Why B2B Content Marketing Demands an Evolution

Predicting the “death” of a media-related technology will get you in trouble most quickly. Next is the worst prediction. Saying that there will be no replacements.

Watch me stay out of trouble.

Our journey began in 1995.

We were 22 years away from the invention the internet in that year. (In this year, we are 22 years removed from I’ll Be There for You, the Friends theme song, hitting no. It reached number 1 on the pop charts. But I digress.

In February 1995, then weekly national print magazine Newsweek predicted: “(N)o online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher, and no computer network will change the way government works.”

Newsweek is now available 26 years later in the greatest irony OnlyOnline, millions of students around the globe attend school virtually every day. The impact of social media networks on government cannot be described as transformative.

But predictions of the internet’s evolution would kill legacy media formats have proven to be just as false. In many ways, as Miracle Max in The Princess Bride might say, they’re “mostly dead.”

Are you asking when?

How do you know when it is time to move? Is it worth keeping old formats? Is your B2B content marketing like Blockbuster videos?

Are old formats worth clinging to? Is your B2B #ContentMarketing like Blockbuster video, asks @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent @GetFoleon. #Research Click To Tweet

These are questions that are frequently asked by the marketers we work alongside. A financial services company wants to know when it should stop sending its thought-leadership email with a PDF attachment and switch to a different format. An e-commerce business wants to know when its brochure should be stopped printing in order to make way for a digital copy. A tech company needs to know when it is time to transform its resource repository of PowerPoint presentations or PDF files into something new.

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Avoid anchor approaches

Though legacy media formats successfully exist today, they also can be an anchor, slowing a business’ ability to innovate and transform. Businesses hold onto old media formats to hinder customer experience evolution.

The New York Times is an excellent example of this on-purpose reasoning. In 2014, in their groundbreaking, leaked innovation report, the internal team lamented their transition to fully digital as “most difficult”:

Companies without a legacy platform can focus on creating the best digital reports and have the advantage of not having to worry about maintaining it. This transition can be difficult for newspaper companies. Many of our competitors have assumed responsibility for daily operations. [print]To make it easier for everyone to focus on digital, we have made paper into small, standalone teams.

Digital news organizations were aware of the benefits of creating digital experiences for their customers long before digital news organizations. The disadvantage of a legacy brand such as The New York Times, which started in the printed era, was that it was not able to go all-in with digital consumer experiences. They argued that any effort to speed the digital transition would benefit print news, which was now outdated.

Blockbuster vs. Netflix was a great example for the obstructed-view reasoning. Now, it’s far too simplistic to say that Blockbuster was “ignorant” to internet streaming and Netflix evolved faster. Blockbuster attempted to become a digital business, and almost succeeded in this endeavor, according to more balanced analyses of the history. It was the ability to convince shareholders that it was necessary to reinvent itself quickly and the high cost of physical DVD management that led to Blockbuster’s demise.

But is this inevitable for all companies as well?

Thinking holistic

What content experiences consumers choose today is determined by their context, not the format features or quality. The concept is known as whole product theory – consumers choose more than the core (media) product itself. They choose a product combination with the contextual and complimentary attributes that surround it.

Context, not format features, dictates consumers’ preferred #content experiences, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent @GetFoleon. #Research Click To Tweet

Simply put: Content consumers will be more likely to value a media form if it fits their personal context better than if it is newer, better quality, or offers more features.

As in Blockbuster vs. Netflix, legacy media experiences don’t become obsolete when a better media type is available. They become obsolete when the legacy experience is rendered contextually irrelevant for the consumer.


What’s a B2B marketer to do?

B2B companies have seen the entire product theory in action. The digital content development has been a constant race over the past 20 years. Eight years ago, SiriusDecisions (now owned by Forrester Research) found up to 67% of the buyer’s journey was digital. Research firm Gartner has found 27% of B2B buyers’ time is spent reviewing content they research independently online.

A 2020 McKinsey study found “B2B companies see digital interactions as two to three times more important to their customers than traditional sales interactions.” CMI’s own research has found the biggest investment by B2B marketers in 2021 is digital content creation (70%), followed closely by “website enhancements” (66%).

70% of B2B marketers expect digital #content creation as their biggest investment in 2021 via @CMIContent @GetFoleon. #Research Click To Tweet

B2B audiences expect more from digital experiences today. Yet, the majority of B2B learning or resource centers are legacy repositories that contain siloed assets that have been subdivided and subdivided using static formats.

Conclusion: It is not the death knell for classic digital file formats, but to address the context of today’s buyers, B2B businesses must evolve to create more compelling digital content marketing experiences.

These are the four questions that will help you determine when the best time to make a change.

  • Are we able meet the content quality and quantity required to deliver differentiated and personalized content experiences for our customers?
  • To what extent are our content experiences “interusable” and integrated into our content marketing technology infrastructure?
  • How quantifiable are your content marketing efforts?
  • What capabilities do you need to gather intent data?

B2B content marketing is going through the same transformations as Netflix, Blockbuster, The New York Times, and every other media company. We must not be tied to legacy processes, technologies, or digital experiences. As marketers, we must realize new disruptive competition is coming from every angle and be ready to answer the questions – and act on our answers.

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In the spirit of the conversation in this article, you can read our take on the future of creating these digital experiences – along with a discussion guide for the questions you should ask – in this downloadable PDF or Digital experience – NewWe created this partnership with our sponsor, Foleon.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute