March 08, 2007

New Research Data: What Content Do B-to-B Customers, Prospects Yearn to Read?

SUMMARY: If you use white papers, newsletter articles, blogs, books, research reports, tech specs, etc., in your marketing strategy, how confident are you that it’s what prospects and customers really want to read?

MarketingSherpa recently teamed with KnowledgeStorm to survey B-to-B marketers and end users about their content preferences, and we’re giving you an advance peek at key findings before the full report’s release later this month.

Includes three new charts. Plus, how marketers can do a better job with the type of content they use, when they produce it and how they target it to specific users.

Many B-to-B marketers rely on white papers and industry research reports as a piece of the lead generation puzzle. But how many have developed a fully fleshed-out content strategy within the broader marketing context?

“Some B-to-B marketers focused on generating leads don’t fully realize the impact of content when it comes to engaging their audience and reinforcing their marketing message,” says Matt Lohman, Director, Business Development, KnowledgeStorm Inc. “The quality of the leads has everything to do with how the message, positioning and format of the content resonates with their target audience, in addition to when and where marketers engage them.”

To get a better handle on those content development and distribution issues, MarketingSherpa and KnowledgeStorm surveyed 722 marketers and 3,257 content users registered in KnowledgeStorm’s database to get a benchmark for what marketers are doing and insight into how potential customers feel about current content offerings.

The survey, which was conducted in February 2007, is the first in a three-part project that will examine content development and targeting; content distribution tactics; and performance measurement and lead nurturing. Full results from the survey will be released the week of March 19 and will be available as a free download at KnowledgeStorm’s Web site. But we’re giving you an exclusive look at three charts and key findings:

Chart 1: What Interests End Users and Marketers?

Users ranked all of the kinds of content above – this chart just shows the number of people who gave them a No. 1 ranking. Note: audience numbers have been normalized for appropriate comparison.

Here’s a case in which the gap between opinions on content types might spell trouble for a B-to-B marketer. Marketers and end users were asked to rank what content interested them most.

While many respondents from both camps said case studies on how a product improved a company’s business process are the most interesting type of content, marketers picked such case studies by a 2-to-1 margin over the next most popular choice.

Contrast this with end-users: nearly as many said case studies, industry research, how-to guides and top-10 lists for improving their business were the most interesting type of content. This means that marketers might be seriously underestimating the value of research data, how-tos and other business advice as part of their content mix.

Chart 2: What Triggers Content Updates?

To make the best use of content in a lead generation and sales process, B-to-B marketers have to start thinking like publishers -- not like marketers. Thinking like a publisher means paying close attention to what the audience needs, what kind of content best meets that need and how frequently to deliver it.

Yet, this chart shows that many marketers aren’t thinking that way, at least not when it comes to creating new or updated content.

Although it makes sense that a new product and new marketing strategies would be popular triggers for new content, both of these events are internal assessments -- it’s new content being delivered when the marketer decides it’s time for something new. Instead, consider these tips that will help you think more like a publisher:

o Don’t just push a particular product. Updating content only when you have a new product to sell won’t help you build a loyal audience that sees you as a trusted source of high-value business advice and information.

o Stick to a regular schedule to build a relationship with customers and prospects. Provide new or updated content once a quarter, for example, or at certain points along the each prospect’s sales cycle.

o Pay attention to what kind of content works and get rid of what doesn’t. Only 49% of marketers said the performance of existing content triggered updates, which means more than half are missing the point: If you’re not measuring whether particular pieces of content are working for you, how can you improve your results?

Chart 3: Target Content to the Buying Cycle

Here’s another case of missed opportunities. 67% of marketers reported in MarketingSherpa’s 2006 Business Technology Benchmark Guide that their selling cycles are three months or longer.

Often, a marketer has only a short window at different stages in that decision-making process to influence a customer, and a good piece of content aimed at the right person can be a big help. Yet, the chart above shows that 62% of marketers said they don’t currently create content specifically targeting different stages of the buying cycle.

Consider creating a range of content that matches some key stages and decision-makers. You can have a general-interest white paper aimed at the early stages of the process, a techy feature about product compatibility aimed at IT executives and a white paper for financial executives detailing savings or revenue increase potential of your product or service.

About the survey: The survey was fielded on Feb. 8, 2007, and closed on Feb. 15, 2007. 3,979 responses were collected from end users (3,257) and marketers (722). Invitations were sent randomly to appropriate KnowledgeStorm lists.

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