One of the most exciting (and stressful) parts about working in content marketing is that there are always new creation tools, types of content, and distribution avenues to explore. The developments keep us on our toes and force us to stay in tune with our target audiences and how they prefer to consume information.
Even as I was drafting this article, Google announced its new generative search experience. Previews of the interface show search transforming from a list of links into a more immersive and visually appealing experience — which has been a long time coming, if we’re honest. Marketing and content teams naturally have questions on how this will affect web traffic and the SEO metrics we’ve become so dependent on to measure content’s success. (LinkedIn influencers are abuzz.)
The fact is, from generative AI to content communities to video and social media, B2B content strategy is experiencing a shake up, and it’s up to us to navigate the changes and step confidently into what content can and will be.
With that in mind, I took a look at five areas B2B companies should be thinking about in the second half of 2023 to build a content strategy that incorporates the trends with staying power.
Or jump to:
- Content Formats: It's Time for a Switch Up
- Oh the Places You Can Search
- AI Content Creation Tools: Friend or Foe?
- Marketing-Free Communities: It's the Place to Be
- Newsletters Are Cool Again
1. Content Formats: It’s Time for a Switch Up
Marketing has always been about content. Successful marketing plans put the right type of content at the right time in front of your ideal audience. As new generations enter the workforce and move into positions with buying power, content needs to adapt to speak their language. Short-form, easily consumable, even bingable, content is an important entry point into future conversations.
However, there is a balance to strike. You do not need to put all your content marketing efforts into TikTok. You do need to keep in mind that target audiences are now often a mix of the C-Suite and senior to mid-level professionals. Millennials and Gen Z-ers are in roles with buying power, and they have very different patterns for how they consume work-related content. Content strategy will need to include content targeted to these generations just as much as to executives.
Takeaway 1: Mix long-form with short-form content
In industries like B2B SaaS and in tech startups on the whole, we’re seeing a desire to reach younger audiences with short-form content while still connecting with senior executives through blogs and white papers. One way to bridge that gap is to create short, one minute or less videos to accompany your written thought leadership. Video offers an easy entry point into a topic and is the preferred content format for most people today. You can hit on key points from the long-form piece, and, ideally, feature a thought leader from your organization speaking to the topic. You can also share these videos to YouTube Shorts, post them on social media, and use them alongside your long-form content to speak to every level of your audience.
Here’s an example in our own recent blog post on CRO vs. UX, which features a thought leadership video that is also available on YouTube and shared on Beacon Digital’s social channels: B2B Conversion Rate Optimization: What Is It, Why It's Important, and How We Do It .
YouTube is full of untapped potential for B2B companies, but the challenge is knowing when and how to start. We've come up with a way to make video production consistent, simplified, and an integral part of your cross-channel marketing strategy and brand awareness efforts. Get in touch to find out more.
Takeaway 2: Experiment with mid-funnel content offers
Putting the discussion of gated versus ungated content aside for one minute, have you stopped to think about what format someone might want to engage with? We’ve all downloaded a 32-page PDF report with stats and numbers and an eye-popping design that screams authority, knowledge, and industry know-how. Proprietary stats. We love them. And we need them to bring new information into a world of AI-generated content.
But PDFs aren’t for everyone, especially for those accessing your content on a mobile device rather than a desktop or laptop computer. Downloading a PDF to your iPhone is very clunky and not user-friendly. We’re seeing smart companies use interactive landing pages, ebooks, and more to engage users in a way that makes more sense — and feels more modern — than the trusty PDF. One of our clients, for example, uses Ceros to create interactive ebook experiences. See here. Options like these feel much more native to particular devices and audiences.
Product demos are also a notorious sticking point for B2B buyers. Most people do not want to book a live demo and engage with a sales rep until they are 100% ready to buy. Buyers do want to and need to see demos to understand your company’s full value and selling points, however. Rather than forcing prospects to book a live demo, test out demo alternatives, like demo recordings on your YouTube and website, free trials, and demo Loom videos.
Asynchronous demo alternatives check the boxes for lead capture and allow prospects to experience the product and continue the education and consideration stage of the buyer journey without the coordination of a scheduled demo until the time is right.
2. Oh the Places You Can Search
Search engines are evolving at a breakneck pace. It’s not just Google’s forthcoming integration of generative AI; it’s also that, for the first time since the early 2000s, there are other major players capturing eyes and ears besides Google.
Is your audience immediately going to Google to search? Or are they looking at YouTube, TikTok, or ChatGPT to get information and answers to their questions? When we think about “search engine optimization,” what are those search engines and who are you excluding by focusing only on Google?
