Executing content marketing in a B2B environment has its unique challenges when compared to its B2C counterpart. Not only the potential audience is typically smaller, but content in the B2B space often requires a more data-driven, technical approach to convince the reader about the content’s authority.
With that being said, having a clear B2B content marketing strategy is essential if you really want to achieve success. Many B2B businesses neglect the strategizing phase and jump right ahead into creating content, only to find the content not performing as desired.
In this guide, we will discuss how you can create a comprehensive B2B content strategy for your business in a simple step-by-step guide, and without further ado, let us start right away.
How B2B Content Marketing Works?
In B2B content marketing, you are using content to expand attract your business’s potential audience so they are now aware of your brand. According to a study in 2020, trust and transparency are very important factors determining a B2B purchase, and one of the most effective ways to establish trust is by consistently publishing high-quality, relevant content for your target audience.
By establishing thought-leadership and strengthening your brand affinity, ultimately it will translate into the generation of more leads and sales.
What Is a Content Strategy?
A content strategy, simply put, is a well-documented plan for all your content marketing efforts. The strategic plan should outline how your content will be developed, published, promoted, and ultimately updated (or scraped off).
A clear content marketing strategy can help provide a roadmap to achieve your B2B content marketing objectives and especially to consistently publish valuable, high-quality, and engaging content that can attract and convince your target prospects.
While in practice a B2B business’s content strategy is unique and will vary when compared to another’s, a basic B2B content strategy should include:
- Buyer persona, a definition of your content’s ideal target audience
- Your content marketing objective(s)
- How your content will be unique when compared to your direct and indirect competitors’ content
- Content medium/formats you’ll use
- Publication channels where you’ll publish the content
- Promotion channels you’ll use to promote the content
- Content creation and publication scheduling
- A monitoring system to measure the success of your content marketing
Developing B2B Content Marketing Strategy: Step-By-Step
Now that we’ve discussed the concept of B2B content strategy and its benefits, here are the steps you’ll need to take to start developing your B2B content strategy:
Step 1: Define Your Target Audience
The very basic idea of content marketing is to publish the right content for the right people at the right time. So, it’s very important to understand who you are developing content for. You should try to understand your target audience’s behaviors, needs, and problems, so you can develop content to answer these problems.
You can do this by developing a buyer persona; a fictional representation of your perfect customer based on previous data about your existing customers.
There are various approaches you can use to develop your buyer persona, including:
- Analyzing your existing customers’ data. For example via Facebook Insights or Google Analytics
- Conducting online surveys to your existing customers
- In-depth interviews with your existing customers
- Ask your team members who frequently interact with customers for:
- The questions from customers/prospects they encounter often
- What occurrences have satisfied prospects or customers
- What occurrences have frustrated prospects or customers
In short, gather as much data as you can about your ideal audience, and you should collect insights for several key areas including:
- Demographics data (age, gender, personal background)
- Industry and business
- Job role
- Goals of purchasing your solution
- Challenges and problems
- Purchase decision making
- Potential objections
- Sources of information (where they learn about new solutions)
Unique B2B Buyer Persona Challenge
U unique challenge in B2B marketing is that because you are targeting companies instead of individuals, there can be more than one person in your target company that may be involved in the purchase decision process. Also, these different people can have different roles, each with their own unique behaviors and pain points.
For example, if you are a B2B SaaS company selling a graphic design software (like Canva), then your typical sales cycle can be as follows:
- A graphic designer in the target company recognized the need for new graphic design software and considered your solution as an option. In this case, the graphic designer is a purchase influencer.
- This graphic designer then makes a suggestion to the marketing manager to purchase your solution. The marketing manager is a purchase decision-maker.
- The marketing manager approves the request, and asks the finance manager to approve the required budget to purchase your solution. The finance manager is another purchase decision-maker.
- Finally, the CEO, another purchase decision-maker, approves the whole purchase.
As we can see, in this example there are four different purchase decision-makers and influencers that we’ll need to target in our content marketing, and ideally you should create different buyer personas for each of these roles.
Depending on your B2B business, you could have just a single buyer persona or more than 10 buyer personas. However, it’s best to create just three to five really detailed buyer personas rather than 10 that barely scratch the surface. Remember that you can always create more personas later on if necessary.
Step 2: Define Your Objectives
Setting objectives and goals is a crucial aspect of any content strategy, but defining goals can often be the biggest challenge in developing a content strategy.
The general principle is that your goal should be challenging enough to achieve so your business will grow, but it shouldn’t be impossible to achieve.
A common approach many people use when defining objectives is to use the SMART goals system, which means your objectives should be:
- S for Specific: specific and should be easily understood by all stakeholders and team members
- M for Measurable: you should be able to assign KPIs and metrics to track the objective in one way or another
- A for Attainable: the goals should be possible to achieve, which is important in maintaining your team’s morale. If necessary, break down a big goal into smaller, attainable milestones.
- R for Realistic: make sure the objectives are realistic both for your business and your team who’ll execute the goal.
- T for Time-Bound: you should assign a deadline to the objective to envision when you want to achieve this specific goal.
