on page, and comments, and they’re looking to include syndication and conversion numbers.
As always, the way for Buffer to keep driving up those numbers is to listen to what questions its audience is asking, identify what information that audience craves, and devise the best way to deliver it to them.
“They’re incredibly helpful in sharing feedback, and they’re able to see the blog from a perspective that I can’t,” Lee writes. Readers don’t just provide feedback about the content itself, but also about the reader experience on the blog. Buffer sent out a reader survey at the start of 2015, and many respondents requested an easier way to browse the sections of longform articles. So Buffer added a table-of-contents plugin to its site.
This communication between reader and content creator is essential to building a loyal, engaged audience through content marketing. As Buffer has proven, marketing shouldn’t just be about pushing a product—it should foster an open exchange of knowledge between brand and consumer.
While many B2B brands are still trying to get one content hub up and running, Autodesk currently has about 200, including one blog for each of its more than 170 products.
Ali Wunderman, Autodesk’s marketing communications manager, said the company’s content operation “gives our audience more than just a product. It’s a platform for thought leadership so that we can help inform people why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Among the hundreds of blogs, there are a few standouts.
“While many B2B brands are still trying to get one content hub up and running, Autodesk currently has about 200.”
For example, the Line//Shape//Space blog is aimed at helping and inspiring small businesses and exploring “the future of making things.” Divided into three categories—Ideas & Vision, Success Stories, and Business Advice—the site publishes stories such as “Aha Moments: 5 Biggest Epiphanies Every Startup Should Have,” and “Ready for a Space Elevator? Carbon Nanotube Applications Push the Boundaries of Aerospace, Infrastructure, and Medical Fields.” With a niche publication, Autodesk is not just stimulating the conversation around the future of design technology—it’s also leading it. Line//Shape//Space allows Autodesk to develop an owned audience that can return to the company’s microsite in order to learn how to grow their businesses with forward thinking.
In terms of establishing thought leadership, In the Fold, Autodesk’s corporate blog, features insights, news, and opinions from inside the company, curated by the PR department. A recent post by Autodesk President and CEO Carl Bass addresses a competitor that made some bold statements about Autodesk’s products.
Across the content operation, internal talent—including everyone from engineers to marketers to executives—produces content for the blogs. Some teams hire freelancers and contractors to contribute, and others work with content platforms such as Contently, which provides talent for the Spark 3D printing blog. Wunderman, who manages the Spark blog, currently publishes twice a week, but plans to double that in the near future.
Autodesk has also used gamification to incentivize trial users to make a purchase. As Dawn Wolfe, Autodesk senior digital marketing manager, and Andy Mott, Autodesk senior marketing manager of growth, explained at MarketingSherpa‘s B2B Summit 2012, in order to drive sales for its 3ds Max entertainment software products, the company teamed up with Badgeville’s game mechanics platform to create a gaming platform.
To motivate trial users, Autodesk designed a series of missions that guided users through different 3ds Max features. Users who completed missions were rewarded with points, achievement badges, and a place on a leaderboard among their peers. They were also incentivized to earn more points by sharing their achievements on Facebook and Twitter.
The result? Autodesk saw a 10 percent increase in trial downloads and a 40 percent increase in trial usage. This is an incredibly positive sign: Autodesk’s data suggests those who use a trial more than three times are twice as likely to buy the product. Autodesk also won the 2013 Integrated Marketing Award for its customer-centric approach to marketing. Since then, the company has expanded its gamification strategy to engage users with content about other products. Trial users exploring AutoCAD Design Suite Standard were invited to play the game The Apocalypse Trigger.
Through this platform, Autodesk encourages its consumers to submit content created with the brand’s products. Members of the community are invited to browse these creations and vote on their favorites, and Autodesk chooses one artist to feature each month. February’s artist of the month, Juan Siquier, described the inspiration and process of creating his 3D sculpture “Mad Hatter,” which he produced using Autodesk’s 3ds Max.
Autodesk’s content marketing strategies of gamification and user-generated content are prime examples of how brands can integrate users into their content conversation and dig into the great pool of stories that their consumers already provide.
What the Experts Are Saying
Image via ChaiyonS021
“Informing buyers and constituents about your technology solutions isn’t enough to be competitive in the B2B space. Humanization of B2B content is essential to differentiate and create more relevant and meaningful experiences.”
—Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank
“Are B2B marketers starting to enlist their customers and advocates to tell their story? We are seeing this happening. For example, our friends at Socialtext, an enterprise social software provider, are increasingly using their customers as the basis for white papers and webinars.”
—Carter Hostelley, Founder and CEO of Leadtail
“Content marketing hype and discussions will turn to more of the importance of customer experience from acquisition to advocacy—especially for SaaS companies. That will, of course, be dependent on delivering the right content at the right time, to the right person for the best experience.”
—Meagen Eisenberg, VP of Customer Acquisition and Marketing at DocuSign
“Twitter’s business advertising platform has added several ways to grow followers and drive engagement, clicks, or conversions by promoting high-value content. We ran a test campaign for our enterprise storage client this fall to see what the ROI would offer. We were impressed by the variable targeting and performance-based payment options Twitter allows. … [W]e predict Twitter’s advertising platform will grow in popularity for B2B brands in the coming year.”
—Taylor Long, Communications Counsel at McClenahanBruer
“Employee advocacy is picking up steam and will become the next big social mega trend as the C-suite in B2B companies wake up to the importance of social business transformation and looks across the organization to integrate social into core business functions.”
—Susan Emerick, Founder and CEO of Brands Rising
Image via Suzanne Tucker
Predictive marketing is by far the most hot-button prediction for B2B tech and enterprise marketing in 2015. As Monica Wells notes on B2BMarketing.net, predictive analytics identifies leads from much more data and sources than traditional lead-scoring models, and, as a result, are more predictive of the consumer’s buying intent. Predictive marketing will be a huge game-changer for lead acquisition in the B2B space.
Sam Adler, senior director of demand generation at Zend Technologies, writes, “With the recent announcement of Infer’s $25 million round of funding, it’s glaringly obvious that predictive analytics is a space that a lot of companies have their eye on.” He cites several vendors who are already offering predictive analytics solutions, including Lattice Engines, Mintigo, and Leadspace.
According to Demand Gen Report’s study, more than 85 percent of buyers require their preferred content to be optimized for mobile devices, up from 69 percent in the previous year’s survey.
Glenn Taylor notes for Demand Gen Report, “Executives are using mobile devices to research, communicate, and browse the web—as a brand, you need to meet them where they are.”
B2B brands can get boost their mobile strategy by launching an app or setting up a mobile-friendly website and taking advantage of personalized geo-location targeting in order to deliver shortform content that audiences can consume quickly and on the go.
According to a 2014 study by SiriusDecisions, only 16 percent of North American B2B companies were using marketing automation, but its adoption was increasing at an annual rate of 22 percent. Marketing automation should only increase since, according to Aberdeen Group, brands that use it convert 53 percent more leads into qualified leads. Additionally, Lenskold Group reports that 78 percent of successful marketers claim marketing automation is the asset most responsible for increasing revenue.
According to Jay Famico, SiriusDecisions’ technology practice director, it’s virtually impossible to execute personalized messaging at scale without a marketing automation platform for email marketing, social media distribution, or software integrations. These services will help content marketers manage their time more efficiently while freeing them up to pump out consistent, relevant content to their consumers.
Documented content strategies
If there’s one simple thing B2B marketers need to learn, it’s the three magic words that Copyblogger’s Jerod Morris emphasizes: Write. It. Down.
In its 2014 reports, the CMI found that less than 50 percent of technology and enterprise marketers have a documented content strategy. And yet those who do report their strategies are more effective in all aspects of their marketing strategies, and they also face fewer challenges in these areas. For example, 62 percent of B2B tech marketers who have a content strategy believe their organizations are effective at content marketing, but only 14 percent of those without a documented strategy say the same. Also, only 32 percent of B2B enterprise marketers who have a documented content strategy are worried about an inability to measure content effectiveness.
It seems that in order for B2B marketers to be more successful with their content campaigns, they need to move past the discussion phase, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and clearly record their strategies and goals.
Image via Dragon Images
A well-executed infographic about the benefits of your software might not hold up on a mass scale against a seductive, puppy-filled beer commercial. But for that executive who’s seeking just the right solution for his business, it could mean the difference between five leads and 50 leads in a brand’s marketing funnel. The best thing B2B tech and enterprise marketers can do for their consumers is to share their knowledge and create conversations not just around their products, but also their industries. This way, they can emerge as thought leaders and earn people’s trust to ultimately drive those coveted conversions.Image by Kyle Fewell