B2B Content Marketing: Executive and Brand Perspectives, Compared

EconomistPeppercomm-Successful-Content-for-B2B-Audiences-Oct2014How do business executives feel about content marketing – and do their perspectives align with content marketers’ efforts? A recent study from the Economist Group developed in association with Peppercomm provides a host of fascinating insights, arguing that brand marketers are “missing the mark” by, well, marketing. It’s hard to argue that marketers engaging in content marketing should stop marketing, of course. The point, instead, is that content should not resemble a sales pitch; when asked the main reasons why content fails to change their perceptions, B2B audiences were most likely to report, by a significant margin, that it was because the content seemed more like a sales pitch than valuable information.

To connect with their audiences, content marketers should focus on creating content that gives a sense of the general, or widely held outlook, of industry peers, as executives tab this the type of content that has been most useful in helping them make an informed business decision. B2B audiences also find content that presents two sides of a complicated issue to be more useful to their decisions than content that confirms an idea they have about an aspect of a marketplace.

The report’s authors argue that B2B marketers are missing the point, noting that three-quarters of business executives seek out content in order to research a business idea (“substance”), while 93% of marketers focus their content to some extent on connecting directly to a product/service their organization offers (“marketing”).

But the comparison is a bit more nuanced than that. For example, executives were offered only three choices for seeking content: to support a purchase decision; to research a business idea; or “other.” Those choices are all “substance.” Meanwhile, while most marketers do indeed connect their content to a product or service they offer (can they be blamed), the full survey results show that they are in fact most focused on “connecting with issues our intended audience is already discussing/cares about.” So taking the two data points out of context presents a slightly unfair picture of marketers’ efforts.

However, that doesn’t invalidate the point that marketers should be careful not to make their efforts to overtly sales-oriented. Indeed, marketers reported using their leaders’ or experts’ points of view as well as reference to information about their products and services far more frequently in their content than curation of insights previously published by others or research from external organizations. Including these latter types of content can help give the two sides of the story that audiences want – or at least offer an external perspective to validate the company’s own story.

Finally, the report highlights a disconnect between marketers and their audiences in the area of how content is judged. For audiences, successful content offers timely or unique information and provides assistance in understanding a complex issue in simple terms. The brand itself also plays an important role when audiences consume content. But while marketers say they define the success of their content primarily on how it builds brand and positive perceptions of their company, they’re most likely to measure the effectiveness of their content strategy based on calls from prospects or customers.

Again, though, while the point is valid (audiences want serious insights and thought leadership, not sales pitches), with all of the hullaballoo surrounding ROI, marketers can be forgiven for measuring the effectiveness of their content strategy in terms of leads…

For more on B2B audiences’ media and content habits, see the MarketingCharts Debrief, “Reaching and Influencing B2B Buyers and Decision-Makers.”

About the Data: The study is based on two surveys: one of 500 global business executives; and of 500 global marketers. Both groups hailed from a variety of industries.