2023 presented significant challenges for marketers due to widespread business turbulence, evolving audience expectations, and a new social media landscape (we’re looking at you, Twitter). However, as we look toward 2024, there are clear learnings we can apply to engage our audiences in more meaningful and impactful ways.
In this #ContentChat recap, Erika joins Stephanie Stahl, general manager of Content Marketing Institute (CMI), to discuss CMI’s 2024 B2B content marketing research, which explores the strategies B2B content marketing teams use to stand out (regardless of their potential budgets).
Watch the entire conversation on YouTube or read through the highlights below.
Q1: What sets high-performing B2B marketing teams apart from others?
Approximately 28% of marketers surveyed consider their organizations to be top performers.
“We asked our survey takers in the B2B space to assess their own content marketing approach. And those who said that their organization is either extremely or very successful is what we consider the top performers. Of all the companies we surveyed, about 28% fell into that bucket.” – Stephanie Stahl
The top thing that sets top performers apart is their understanding of their audience.
“The number one thing that came out from all these marketers is knowing [their] audience. That’s what separates them from the pack. These are marketers who have put in the work, they’ve done the research, they’ve built and nurtured relationships with their audience—and they know them. This really can’t be understated. It seems obvious on one hand, but it really can’t be understated that knowing your audience is the key to great performance and success.” – Stephanie Stahl
Marketers must develop a direct relationship with their audience to achieve this understanding.
“I’ve certainly, in the past, worked with organizations where marketing wasn’t even necessarily allowed to talk to any of the customers. They had to get all of their information second or third hand. And that makes it really hard to actually get to know them, especially if you don’t have the data on what they’re actually consuming from content.” – Erika Heald
“There’s nothing wrong with chatting with sales professionals to know what they know or to understand what they know about the customers. But it’s so critical for marketers to have that one-to-one kind of relationship as well, because the content marketers are the ones that are creating the content that’s necessary. If that’s not happening in your organization, I strongly urge you to try to change that culture.” – Stephanie Stahl
Top-performing teams also set clear goals that align with the business goals…
“They set goals that align to their organization’s objectives. This is a great way to make sure you are having that direct contact with the customer. If your goals are aligned with the organization’s objectives, then everybody’s working toward the same goals.” – Stephanie Stahl
Measure their content performance…
“They effectively measure their content performance. It’s more critical today than ever, I think, especially for any marketing teams that feel like they need to justify their investments and their resources.” – Stephanie Stahl
Exhibit thought leadership in their content…
“These high performers also said that they show thought leadership in the content that they’re creating. They’re not just product, product, product, sell, sell, sell.” – Stephanie Stahl
Collaborate well with other teams…
“They collaborate well with other teams. Maybe it’s sales, maybe it’s customer service. But they say they collaborate well within the organization.” – Stephanie Stahl
Document a marketing strategy…
“And they have a documented strategy. They know what they’re aiming for. They know what they’re trying to get in terms of success. And so they have a strategy to help guide them.” – Stephanie Stahl
“When you have that [documented strategy] in place with the agreed upon KPIs, that’s how you’re able to say no when you’re asked to do random acts of content.” – Erika Heald
Have executive support…
“Not surprisingly, they’re backed by leaders in the company. Going back to what I said before, if they’re setting goals that align with the rest of the organization, that makes it a little easier for the company’s leaders to back you.” – Stephanie Stahl
And have tools and systems in place to manage their workflows.
“They’re also more likely to have really robust content management strategies and technologies. They’ve got the stack that can help them succeed.” – Stephanie Stahl
“That’s how you can prove that you’re meeting your goals. And that’s also how you can have goals that are not to publish 12 blog posts in a quarter, because that’s a terrible goal. You don’t want to have those quantity goals. You want to have goals that show the impact you’re making to the organization.” – Erika Heald
Q2: What challenges do B2B marketing teams face?
CMI surveyed B2B marketers about content creation, situational, and content scaling challenges. The top challenge was creating relevant content for their audiences.
“The biggest challenge was creating content for our audience. That means the right content for the audience. Going back to what we talked about knowing that audience, you can see why that might be a challenge.” – Stephanie Stahl
Unlike previous years, marketers are more focused on content quality than quantity (which is a good thing!).
