6 Types of Research that Will Make Your B2B Content Marketing More Effective

June 29, 2022

Successful content marketing makes relevant, helpful information available to your target audience on the channels they frequent.

In today’s crowded world of digital B2B (business-to-business) marketing, content must be great if it’s going to standout.

Greatness is a function of grabbing the audience’s attention and holding it long enough to convey something of value. It’s also a matter of delivering the right information, in the right place, at the right time.

How can you optimize for each of those dimensions?

Paradoxically, there is no sure-fire answer.  If there were, we would all apply it and end up back where we started, drowning in undifferentiated noise.

However, those who invest the time to continuously research, monitor, and optimize their content—and their content strategy—gain an advantage over those who prefer to “wing it”.

Doing your homework is the most reliable way of passing the exam that your target audience is administering.

Research that answers the following six questions is key to producing and publishing effective content:

⭐ Who makes up your target audience?

⭐ What topics and issues are of greatest importance to them?

⭐ Where do they turn to find relevant information?

⭐ How do they like to receive that information?

⭐ When are they most receptive to receiving it?

⭐ Why do some of your content pieces perform better than others?

Let’s explore each question to understand why it matters and how you can set about finding the answers.


Who makes up your target audience?

The starting point for any content marketing strategy or campaign is deciding who it’s for.

For your company’s overarching content strategy, this means identifying your ideal customer (a company, in the B2B world) and the buying committee that makes its purchase decisions.

When optimizing a subset of your content, it’s important to properly identify the subset of your audience for whom it will be relevant.

In both cases, what you publish won’t be relevant and helpful to everyone. That’s impossible, because your product or service isn’t designed for everyone, and different members of your target audience are looking for different things at different stages in their buyer’s journey.

Key research activities:

⭐ Define your ideal customer profile – a set of characteristics that defines businesses for which your solution is of the greatest value, and that can bring the greatest lifetime customer value to your company.

⭐ Define target personas representing the buying committee –typically 8-12 archetypal characters, each of whom plays a role in researching, evaluating, and selecting a solution like yours.

⭐ When appropriate, define the targeting criteria that identify a subset of your target audience for a specific campaign or piece of content.


What topics and issues are of greatest importance to your target audience?

Some leaders misconstrue this question as: what topics do we most want to talk about?

The key to optimizing content performance is understanding the other side of the equation: what can we talk about that our target audience most wants to hear?

This requires a deep understanding of the needs, beliefs, and emotions that your target personas experience as they navigate their buyer’s journey.

Buyer’s journey mapping is a rigorous, time-consuming, and informative approach to assessing and capturing this information.

A buyer’s journey map (BJM) is an evergreen document. As you learn more about your target personas—and as their needs and behaviors change—you update the BJM, which, in turn, fuels your content strategy.

A comprehensive set of BJMs (one for each key persona) gives you a solid foundation on which to build key messages and choose an optimum set of marketing channels, technologies, metrics, and tactics.

Key research activities:

⭐ Develop target persona profiles including their objectives, motivators, challenge to be solved, and the potential value to them of solving that challenge.

⭐ Construct a buyer’s journey map for each persona including the needs, wants, beliefs, emotions, and channel preferences they experience at each stage of their buyer’s journey (awareness, evaluation, selection, implementation, and loyalty.)

⭐ Extract key messages from your BJMs that will provide your target audience with relevant, helpful information at each stage of their journey.

⭐ Identify the channel(s) that each persona turns to when seeking information to help them make good decisions and progress through their journey.

⭐ Identify technologies that your team can use to consistently publish high-quality content on your preferred channels without over-burdening your team.


Where does your target audience turn to find relevant information?

Speaking of channels, your objective is to meet your audience on the channels that they prefer.

Once again, this is about them, not you.  It’s the channels they want to peruse, not the channels on which you might choose to publish.

Your BJM analyses will identify a shortlist of channels preferred by each persona at each stage of their journey. Some channels will be relevant to multiple stages, while others will only matter in one or two places.

Select 3-4 channels on which you will publish your content.

Only 3-4? Yes, because trying to master more channels than that will result in diluted effort and suboptimal results.

If you have a large team or have been optimizing your content marketing strategy for at least a year and can manage existing channels with your eyes shut, add something new to the mix.

Whatever happens, don’t channel-hop.  Humans and algorithms both reward consistency, so publish regularly on your chosen channels to build domain authority and earn mind share.

