The Article In 60 Seconds
B2B buyers are overwhelmed by information.
Information overload, along with increasingly complicated decision-making processes inside organizations, leave buyers feeling confused and paralyzed, according to Harvard Business Review. In a survey of 600 B2B buyers, HBR found that the responsive approach most suppliers take, which focuses on providing more information, actually drops purchase ease levels by 18%.
Meanwhile, management remains a challenge to marketers across all levels of success. Even the most successful content marketing departments, who doggedly prioritize managing workloads and production, contribute to the 20% of the $5.2 billion annual US B2B content marketing budgets that go to waste.
A mutual solution to both of these challenges is to manage content by mapping it to the buyer’s research process. It answers frequent buyer queries with content tailored to buyer queries. It creates a natural way to manage content creation, and clarifies how to optimize content so search engines can read it - and buyers can find it.
Leverage keyword analysis to understand what your buyers have in mind as they perform initial research. It connects content with the relevant topics your prospects are already looking for.
Think About This
According to LinkedIn’s Rethink The B2B Buyer’s Journey report, buyers most often selected "product info, features, functions" (35%) and "demos" (31%) as the type of content they prefer. Yet only 24% of marketers believe product info is effective marketing, and only 18% say demos are effective.
Most top performing content marketers have a documented content marketing strategy (69%), versus 16% of the least successful marketers, per the Content Marketing Institute’s B2B Content Marketing 2020 Report.
74% of the most successful marketers map content to specific stages of the buyer's journey, versus 26% of the least successful, per CMI.
Only 42% of content marketers actually talk with customers to understand their needs, also per CMI.
Today’s B2B Buyers Feel Overwhelmed And Less In Control Of The Buying Process
Customers are increasingly overwhelmed and paralyzed by an overflow of information, more decision makers, and an ever-expanding set of choices, according to Harvard Business Review. Contrary to most B2B marketers’ perceptions, buyers feel less in control of the buying process. Irrelevant information leads to more questions, and the sale gets pushed back again and again — if it ever occurs.
You’ve felt the downstream effects of this — deals that get stuck in your funnel for months. Thousands of dollars and hours spent on blog posts and whitepapers that get clicks, views, and downloads, only to be faced with silence from the reader.
Yet audiences remain thirsty for useful knowledge: according to LinkedIn’s “Rethink B2B Buyer’s Journey, buyers place a high priority on “valuable consulting, education and tools” and “subject matter expert” when seeking vendors. Marketers who manage their overall content process to provide timely, valuable information will win over these overwhelmed prospects. What differentiates the winning content marketers from their budget-wasting rivals?
Winning B2B Teams Manage Content By Mapping To Buyer’s Research Process
The top-performing B2B content teams formalize content management, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s B2B Content Marketing 2020 report: 69% of top performers have a documented content marketing strategy, versus 16% of the least successful marketers.
But well-managed content isn’t enough: top performers take a prescriptive approach to ensure buyers find, read, and act on material. Per the CMI report, 74% of the most successful content marketers map content to specific stages of the buyer's journey, and 93% prioritize delivering content when and where a person is most likely to see it, versus 26% and 37% (respectively) of their least successful competitors.
A proven way to get buyers to find your material, consume it, and ultimately convert to leads is to organize content by mapping it to the buying process. This helps ensure it’s reaching prospects as they perform preliminary research. It also provides a path to structure and monitor content on the organizational side: CMI reports that documented content marketing strategies align teams around a common mission, and help determine what type of content to produce.
So: how well is your content reaching reaching your audience where they are in the research process?
Three Core Stages In The Buying Funnel
In “The New Sales Imperative,” Harvard Business Review identifies a rudimentary framework for three stages in the buying process: early, middle, and late. In the early stages of research, customers evaluate whether their challenge merits a solution. In middle stages, customers evaluate which type of solution might best solve their challenge, and in the later research stages customers - often dispersed across multiple departments of a firm - identify specific suppliers and make first contact with sales representatives.
Marketers’ perceptions of what type of content works at each stage is not in complete alignment with what buyers say they want, according to LinkedIn’s Rethink The B2B Buyer’s Journey report. When asked what types of content they preferred, buyers most often selected "product info, features, functions" (35%) and "demos" (31%), while only 24% of marketers believe product info is effective marketing, and 18% say demos are effective.
Another CMI report indicates that B2B marketers found blog posts/articles most effective for early stage research, white papers for middle stage research, and case studies for later stages of the buyer's journey — while LinkedIn reports only 19% of buyers include case studies in their top three.
Both LinkedIn and CMI agree that thought leadership content is most effective for top-of-funnel, early research stages. For later stage research, CMI emphasizes case studies, while LinkedIn says buyers find product information most helpful.
GET SEEN BY STUDYING WHERE THEY ARE
Keyword research, on both your own and competitors’ websites, is pivotal for understanding how organic leads undergo initial research. It can reveal several insights into the kinds of information prospects are searching for.
A few aspects to consider:
High volume keywords are hypnotizing, but low volume keywords may end up converting to leads and sales more reliably. B2B tech audiences are looking for niche solutions - consider both high and low volume keywords, and repeat research over a period of time to help gain insight into trends. Use Google’s Keyword Planner tool to study specific keywords. Strive to find a balance in your relevancy. Balance your content so that it supports both — publish content pieces that focus on broader, top-of-funnel traffic, but be sure to include others that focus on narrower industry topics. If you address super niche topics, push yourself to supplement that content with email, social media, and other efforts to drive deeper-funnel users to it simply because your search volume is unlikely to support it.
Keep in mind how your audience searches as you research keywords - high volume terms may result from consumer or lay searches, not industry professionals looking for solutions. Keep in mind how industry insiders use terminology in a way that distinguishes them from consumers. For example, insiders use "cybersecurity," while consumers frequently use "cyber security." There is an oft-undiscussed danger in using word derivates. You may be using keywords that your competitors search/use but that customers don't. For example, in our niche, the phrase “b2b tech” is often used by those to describe the industry, but hardly ever used by those searching for your company. Your targets self-identify as SaaS or financial tech or another niche. This is the classic "B2B Tech Company" discussion we've had a bunch, where a keyword may show relatively high search volume, but the people searching for it are your competitors and not your customers. Very often, you end up in a shouting match within a bubble of other competitors, whereas the customers are somewhere else entirely.
In high-dollar, niche environments like B2B technology, competitors’ websites can reveal a lot about their marketing strategy. Look for specific keywords they optimize for on different pages using Google Search Console or SEMRush.
Another Underutilized Resource for Understanding the Audience's Research Journey
To research keywords, you need a starting place — an idea of what customers actually search for in the early stages of research. An overlooked way to find this is by talking with satisfied customers directly. Only 42% of content marketers actually talk with customers to understand their needs, per CMI's 2019 B2B Buyer Report.
Find a satisfied customer, call them up and ask them:
- What problem or challenge initiated the research process that eventually lead to your solution?
- Who made that initial research?
- What were they searching for when they began?
This will give insight into the keywords that similar customers will use during initial stages of research.
The First Thing to Do After Reading This Article
Pick up the phone and call a satisfied customer. Ask them: what problem or challenge initiated them on the research process? Who made that initial research? What were they searching for when they began? List out 3-5 phrases they used to describe what they were searching for - this will serve as the basis for your keyword research.