Thought leadership, white papers and emotion head trends in content marketing

Content marketing has hit its stride as a communications tool for B2B companies, with the most effective formats continuing to evolve. So finds a new report from Econsultancy

The most successful forms of content for business-to-business (B2B) companies are changing, as content marketing moves in status from novelty to established strand of marketing, a new report from Econsultancy shows.

Companies are increasingly focusing on thought leadership to win the attention of their target audience, as well as long-form or “white paper” reports that readers have to sign up to. Emotion, once reserved for consumer products, is also expected to play a greater part in business communications, taking account of people’s commitment to their professional lives.

The subscription-only report, published in June, draws on the views of a wide range of industry experts. Lead contributors include Tahni Morrison, global digital communications manager for Vodafone, Emma Samuel, head of industry marketing for Dropbox, and FirstWord Media director Adrian Michaels.

Embracing the power of content

The digital revolution has created both an opportunity and an expectation that B2B businesses will talk about themselves and the issues that matter to them and their customers in a way that previously never existed.

“B2B audiences expect businesses to have regular content online nowadays, and a company website, for example, can’t look out of date anymore,” Michaels says in the report. “More obviously, Google rewards the publishing of fresh content and search-engine results pages naturally reward content that is fresh and recent. So, businesses today have little choice but to do content marketing.”

However, according to figures from the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) cited in the report, it’s more than proving its worth for the companies investing in it. And it’s maturing: 93 per cent of the most successful B2B content marketers report that their organisation is extremely/very committed to content marketing, and 70 per cent say their content marketing is much/somewhat more successful compared with a year ago.

Thought leadership is becoming one of the biggest reasons for B2B companies to produce content, according to the report’s contributors. That’s down to a business audience’s desire for insight and information that will give them an edge.

The report cited a recent study by LinkedIn, which found that two of the four most important reasons for a buyer to engage with a B2B seller were because the seller is a subject-matter expert/thought leader (cited by 25 per cent of respondents) and because the company “provides valuable consultation, education or tools” (25 per cent).

New routes to success

The way content is delivered is also changing. Reaching an audience organically through social media is in decline because social-media channels now expect companies to pay to be promoted, meaning that investing in paid media is necessary to be visible in news feeds and for a campaign to gain traction.

Form is also adapting. The report’s contributors all cited “gated” white papers, which readers must sign into to access, as an increasingly effective way of reaching and engaging an audience. Report contributor Dr Christine Bailey, chief marketing officer of payments company Valitor, said 50 per cent of leads generated by the company’s marketing efforts came from gated reports it produces in partnership with Retail Week in the UK and the conference organiser and market researcher Worldwide Business Research.

Asked for their views on where content marketing is heading, contributors, including Vodafone’s Morrison, cited working to create an emotional connection by speaking the language of the target audience – much as consumer brands have done.

Historically, she says, businesses “have been so scared of being anything other than very formal. The authenticity in the consumer side has therefore taken so much more time to be reflected in business content. This is finally changing and it is having a massive impact on how well B2B communications and content is performing.”