B2B Content Marketing 2014 – Why, How, Success and Obstacles 2
1. Introduction ...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... 3
2. Why content marketing .................................................................................................................................................................................................... 5
3. How content marketing is done ............................................................................................................................................................................ 8
4. What works .................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... 10
5. Challenges ........................................................................ ................................................................................................................................................................ 11
6. B2B content marketing – what’s next? ....................................................................................................................................................... 13
B2B Content Marketing 2014 – Why, How, Success and Obstacles 3
No one can ignore the attention that content marketing has been attracting in the past year or two. Its own story is in part
an alternative to the problems faced by advertising and other established forms of marketing. As one of our respondents
said:“The world is more cynical, people are more savvy buyers – no one wants to be sold to.”
Xpointo Media and Collective Content wanted to find out how this reality affects B2B companies and how they are learning
about and using content marketing. In the fourth quarter of 2013 we polled B2B marketers in Europe through a survey and
several depth interviews.
What did we find? Both our quantitative and qualitative approaches confirmed that content marketing is on the rise. We
asked about content marketing strategy and found – among other things – that most respondents have one and most are
using various tactics to reach their goals.
Among many reasons for turning to content marketing, lead-generation ranks as the main goal for our respondents. Yet not
all is straightforward.
However, it is clear there are several barriers to take up. Tight marketing budgets, lack of time and insufficient understanding
as well as difficulties proving return on investment (ROI) all mean sleepless nights for marketers, especially as the discipline
is portrayed as a silver bullet to all their problems.
Every type of existing agency appears to be offering to help – as well as a new breed of content marketing specialist. So
another consideration is how much a company does in-house and how much with the help of others.
We present our findings over the coming pages. We welcome your feedback and any further views you have, using this as
a starting point, rather than anything definitive about what is a fast-evolving discipline, albeit one that already promises
Diana Abebrese Tony Hallett
Business Director, Xpointo Media EMEA Managing Director, Collective Content (UK)
B2B Content Marketing 2014 – Why, How, Success and Obstacles 4
Demographics / respondents
Our respondents confirmed they are in senior marketing roles. (Fig. 1)
Most were either responsible for marketing globally (28.2 %) or regionally (53.8 %, most likely Europe – sometimes including
the Middle East and Africa). Others had a local role. (Fig. 2)
Fig. 1 How are you responsible for your
organisation’s marketing strategy?
Fig. 2 Do you handle local, regional or global marketing?
B2B Content Marketing 2014 – Why, How, Success and Obstacles 5
2. Why content marketing
We began by asking respondents to our survey about the full range of channels they use in their marketing. (Fig. 3) Fifteen
areas were mentioned. While almost nine out of 10 use tactics such as physical events and LinkedIn, at the other end of the
list only just over one out of 12 cited mobile advertising.
What’s perhaps most interesting about all these disciplines is that they can, in all kinds of ways, play into an organisation’s
content marketing strategy.
But saying something is part of your arsenal isn’t the same as knowing what matters most to you as a marketer. We also
asked how important each activity is. (Fig. 4)
The company website ranked the most important for marketing activities, averaging 4.38 out of a maximum of 5.00 across
all respondents. Then there is a clear second tier, running from physical events (3.85) to company blog (3.36).
Finally there is a third grouping, running from advertising on websites (3.00) to advertising in print publications (2.36).
The latter shows just how far print advertising has fallen but in that last tier there are categories that we predict will rise,
including the use of Facebook – even for B2B brands – and mobile apps and ads.
One of the reasons for the gap
between a company website
and a company blog is that
even when companies run
their blog from their main
website, some consider the
blog a separate entity – often
with different design elements,
writing styles, contributors and
stakeholders. Standalone blog
– sitting apart from a main
company website on its own
content management system
– comes in much lower, at 2.61.
Fig. 3 What is currently included in your marketing activity?
Adv in print publications
Office company blog
Advertise on website
Send email newsletter
Company website 89.7%
Fig. 4 How important is each of the following in marketing activities? 5-Point index
3.73 3.64 3.58
3.45 3.42 3.39 3.39
B2B Content Marketing 2014 – Why, How, Success and Obstacles 6
A content marketing strategy
Just under six out of 10 (59.0 %) of the B2B marketers we polled told
us they have or are planning to implement a content marketing
strategy. This is a little higher than some industry studies. (It is far
more common for a company to be using content marketing
tactically than have a strategy.) A content strategy should be wider
than content marketing – covering all types of content used by a
company for all kinds of reasons – but will be invaluable in making
content marketing efforts consistent in style, tone of voice, distribution
and much more.
