B2B Marketers Get an “F” for Content

Give and you shall receive. That could easily be the first commandment of lead generation through content marketing. But a new study from the CMO Council shows that, despite spending a quarter of their budgets on content marketing,  B2B marketers are still focused on giving sales pitches instead of imparting thought leadership. Of some 400 purchasing managers surveyed for the study, only 9% said they trust content from vendors, while 67% said they look to professional association research and whitepapers for input in making purchases.

“Vendors are producing stuff that is one-dimensional. They continue to use a self-serving, push-oriented approach,” says Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council. “They haven’t evolved. We did a similar study five years ago and the same issues at play then are still apparent today.”

Buyers complained that too much business-to-business content on the Web had excessive requirements for downloading, were blatantly promotional, and were non-substantive and uninformed.  “The content that buyers are looking for is peer-originated,” Neale-May says. “They want input coming from people with firsthand knowledge of the product and best practices and are willing to share it.”

After association research, the content most valued by purchasing executives were reports from industry groups, customer case studies, analyst reports, and product reviews. “Buyers want content from their peers, but if you can’t provide them that, at least don’t do a heavy sell,” counsels Bob Alvin, chairman and CEO of NetLine, a content syndicator that partnered with the CMO Council on the study. “We no longer put clients’ logos on whitepapers they provide. We’ll just mention who the paper’s from.”

There’s a lot at stake for B2B marketers and their big content marketing budgets. Nearly 60% of buyers surveyed said they forwarded quality content to 25 or more people, and 28% said they sent the information on to 100 or more.  Some 87% said that online content played a valuable role in vendor selection.

“One of the things we see all the time is that B2B marketers want to reach the wrong people with their content,” Alvin says. “They all want to reach the CEO, who is not going to decide on every issue.”

Neale-May says that content that appeals to a wider strata of employees does a better job of getting to all of the people involved in buying decisions. “You want something visually arresting, interpretive—something that can quickly be used and shared,” he says. “Buying decisions are made by groups. Most producers are producing content to get a lead, not to engage customers.”

Meanwhile, content creation and curation has become complicated by the advent of new channels and its growing popularity across company functions.  “What you have is content spending sprawl,” Neale-May says. “Everybody has a budget for content: sales, marketing communications, product groups. It’s all produced for different reasons and purposes and there’s no overarching view of what kind of content is produced and how it reinforces a strategic point of view.”

B2B marketers looking to reinvent their content marketing might start with the basics, according to purchasing executives. When asked what characteristics they most valued in B2B content, their top three responses were: breadth and depth of information, ease of access and readability, and originality of ideas.

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