The other video platform seeing high search volumes — and that is, perhaps, more accessible to a wider audience — is YouTube. Consolidating data from Jumpshot and Statcounter, YouTube comes in at the third-largest search engine. As it’s part of the wider Google ecosystem, it draws on search ranking factors similar to Google Search.
What does this mean? It means that you can repurpose high-performing content into videos for YouTube to support and increase awareness of other content efforts. The platform also recently launched its version of TikTok’s short-form videos, YouTube Shorts. This makes publishing content on both video channels that much easier to test and measure results; when the content and format are the same and the only variable is the platform, you can have a much clearer picture of what factors make a difference.
A note about video: Google often prioritizes video content in search results. Google will place strong YouTube videos in the top results in the same way as featured snippets or will even shift the “Videos” results tab to be the first one next to the “All” tab. This is important to recognize, as it showcases that great content is about more than the written format, and that search engines are highlighting the value of video by prioritizing it. (TBD on how Google GSE may change this.)
Gen Z and others turn to TikTok
Depending on your audience, it’s important to understand the value that B2B marketing with TikTok holds for search value. Even if the idea of Gen Z in your B2B target market doesn’t seem exactly right, remember that this generation is not as young as you might think, and its foothold — especially in tech — will exponentially strengthen.
Many advertisers, however, seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach to TikTok ads. Concerns about brand safety and regulatory issues have many companies holding off on TikTok, or at the very least, only dipping their toes and testing rather than going all in. While we wait to see if TikTok is here to stay, the lesson is that social media platforms are another type of search engine that holds a huge sway. If your audience is immediately going to TikTok, LinkedIn, or whatever comes next, you’ll want to be searchable there on topics that matter to them.
Here’s a round up of three B2B brands who have successfully added TikTok to their strategy.
ChatGPT as a search engine
The pro of ChatGPT “search” from the user perspective is that it provides a summary of answers to a query directly in its response, unlike search engines providing users with a list of relevant sources. Google’s move from featured snippets and related questions to generative AI in search results emphasizes the big players are aware of the benefits to user experience as well and want in on the game. It’s a matter of convenience: one succinct answer instead of many possible answers.
However, many are aware that ChatGPT is based on a limited set of data which can generate less credible and incorrect responses. When combating the power of ChatGPT as a search engine, it’s important for B2B content marketers to ensure that the content they produce is credibly-sourced and provides a new approach or angle to a topic. This will elevate the quality and legitimacy of your content over the answers available from ChatGPT.
Bing is back
It never went away, but it’s long played a far second fiddle to Google. Microsoft Bing says that, with the power of AI, it can “deliver better search, more complete answers, a new chat experience” rivaling ChatGPT, and the ability to generate content. As searchers continue to test these claims, content marketers need to consider that Google will no longer be the only search engine within which to place search ads and for which to optimize organic content.
Don’t forget Google
Google is not going to give up its place as the number one search engine easily. Incorporating generative AI is just the first step toward reinventing search as we know it. Google has to follow suit and keep up with Bing and other platforms we’ve yet to see to keep its relevance and prestige. Google is not doing away with many of the elements of its search engine that we rely on every day, but it is putting AI front and center. The question is if Google will be able to compete fast enough to keep its top seat.
3. AI Content Creation Tools: Friend or Foe?
When it comes to the power of AI for B2B content, we’re not naysayers at Beacon Digital. While we don’t believe AI can do everything we do as writers, investigators, and editors, it’s another tool you can integrate into your content toolkit to support your overall content strategy. We’ve been using AI to help get us out of writer’s block, generate headline ideas, and summarize information quickly.
AI content integration
When thinking about how to best integrate AI into your content writing toolkit, think about the elements of your process that could be more efficient and identify existing gaps. Maybe you:
- Generate a lot of ideas, but the outlining process is very time-consuming
- Have a smooth writing process, but the copyediting piece takes forever, with many rounds of edits and revisions
- Create long-form content quickly, but get stuck when it comes to drafting social posts or promoting the content in other ways
These are great opportunities to bring in AI and help spark ideas and move the process forward — with necessary adjustments and to add brand voice and tone. The Beacon Content team has always used AI tools like Grammarly and Hemingway, but we’ve also begun integrating writing AI like CopyAI, Hypotenuse, and QuillBot, and are really enjoying the creativity they spark and the ways they optimize our processes.
The current explosion of AI tools is an exciting moment in history for marketers, but it’s also yielded cautionary tales. AI content generation tools rely on publicly available information to train the language models that allow it to answer the prompts you feed it. I can’t state enough how important it is to fact check and double check any content you create with an AI tool. News sites have been called out for publishing AI-generated articles with false information and we’ve all heard the stories of ChatGPT fabricating responses to prompts rather than stating facts. All this to say, AI can be an extremely helpful tool for content creation, but creators need to be cautious about the source of information and double-check that all content is factual.
