2012 B2B content marketing trends

By Alexandra Reid 

Holger Schulze recently conducted a valuable LinkedIn survey on 2012 B2B content marketing trends that managed to attract an immodest 740 responses, the majority of which came from senior marketing professionals in high technology companies.

The survey provides answers to content marketing questions about: what’s working and what’s not; who is creating content and what they are creating; and how marketers measure content marketing results.

Overall, the report demonstrates that content marketing is expanding dramatically in terms of tactics, forms and volume of content, with 84 percent of marketers reporting an increase in content marketing production over the next 12 months, and more than 30 percent of those respondents saying they are increasing their production significantly.

However, many B2B marketers are struggling in these activities because of tight budgets and are outsourcing much of their content production to agencies to keep up with competition.

The biggest goals

The majority (68 percent) of respondents said lead generation was the number one goal for content marketing, followed closely by thought leadership and market education (50 percent), and brand awareness (39 percent).

Metrics used to measure progress towards these goals are web traffic (64 percent), views and downloads (59 percent), lead quantity and lead quality (tied with 52 percent each).

Nothing all that surprising here. Content marketing is ideal for authority-based businesses because it provides an opportunity for marketers to establish those companies and their key representatives as thought leaders in their respective spaces. Content marketing is also great for B2B technology businesses that are in niche industries that don’t often receive media attention because it provides them with the means to raise awareness by covering their own industry, products and services how they see fit. Now that Google’s Penguin update is in effect, inbound marketing will yield top results for search engine optimization, which is vital for boosting a website’s ranking and getting noticed online. However, because many B2B technology companies are prioritizing big content blocks over social media engagement, which Google’s new algorithms prefer, they may be losing out on a valuable opportunity here.

The biggest hurdles

Producing large amounts of high quality, original content on budget, which makes up roughly 30 percent of the overall marketing spend, was cited as the biggest challenge, replacing last year’s top challenge, which was producing truly engaging content (53 percent). These challenges point to a lack of resources in B2B marketing organizations, which is supported by 33 percent of respondents who selected lack of talent as their marketing challenge.

The majority (94 percent) of B2B marketers create content from scratch, but they also curate third-party content (39 percent), re-use existing content (32 percent) and encourage user-generated content (30 percent). As for what makes great content, it starts with engaging and compelling storytelling (81 percent), originality (52 percent) and customized content (50 percent), followed by professional writing (39 percent).

Many companies are outsourcing content production activities to keep pace with competition, turning to agencies to produce bigger content blocks such as videos (33 percent), whitepapers and eBooks (32 percent) and case studies (26 percent).

Inbound/outbound marketing

Respondents listed whitepapers and eBooks, case studies and press releases as their top content marketing tactics, while the largest share of the budget is allocated to tradeshows and in-person events (23 percent), followed by the company website (21 percent) and email marketing (17 percent).

While they can all be classified as content and some can be interesting enough to engage a business’s audience, many of these tactics are more outbound than inbound. On their own, case studies, press releases, and websites can be too company focused to be considered genuine inbound marketing initiatives. It’s also not uncommon to see whitepapers written or sponsored by companies that are moderately disguised sales materials.

B2B technology companies are also not so interested in nurturing a social media community, ranking community management close to the bottom of content marketing tactics used at 12 percent, and social media engagement and customer feedback close to the bottom of metrics used to measure the success of content. Activities such as blogging, and creating webinars and videos ranked in the middle of the list of tactics.

Lack of budget might have something to do with the prioritization of big content blocks outsourced to agencies that require minimal one-on-one engagement over social media activities that require internal resources for regular participation from a company and its representatives.

It seems as though B2B technology businesses are mainly sticking to older marketing tactics, and applying an outbound methodology to newer content forms.

Lead generation, not sales

While companies are using content to generate leads, they are not using it so much to move leads through the sales cycle. Less than 40 percent of respondents use content marketing to nurture leads, and less than 30 percent use it to close sales.

This might be demonstrative of the fact that many organizations are still struggling to get marketing and sales teams to work together on content marketing initiatives. In fact, in 51 percent of companies, corporate marketing owns the content marketing budget. Corporate marketing is also the number one creator of content in most companies and sets content strategy (55 percent). Only six percent of companies reported that this budget belongs to sales.

Overall, it’s good to see that B2B technology companies are charging forward with inbound marketing initiatives. As budgets for these activities increase, more companies will be able to hire the necessary internal resources required to better support long-term social media programs as well. As corporate silos continue to fall and companies adopt a more integrated approach to their marketing initiatives, sales and marketing will be able to align and work together to provide more value to their communities, boost sales and better demonstrate return on investment for their inbound marketing efforts.

Alexandra Reid is a content marketer at Francis Moran and Associates. 

Francis Moran and Associates is an associated team of seasoned practitioners of a number of different marketing disciplines, all of whom share a passion for technology and a proven record of driving revenue growth in markets across the globe. We work with B2B technology companies of all sizes and at every life stage and can engage as individuals or as a full team to provide quick counsel, a complete marketing strategy or the ongoing hands-on input of a virtual chief marketing officer. 

Francis Moran
Francis Moran
Francis Moran is principal of Francis Moran & Associates, a consultancy that provides business-to-business technology ventures with the strategic counsel required to make their innovations successful in a highly competitive marketplace. Francis can be reached at [email protected].

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