Key research activities:

⭐ Identify the channels on which your target personas spend the most time.

⭐ Validate your channel assumptions by asking actual prospects and customers where they typically find the most relevant information.


How does your target audience like to receive relevant information?

Another aspect of content marketing that varies from stage-to-stage along the buyer’s journey is the format in which information should be shared.

A half-dozen content types will perform best at each stage for a given audience. Your challenge is to figure out which ones they are for your target personas.

Key research activities:

⭐ Determine which content formats are most effective at each stage by publishing the same core content in different formats, gathering performance data, and observing whatworks best.

⭐ Validate your observations across multiple experiments to avoid overreacting to a false positive or false negative result.

⭐ Document your assumptions and revisit them regularly. Buyer preferences change as content types move in and out of fashion, and whenever new formats and channels are introduced.


When is your target audience most receptive to receiving information?

Knowing which channels to publish on is a great start but it’s not the whole answer.

You need to make two more decisions: how frequently to publish on each channel, and at what time of day to publish.

Many articles have been written on the merits of publishing at different frequencies on popular channels, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram—usually based on statistical analysis of actual user data.  The results vary but can be generalized as “more is better, provided the quality is high”.

On social media, posting a few times per week is essential if you want to build a following and establish your company as a reliable source of information.

When blogging, a weekly cadence will deliver significantly more impact—and faster—than fortnightly or monthly.  

Having chosen your publication cadence, you must decide on what day(s) and at what time(s) those pieces will be released.

Specialists like Sprout Social publish helpful statistics showing when popular social media networks are at their busiest.

However, those peak periods aren’t necessarily when you should release content.

Yes, there will be a lot of people online to see it. But there might also be a lot of content competing for those eyeballs.

You should experiment to discover when your target audience is most responsive to your content.  This will require gathering data over an extended period to help normalize for externalities that drive traffic higher or lower, such as holidays and other attention-sapping events.

Key research activities:

⭐ Investigate how frequently your direct and indirect competitors are publishing new content. Use this to guide your own publication cadence. If you can’t sustain something similar, consider reducing the number of channels on which you’re trying to compete for attention.

⭐ Conduct experiments to understand when your target audience is most responsive to your content.  Gather performance data over an extended period while publishing content on different days and at different times and note any measurable differences.


Why do some of your content pieces perform better than others?

Even after doing everything within your power to publish the right stuff on the right channels at the right times, not all pieces of content will perform equally.

And with so many external variables in play, there won’t always be a discernable reason for the difference in performance.  

But it doesn’t hurt to look. Companies that rigorously gather and analyze content performance data learn and optimize faster than those relying on intuition and sporadic experimentation.

It’s sensible to double down on content concepts that become top performers while working to fix or remove the ones that flop.

Content usually underperforms for one of three reasons:

- It didn’t get as many eyeballs (lack of reach)

- It didn’t generate as much engagement (lack of relevance)

- It did just fine, but your expectations were too high

If the piece wasn’t seen by enough eyeballs, republish it and give it a financial boost.

If engagement was low, check that it featured enough relevant topics and keywords, that the design and layout were captivating, and that you published on the right channel(s) at the right time(s).  Adjust and repost accordingly.

And if you overestimated how well the piece would perform, challenge your assumptions. Were they based on an earlier piece that demonstrated exceptional performance? If so, what might have caused that piece to be an exception rather than the rule.

Key research activities:

⭐ Identify top performing pieces of content and use them to guide some of your new content production. Double-down on pieces that work but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. What makes a piece of content work today won’t work forever.

⭐ Identify worst performing content and look for ways to improve its relevancy, appeal, and reach.  Republish tuned-up posts and give them a financial boost, then reevaluate their efficacy.


Key Takeaways

Investing part of your marketing budget in content research and experimentation will help you produce and publish more effective content.

There are six important questions you should ask:

⭐ Who makes up your target audience?

⭐ What topics and issues are of greatest importance to them?

⭐ Where do they turn to find relevant information?

⭐ How do they like to receive that information?

⭐ When are they most receptive to receiving it?

⭐ Why do some of your content pieces perform better than others?

Even after doing everything within your power to publish the right stuff on the right channels at the right times, not all pieces of content will perform equally. But doing your homework gives your content a chance to stand out in a noisy, crowded market.


Main Image: Adobe Stock

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