B2B Content Marketing Trends for 2021

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Does your content marketing strategy change if you’re B2B instead of B2C?  What if we’re in the middle of a global pandemic?  In this episode, Chris Casale and Ryan Smith discuss the results of a survey performed by the Content Marketing Institute to see what the differences were in B2B vs B2C content marketing strategies and what the most successful businesses had in common.

Podcast Highlights

Ryan Smith: [00:02:49] We’re discussing the latest B2B content marketing research and trends for 2021 that was conducted by the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs. The research study surveyed content marketers about the new complexity the pandemic brought to content marketing while continuing to ask about content creation and distribution metrics and goals and budgets and spending. 

It goes without saying that 2020 was a challenge for everybody. However, the obstacles created by the digital transformation of 2020 made some of these challenges even steeper. As these trends change, we’ve got your feedback and we’ve seen that you like to keep up to date with these latest trends and studies. So I’m going to bring them to you. And today, we’re also going to compare what we talked about last week on the B2C and compared to the research that we’re finding with B2B. 

So, Chris, let’s get started with the first on B2B marketers opinions about the changes that their organization made to content marketing in response to the pandemic. 

Chris Casale: [00:04:33] So the first one was ‘our organization made quick changes due to the pandemic’ and 83% of marketers in the B2B space either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with that sentiment, which is right on par with what the B2C space saw. Right. In terms of how quickly the organization made changes in B2C it was 82%. B2B, it was 83%.

Then we move on to ‘our organization, made effective changes due to the pandemic’. Right. And the difference there, obviously, as we responded quickly, but did the changes that we enacted, the content changes more specifically we enacted, did they have an impact? Were they effective? 

And in the B2B space, 80% said strongly agree or somewhat agree, which is dead even with the B2C space, right. 80% for both of those. And then finally, the last question in this section was, ‘we expect some of the changes we made to stay in effect for the foreseeable future’. And that makes a lot of sense because we don’t know if and when this Covid-19 pandemic will come to an end and what impact that will have on business. 

So with the content marketing changes that were put into effect, do you expect to see them stay in effect and in the B2B space? 86% said yes. We absolutely do expect that, which again, pretty in line with the B2C space, Ryan, in that. 84% said that they expect those changes to stay in effect.  

Ryan Smith: [00:08:03] The next question that was asked, ‘content marketing changes need to be organizations made in response to the pandemic’. Now, the order at which we’re going to go through these was pretty much the same between B2B and B2C. However, there were some drastic differences between the two and we’ll explain here. 

So the number one change that was made in response to the pandemic for B2B was that they changed the targeting and their measurement strategy. That was about 70% made that change. In the B2C world that was about 63%, but still number one for both. And I think you’re going to see a little bit of that trend continue as we go through these. So B2B has larger percentages that change the messaging. 

Next was they adjusted their editorial calendar and then they changed their content distribution. So those are the top three for B2B. Those are also the top three for B2C. Again, just the percentages were different. 

One of the things I thought was really interesting that kind of jumped out at me when we talked about reexamining the customer journey. A larger percentage of that actually was in B2C that reexamined their customer journey and a little bit less came from B2B. My initial thought was B2B typically has better resources, a little bit more funding, a little bit more budget, that that would have been also an area of priority that would have seen a little bit more reexamination, but not so much the case in this area of B2C kind of took the lead on that. 

Chris Casale: [00:09:49] Yeah, that does actually surprise me, Ryan, because the customer journey is essentially the journey a customer goes on to purchase a product or service from you. And you could argue that, well, despite the pandemic, the journey hasn’t changed much, except I think that’s a false argument. And the reason I say that is it might not have changed much from your perspective, or from the business’ perspective; However, you don’t know what perspective the businesses you’re working with have in terms of what your journey looks like. Right. 

And you mentioned remote work. Well, that’s a perfect example, right? If they’re not in the office and they’re not sitting right next to their procurement officer, the way that they purchase goods and services might have changed as a result of the digital transformation. 

So it surprises me that that number is so low for reexamining the customer journey. But overall, a lot of the content marketing changes that you mentioned, ‘change the targeting or the messaging, adjusted the editorial calendar, change their content distribution or promotion strategy, made updates to the website’ there on average of between 5% and 10% higher on the B2B side than they were on the B2C side, which is kind of interesting to me. 

The one major differentiator here is there’s a stat here for changed content marketing metrics, which is 14% for B2B and that was 13% in the B2C space, which really does not surprise me all that much. Right, because in the grand scheme of things, your metrics or how you’re measuring whether your content had an impact probably did not change much, even if the content itself did. And so the idea that you would change the metrics you’re using to measure that content probably is not as likely to happen. 