“Last year and in years past what we would see is the biggest challenge was not being able to create enough content. But like [Erika] said, it’s not just about ‘oh, we’re going to do 12 blog posts in the first two months of the year.’ What’s nice is that the focus is off of that quantity and more on what matters most for the audience. What keeps this audience up at night? How can you help solve those problems?” – Stephanie Stahl
Other challenges include creating content consistently…
“Consistency in content. You want to be consistent in your publishing, whether you are doing something once a day, once a week, once a month. The consistency actually matters. That’s how you get that engagement and people to stick with you.” – Stephanie Stahl
Differentiating content from competitors…
“Differentiating content. Looking at what’s out there already, what competitors are doing. We don’t need more content; we need more great content. And we need more of the right content for audiences.” – Stephanie Stahl
“That goes back to thought leadership. Because if it’s truly thought leadership, which is a person sharing their experiences and having a new point of view and backing it up. That is so valuable, because we want to hear from other people like ourselves, how they’re doing things.” – Erika Heald
Lacking resources, mapping content with the buyer’s journey, and aligning sales and marketing…
“When we talk about the situational challenges, the top one was lack of resources. This has been a big issue for a lot of companies over the past year, whether it’s due to turnover, or layoffs, or this economy. This is an issue, and I don’t think it’s an easy one to solve.” – Stephanie Stahl
Approving content and coordinating workflows…
“Content approvals. We’ve all heard the nightmares that [it takes] six months before [teams] get approvals from everybody, and everybody has to weigh in. It causes a lot of fatigue. And by the time something is fully approved, parts of it can be outdated.” – Stephanie Stahl
Accessing subject matter experts…
“Some told us that they had difficulty accessing subject matter experts, whether that was within the company or externally, who could help with content. I sympathize with that, because you might have subject matter experts [who are] not available or comfortable to help you with your content. But I always tell content marketers to seek out those people and make friends with these people.” – Stephanie Stahl
“I’m gonna give a plug for the CMI Slack group. Because both for this and the resource challenge, I hear frequently from clients they don’t know where to find a freelancer who has a specific specialty area for their content creation. But every single day on the CMI Slack group people are sharing those kinds of resources and referrals. If you’re looking for an SME or a freelancer, you 100% can find them on the Slack.” – Erika heald
And repurposing content (which helps with the resource challenge).
“Almost 50% told us that they don’t do enough content repurposing, which is a shame because repurposing is a great strategy, especially if you’re lacking in resources. AI will likely make that easier in the future, if it isn’t already. But there’s still struggles around lack of communication between groups. A lot of B2Bs don’t have restructured content production processes in place. Some lack an editorial calendar or an efficient deadline management protocol. And all of these make it very difficult for companies to understand what content already exists, what content [they] might be able to repurpose from another group, and a way to manage the production of it.” – Stephanie Stahl
“Pointing at CMI again as an example, I wrote [about] how to document your brand voice a billion years ago, and it’s still a high performer. But we’ve also updated it twice, because there’s always something new to add. And when people love a piece of content, it’s worthwhile to do that re-up. So now [CMI] has three blog posts that are an evolution over time on that topic. From a search standpoint, you guys are gonna be at the top every time because you’ve got three really great posts on it.” – Erika Heald
“Look for those gems and update them. Maybe some of your best content can be repurposed for a webinar topic [or] social media graphics.” – Stephanie Stahl
Q3: What types of content perform best for B2B teams?
Customer case studies and video content are most successful for B2B marketing teams.
“The most successful, tied at 53%, [are] customer case studies and video content. So if you’re not yet investing in video content, it’s time to start thinking about it.” – Stephanie Stahl
“You don’t want those sort of bland ‘yes, we worked with this customer and they had a really great result and they were happy with our business’ customer case studies. Talk about the challenges for this customer, the obstacles they were dealing with, and where they failed. And then talk about how they solved those problems.” – Stephanie Stahl
Thought leadership articles and blog posts also ranked high in the survey, as well as research reports.
“Research reports are also very popular, and they are also one of those types of content that you can repurpose any number of ways. You could be chatting about it with Erika on a live event, you can create a webinar topic out of it, you can post all sorts of charts and stats on social media, all designed to show thought leadership from your original research.” – Stephanie Stahl
Q4: How are B2B teams using social media to engage their audiences?
Twitter and Facebook are declining in use for marketing.
“The past year has been so different and so strange because of the evolution of Twitter into X. On the B2B side we used to see so much social selling and so much engagement and interaction happening on that platform. So many people that were active there now are on LinkedIn.” – Erika Heald
“It was very clear in our research, both Facebook and Twitter/X [are] on the decrease.” – Stephanie Stahl
TikTok and LinkedIn are increasing in popularity.
