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B2B Content Marketing Research for 2021: Key Takeaways and Trends

Authors: Zontee Hou Zontee Hou
Posted Under: Content Marketing
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B2B Content Marketing Research

At Convince & Convert, one of my roles as head of strategy is to make sure that everything we recommend to our clients is grounded in sound research and a firm understanding of what is happening right now with our clients and their industries. To that end, we are constantly reading and summarizing reports for our own team.

One of my favorite annual reports is from our friends at Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, their annual B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report. This year, it’s more important than ever because the ground has shifted under all of our feet, and understanding the world we face during Covid and into 2021 is absolutely vital.

(Full disclosure: I’ve often worked with CMI and MarketingProfs as a speaker, and MarketingProfs is a former client of my company Media Volery; but I’d write about this report anyway because it’s essential information.)

Here are seven key takeaways from this B2B content marketing research report that I believe are important to keep in mind as you plan for 2021 and even 2022.

1. Everyone is adapting to this major upheaval.

It’s no surprise that, of those with content marketing strategies, seven in 10 B2B marketers surveyed said they have experienced major or moderate impact on their content marketing strategies.

Impact of pandemic on B2B content marketing strategy chart

As B2B marketers, we have to keep in mind that our customers’ customers are also adapting, so this is a critical time to change our tactics and help our customers adapt to the new reality that their end customers are facing. If you can provide value to your customers in the B2B space at this time and guide them in how to get more out of their marketing and sales dollars, they’ll not only be grateful, but they’ll be more likely to stick around.

2. There will likely be a lasting ripple effect as B2B marketers adapt.

Of the marketers who have made adjustments, 66% said they have had to make both short- and long-term adjustments.

Nature of Adjustments made to content marketing strategy as a result of the pandemic chart

For B2B content marketers, it’s important to lean into the uncertainty that our customers are experiencing. Acknowledge their fear and confusion by providing resources to speak to their challenges. Produce content that helps them plan short term and/or breaks down their thinking into quarters, so it’s digestible.

3. Are B2B marketers missing the opportunity to target changing motivations?

According to the study, the majority of content marketing changes that B2B organizations made in response to the pandemic related to changes in “targeting/messaging strategy”, the “editorial calendar,” and “content distribution/promotion strategy”—all focused on the operations of content marketing.

Content marketing changes in B2B organizations made in response to the pandemic chart

Interestingly, only a quarter of those surveyed indicated that they revisited customer/buyer personas, and less than a third (31%) said they reexamined their customer journeys.

In my opinion, this could be a major missed opportunity, considering that many businesses have shifted how they buy and what they prioritize during this time. In fact, our own Jay Baer says, “This is the greatest opportunity you will ever have in your business lifetime to create new customers.”

Understanding your audience during these times, their journey, and their mindsets will be critical to success. If your competitors aren’t investing there, now is the time for you to get this right.

4. Youtility is essential, now more than ever.

Of those who reported “extremely” or “very successful” content marketing during the last 12 months, 83% of them attributed this success to “the value our content provides.”

B2B content marketing success factors chart

Jay Baer published his seminal book on “marketing so helpful that people would pay for it,” Youtility in 2013, but its lessons are even more important in this current environment because of everything we’ve talked about above. Your existing customers are more willing to make a change than ever, but so are your prospective customers. So this means that you must build trust with them, so they’ll want to work with you at the end of the day.

5. Paid is here to stay.

According to the report, “72% of B2B marketers said their organization used paid content distribution channels (vs. 84% last year) in the last 12 months. However, the percentage of those using each paid channel increased over last year.”

Paid content distribution B2B marketing chart

What we believe is that as in-person events go by the wayside, more B2B companies will need to invest in influencer work. In the last seven months, we’ve seen an uptick in companies that want to work with us on their B2B influencer strategies and programs.

6. Outsourcing and partnerships are vital for content marketers.

A whopping 86% of B2B marketers who outsource at least one activity say they outsource (some form of) content creation, far and away the largest percentage. The next item is content distribution at 30%.

However, the real challenge is “finding partners with adequate topic expertise.” As you can see from this chart, 69% say that their challenge is finding partners with adequate topic expertise.

outsourced B2B content marketing help

This is another reason to work with B2B influencers—because oftentimes, they can be topical experts. We’ve recently worked with SharpSpring, a sales and marketing platform that includes CRM and automation capabilities, to launch their Agency Acceleration Series, which features a variety of experts who influence and are trusted by agency owners. It’s a good example of a program that both showcases expertise and provides a ton of Youtility.

7. Mastering atomization is going to be key.

As you can see from the chart, companies are willing to spend on content creation and website enhancements, but not so much in staffing/human resources.

Plus, as we’ve seen from the previous chart, we know that “topic expertise” and “budget” are the top issues. So what should we make of the disconnect?

B2B content marketing investment chart

As always, firms are trying to do more with less. That’s not a surprise. But it does mean that creating a content atomization pipeline is a pressing need. By doing so, we’re taking one piece of content and breaking it into many more pieces of content that can get eyeballs in a variety of places. Doing more with the content we’re creating will help maximize not only our content, but also help make our budgets more efficient.

Beyond Benchmarks to Actions

I hope you’ll take the time to review the B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report in full because there are a ton of other interesting numbers in there, but beyond getting an understanding of how your current approach compares to other content marketers, use this report (and other reports like it) to identify the places where you have the opportunity to take a step back, pivot, and invest time or energy in the areas that will make the biggest differences to your business and to your customers.

We must shake ourselves out of the status quo and make our B2B brands as useful to our customers as possible, if we are going to be around for the next annual report.

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