But in line with other research, 64.1 per cent of respondents told us
content marketing is an increasing priority for their organisation. Of
the remainder, precisely a third told us content marketing is staying
about the same, priority-wise, for them. Only 2.6 per cent said it is
So it’s strategically important and on the rise. But why do content
marketing at all?
We asked our respondents about their primary objectives for content
marketing (Fig. 5). One reason outstrips all others by a distance – lead
In the qualitative parts of our research we heard a number of
variations on this. As well as“lead-generation”, respondents told us:“To build a nurture programme”or“Create pipeline”or
simply“Lead generation is the key area”.
Lead generation was cited almost exactly three times more than the next highest objectives, social engagement (16.7
%) and sales (also 16.7 %), and four times more than still-important objectives such as product awareness and thought
leadership (both at 12.5 %).
Next on our list of reasons came website traffic, brand awareness, return on investment and targeted content strategy.
5 must-haves for a successful lead
1. Think like your customer. Consider
their needs, pain points and what defines
them – across the buying journey. It’s about
them and their customers, not you and your
products. Know their language – and use it.
2. Multiple ways to engage. Mix it up –
short-form, long-form, visual content, videos.
All are valid for different audiences at
different times. This also means multiple
calls to action (CTAs) and metrics – from
clicks to likes and from data capture
to trial downloads, all with the goal of taking
a customer to the next stage.
3. The right content. It’s about more than
format – consider tone of voice, relevance,
consistency, quantity/frequency and using
humour at appropriate times. Content
must feel true to your brands – that’s
the authenticity everyone talks about – as
well as be engaging.
4. Cross-channel. Online and offline, work
with other marketing teams to integrate
content and ensure consistency. But
centralise content strategy, audits and
tracking to deliver a single report against
each piece of content and each user.
5. Prioritise brand loyalty and
evangelism with key customers.
How can your content affect this? How
likely are influential customers to share your
content with their peers? Niche market
targeting may prove to deliver better results
than a mass-market scattergun.
Fig. 5 What are the primary objectives of your content
Lead generation 50%
B2B Content Marketing 2014 – Why, How, Success and Obstacles 7
But not everything is rosy (Fig. 6). Content marketing has gained momentum as economies have exited recession but in
many cases marketing budgets haven’t recovered to their pre-2008 levels.
One marketer at a large software vendor told us:“Our budget is declining and we need to do more with less. We need to
use different channels and content demands are on the rise. We’re switching budget from PR to content marketing.”
Lack of time to dedicate to projects,
at 40 per cent, tops the reasons for
not doing content marketing. Next
came budget limitations and those
for whom it isn’t a responsibility,
even if it is adopted by their
company (both on 33.3 per cent).
Then came perhaps one of the
biggest obstacles marketers must
overcome – education. More than
one in four polled admitted to being
unsure what content marketing
Further down, it is perhaps encouraging that only just over a tenth of those we spoke to told us the benefits of content
marketing are unclear. The good news is that many respondents know‘why’they have to pay attention to content
marketing. But the question of‘how’remains, with many unsure what content marketing involves.
Fig. 6 Why isn’t content marketing part of your current plan?
Unable to attribute
ROI to content
Unable to dedicate
required amount of
time to this project
B2B Content Marketing 2014 – Why, How, Success and Obstacles 8
3. How content marketing is done
We were interested in the elements that make up an organisation’s content marketing strategy. (Fig. 7)
Content creation ranks second only to content distribution. We don’t know of any organisations that create content and
don’t want it used where appropriate but there is a gap between first and second place (83.3 to 79.2 per cent) that shows
other content, such as archived or partner content, is there to be distributed.
Several times in our depth interviews we heard that content curation (which we define as depending on human
judgement) and content aggregation (which can be automated) take a lot of effort. It is certainly lower on the list than
creation. Many of those polled have for years been comfortable with creating assets such as white papers, long before
referring to them as a type of content marketing. Meanwhile curation and aggregation are unfamiliar territory for some,
both in terms of technique and being surefooted about what should be used, be it competitor information or copyrighted
A content audit is acknowledged by many B2B marketers as a sensible early stage but those we interviewed – in line with
others we have spoken to – expressed a frustration with knowing how to properly go about this process.
In-house or outsourced?
The practical side of content marketing was important to those we spoke to, especially as they ramp up their content
Only four per cent told us they completely outsource. But by far the most common response – from 67 per cent of our
respondents – is that they use a mix of agencies and their own resources. Only 29 per cent said they handle it all in-house.
But for the three-quarters who work with external experts we were interested to know where they spend their money.
