Here are the six top trends in B2B content marketing from leading industry influencers and bloggers.
Content marketers will up their game in terms of strategy, quality, and thought leadership.
On average, every 60 seconds there are more than 1,400 WordPress posts published, 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube, nearly 450,000 tweets, and 3.3 million Facebook posts. To stand out amid this cacophony, B2B content in 2018 simply has to be better than what’s already been produced, in three ways:
More Strategic: Stand-out content is expensive to produce. To generate returns on that investment, every piece of content needs to serve a purpose; it needs to address the particular concerns of a specific buyer type (persona) at each stage in the buying cycle.
Syed Balkhi noted on Entrepreneur.com that “Although nearly 90 percent of B2B marketers use content marketing as a core component of their online marketing strategy, only 37 percent of them have a documented content strategy…lack of strategy is the primary reasons why content initiatives fail.”
Higher Quality: It’s no longer enough even to answer specific questions. More focus will be place on creating the best answer, the most comprehensive guidance, reflecting the latest thinking.
Thought Leadership: The best answers are often those that are forward-looking. As the pace of technological change continues to accelerate, people are less interested in learning about what worked yesterday than what will work tomorrow. Authentic thought leadership addresses this need.
Tim Asimos summarized this trend on the circle s studio blog:
“A recent study by Edelman and LinkedIn revealed that thought leadership content containing valuable insights (plays) an important role throughout the entire B2B buyer’s journey…B2B content marketing should be laser focused on promoting authentic thought leadership, as opposed to self-promotion and sales. In 2018, B2B content marketing will get back to its roots…look for less emphasis on the sheer quantity of content and more focus on creating quality, original, thought leadership-oriented content that educates buyers and provides a window into the caliber of thinking a firm is likely to deliver.”
Video will play a more prominent part in B2B content marketing.
In 2015, MarketingSherpa reported that 85 percent of business executives preferred text over video when making business decisions, and just 7 percent used a smartphone “prominently” for content consumption.
But 2018 won’t be 2015. Mobile now accounts for more than 50 percent of all web traffic, according to Statista. And mobile data volume is projected to increase by half in the coming year, and to double by 2019. Meanwhile, the share of online traffic accounted for by video is predicted to rise from 63 percent in 2015 to 79 percent by 2020.
While textual content will continue to play an important role in B2B marketing, the use and impact of video will increase considerably. Video is more immersive and easy to consume on mobile devices, while the costs of production are coming down. But Jonathan Crowl contends on ContentStandard contends improved video targeting will have the biggest impact in the coming year:
“The biggest boost to video will be the improved audience targeting capabilities that YouTube and other platforms are able to provide…The audience targeting options for video marketing content are better than ever before…diverse tools can target a refined audience that makes your ad spending more efficient and profitable than ever before, while retargeting capabilities for video will make big strides in accuracy and contextual video placement.”
Pay to play will increase as a content amplification strategy.
Great content won’t move the needle if no one sees it. SEO and organic social media sharing are important, but not every blog post or video you create is going to make it to page one on Google (much less to #1). And declining organic social reach makes it harder to maintain traffic from those platforms without significant follower growth.
That’s why “pay to play” is predicted to grow in importance in the coming year, whether that means using a content amplification service like Outbrain, compensating industry influencers, or even paying publishers directly.
Michelle Garrett, quoted on Sword and the Script, recently predicted, “Watch for paid and earned media to get a little closer together. As sponsored content becomes more popular, the role of the PR pro will continue to evolve. While public relations was once about only earned media, we now see the lines blurring.” Douglas Karr added, “Pay to play will become more prominent as more companies automate and increase messaging volumes.”
Interactive content will play a larger role.
Interactive content like quizzes, contests, surveys, and online calculators are expected to play a bigger role in content marketing in the coming year. And though they’ve lost their novelty, infographics (both static and interactive) are predicted to remain important traffic generators.
As with video, the benefits include the ability to show as well as tell, greater engagement, and the capacity to convey a large amount of information with relatively few words.
Michael O’Neill of Brafton believes for 2018, “Interactivity is the name of the game…across a number of channels…embedding interactive features such as quizzes, surveys and 360-degree videos (in emails) is a great way to revitalize your inbox communications. Additionally, the world of social media is abound with live streaming, real-time Q&As and user-generated campaigns…By placing an emphasis on interactive content, B2B marketers can showcase their products or services in ways that actually keep audiences engaged for longer periods of time.”
Customer experience will get increased focus.
The word “content” for B2B marketers is (most?) often associated with top-of-the-funnel material like blog posts, videos and infographics (as noted above), and conversion assets like white papers, ebooks, and checklists.
But content isn’t just for lead generation; it plays an important role across the end-to-end customer experience. For online sales, the order page itself is content: does it provide all of the information the buyer needs? Does it reinforce credibility and trust? Does it minimize friction in the buying process?
Customer training materials, online support documentation and FAQs, and customer email updates are additional types of content that play an important role in optimizing the customer experience.
As Shelly Kramer observes in Five Tactics for Creating Better B2B Customer Experiences [and more sales]:
“After the sale is perhaps one of the most important times to deepen relationships with your B2B buyers and to deliver the very best in customer experience…Nurture them with email campaigns designed to provide information on industry trends, business insights and resources that might be valuable to them…Happy customers tell others about how happy they are. These brand advocates are not only your best source of ‘advertising’ they are also a customer base likely to buy additional products or services from you.”
B2B content will be less feature-driven and incorporate more storytelling and emotional appeal.
There’s a place for detailed feature-function information on your website—but it’s not front and center. That sort of data should be easy to find for those seeking it, but you first have to give them a reason to want to look for it.
B2B buyers are people, too. Stories—your brand story, your real-world customer stories—humanize your brand. Connecting your product or service capabilities to a personal benefit, like getting your customers out of the office earlier or giving them more time to focus on the more interesting aspects of their jobs, gives your offering an emotional appeal as well as practical, logical worth.
Tricia Travaline contends on the KoMarketing blog, “Story is the glue that connects your brand purpose, business goals, content strategy, and always-on editorial strategy—key elements of your overall marketing strategy. And story is the only differentiator in a noisy market.”
These are the top B2B content marketing trends for 2018, as identified by more than 100 bloggers and experts across a dozen highly ranked posts. Marketers will produce more video and interactive content focused on thought leadership and storytelling. They will pay more to distribute and amplify that content. And they will broaden their view of content from top-of-the-funnel assets to the end-to-end customer experience.