An example of B2B content SMART goals can be:
- Generate 10% more leads directly from content efforts in three months
- Increase organic visits by 10,000 per month by March 2022
- Generate 100 conversions directly from content marketing efforts between March and June
And so on.
Make sure to put the objectives clearly in writing so you have a documented record of the objectives you are pursuing, allowing your team members and stakeholders to keep track of these objectives.
Every month, take the time to monitor your progress for each objective you’ve set.
Step 3: Content Audit
If you’ve published any content in the past: blog posts, videos, and even simple social media posts, the next step is to assess the performance of your past content according to your objectives. To do so, we’ll need to perform a content audit.
If you are a brand new business and haven’t published any content at all, you can apply the same content audit principles to your competitors’ content, and generally, a content audit will cover three things:
- Listing all your content pieces (or your competitor’s)
- Measuring their ‘value’ or success based on your content marketing objectives
- Identifying content and keyword gaps
Listing your content pieces
Fortunately, nowadays there are various tools we can use for this purpose. Screaming Frog is a popular and fairly affordable tool that will create sitemaps, list page URLs, and list page titles and descriptions. You can even use Screaming Frog’s free version to crawl up to 500 URLs.
If you are already investing in premium SEO tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs, you can also use their content audit feature for this purpose. You’ll get a more thorough analysis of your content including content length, backlinks profile, number of social shares, and more.
Measuring the content’s performance
While there can be various ways we can use to track the content’s value based on your content marketing objectives, at the most basic level we should monitor three factors:
- Link profile, especially backlinks profile
- The SERP ranking for the content’s target keywords
- Social shares
Again, you can use various tools to get this information, for example by using Ahrefs’ Site Audit tool.
Content and keywords gaps
The purpose of this is to identify low-hanging fruits you can capitalize upon, for example:
- Keywords your competitors are already ranking for, but you aren’t yet targeting with your content.
- Your own content that is already ranked on the first or second page of Google’s SERP and will only need a little extra boost
- Content that is already ranking well but could be improved, for example, so that it can be featured as a rich snippet or as an answer is Google’s answer boxes
Checking current trends
You can use tools like Buzzsumo to check currently trending content pieces in various social media networks. Simply go to Buzzsumo’s content analysis tool, type your domain name (or your competitor’s), and you’ll get information for:
- Top content in the past year (or any given timeframe)
- Number of shares in different social networks
- Number of shares by content length and content type
With these insights, you’ll get more information about what kinds of content you should develop to engage your target audience, and which social networks to target when promoting your content.
Step 4: Identify Your Sales and Marketing Funnel
The next step is to map your sales and marketing funnel (and the buyer’s journey) so we can identify how we can align the content with the needs and pain points a prospect has in each stage of the funnel.
A basic sales funnel consists of three different stages, and here are some ideas on how we can develop content to target each of these stages:
- Awareness stage
In the awareness stage, the prospect has recognized that they are facing a problem and in need of a solution. However, they may not yet clearly understand what their problem is, and so their objective in this stage is to perform research to help them more clearly understand this problem.
In this stage, you should develop content that can provide answers to this prospect’s pain points. You should not focus on promoting your product or brand at this stage. Focus on answering your prospect’s questions and providing clarity.
- Consideration stage
In this stage, the prospect now has a clear idea of their problem, and now they are looking for a potential solution to solve this problem. In this stage, commonly the prospect is going to start comparing different products/services they can purchase to solve their problem.
In this stage, your content should focus on providing solutions. Namely, you should communicate how the audience can solve their problem and how your product/service might be a viable solution.
More and more audiences nowadays appreciate honesty and transparency, so in this stage, you shouldn’t be afraid to compare your solution with your competitor’s and communicating how your solution is unique.
- Decision stage
In this stage, the prospect has decided on the solution for their problem, and typically they already have a shortlist for the products/services that might be a viable solution for their problem and are currently researching to make a final purchase decision.
So, in this stage, your objective is to convince your target audience, so it’s time to create content that is brand-specific, and you can put more focus on promoting your product or service.
In this stage, you can publish content such as testimonials from past clients/users, case studies, comparisons with your competitors’ products/services, live video demonstrations, and so on.
Step 5: Content Planning and Development
Based on all the insights you’ve gathered from the previous steps, in this step, we are going to start developing topic ideas.
While there are various approaches we can use when generating topic and content ideas, but there are two basic approaches to focus on: keyword research and competitive analysis.
Based on the buyer persona(s) you’ve developed, you can start doing keyword research.
Keyword research is obviously important since most likely we are going to use B2B SEO as the primary way to promote our content. Many B2B SEO agencies perform comprehensive keyword research before they start any SEO work. However, the objective of keyword research is to figure out the search queries your target audience will search for, which will represent their intent: what problems are they looking to solve? What do they want to learn more about? And so on.
When performing keyword research, there are three basic principles to follow:
- Your target keywords must be relevant for your target audience, represented by a high monthly search volume.
- Your target keyword must be relevant to your brand. Not all keywords that are popular with your target audience will be related to your product and service
- Based on your available budget and timeline, the competition for the target keyword must be manageable.
Create a shortlist of your target keywords bases on these principles, and start planning topics to target these keywords.
