B2B marketers must recognize that their audiences are online, and content marketing fuels discovery and lead generation.

You have a great product or service to offer with some beneficial features that no one else really has. Ultimately, you help your customers solve a key problem in a way that will save them money, make them more of it or help them beat out their competitors. But you’re not getting as much as exposure as you would like or generating as many leads. Does this sound familiar?

Companies are discovered in many different ways, but if you want to be found by your potential customers and prospects when they’re looking, you need to think about who your audience members are, what kinds of things they are reading, what information they are looking for and where they are looking for it.

Today, 83 percent of B2B buyers use online channels to research B2B brands – and your business has to be part of the online landscape if you want to stand out. You can’t get people to learn about your services and ignite sales – or at least conversations – if prospects aren’t even aware of your company. 

In order to be discovered and communicate your expertise, reliability and unique offerings, you need an information-rich website and a strong presence in search and social channels. This translates into content marketing.

Let’s take a look at the evidence for why you need to get online for brand discovery and (ultimately) lead generation.

Online discovery = B2B brand awareness

Maybe you’re a software company that helps small businesses manage sales outreach, or you maybe provide consultancy and employee development training for nonprofits. Either way, you have to make sure your audience knows your business exists and understands what sets you apart.

So, how are business buyers going to discover you? They’re going to go online. Maybe they talk to their colleagues first, but with smart phones, laptops and other internet-enabled devices at their fingertips, even these conversations increasingly happen within the context of the web. In fact, Brafton recently reported that the internet tops word-of-mouth referrals for purchase decisions, and 89 percent of all Americans start their product research on search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and Bing.

Here are some things from Enquiro’s most recent Business to Business Survey to consider about B2B buyers’ partner discovery process and product research:

  • 51 percent of B2B buyers start research online directly at a search engine (and 77 percent of those start with Google)
  • 65 percent of B2B buyers become aware of brands via search engines
  • 83 percent of B2B buyers said they found the company they made a purchase with online, compared to the 14 percent who found their vendor offline and 3 percent who don’t recall where they found them – Frankly, even if you talk with me offline and suggest an interesting new strategy or idea for a service that might benefit me the first thing I would do is then use Google to conduct additional research.
  • Web visibility is considered a top factor in buyers’ awareness of different brands, rated 5.4 on a scale of one to seven
  • Search engines are a top three influencer in the areas of awareness, discovery and research among B2B buyers, and another top five influencers for all categories is vendor or distributor websites, all scoring more than five out of seven 
  • Buyers say search is even more important for B2B shopping research than it has been in the past

As more of the “digital generation” or “digital natives” move into the workforce, these trends are going to become more pronounced. For example, it was just in March of last year that Brafton reported online news consumption surpassed print newspapers for the first time.

Content marketing fuels online discovery

The data speaks for itself: when your target audience is researching products and services, they go online. It’s the most efficient way of finding information. Info gathering, staying in touch with colleagues, reading industry news and discussing potential purchases continues to move from various offline environments into the online world of forums, emails, blogs, daily news sites, social media platforms like Twitter and Linkedin, digital magazines and many other forms of content.

 “Content is King,” is a common refrain in the search engine optimization industry and that’s because search engine spiders crawl and index content, just like users coming back to a website are drawn by the content. Compelling content also acts as link bait, and link building is one of the foundations of SEO.

So in order to be visible where your potential customers are most commonly researching, you need to be found organically in search – and you can get there by fueling your brand’s presence with content that will be received favorably by search engines and social users who can share it.

Consider these stats about organic content marketing fueling online visibility:

Content marketing for B2B search presence:
Content marketing for B2B social presence
  • A UK study shows 16 percent of B2B buyers consult content on Facebook for shopping insights
  • 14 percent turn to LinkedIn
  • 11 percent consult Twitter
  • 11 percent turn to “other social sites” – Perhaps this refers to niche forums where content is shared around specific verticals.
  • 77 percent of B2B buyers said that adding social sharing buttons made content marketing either “much more influential” or “somewhat more influential”

You need to be generating content that will organically give you a presence. For more, see Brafton’s full infographic – “Why Content for SEO.”

Content marketing drives inbound leads 

Once you get people to discover your business online and drive relevant traffic to your site, it’s essential that you provide them useful information – about your products, about industry developments that generate demand for your services, about how to get maximum ROI from your offerings and more. 

Here’s some more data to consider about the power of SEO web content for lead generation:

Here’s an example of how one Brafton client in the sales software industry has seen online conversions grow by adding content marketing to its website and sharing it across social channels.

Conversions at end of yearThis graph looks at the online conversions on the client’s site toward the end of 2011 versus the end of 2010. (Notably, the client looks at the holiday shopping season as a time when prospects are deciding where to invest for the coming year.) The only change made to the client’s site and overall online marketing campaign was the addition of quality content, optimized for search, shared across social channels and aligned with appropriate calls to action on its site. 

So, how do I get started?

As we’ve seen, online visibility is essential for B2B brand discovery and content marketing is the key to building that search and social presence. Of course, your content needs to be optimized with targeted keywords in mind and distributed on the right social platforms for your industry. 

As you’re thinking about keywords and content here are some key questions to ask:

  • How educated is your target audience about what you do?
  • What does your audience like to read about?
  • What’s happening in your industry?
  • Do you have several different audiences who would be concerned about different things?
  • Are there keywords that ideally describe your service?
  • Are there keywords that describe what your service can do for prospects?
  • Do these keywords seem like they could fit naturally within content?

Check out these related blog posts about setting the right content marketing strategy for your brand:

 Finding killer SEO keywords for content marketing

Content marketing: How SEO and thought leadership go hand in hand

 Content marketing: Is it time to call the experts?

Internal linking: Good for SEO, good for conversions

Gordie Smith works as a business development representative at Brafton. A native of Upstate New York, in his free time he enjoys reading, soccer, the outdoors, and following the latest in online marketing trends.