Tips of the trade
How to Create a Winning B2B Content Strategy
Learn the basics of B2B content marketing, including essential formats and the five key steps to success.
Few pieces of marketing advice are as maddening as “just make great content.” For who? About what? And how do you know if it’s working?
For marketers working in B2B industries, be it software and technology, financial services, healthcare services, manufacturing, or retail, the advice comes with an added caveat: “Just make great content that showcases your expertise, uncovers new insights, and attempts to solve some of the toughest challenges in your industry.”
It’s a big ask, but with big potential: Optimizing your storytelling strengths is critical to attracting and retaining customers.
What is a B2B content strategy?
B2B content strategy is an approach companies use to build awareness, trust, and intent to purchase by creating and distributing content of interest to other companies. The thinking goes: if you provide other companies with relevant insight and help them solve problems, you create opportunities to build awareness about your product and position it as part of the solution. In this way, a B2B company’s content strategy is a key function of its marketing funnel.
It’s important to note that a product is not the focal point of each piece of content in this strategy. As the B2B sales cycle can take months—even years—to complete, a B2B content marketing strategy must be oriented around building customer relationships over the long-term, with content that provides a unique perspective on industry trends, or educates and inspires prospects on their way to becoming customers.
“7 Ps” of a B2B content strategy
The 7 Ps of marketing began with 4 Ps:
American marketing professor E. Jerome McCarthy introduced the idea in his 1960 book, Basic Marketing: A Managerial Approach. In 1981, Bernard H. Booms and Mary J. Bitner, the authors of Marketing Strategies and Organization Structures for Service Firms, argued for the addition of three more Ps:
- People (everything from internal stakeholders to your target audience)
- Process (how your product reaches your users)
- Physical evidence (the tangible aspects of your product, like personalization or in-store experiences).
The 7 Ps were conceived as a way to sharpen your overall marketing strategy. By understanding each facet in detail, you could make more informed decisions about how and where to best market your business. The same applies to B2B content strategy: ultimately, the 7 Ps reveal your differentiating factors and identify opportunities to become a thought leader in the space. (When creating content, the saying goes, first know thyself.)
B2B vs. B2C content strategy
Content is an essential piece of any marketing strategy, whether B2B (business-to-business) or B2C (business-to-consumer). The differences between the two mostly have to do with audience—and its implications on approach and style.
While B2C content marketing focuses on the emotional motivations and interests of individual customers to generate brand affinity and conversions, a B2B content marketing strategy targets decision-makers and industry experts of B2B industries with topics specific to their business. While B2C content might showcase a certain lifestyle that aligns with a product, B2B content is all about data-driven insights.
B2B content marketing formats
There are a handful of ways to execute your content ideas, and a solid B2B content strategy may incorporate all of them at various times and stages. The most effective strategies are well-rounded and tailored to the audience whose attention you’re hoping to capture, so be prepared to spread out your content creation efforts accordingly.
The most common formats include:
Your company’s blog is a uniquely powerful asset and should be central to your content strategy. A blog creates space to showcase your perspective on key topics, delve into technical philosophies, provide a fresh spin on basic concepts, or offer practical help—all on your own terms. The easier it is for prospects to discover you—and the more helpful you are once they do—the more likely they are to become loyal customers who recommend you to others.
Search engine optimization (SEO) tactics can aid in your efforts to be discoverable. By creating articles targeted to win high volume search terms (that is: topics many people search for), you can increase your blog’s visibility and meet your potential customers where they are: Scouring the internet for answers.
White paper or ebook
For B2B marketers, a white paper—a long-form, research-backed piece—can be one of the most effective types of content to create. Subjects range from evergreen to timely, and often include proprietary data or insights. Papers aim to provide an original take on a problem your buyer might be facing. Creating them requires rigorous work—including validated case studies or proprietary research—and successful papers position you as an industry expert with a strong sense of the field.
A white paper may be distributed as a simple PDF, or in a more interactive format, like a click-through e-book. Many brands offer their white papers behind an email gateway, allowing them to both capture new leads and track readership.
Organic social leverages social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram to reach audiences where they consume content. Each channel necessitates its own content strategy, informed by the behaviors and preferences of the platform’s users, and your strategy might involve custom content or distributing content that was originally published elsewhere, like your blog.
Social media is an excellent place to showcase your brand voice and tone, whether by incorporating humor, high-quality video content, or useful tips, and it allows you to stay current and comment on industry news.