Now that you’ve created a list of focus keywords, now what?
The next step you should do is to perform a competitive analysis for these keywords.
The most basic approach is to do a Google search for your target keywords and check the top-ranking pages for these keywords. Analyze all pages on the first page of Google’s SERP if possible, and at the very least you should take look at the top 3 or 5 pages.
Your goal is to create better content than the ones on these top pages, and there are two main approaches you can use:
- Create a more in-depth, more up-to-date, longer content with better information.
- Aim to be different and cover the topic from a different angle
Which approach is better would vary depending on the keyword, so explore each keyword whether there’s a possible unique angle you can cover, or if you should opt to create more in-depth content.
Besides this, you should also check what your competitors are doing regarding their content marketing, including but not limited to:
- Check which pages on your competitor’s site are getting the most backlinks and the source of these backlinks. You can use Ahrefs, SEMRush, or Moz’s Open Site Explorer, among other tools for this purpose.
- Checking all keywords your competitors are ranking for to find potential keyword gap
- Using tools like Google Trends to check what topics are currently trending in your industry.
- Checking their social media accounts and who follows them, as well as who they follow. Also, check the types of posts they are sharing on their social media accounts.
Step 6: Deciding What Types of Content To Publish
With your buyer personas and all of the insights you’ve collected above, you can determine what types of content your audience prefers.
For example, if you are aiming to target a younger audience base, then focusing on publishing video content might be a wise decision. However, you should still diversify your content types and use various mediums to reach your target audience. Blogs, videos, and visuals are examples of content you can publish. For example, if you need help with graphics for your content marketing campaigns, you can subscribe to on demand graphic design services.
Here are some common B2B content types to consider:
- Blog posts
The most popular type and an active blog should be the core of your content marketing strategy. You should focus on consistently publishing valuable content for your audience by addressing their pain points, answering their questions, and providing actionable solutions for their problems.
- Case studies and testimonials
Very important in the B2B space to establish your social proof. Case studies can effectively showcase how your solution has been successful in solving other companies’ problems, which can help convince your target audience that you are a viable solution for their problems.
- White papers
Especially useful as lead magnets. You can offer more in-depth ebooks, white papers, research reports, and similar content for free in exchange for the audience’s contact information (email address). This type of longer, more in-depth content is also useful in establishing your thought leadership.
Step 7: Develop an Editorial Calendar
Now that you’ve properly identified all the important details for your B2B content strategy, it’s time to create an editorial calendar.
You should ideally create a 1-year worth of editorial calendar, but you can begin with a 3 months or 6 months calendar to get started.
Create your editorial calendar while considering the following factors:
- Your team’s capabilities for developing and promoting content (and will you outsource some of the processes)
- The resources you’ll need to implement your content strategy
- The software and technological tools (i.e CMS, CRM) you’ll need to assist the content strategy
- The approval system until the content is ready to be published
- How you will promote each piece of content
With that being said, your editorial calendar should include the following information:
- Title of the content
- Focus keywords
- Target buyer persona
- Sales funnel stage
- Publish date (deadline)
- Where it will be published
- How it will be promoted
Step 8: Execution and Monitoring
Now that your content strategy is complete, it’s time to execute it.
However, your content marketing strategy should go beyond the types of content you’ll develop and publish, but you should also establish a system to measure the success of the content strategy.
Here are some common B2B content marketing metrics to track according to your content marketing objectives:
- Traffic by source/medium
You can use tools like Google Analytics or other similar analytic platforms to track how users are reaching your site. You can check whether they are visiting your site organically from search results or being referred to your content from social media platforms or other sites.
- Keyword ranking
You should track your content’s movement on the SERP at least once a month. You should also check whether the number of organic traffic generated is also increasing along with the rise in keyword ranking.
- Impressions and CTR
You can use Google Search Console to track impressions and click-through rate (CTR), which will provide insights into whether the target keywords the content are targeting would actually translate into clicks and impressions. Or else, you should move to other focus keywords.
- User Experience
You should track user experience metrics like time on page (dwell time), bounce rate, number of pages per session, new/returning visitors, and so on. These metrics can provide insights of whether your content is relevant and valuable for your target audience and especially whether the content matches a searcher’s intent.
You can use various SEO tools (i.e. SEMRush or Ahrefs) to track the inbound links coming to your content and their sources. You can also use BuzzSumo to track social shares for each piece of content. You can always get the help of link building agency if you were looking to rank on the first page of Google.
- Lead generated
You can set up goals in Google Analytics to track lead conversions, for example the number of people who sign up to your email newsletter, demo requests, etc. This can help you determine how many leads their content brings in.
While planning a B2B content strategy can be a lot of work upfront, it will be worth it in the end as you’ll have a functional roadmap to achieve success in your B2B content marketing.
Above everything else, content strategy is about understanding your target audience’s needs and problems, so you can develop high-quality content that can help answer their questions and solve their problems. A proper content strategy can also ensure everyone in your team is all on the same page as you start developing and promoting content.
By following the steps we’ve shared above, you can start planning your B2B content strategy in no time to improve your content marketing performance.