It may seem surprising and even a bit shocking, but B2B content marketing has a very long history — it is much older than you think. The first prototype of the concept was created by Benjamin Franklin 318 years ago. At that time he owned a publishing business, and even then he realized the importance of earning the attention of the potential clients. Every year he published ‘Poor Richard’s Almanack’ that contained aphorisms, proverbs, weather, calendar, and astrological information. Way ahead of his time, Benjamin Franklin used the almanack to promote his business.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Michelin brothers created the Michelin guide — it was another trend of content marketing. It was a thick 400-pages guide helping drivers maintain their vehicles and find decent lodging when traveling. Between Mr. Franklin and the Michelin family, there were plenty of other businesses, making great efforts for producing practically useful, unique, and engaging content.

Now let's go back to the future. Nowadays B2B companies seem to be less advanced in terms of content marketing, and there are signs of disbelief in the power of content in contrast to our forefathers. That is, many B2B companies are still playing by the old rules and are not cognizant of major technological trends, or shifts in consumer preferences.

Content Marketing Institute’s report revealed quite dissatisfying statistics. About 30% of B2B marketers claim their companies are successful and effective at content marketing. 44% of respondents have regular meetings (weekly or daily, personal or virtual) to discuss the progress of content marketing. The same 44% of B2B marketers claim their company is realistic about the effectiveness of content marketing. So it appears that the benefits of content marketing are not obvious for the majority of B2B business.

Content marketing for B2B: what's the use?

We need to clarify what benefits content marketing provides to B2B companies. There are three major reasons for incorporating B2B marketing strategies, as per the Spotlight report: lead generation (59%), the establishment of thought leadership (43%), and improvement of brand awareness (40%). Other than those three, the following advantages are next in line: customer acquisition and retention, boosting traffic, enhancing loyalty, and education.

Content marketing is used for improving SEO strategy via earning more inbound links. And in its return, inbound links help increase the domain authority. It is also effective when it comes to the re-purposing of articles for social media campaigns (or/and email campaigns). Content marketing can be applied in cross-promotion — the business is provided with more opportunities via other brands.

It is clear that underestimation of content marketing for B2B companies as well as a wrong approach are not in favor of business. The application of content marketing strategies in the realm of business-to-business requires adaptation to the latest trends. We have assembled a set of golden rules one needs to learn in order to see positive outcomes.

Rule#1: Make it mobile

Fact: people have gone mobile. The variety of mobile devices represent the dominant majority of internet usage, there are applications for practically everything: buying, booking, ordering food, reading, learning, and what not. Increasing numbers of B2B customers are embracing a mobile lifestyle and using their smartphones for new products research. According to Google’s 'The Changing Face of B2B Marketing' research, over the last two years there has been 91% growth in B2B researchers using smartphones throughout the entire path to purchase: inspiration, research, purchase itself, and post-purchase.

On the other hand, B2B businesses still create downloadable content for the Desktop era, such as eBooks. Content marketing being narrowed to a Desktop stance leads to business missing out on huge opportunities while being mobile-friendly gives the chance to open those opportunities.

Rule#2: Be creative

Historically B2B content marketing has been deemed straightforward, technical, and 'business-like'. Let's ask ourselves a question: is content marketing science or art? By the way, this debate is not new and it is more relevant now than ever before. If the science is in data then art pertains to everything else. The marketers in the world of B2B have been used to the thought that the answer is in data, which is why they have been overly focused on it.

So, yes: B2B content marketing lacks creativity and it is boring simply because it is allowed to be. Dr. Nick Udall in his book 'Riding the Creative Rollercoaster' proclaims creativity a strategic differentiator for business. Internet environment is cluttered with tons of forgettable content, thus, authentic and creative ways to deliver messages can really make a splash.

Hootsuite resorted to tapping into popular culture. The Game of Thrones TV show has millions of fans across the globe, thus, it was a good idea. The series was used as a starting point of telling a relatable story. The number of views speaks for itself.

Rule#3: Human touch

'Nothing personal. Just business' — that is what B2B content marketing has sounded like for years. Somehow the inhabitants of B2B planet seemed to forget that their clients are people with emotions and feelings who react to human touch. As per a Google and Millward Brown study, 70% of B2B clientele are watching video content throughout their pathway to purchase, and these numbers increase dramatically year by year. 48% of the B2B audience tend to watch 30 minutes or more of B2B-related video content in the process of their research.

What we mean to say is that these videos have a chance of becoming the best way of educating the buyers as well as putting a human face on the organization. In other words, B2B buyers want to see human stories, they need to feel related. Using emotion-wise case studies and real people's stories help to establish trust. 

Testimonials are among the most successful types of B2B video content and Slack applied a different, non-traditional move in its testimonial. The video has a lot of humor and fun visual effects; it evokes empathy and solidarity, the video is entertaining and educational at the same time.

Rule#4: Evergreen = Always relevant

In pursuit of generating highly relevant content, many B2B businesses resort to capitalizing on breaking news. This strategy works quite well as it is a good way of providing timely content. However, the strategy falls short in terms of creating long-lasting relationships with the audience. In addition, relying on sensational and hot news places a lot of pressure on the team, which has to create content non-stop 24/7.

According to B2B Content Marketing 2018: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends the most successful marketers deliver content consistently (always or frequently). In this context, the evergreen content helps overcome the reliance on breaking news. When content is evergreen that means it remains meaningful and relevant for years - whenever it is read. At the same time, it does not mean a company can forget about updating part of its content once in a while.  

Rule#5: Make things easy

It is the company's duty to simplify the life of its client, and technological advancements play an important part in that. The tedious process of making a purchase must be efficient and fast. B2B companies must stop and think about their buyers; they are people with a busy lifestyle whose schedules are pretty tight, and their time is precious. According to G. David Dodd's article in My Customer, B2B sales cycles are getting longer, and the cost of this delay can be quite high for the business.

As easy as the buying experience can be, provide content which is easy to find. Be consistent, and make it simple for the buyer to find you. As per the Clutch report, 33% of B2B customers tend to consume content about the company via blogs. If a company makes things easy for the buyers, they will pay off with their trust.

Rule#6: Be patient

Content marketing, especially in B2B, is a long-term strategy, and conversions do not take place overnight. Lack of patience is actually one of the common mistakes in B2B content marketing, alongside resisting change and failure to measure or even use the data. The first results of content marketing might only start showing after a long time: B2B purchases are costly and it is logical that they require more time. The path from leads to conversions may take 2 or more months.

As per LinkedIn Technology Marketing Community data, before making a purchase B2B buyers go through a sales funnel. There are from 3 to 5 stages before a purchase takes place. In view of this, B2B marketers must create content dedicated to these stages usually in the forms of guides, articles, white papers, etc. — the B2B customer requires more nurturing.

To make things short, content marketing for B2B is vital, providing tangible and intangible benefits and opening doors to many prospects and opportunities. The rules we have listed above are at the core of any successful content marketing. Be like Benjamin Franklin: be on the wave of the latest trends and think ahead to stand out.