This chart isn’t specifically about content marketing but about general agency relationships. PR agencies top the list and are
used by seven out of 10 of those we polled. But only at the bottom come content marketing agencies, mentioned by 20.5
Fig. 7 What does your strategy include?
45.8% 45.8% 45.8%
B2B Content Marketing 2014 – Why, How, Success and Obstacles 9
This might be because pure-play content marketing
agencies are much less common. (That’s changing.) But
also most of these agencies – to one degree or another
– are saying they now provide content marketing
services. Certainly for some, content is a good fit.
One marketer at a telco told us:“Somebody is missing
a trick. The PR discipline, with a news-based approach
to content, should win philosophically but ad agencies
are better at measurement.”
Indeed, employing those with the right skills for
content – even in-house – is increasingly a priority,
with ex-journalists and current journalists (who usually
have to work anonymously) in demand. They are
being used by a third of those we surveyed, though
the figure could be higher if we take into account
former journalists in recent years hired by PR and other
As part of a move towards what’s commonly called
thought-leadership and part of an acknowledgement
that“customers aren’t wanting to be sold to”, according
to one depth interviewee, organisations are going
out of their way to make content that is above all else
useful and looks more like output from the established
They repeated that most modern of mantras – namely,
“brands as publishers”.
Content audits – 5 considerations
1. “What do we have?” Ahead of any new content
generation, this should be your first question.
2. Ideas, not just assets. A proper look back at
existing content isn’t just about what’s re-usable.
It will unearth past focus, frequency, quality and
inconsistencies. Most of all, have your organisation and
goals changed? Then so should your content.
3. Beyond traditional content. You may well
think content means formats such as articles, blog
posts, white papers, infographics, SlideShares, videos
and e-books – and it does. But for audits, also consider
past marketing assets – presentations from events,
brochures, how-to guides around products, internal
documents and more.
4. Broad but effective. Audits pose the twin
challenge of needing to be thorough and doable.
Some companies have hundreds of thousands of
auditable assets. You won’t be able to evaluate all of
them. They will live in different places, in different
formats and it would just take too long. So sample the
archive – then don’t take shortcuts in your method if
your sample is still several hundred pieces of content.
5. Tools? There are emerging software tools to help
you. But if they aren’t appropriate or are too complex
or expensive, seek out templates and past examples of
using simple tools such as Excel.
Fig. 8 Do you work with one or more of the following agencies?
Creative and design
B2B Content Marketing 2014 – Why, How, Success and Obstacles 10
Knowing the reasons for using content marketing and even going about doing it have proven easier than working out
whether any specific programmes or tactics are a success.
We asked which call to action (CTA), usually placed
alongside a piece of content or within a campaign, is
considered most successful – judged by best responses or
ROI. (Fig. 9)
Decades-old traditional forms of marketing, most of them
with some flavour of content, performed best. Case studies
were cited by just under half of our sample, with events
and white papers in second and third place.
Meanwhile, more modern channels in the form of ROI
calculators and webinars, when presented as the‘next click’
for an audience, were at the bottom of the table. However,
there could be mitigating circumstances such as relative
immaturity or not being suitable across every type of
business in comparison to other types of marketing.
Metrics that matter
We asked our sample of B2B marketers which metrics are
important to them. (Fig. 10)
Top of the table - though very close together – were
website enquiries, leads, sales and website traffic.
Despite getting lots of hype, social media metrics – such as
opt-ins and social engagement – were lower down the list.
Across all our depth interviews, ROI/measurement was
a common point of pain. (See quote below.) Some said
they can draw a link between content marketing and their
wider corporate objectives but they were just as likely to
report anecdotal success.
4. What works
Fig. 9 What are your best performance calls to action
(Best responding/Best ROI)? 5-Point index
Fig. 10 How important are these metrics in measuring success in
your content marketing activites? 5-Point index
4.42 4.29 4.29 4.21
Are we selling more?
“We’ve got to figure out a way of measuring this stuff, to find out what’s good, what’s bad,
where we should be putting our money and ultimately trying to link it to sales, which has
always been the challenge of any sort of marketing communications.”
B2B Content Marketing 2014 – Why, How, Success and Obstacles 11
Despite all the positivity about content marketing, those we spoke to admitted areas where they face challenges. ROI/
measurement is one, as we’ve just shown.
But there were big differences between the challenges mentioned. (Fig. 11)
Two-thirds of respondents said they find it hard to differentiate their offerings.
Much has been spoken in industry
circles over the past year about
authentic content – especially when
it is created by an agency or ghost-
written for an executive – but only
an eighth of our sample mentioned
assuring authenticity of content.