So interesting to see that those were pretty much in line, but that a lot of the other areas increased. I will say, in looking at these stats that content marketers reacted quickly and admirably to the pandemic’s impact by sort of addressing those immediate needs. Right. 

You talked about the messaging. We talked about the editorial calendar, the distribution. Those are great and necessary sort of in the moment, changes pandemic, shuts things down. Everybody goes remote. Individuals and businesses need to know how to do business with you. And so very quickly, the team responded and addressed the content needs. 

However, as the effects of the pandemic drag on putting the customer first is key to long term success and that’s why it surprises me that the reexamining of the customer journey was as low as it was, because as this drags on, as they’re more longer term impacts to businesses and individuals, you have to wonder what that changes in their journey and what that means in terms of their interaction with your business. 

Content Marketing Institute reported, “Content marketers reacted quickly and admirably to the pandemic’s impact by addressing immediate needs – messages, calendars, and distribution. Those are great and necessary in-the-moment changes. As the effects of the pandemic drag on, though, putting the customer first will be key to long-term success.

Learning from top performers

One of the sections of the report we study every year is the differentiators – the things most successful content marketers do that the least successful don’t.

What stood out to me this year is the stark differences between these groups in two important areas: purpose and actions.

Top performers were more likely to use content marketing successfully for goals beyond brand awareness and early stages of the sales funnel:

  • 73% nurture subscribers, audiences, or leads (only 38% of the least successful do).
  • 64% generate sales/revenue (only 41% of the least successful do).
  • 60% build a subscribed audience (only 25% of the least successful do).

Top performers also share similarities in how they implement their content marketing programs:

  • Almost all (94%) top performers measure their content performance (60% of the least successful do).
  • Four out of five top performers use an editorial calendar (only half of the least successful do).”

Ryan Smith: [00:14:00] And first thing to look at, number 1, what was the thing that the most successful organizations did with their content marketing? 94% said they used metrics to measure content performance. Can’t overstate that enough. 

You know, the analytics is kind of like what the finish is, in a sense, of a campaign. You have to launch the campaign first. You have to launch your content, but you always have to go back to your Google analytics or the analytics of whatever platform that you’ve posted your content on, whether it be social media, whether it’s your website, and you have to be able to measure that. 

So 94% of the most successful companies say that they are doing it well and they’re very successful at it. The least successful companies said 60 percent are doing this now. That was, again, relatively high for the least successful of all the categories. They said they’re not doing it well. That one was relatively high. 

So the least successful companies, 60% say, well, at least we’re getting that part right. However, there’s still 40% more out there that are not doing well with their content marketing. And you can start with using metrics to measure content performance. 

And why is that important? Because you could be thinking, well, don’t you have to put the content out there first before you can measure it? And while that is true, you also need to see where your audience is gravitating to what types of content on the website are they (looking at)? 

Also finding out what are the types of words and phrases doing your research to find out what they are using so that you can create that in your copy because you need to speak their language. So that was number 1,  using metrics to measure content performance. 

The next one that is the most successful at 80%. They use an editorial calendar, the least successful companies, only 50% say that they’re using an editorial calendar. 

Chris Casale: [00:18:47] Yeah, Ryan, it really circles back to purpose and actions. You and I actually did a podcast in June of last year. It was Episode 8: The Five Steps to Building a Real Marketing Campaign. And in it, we talked about the process needed to successfully launch any campaign. And really all five of those steps are centered on purpose and actions. Your purpose should be why are you doing what you are doing right? 

What is your intent behind it? In order to formulate that, you should do some research to figure out who you’re trying to reach and how you’re trying to influence them. But then from there, you should know exactly what your goal is or your intended outcome. 

And then once you’ve identified those things, defining the actions, what’s the strategy, what’s the tactics? And then measuring if you’re building all this great content, but you’re not going out there and taking a look at it to see what’s performing, what’s resonating with the audience, what’s the purpose behind the content? How do you know if the content is impactful, if it’s driving the actions that you are attempting to drive?

And so those are some keys to success. And I think this survey shows first hand the businesses that made a plan that executed that plan and then validated that plan. And that’s the beauty of analytics, right? 

It is OK to be wrong, but you want to fail fast so that you can make changes to the plan, so that you can then implement those changes and you can measure those results and get to the successful outcomes that you’re looking for. And I think a lot of this data, Ryan, that you just mentioned speaks exactly to that. Right. 

Do you have a documented content marketing strategy? Well, the more successful companies do. 

Do you have a sophisticated content marketing presence? 

Do you use an editorial calendar, which is simply a calendar that outlines when you’re going to publish which content and to which platforms do you have an established online community?
Do you use metrics to measure content performance? 

In all of these cases, the most successful companies had a higher statistical average of engaging in these actions or these activities. 

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