B2B Content Marketing: Which Assets Are Most Influential, and When?

Content Marketing
Eccolo Media has released its latest “B2B Technology Content Survey Report” based on 503 respondents responsible for influencing or making technology buying decisions in the 6 months prior to the survey. The study covers a host of content marketing topics – including which collateral types are most frequently consumed and considered most influential – as well as the stages of the sales cycle in which they are perceived to be most persuasive.

Business to Business Content MarketingTurning first to the most frequently consumed content types, the study finds that white papers top the list, with 49% of respondents claiming to have used them to evaluate a tech purchase in the prior 6 months. Close behind are product brochures and data sheets (46%), with those two types of assets clearly the most heavily consumed, ahead of case studies/success stories (36%), detailed tech guides/implementation scenarios (36%), and video/multimedia files (35%).

Interestingly, fewer purport to have consumed blog articles (29%), e-newsletters (29%), social content (27%), infographics (21%) and tweets (19%).

Overall, half of the respondents said they consume 2-5 assets before making a purchase; by comparison, IDG recently found that during the purchase process for major enterprise IT/security products and services, IT decision-makers download an average of 8 informational assets.

Notably, there appears to be greater diversification in the types of assets used by buyers. The top areas – white papers, product brochures, case studies, and video/multimedia files – have each retreated in use from prior years, with fewer respondents claiming to be consuming them this year. The researchers suggest that buyers are “spreading their attention” to other sources – with the survey this year encapsulating 16 asset types versus the 5 from previous years.

Not surprisingly, the most consumed collateral types are also considered the most influential. Asking respondents to rate each type on a 5-point scale of influence and aggregating the ratings for each, Eccolo finds that white papers came out on top in terms of the weighted average, ahead of case studies/success stories, product brochures/data sheets, detailed tech guides, and video/multimedia files. (Those were also the most heavily consumed collateral types.)

The results differed substantially, though, when respondents were asked to consider each type on its own – not in relation to others. While white papers again emerged atop the rankings – with 50% rating them as very or extremely influential – infographics rose to the second spot (49%), on par with detailed tech guides (49%) and slightly ahead of case studies (48%).

Mapping Content to the Purchase Cycle

Eccolo-Content-Consumption-B2B-Buyer-Purchase-Cycle-Dec2013

Recent research from Pardot indicates that three-quarters of B2B buyers agree that they prefer different content at each stage of the research process. That makes the data released by Eccolo Media mapping content consumption to the purchase cycle especially interesting.

The researchers indicate that the way content is consumed has changed significantly from 2008, when assets such as white papers, case studies, podcasts, videos and brochures were all most heavily favored in the pre-sales phase, but much less so in each subsequent step in the cycle. This year, the content types examined tend to be most appreciated after the pre-sales phase – at the initial sales phase when buyers are looking to better understand the problem. What’s more, the influence of these various types of collateral now carries over into the mid-sales phase (“identifying solutions, considering vendors”), only dropping off during the final sales process.

Comparing consumption of 6 content types – white papers, case studies/success stories, video/multimedia files, detailed tech guides/implementation scenarios, infographics and blog articles – across the purchase cycle yields the following results:

  • During the pre-sales phase (“unaware of problem”), buyers find blog articles to be at their most helpful, with 32% rating blogs most helpful at this stage (blog articles were found to be equally as influential during the initial sales phase);
  • During the initial sales phase, white papers, case studies, video and infographics reach their most influential point;
  • At the mid-sales phase, detailed technology guides (31%) are at their most influential, while case studies are also important; and
  • None of the collateral types are most influential during the final sales process, although detailed tech guides and implementation scenarios are naturally of more interest during this stage than the other content types.

Meanwhile, about 7 in 10 respondents said it’s important or very important to continue to receive content form the vendor after the sale has been completed. White papers are clearly the most preferred content type post-purchase, followed by case studies and tech guides.

But wait, there’s more… The study also breaks preferences down into 6 personas: small business influencers and decision-makers; mid-market influencers and decision-makers; and enterprise influences and decision-makers. The following contains some highlights regarding when the measured content types are considered most influential by each persona during the stages of the purchase cycle (each persona type was asked in which phase of the sales cycle they found each asset type to be most useful):

Pre-sales

  • Small business influencers consider detailed tech guides and video/multimedia files to be at their most influential during this phase, while small business-decision makers see blog articles as carrying their greatest weight at this stage;
  • Mid-market influencers, mid-market decision-makers and enterprise influencers don’t see any of the content types as being at their most helpful point during the pre-sales phase; and
  • Enterprise decision-makers find blog articles and infographics to be offering their greatest influence during this stage.

Initial sales

  • Small business influencers consider infographics, case studies and white papers to be at their most helpful during this phase, while small business-decision makers agree in each respect save for case studies;
  • Mid-market influencers tend to see most content types – blog articles, infographics, video, case studies and white papers – as being most helpful during this stage;
  • Mid-market decision-makers find that blog articles, infographics, video and white papers are more influential at this stage than at any other;
  • Enterprise influencers consider blog articles, infographics, video, case studies, and white papers to be most influential at this stage; and
  • Enterprise decision-makers perceive infographics, video and white papers to be at their most helpful during this stage.

Mid-sales

  • For small business influencers, this is the phase when blog articles are most helpful, while small business decision-makers see video and case studies as carrying their biggest influence during this phase;
  • Mid-market influencers tend to see detailed tech guides as being most helpful during this stage, while decision-makers agree and tack on case studies as having their greatest influence at this point;
  • Enterprise influencers and decision-makers each consider detailed tech guides to be most helpful at this point, with decision-makers also believing that case studies are most important at this stage.

Final sales process

  • None of the personas considered any of the content types to be most helpful during this stage, as buyers appear to see each type of collateral as being most important during earlier phases of the sales cycle.

About the Data: The survey was conducted by Global Marketing Insite (GMI), which distributed the survey in September 2013 and then returned the raw data to Eccolo Media for analysis.

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