Like social media, emails are a prime distribution channel for original content. By optimizing your campaigns with data-driven segments, you can better nurture prospects with highly relevant content that encourage conversion. You can also leverage existing assets to generate fresh leads. Many companies require an email registration to view original research or surveys, which then allows you to invite these new subscribers to events or private webinars.
Anyone considering a major purchase (which will, in many cases, be implemented company-wide) wants to know how it went for current customers, making case studies and customer testimonials a powerful form of social proof. When considering which case studies to share, look for implementation stories with tangible results that speak to the effectiveness of your product offerings.
5 steps to developing a successful B2B content strategy
It’s tempting to run before you walk when it comes to content, especially when it seems like every one of your competitors has an SEO article for every topic imaginable, snappy weekly newsletters, and an inexhaustible bandwidth for original research.
For advice on the most essential aspects of B2B content strategy, we spoke with Adrian Alfieri, the founder and CEO of Verbatim, a content studio dedicated to helping ecommerce companies scale their editorial functions. Alfieri and his team at Verbatim tackle everything from editorial planning to creative conception and copywriting for their clients. Here’s what he considers when building out a company’s content marketing efforts:
1. Get to know your customers
Great content is subjective. What works for one reader might fly completely over the head of the next, which is why it’s so important to tap into the nuances of your target audience.
A strong sense of your audience will help you understand which content has the best chance of success. Identifying what kinds of content they consume is and how they make purchase decisions is one of the first steps to building a content function, Alfieri says.
“If you’re an early-stage startup, maybe one selling into a younger demographic, we always recommend starting with customer content,” Alfieri says. Case studies, testimonials, videos, and interviews all fit into this bucket. If you’re selling to traditional enterprises, lengthy whitepapers might move the needle.
For more insights, explore the “audience” tab of Google Analytics; consider crafting buyer personas to represent the different segments that emerge within your demographics, and use them as a guideline for the types of content you choose to prioritize.
2. Map content formats and channels to your goals
Next, get clear about the business problems you’re trying to solve with your content strategy, and map those goals to formats, topics, and distribution channels.
“Some companies don’t have a lead problem,” Alfieri says. “Their product works, people talk about it, but for whatever reason, they’re not converting. So maybe they need better email flows and newsletters, or maybe it’s about equipping the sales team with better assets.”
Other companies may just want more leads in the door, he adds. “Then, it’s a question of the top-of-funnel: More thought leadership, paired with customer stories.”
The beauty of content, Alfieri says, is that there’s not just asset diversity, but there’s distribution diversity, too.“There’s a hundred different types of content that you can build, and then there’s a hundred more ways to distribute it. So it’s about finding the right pairing to solve the problem.”
Find out where your customer hangs out online—maybe they only read emails, or maybe they exclusively haunt LinkedIn—and invest in those channels.
3. Create a content roadmap
Many companies assume a content plan means firing everything you’ve got all at once, but a content roadmap is built in layers. If you’re unsure what to tackle first, Alfieri advises taking stock of your current status—how many customers do you have, and how satisfied are they? Which problems need solving first?—and beginning with social proof. Plan to add new functions when you’ve begun to gain traction and trust.
“If there’s 20 happy customers, document those 20 happy customers, and amplify it as much as possible,” he says. Ultimately, customer stories, reviews, and case studies are the most valuable pieces of a content strategy; without them, conversion is a harder problem to solve.
4. Develop high-quality content
Once you’ve identified a rough roadmap, it’s time to prioritize creation. Depending on your budget and the scope of the content you want to produce, you may choose to outsource this work to a content studio, an individual freelancer, or hire someone in-house.
If keeping it in house, AI tools can help you get a heads start. Tome’s AI-powered canvas allows you to apply the power of a writing assistant to create multimedia content assets like case studies, whitepapers, and more. Prompt Tome’s AI to create a presentation, a graphic, or draft text in seconds, and pull from the branding on your website to customize the asset. Tome supports multimedia embeds, including video narration—so you can make customer stories come to life with video testimonials and product demos.
5. Measure success
While metrics like site traffic, social media engagement, and page views will give you a sense of how well your content is resonating, the success of a content strategy plan is ultimately measured in revenue. While content attribution is not a perfect science, there should be a correlation between the implementation of a content strategy and your revenue slope.
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