B2B thought leadership content is a very particular beast. Not only is the content unique, but it has very specific goals during a buying journey that is long, winding and complex compared to its B2C cousin.
Speaking at the Online Influence Conference (OI Conf) in Cardiff in March - you can see how we got on there here - our head of social, Catherine Cooke, discussed the topic of thought leadership content for B2B organisations.
Here you'll find a video of her talk, as well as a written summary and the slides from her presentation.
The importance of content for B2B businesses
B2B buyers consume around ten pieces of content on average on the journey to purchase, according to Google. These pieces of content takes them along a buying journey which is winding and long - sometimes stretching over months or even years.
It's a very different ballgame to B2C, where purcases tend to happen a lot more quickly and in a more linear fashion.
B2B buyers are also more likely to consider a brand that has helped them solve a problem of sorts, and it is here that thought leadership content can play a crucial part.
What makes thought leadership content different to regular content
Thought leadership is different to, for example, news content. It is the type of stuff that people consume to get guidance or clarity on complex topics.
There are three main types of thought leadership content:
- Industry content
News, trends and content focused on the future of the industry.
How-to guides and best practice techniques
Conveying company culture, working practices that drive innovation and talent development.
Here, it is important to consider the role of individuals in the organisation. Senior partners or business leaders have a huge part to play in building brand reputation, so it is important to work with these individuals to help them grow their digital profile and network. By establishing them as a thought leader, the effect they have when they meet someone face-to-face is extended.
Third-party endorsement is another area that requires consideration for B2B marketers. Rather than simply relying on journalists to tell your audience what you're saying about yourself is credible, brands such as SAP now work closely with non-traditional influencers for content creation. Not only does this make the content more credible, but it also makes it more interesting and extends its social reach.
Linking B2B content marketing to revenue generation
B2B marketers face two challenges here: attribution of revenue through a long and complex purchase journey, and getting buy-in from non-marketing senior stakeholders.
On the one hand, analytics can help you track movement through your website and show through attribution modelling how content contributes to lead generation. You can calculate the cost of a lead and the cost of new business by dividing it across your marketing activities in a variety of different ways.
But Google Analytics attribution models were designed for ecommerce, which is wildly different from B2B sales, where purchases are high-value and high-consequence, and the decision-making process is long measured and more corporate.
With B2B content marketing, you're playing the long game. You cant expect instantaneous results; one piece of content won't sway the high-value purchase. Content mostly helps at the start of the funnel and it has to be incorporated into the wider marketing strategy.
The micro success of an individual piece of content should not be overanalysed. You need to focus on long-term trends, including the position of content within the user journey.
Practical tips for B2B thought leadership content
Talk about something your target audience is interested in. Answer their questions and challenge their misconceptions. Appreciate the knowledge and expertise of your team and use that to produce authoritative content.
Be sensitive to potential conflicts of interest and ensure the content you produce is in line with the company's take on a certain issue.
Make it easy for senior thought leaders to contribute to content. If they don't have time for penning blog posts themselves, why not interview them instead, or write a piece and ask them for a quick comment to add to it.
But there's no need to only focus on senior leaders in the organisation. The everyday experience of everyone in the organisation could be a goldmine for thought leadership content. Likewise events, especially ones where your organisation's leaders are speaking. To maximise the impact of events, you could film the presentations and be clever about how you distribute the video. You also need to write and distribute content to promote your event attendance, live tweet the activities and make sure your salespeople have relevant content to reference.
There are many mediums for publishing your thought leadership content, so don't be afraid to stand out from the crowd with a format that might not immediately seem like the obvious choice for serious, considered B2B buyers.
And finally, just because you create and publish content, it doesn’t mean it’s going to automatically reach the right audience. In fact, creating content but failing to invest in its distribution is a waste of money. Social media is a great option, especially LinkedIn as it has some excellent targeting options. There are also some hugely influential B2B people on Twitter, especially for the tech sector.
You could also look at content partnerships with the likes of Dianomi, who can place your content in publications relevant to your audience. Or get into publications with a mixture of original research and PR.
Here are the slides of Catherine's talk: