The evolution of B2B digital content creation

B2B businesses have seen the “whole product” theory at work as they have tried to keep up with the advancements in digital content as a core piece of the customer’s experience.

The last 20 years have been one long race to keep up with the pace of digital content development. Eight years ago, SiriusDecisions (now owned by Forrester Research) found that up to 67% of the buyer’s journey is now digital. Research firm Gartner has found that 27% of B2B buyers’ time is spent reviewing content as they research independently online. CMI’s own research into content marketing has found that the biggest investment by B2B marketers is digital content creation (71%), followed closely by “website enhancements” (66%). In 2021 – after the increased online activity fueled by Covid-19 disruptions - both B2B and B2C businesses are at the chaotic peak of a tectonic shift in the customer’s digital decision journey. The acceleration of the digital content challenge has been palpable. By some estimates, buyers “vaulted five years in the adoption of digital in just eight weeks.” And that was on top of a rapid pace of change that has been building for the last decade. Put simply: the need for B2B marketers to create more content, and faster than ever before, has never been higher. But historically, B2B businesses have been slower than their B2C counterparts to adapt and evolve into creating new kinds of digital content experiences. Today’s B2B marketers are not unlike the legacy media companies discussed earlier. Many remain stuck in the familiarity of classic, yet siloed, formats such as static web pages, PDF files, email, and even audio and video. In order to maximize their business results, they invested in digital content technology and processes, but they simply used them to scale their ability to create more siloed formats. Now, many of these B2B businesses are weighed down by these legacy formats even as they try to evolve into creating more modern digital content experiences. A CEO at one B2B Financial Services firm told us recently that “even though most of our customers now clearly prefer our Web site, we still hold to printing our quarterly thought leadership outlook and linking it as a PDF on the Web site. It’s how many of our customers expect to experience our thought leadership.” For this company, evolving a “digital experience” with their monthly, quarterly, and yearly thought leadership outlooks meant creating a variety of PDF files that were emailed or published on static web pages.

“By some estimates, in 2020, buyers vaulted five years in the adoption of digital in just eight weeks.”

Robert Rose

The evolution of digital content experiences

90+% of B2B marketers are utilizing thought leadership or other types of digital content marketing experiences to bolster their customer acquisition and retention efforts.

According to research from Content Marketing Institute, 90+% of B2B marketers are utilizing thought leadership or other types of digital content marketing experiences to bolster their customer acquisition and retention efforts. And, as mentioned earlier, the pace is only becoming more challenging. The number one factor B2B marketers cite for lack of success in content marketing, by far, content creation challenges. But the primary drivers of these digital content experiences haven’t markedly changed in the 10 years that CMI has been conducting this research. The 10 most popular formats are still the same classic formats that have dominated B2B digital experiences for as many years. Whether they are short, static blog posts, email newsletters, PDFs, pre-produced videos, webinars, infographics, eBooks, or white papers, these siloed and disparate content formats have been the primary focus.

A company creates and publishes PDFs so that content can be passed around, printed, and read offline. It creates static web pages so that there is an optimal chance they will be found, and read, by anyone on any device. Self-contained eBooks are created so that all of the information is in one file – and can be emailed as a single attachment.

Put simply: many B2B marketers have not evolved their digital content experience – even as they have tried to keep up with the digital evolution.

Video is created and hosted on YouTube so that it will be as easy and portable to distribute as possible. And all of this content is aggregated into a “resource center” or “learning center” and then compartmentalized by different formats. One B2B Technology company we spoke with still has their Resource Center divided by content types (e.g., videos, documents (PDFs), short articles, webinars). Put simply: many B2B marketers have not evolved their digital content experience – even as they have tried to keep up with the digital evolution. They have clung to old formats and old experiences. But it is holding them back.

Why? Because in 2021, B2B audiences now expect more.