And make no mistake, external
agencies will increasingly be used for
reasons of flexibility and lower risks.
When asked to give the number one
challenge faced when implementing
a content marketing strategy,
differentiation came in equal top
alongside resource to create quality
content on 29.2 per cent. (Fig. 12)
The volume of content required
came third (20.8 %), showing both
qualitative and quantitative issues
tend to be front of mind for marketers.
One marketer at a large computer hardware vendor said:“Translation is a major issue for us. We are translating into eight
other languages, which creates delays and other issues.”
Fig. 11 What are the top challenges you face when implementing your content
Content iteration for
Getting content signed off
in a timely manner
Localising content for
domestic regional markets
Resource to create volume
of content required
Resource to create
Fig. 12 Ranked number one challenge when implementing content marketing strategy
Resource to create
volume of content
DifferentationResource to create
B2B Content Marketing 2014 – Why, How, Success and Obstacles 12
A marketer in telecoms added:
“Everyone wants to have their say. The
more people you have in the approval
process the longer it takes and the
worse it gets.”[see box out]
Meanwhile, others claimed less of a
problem. Another marketer said:“Our
CMO has said that if you think it’s pretty
much right, then go for it.”
One area that is hard to pick out in the
survey percentages but came through
in some of the interviews was the use of
One respondent working in enterprise
software said:“We have all the tools but
now the tools need to work together.
That’s my biggest struggle.”
3 steps for a smooth sign-off process
1. Identify the decision-maker. This is the single most impor-
tant goal in any sign-off scenario. At the beginning of any content-
related process, ask“Who decides?”Most organisations like to make
decisions by committee, sometimes running to tens of people. Note:
This goal won’t always be achievable.
2. Have somewhere to go. In a minority of cases, marketers can
be paralysed over what content to use or not. Have an out. It can be the
CMO. It can be the MD or owner at a small company. It can be the head
of an editorial board – established for all kinds of reasons but with this
tricky scenario in mind.
3. Versioning is your god. As different stakeholders suggest
changes and edits, someone must track who is contributing what. Es-
tablish rules for this, be on top of common tools such as track changes
and margin comments. Make sure everyone works from the same ver-
sion. Consider platforms such as Basecamp instead of multiple rounds
of emails with attachments that can leave people out or get deleted.
B2B Content Marketing 2014 – Why, How, Success and Obstacles 13
6. B2B content marketing – what’s next?
Over the coming years, as our research and others’make clear, we will see a lot more content marketing being used by
companies and even governments and NGOs. The only debate at that level seems to be whether we’ll simply start to call
it‘marketing’, with the content element having become a given.
Yet marketing with content isn’t straightforward. For that reason, organisations will be bringing expertise in-house and
turning to external agencies more. The two aren’t contradictory – organisations are likely to do both.
Those using content tactically, perhaps as they have for many years, even before the term‘content marketing’came along,
are likely to reduce in number. However, content strategy will go hand in hand with cold-blooded content marketing.
Why‘cold-blooded’? Because organisations will be clearer about what they’re trying to achieve.
Our study shows that by this point those charged with using content effectively in their marketing know a thing or two.
They are aware about reaching different audiences in different ways. They also know they mustn’t repeat past mistakes –
on the flip side, they can reuse or curate where that makes sense.
They must also coordinate across more than countries – mostly across regions, sometimes globally. Often the same
content will be effective in more than one place, albeit with the need for localisation (another pain point) at times.
And coordination takes on a technical flavour. Consider all the marketing automation software, the different platforms,
the tools promising to solve all problems. They must join up, we were told.
Xpointo and Collective Content know that most of the time we only learn by trying. Kick some tyres to see who can
do what. Don’t be afraid to bring expertise in-house – at the very least those hires will be good at seeing through poor
external agencies. And consider carefully those you work with externally. Instead of‘bolted-on’content marketing, seek
individuals and agencies for whom content is central, preferably part of their DNA.
Lastly, we say prioritise what you can control. That means assets that no one else can take away. We were pleased to see,
as shown in Fig 3 (page 5), that‘company website’leads marketing activity. Other platforms such as social media can be
altered, acquired – even shut down. Your company website, email lists, self-hosted standalone blog, events and more can
keep on giving for many years, unlike many other types of marketing that are dead the moment you stop making the
Content marketing is in it for the long haul. Own it, understand it, plan for it properly and seek the best people to help
you get it right.
Xpointo Media and Collective Content surveyed and carried out depth interviews with 40 senior European business
technology marketers across the final quarter of 2013.