“TikTok, I think around 19% of B2B marketers said they were using TikTok or experimenting with TikTok. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s double what it was last year, so clearly on the increase while others are on the decrease.” – Stephanie Stahl
“72% of those we surveyed have increased their usage of LinkedIn this year. If you’re not yet spending much time on LinkedIn, give it a whirl. There are so many good discussions going on there, great communities, great newsletters. It’s a great place to be right now for B2B marketers.” – Stephanie Stahl
“In general across my clients, I normally see two to three times the number of folks clicking through to the number of people liking a post. You might get 50 people liking a post, but then you’d be getting 400-500 people clicking through. But you do have to be careful, because I know some folks have said that if you’re consistently sharing links you might not show up as much in everybody’s feed. So you definitely have to experiment and see what’s going to work for you.” – Erika Heald
Q5: How are B2B marketers using AI?
72% of B2B marketers are using generative AI tools for uses like brainstorming topics and researching headlines. This #ContentChat recap with Christopher S. Penn fully explores how marketers can use AI in 2024.
“As we all know, AI is moving fast. What we heard [when we put the study to market] was 72% of B2B marketers were using generative AI tools. Most of them were using these tools for things like brainstorming new topics, researching headlines, helping assist with a draft of an article, things like that.” – Stephanie Stahl
“Some were using it to outline assignments [or] generate graphics, but not a lot in our survey. When we do this again next year, we’ll probably see some higher numbers.” – Stephanie Stahl
Ensure that your team uses AI for good.
“I’m definitely excited to see how folks find ways to use [AI] for good, because I think there’s a lot of good use cases.” – Erika Heald
Q6: What other technologies or tools do B2B marketers use?
Analytics tools are necessary for measuring performance and justifying budget.
“The highest ranked one in the survey this year: analytics tools. To measure performance, to measure your effectiveness, to determine ROI.” – Stephanie Stahl
“I wasn’t surprised about the analytics tools being the highest ranked this year, just because there is [so much] pressure on marketing leaders to show the value of what we all do in this discipline.” – Stephanie Stahl
“We relied so heavily in the past on having cookies being enabled everywhere so we could see those touch points and see how somebody’s engaged with our content. And over the past year with the new privacy regulations and changes, we have to figure out how we can deal with that. I think it really means we have to be creative, otherwise folks are doing a lot more guessing than before. And you don’t want to rely on first and last touch, because those are going to cut out most of your content. You can’t make decisions based on that.” – Erika Heald
Others include social media publishing tools, email marketing tools, and workflow tools.
“Social media publishing and related analytics [are] also a big one among the survey respondents.” – Stephanie Stahl
“I just heard an article or read an article the other day about how Gen Z doesn’t like to read email. But it is still a channel that performs extremely well for many businesses.” – Stephanie Stahl
“Calendaring, workflow tools, all of those things that tend to inhibit team performance, those are tools that we’re seeing more and more being purchased. Obviously, content management systems are in there, and CRMs and things like that, too.” – Stephanie Stahl
Q7: What is happening with B2B marketing budgets?
Most B2B marketing budgets will increase in 2024 or stay the same. Only a small number will decrease, according to the survey.
“45% of the respondents said their budget would increase in 2024. So that’s good for them. 42% said they’d stay the same. A small number said their budget would decrease.” – Stephanie Stahl
AI will help teams do more with their budgets.
“If we are doing things right, we can use AI to get rid of some of those boring, repetitive tasks and really streamline workflows. Which means that even those budgets that are staying the same could hopefully go a little but farther, because you’re able to have people be doing the work that people need to do and having machines do the work that they’re better at doing.” – Erika Heald
Q8: What do you predict will happen in 2024 with B2B marketing?
Content Marketing Institute published this article with 67 predictions about content marketing in 2024. At a high level, Stephanie predicts that AI will become more prevalent and require guidelines on its use.
“AI is only going to get more prevalent. This is not going to go away, it’s not going to lessen. Now’s the time to really prepare to determine how to best take advantage of it in the ways that are most efficient and most helpful for your organization.” – Stephanie Stahl
“Along with that is the need to have corporate guidance on what you can and can’t do. I’m actually surprised by the number of large and all sized companies that don’t actually have that kind of plan right now. The plan obviously needs to evolve as the technology evolves, it can’t just be set in stone.” – Stephanie Stahl
“The prevalence of AI doesn’t necessarily mean the humans don’t matter. In fact, the humans matter even more. So it’s really a good time to get laser focused on your audience.” – Stephanie Stahl
Teams will focus more on optimizing and repurposing content, especially given the shifts in social media.
“With all the shifts that we’re seeing in social media, anything you can do to optimize your existing content and repurpose your existing content. Revisit your distribution strategy — Do you really need to be on every social media network? Is it time to sunset something? Do you really need to be doing all of those white papers if no one’s downloading them?” – Stephanie Stahl