The vast majority of b2b buyers find online content a valuable resource when researching products and services, according to a study released last week by the Chief Marketing Officer Council.
The study, “Better Lead Yield in the Content Marketing Field,” was based on an online survey of more than 400 b2b buyers, conducted in April in partnership with NetLine Corp. Eighty-seven percent of respondents said online content has either a major or moderate impact on vendor preference and selection.
“Most companies spend at least 25% of their marketing budgets on content creation and distribution on digital channels,” said Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council, pointing to a recent survey by the Content Marketing Institute. “Our focus [with the CMO Council study] was to see how effective is that spend, to what degree are companies producing content that is meaningful and useful to buyers, and what are the nuances around how people are utilizing and sharing that content with their peers.”
According to the study, the most valuable sources of online content in shaping purchase decisions are professional associations and online communities (cited by 47%); industry organizations and groups (46%); online trade publications (41%); seminars and workshops (41%); and trade shows (35%).
“Clearly, what we're seeing is that people want peer-based content,” Neale-May said. “Those are the most trusted sources—professional affinity groups where buyers can get feedback or advice, industry groups and professional associations.”
The specific types of content b2b buyers value most when making purchase decisions include professional association research reports and white papers (cited by 67%), industry group research reports and white papers (50%), customer case studies (48%), analyst reports and white papers (44%), and product reviews (40%).
“Content should be created and deployed to take customers through the various procurement phases and upsell and cross-sell opportunities, not just [to] acquire a lead,” Neale-May said. “In qualitative interviews, we found that people are much more cognizant of content being a requirement across the entire customer life cycle.”
B2b buyers said the characteristics they most value in online content are breadth and depth of information (cited by 47%); ease of access, understanding and readability (44%); and originality of thinking and ideas (39%).
The content characteristics buyers most dislike include too many requirements for downloading (50%), blatantly promotional and self-serving (43%) and non-substantive and uninformed (34%).
“I don't think marketers are necessarily getting it,” Neale-May said. “Part of the problem is that a lot of content gets produced by product people—not content strategists—so it is more self-serving. Marketers are wasting a lot of money putting out content that people are not interested in or responding to.”
The survey also found that 59% of buyers share online content with more than 25 people.
“These findings suggest that the value of a [content] download is probably greater than you think,” Neale-May said. “Marketers need to rethink and be more adept at tracking where and how content gets shared. Despite all the talk about social networks and collaborative networks, the primary way for sharing content is still through email.”
The survey also found that 41% of b2b buyers use smartphones to access content, and 30% use tablets. Desktop computers are still the most widely used method of accessing content (68%).
“Our goal is to try to get marketers to create better content and track consumption and use of content across the entire customer life cycle,” Neale-May said. “We find that a lot of companies don't have content strategies, don't evaluate the performance of the content, don't have strong advocacy themes and content performance isn't what it should be.”