How Content Influences the B2B Buyer’s Path to Purchase

B2B Technology

Each phase of the B2B buyer’s path to purchase involves digital content consumption, and a lot of it. B2B buyers expect and require educational content to guide and inform their purchase decisions. Significant investments with business-wide implications necessitate a prolonged research process with various information inputs. This reliance on diverse content sources poses an opportunity for B2B brands to satisfy the information needs and expectations of B2B buyers and to increase consideration in the purchase process. By implementing a comprehensive content marketing strategy with solution-focused content, B2B brands can influence each stage of the purchase life cycle from awareness to conversion.

Research released by IDG Connect, CMO Council and NetLine, and salesforce.com’s Pardot proves the key role that digital content plays in B2B purchase decisions. The results also offer insight into developing a nuanced content marketing strategy to reach and engage B2B buyers. Here are the key findings to help B2B brands understand the purchase behavior trends and digital consumption habits of this audience to develop an effective content mix.

B2B buyers perform extensive online research to validate and inform their purchase decisions. Seventy percent of B2B buyers perform two to three rounds of online research before presenting a purchase recommendation to a manager. Of those surveyed, 12 percent conduct more than three rounds of research. This phased approach to online research presents an opportunity for B2B brands to produce content that aligns with the B2B buyer’s mindset in each research stage. Eighty-seven percent of B2B decision makers report that content has either a moderate or major role in vendor selection. Because content has a fixed role in the purchase process, it is crucial for B2B brands to produce valuable, educational content to impact the buyer’s decision.

Each stage of the research cycle requires various types of information and, subsequently, diverse forms of content. Seventy-six percent of B2B buyers prefer different kinds of content for each phase of the purchase process. As they travel along the purchase path, B2B buyers seek content that aligns with their corresponding information needs. B2B brands must develop multifaceted content strategies to accommodate these expectations. Distinct content types should be constructed to map to each stage of the purchase process.

Editorial content that offers in-depth insights is the most influential content type during the purchase process. B2B brands should target buyers in the early stages of the decision-making process with short-form editorial content. Seventy percent of those surveyed prefer content under five pages. Despite this partiality for brevity, the research also proves that B2B decision makers are indifferent to content that offers high-level insights. Content that assists with identifying new solutions to problems has the largest role in influencing purchase decisions. Therefore, content should deliver problem-solving insights to satisfy this preference. B2B buyers consume blog content authored by three key segments: analysts, vendors, and peers. Based on this segmentation, B2B brands should engage with industry influencers to leverage their expertise and thought leadership while also producing content that reflects their brand’s perspective.

Search engines are the gateway to the B2B content discovery process. The research found that search engines are the leading content sources used in the technology purchase decision process. Among various search engines, Google led with the highest usage percent (58) among those surveyed. Similarly, 72 percent of product research for a future business purchase begins on Google. Ninety-eight percent of those surveyed agreed that their search terms become more specific as their research process develops, so brands should produce content optimized around keywords and phrases that align with each phase of the purchase process. It is essential to appear in relevant search results as B2B buyers launch their research efforts.

Social media networks are trusted sources for purchase recommendations. B2B buyers turn to their social networks to influence their purchase decisions, particularly in the initial educational phases of the purchase cycle. Eighty-six percent of B2B information technology buyers use social media during the purchase decision process. Among other social networks and online sources, Facebook represents the largest share of usage during each stage of the purchase process. Creating content with provocative headlines, in-depth content, and compelling visuals that inspire social sharing allows B2B brands to leverage the credibility of social recommendations.

B2B buyers crave and expect content to help them make strategic purchase decisions. They are not impulsive buyers, and they conduct thorough online research before investing in a product or service. Therefore, B2B brands should capitalize on this information-hungry mentality by developing content that appeals to the B2B buyer’s information needs in each phase of the purchase cycle. It is critical to develop a presence across search and social channels to increase consideration among B2B buyers and appear as a trusted source of information—ultimately influencing the final purchase decision.

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