How sustainable is b2b content marketing?

7 min read

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Content marketing for business has been around a while now, so there’s a whole heap of data and outcomes that we can reference to evaluate its effectiveness. In 2017, Mark Schaefer, a globally-recognised podcaster and business consultant did just that. In his post, he discussed whether or not content marketing was actually a sustainable approach. He analysed a whole two years worth of data to make his assessment.

What he found is interesting, but not at all surprising to us. Because the barrier to content creation is so low, there’s been an exponential rise in content production which makes it harder and harder to stand out. Hence, in the battle for click-throughs, content marketing may not be something you can rely on solely.

Fast forward to 2020 and thought leaders such as Joe Pulizzi from the Content Marketing Institute agree with Mark Schaefer and predict that content and social media marketing will require marketers to become smarter in their strategy: ‘Content marketing is a marathon not a sprint’. With always changing algorithms, content needs to pull users into the funnel so you can also communicate with them in other ways.

As we’re in this business of content marketing, (amongst other things like brand development and activation, digital marketing, account-based marketing, direct marketing and sales enablement), we just couldn’t help but weigh in on this topic back in 2018. Now it’s 2020 and the debate is still going strong,  we think it's the perfect time to give you our shiny, updated two cents worth.

Here's what we really think of the longevity and value of content marketing.

Point 1. The internet is saturated with content, so content is diluted

In his post, Schaefer uses the topic of ‘content marketing’ as an example, saying that over 1,000 articles on the subject are being published every week (ergo his post will most likely get lost in the noise).

Post lost in noise reaction

What we think in 2020: Yes, the internet is saturated with content with over four million blog posts published just today (yes, you read that right) - but that doesn't change the fact that people have problems which they research about online. As long as prospects continue to turn to search engines and social media to educate themselves on their problems and all potential solutions to those problems, content marketing will be a thing. 

And the good news is, they are. According to Gartner, the most significant chunk of B2B buyers who are considering a purchase are researching independently online. In fact, a recent survey found 41% of B2B respondents consume three to five pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep.

People have come to rely on search engines to answer all of life's questions. So you need to keep helping them find the answers. (Want to really freak yourself out? Open this page to see the number of searches made in real-time.)

Point 2. As more people post content about trending topics, social shares decline

Schaefer's 2017 data shows us that as the volume of content published increases, there is a fall in average engagement in terms of social sharing. For example, the topic of 'influencer marketing' has seen significant growth in terms of the number of articles produced about it. However, this has correlated with falling average shares of these articles on Twitter.

What we think in 2020: Sure, organic social sharing is still in decline, but given nearly 50% of the world's population is on social media can you really afford to ditch social? No, it just means that we can't rely on people to share our content anymore - we need to promote it via paid and unpaid methods to make sure it gets in front of the right people. 

In any case, shares, used on their own as a reporting metric, are a vanity metric. Yes, it is important to track social engagement to assess whether the people you speak to actually care about what you're putting out there. But at the end of the day, what matters most to your business, and the C-Suite, is whether your content drives people to your website and converts them into leads and ultimately, into customers.

Point 3. Marketers need to find niche markets for content marketing to work

Schaefer makes the point that content marketing works very well for niche markets, because there hasn’t been a lot written about those topics yet.

What we think: This is true - and for b2b marketers in complex industries (e.g. automation, business intelligence, new software categories), this is a significant advantage, because you can be the first in and get a leg up on your competitors.

Get a leg up on competitors reaction

For industries like ours (where anyone and everyone is producing content about the same topic), content marketing is more something we do to showcase our expertise, and must be coupled with other forms of marketing such as ABM. However, content marketing is still an essential component, and works hard to nurture those who are already in our database (rather than being the principle lever for lead generation).

Having said that, the saturation of content forces us to work harder at making our content unique, readable, substantial and enjoyable. The lesson? Don’t produce content for content’s sake - think about what content you enjoy consuming and make sure your content stacks up before you put it out there.

So, is content marketing sustainable in 2020 and beyond?

We don’t think that content marketing is going anywhere. Why? Because content marketing - at its core - is creating information that people are looking for, and providing it when they need it.

Information people are looking for when they need it

We definitely don't think it should be the ONLY form of marketing you do. Depending on your industry and offering, content marketing can see fantastic results when supplemented with ABM, direct, social and digital advertising, remarketing, events and PR. 

In other words, content marketing is here to stay but isn't the be-all and end-all of marketing, and we see the best results when we combine it with other forms.

Whatever your mix, the Bc team agrees that the essential element is getting the strategy right. Figuring out what information your prospects want at each stage in their buying journey and delivering to them time and time again. 

Something we also agree on? This will change over time - so strategic content marketing includes monitoring, letting the data feed the strategy and continually tweaking over time. How well you adapt to changing market needs is key to your long-term success in the content game. The good news is that we now have all the data we need to make those game-changing decisions in real-time.

What will you do next?

If you've been doing content marketing for a while, and you lack inspiration, think about how you can make your content stand out from the crowd. Why not share industry news and talk about what it means for your prospects, or experiment with more interactive content formats?

Think about alternative distribution methods, including syndicated content, social media advertising, industry publications or PR. Consider making your content more niche - and segmenting your database a little further. It is all about working smarter - not harder! 

If you want to assess how well you're doing at it, take our Inbound Marketing Self-Assessment. Or if you want some strategic advice, give us a call.

Originally published on 15 January 2018. Last updated on 7 October 2020.

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