4. Marketing-Free Communities: It’s the Place to Be
One of the most important things we’ve learned about how to appeal to leaders in B2B and tech spaces is the value of community and peer relationships within a given industry. Company leaders are not looking to be marketed to — they’re looking for opportunities to learn how to do their jobs better for their company and be innovative in their industries. And they’re turning to their peers and vendor-free communities to do this.
With this in mind, B2B companies are seeing success by creating these marketing-free communities for industry leaders and professionals to share their knowledge and learn from one another without the looming presence of vendors trying to win them over. Slack and Substack communities are common places to start, simply creating a space to chat and share insights, trends, and products.
Some of our clients are generating success by creating their own communities. Blue Lava, an information security company, directs its focus on the CISO. The company has developed a successful CISO community that you can request to join and receive exclusive resources and insights from other CISOs. Cypress, in the app and cloud testing space, has an ambassador program for developers and QA engineers to share insights and gain exclusive access to Cypress resources and other perks. The company also has a dedicated Discord server for QA peers to chat, ask questions, and enjoy live events.
It’s important to also consider industry-specific channels, such as Cybersecurity Marketing Society for the cyber space, GitHub and Women Who Code for software development and engineering, and CFTE for Fintech.
Keep in mind, there will be an urge to have the brand as part of the community to capture data and plug a product or service. Resist this urge. Industry professionals trust their peers, not vendors. By creating a space to let fruitful discussion and idea sharing happen organically asking nothing in return, the brand can immediately gain trust points.
5. Newsletters Are Cool Again
In the 2010s, email newsletters were all the rage. They saw a significant drop off as spamming ruined the experience for many audiences. Now they’re back, but with more personalization and less being asked for in return.
The New York Times is a pioneer example when it comes to investing in newsletters, providing specialized stories based on different topics. With 70% open rates, it’s very likely that NYT newsletters are driving readers towards paid subscriptions. The media giant currently offers 71 newsletters and generates over 3.6 billion opens in 2020, a 150% increase year-over-year.
Why does this method work? Because the newsletters are personalized to the readers' exact interests, they’re completely free, and you can opt out at any time — no hard feelings. While NYT is a major player in its space with extensive resources and funding, the system is repeatable on a much smaller scale.
B2B is working its way back into the power of newsletters and primarily seeing success by following this method of offering real insights from industry thought leaders and asking nothing in return.
For me personally, a newsletter doesn’t even have to be beautifully designed or flashy. To get my attention, it simply has to be a topic I’m interested in and readable on mobile. Better yet, don’t ask me to click through the email to the website to read more, just put the whole blog or article right in the email.
This is where B2B brands build trust and brand awareness with audiences: real, informative industry insights with no clicks and no sales. Then, when it’s time to transform the newsletter list into customers, the trust is already there.
There are also a number of neat avenues for distributing newsletters within and beyond the email inbox. As a creator on LinkedIn, you can publish articles to a LinkedIn newsletter and grow a subscriber base. Platforms like Substack are also hugely popular and feature movers and shakers in industries from cybersecurity to content marketing. It’s a great place to draw on that credibility and to capture audiences who want newsletters as a preferred format.
Test the Trends, Embrace Change, and Don’t Forget to Have Fun
If you’ve made it this far, and keep up with marketing news, how are you feeling? Excited for the changes in the content world and in marketing on the whole? Nervous? Unsettled?
Personally, it’s a mix of both. We’re just at the beginning of a monumental shift in how people find information, discover new products or services, and place their loyalty and trust in brands.
In this content landscape, what we need and what people want is content, in a variety of formats and places, that is helpful, relevant, and interesting. Publisher content will still have its place to shine, even with changes to Google search, but it will need to bring unique and interesting points of view, rather than content created just to play the SEO game. In connection to that, thought leadership content and communities where people can learn, discuss, and engage with their peers will be vital pieces of an effective content strategy.
Once you have a healthy content strategy in place, you then have the freedom to experiment, and, ultimately, make genuine connections with your audience that lead to new customers and loyal champions of your brand.
What types of content are you wanting to test out this year? Take a look at how we can help spark some ideas.
Nicole is Content Director at Beacon Digital Marketing, where she leads a team of writers, editors, and strategists in creating effective content strategies backed up by compelling content that gets results. She specializes in creating content for the fintech, cybersecurity, and risk and compliance industries.