March 13, 2023 Content Chat Recap: The Future of B2B Content

A Content Chat header image that says today’s topic is The Future of B2B Content with guest Phyllis Davidson, who is @PhyllisMusings on Twitter.

B2B content is notorious for being product-centric, jargon-heavy, and impersonal—so how can teams create more engaging content for specific personas across the buyer’s journey?

In this #ContentChat recap, Erika joins Phyllis Davidson, VP and principal analyst at Forrester covering content strategy and operations, to discuss the future of B2B content and ways that teams can build a better content strategy.

Read through some brief highlights from the conversation below, and listen to the full recording below.

Q1: What are some common criticisms about B2B content?

Audience centricity is a common issue with B2B content, and teams are challenged in tailoring messages toward new customers and keeping existing customers engaged.

Portfolio marketing is one way to address this, which is the idea that you should organize your messaging and value exchange around your unique audiences (much like you’d sell different products to different audiences in a unique way).

Instead of dwelling on the criticisms, Erika and Phyllis discuss the challenges teams face and potential solutions below.

Q2: What internal challenges do B2B marketing teams often face when building and scaling their content program?

Many B2B marketing teams do not fully understand why their content is failing to perform—some believe they have a content strategy issue, others believe it’s a production issue, and others believe it’s a promotion issue. In reality, it’s likely a mix of all three areas (and more).

According to Phyllis, 60%-70% of B2B content is “wasted,” meaning its actual use is different than planned.

“Problematic content is a symptom of bigger marketing issues. You can almost always peel things away and determine that you don’t actually understand what your personas need and you’re not doing a true content strategy—what you’re doing is creating a bill of materials and producing the same content against that bill of materials. This isn’t a content strategy.”

This problem is often amplified because team structures lack direct accountability for content strategy. In many organizations, there is no content strategy or governance owner, which hurts their ability to effectively set and deliver on content goals.

Q3: How can marketing teams gain audience or persona insights to understand their content needs across the buyer’s journey?

Your team should clearly understand what your customers need to know, when they need to know it, and their interaction preferences.

Build rich personas by seeking input from across your organization, including sales, to gradually document what works best when engaging specific audiences.

Keeping detailed and accurate persona insights will help you address the concept of a buying group, which means that there are a group of buyers—not just one buyer—involved in most B2B purchasing decisions. Instead of creating content across the funnel for every persona in that buyer group, you may only need to create specific assets to appeal to specific buyers at their stage of the journey (such as a procurement leader that may be involved toward the end of the purchasing decision).

Phyllis advocates for a touch analysis approach, in which teams will look at a select number of deals that closed at the end of the quarter and analyze the content consumption of individual buyers across the journey. This can provide insights into what type of content works and when for specific buyers. You can then compare that information to deals lost to see if there is a content difference in each journey.

Q4: What should content marketing personalization look like to better reach and engage key personas?

Phyllis views personalization as being on a continuum:

  • Personalization is the start of the continuum, covering basic things like using a recipient’s name.
  • Next comes customization, which changes how the content is delivered.
  • Contextualization is what everyone should be doing. This involves delivering contextual content experiences that deliver in-the-moment, correct content for that experience.

The best way to contextualize content is to get pieces of information from buyers over time in a value exchange so that you can optimize your approach. For example, you can provide a highly valuable piece of content in exchange for details about your customer’s preferred content formats.

Q5: Artificial intelligence is drastically changing how we create content. How can teams best use AI to enrich—not detract from—their content marketing program?

 “Stop worrying about losing your job because of AI. We’re a long way from a time, if ever, when we’re going to allow AI to write long, complex copy for selling. But can generative AI help us scale? Absolutely.”

AI can serve as a great starting point for content creation and help you overcome initial writer’s block or information gathering.

One area where AI will be increasingly helpful is modular content that can be combined in multiple ways to appeal to specific personas. The challenge is that writers need the ability to write with a modular mind, which takes training.

The main thing to remember when using AI to scale your operations, however, is that there will be a point of diminishing returns. It’s crucial to continue measuring your results to understand how much customization and contextualization is most effective.

Q6: How can content marketing teams create a culture of ongoing innovation?

Phyllis advises teams to not set their content strategy based on a bill of materials, or a specific list of assets that a team creates for everything. This mentality creates a production efficiency strategy that does not address your audience’s needs and deprives you of the flexibility you need to adapt to current market realities.

Q7: What are your predictions for the future of B2B content? What do you expect to see more or less of, and what will help brands stand out from the pack?

Phyllis leaves us with this insight:

“The biggest thing is to reflect measurement in the work that gets done. 2023 is the year for the content intelligence imperative. It is imperative that we begin to develop a schema of content intelligence that feeds some understanding of what worked back into the system. There is now enough technology—and recognition from CMOs that there are problems in the content engine—for teams to combine automation, AI, and analytics to better understand the customer experience.”

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