Content marketing — especially the kind we talk about on this blog — is most commonly associated with B2B business models.
I can see why. For one thing, B2B sales cycles tend to be longer, and many B2B providers play the long game in terms of lead nurturing, a process that relies on establishing expertise and remaining top-of-mind over a longer period of time. Then, too, blogs and articles about content marketing often focus on the unique needs of B2B marketers and the strategies that work best for them.
But here’s the thing: businesses of all kinds stand to gain from content marketing. In fact, I can’t think of a single business that wouldn’t benefit from a content strategy of its very own. I’ll admit to being more than a little biased on this subject, but the good news is that you don’t have to take my word for it; the data tells the same story.
So, without further ado, I present to you:
In my last blog post, I mentioned that the average shopper now interacts with 10.4 unique pieces of content before making a purchase. That figure is forceful enough to bear repeating regardless, but I bring it up again because I believe it’s worth taking a closer look at what that number is actually measuring. This is especially true given that doing so helps shed light on the “content fuel consumption,” or content-pieces-per-purchase-gallon, of various industries.
The number (10.4) comes from a study by Google’s Zero Moment of Truth and Shopper Sciences, whose goal was to understand, in broad terms, “what’s shaping consumer decisions on [the] path to purchase.” To that end, they surveyed 5,000 buyers shopping for a range of products and services, from restaurants and grocery items to tech, cars, and banking services.
Two things seem to me to be especially striking about this study.
First, note that the study looked at the behaviors of individual shoppers. While the authors don’t specify whether any of these buyers were shopping on behalf of businesses — that is, in a B2B capacity — I suspect, based on Shopper Sciences’s professional focus and the particular set of products and services included in the study, that the data speaks most clearly to the shopping patterns of B2C consumers. Still think content marketing is only for B2B?
Now consider the fact that the number of content pieces consulted varied most predictably depending on the length of the sales cycle for each product or service. Thus, shoppers trying to decide on a restaurant for dinner or an over-the-counter beauty product looked at fewer pieces of unique content (5.8 and 7, respectively) than shoppers researching larger purchases, like a vacation, computer, or car (which in turn accumulated an average of 10.2, 14.8, and 18.2 unique content pieces).
That’s all pretty intuitive, but what’s surprising is the extent to which buyers are researching even the most “spontaneous” purchases, like restaurant meals. Meaning: a robust content strategy has the power to influence purchase decisions in every sales cycle, no matter how short.
Chances are, most B2B service providers can expect greater content exposure (and thus more opportunity to produce compelling content) throughout the sales cycle, but that probably has more to do with the price tag — and the gravity of the purchase — than the simple fact that it’s B2B. In the end, I’d wager that the most salient variable when it comes to content marketing is not B2B vs B2C, but the length of the sales cycle.
You already have a strong handle on your sales cycle. Now all you need to do is figure out its corollary, the average “content fuel consumption” of your particular industry, and you’ll have a much better idea of where to start in terms of putting together a content strategy.
All for Content and Content for All!
At this point, the question should not be content (yes/no), but rather what kind of content makes the most sense for your business. And, not to confuse anyone, but that’s exactly where the whole B2B vs B2C dichotomy starts to make more sense.
B2B businesses, as well as B2C businesses with longer sales cycles, have the time and incentive to produce content with a longer shelf-life that helps establish expertise and answers consumers’ questions at targeted stages of the sales cycle. In fact, according to research by the Marketing Leadership Council and Google, for B2B businesses, “content quality may be a more critical factor in customer acquisition than the products actually being sold.”
The same may sometimes be true for B2C businesses (and those B2B businesses with a shorter sales cycle), but these folks may benefit more from the opportunity to leverage content marketing in a way that enriches brand storytelling (see Coca-Cola’s Content 2020 plan for more on that), encourages engagement, and — crucially — relies as much, if not more, on user-generated content, especially reviews.
B2C Content Marketing: Different Strokes for Different Folks
The 2013 B2C Content Marketing report, prepared by the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs, paints a more detailed picture of what content marketing means in the B2C context today. (Tellingly, while they’ve produced a similar report about B2B content marketing for three years running, this is the first time they’ve looked at B2C.)
Here’s what they found: A whopping 86% of B2C marketers already employ multiple content marketing tactics, utilizing an average of 26% of their overall marketing budget. Yet they still allocate, on average, 13% less budget than B2B businesses — and lack of funding is cited as an obstacle more frequently, too.
They also found that the primary objectives of B2C content marketers are different than those of B2B marketers. While B2B businesses tend to focus on thought leadership, lead generation, and lead nurturing, B2C marketers prioritize customer retention and loyalty, followed closely by customer acquisition and brand awareness. They also, on balance, place a higher premium on driving sales.
Given these differing goals, it follows that B2C content strategies would look and act differently, too. For example, while the majority of both B2B and B2C content marketers publish blogs and social media content, B2C businesses rely much more heavily on mobile content, mobile apps, print magazines, and print newsletters, while B2B businesses focus on white papers and case studies.
The Perfect Pair
With all that said, I’ll leave you with one final thought. Think of content marketing as a great pair of pants. There’s no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to a really good pair of jeans — the kind that fit you like a glove and make you wish you’d bought three more pairs while they were still in stock — but just about everyone needs them. Now go put on some pants!