Which are the best content marketing formats to engage your audience?

Emily Taylor Gregory

From CEOs and CFOs to CTOs and CHROs, the way in which audiences choose to consume content varies greatly and will largely depend on the individual. While more traditional C-suite executives still favour the long-form report, interactive data tools and case studies are far more likely to engage a younger, more tech-savvy crowd. So how do you choose the right formats to ensure your content is well received?

If brands want to engage with and influence their target audience effectively, they must choose content marketing formats that don’t just convey their stories, ideas and insights, but are also aligned with the needs and preferences of their buyers.

The key is to present audiences with choice; first, because they have different ways of consuming content, and second because the level of detail they require will vary from topic to topic. Bear in mind too that your audience will have different preferences. Some audiences will be drawn to read short pieces, while others may prefer video, audio or more visual formats.

Consequently, effective B2B content marketing is all about developing an optimal mix of formats to reflect the way today’s audiences prefer to consume content.

High performing content marketing formats

While the number of formats increases as content marketing evolves – leading software provider, Coschedule, lists 113 different types – informative, well-written blogs and shorter research-based articles remain one of the top performing content types across the board. This makes them a mainstay of much B2B content marketing, with over half of marketers saying that producing blog content is their top priority.

And is it any wonder when blogs are such an effective form of content marketing? They help to create brand awareness and boost traffic to websites. In fact, companies with blogs get over 430% more indexed pages on Google. So, not only are they more likely to appear on the first page in searches, but they also generate nearly twice as many inbound links as a site with no blogging platform.

Blogs are also relatively quick to produce, and when based on strong data and ideas contribute to a growing content library that will enhance an organisation’s reputation as a thought leader.

While short form content is valuable, there is a limit to how much depth of expertise you can convey in these pieces. Information-rich white papers and case studies are also highly valued when it comes to thought leadership. Our own research shows that they are the preferred content marketing format for nearly half of executives. Case studies are of particular benefit to buyers who are at the decision-making stage, as they offer the reassurance of seeing products and services in real-life settings.

With the needs of B2B audiences constantly changing, content marketing formats must develop accordingly if they are to continue to add value.

The movement towards more audio and visual content is part of this evolution. In a recent Reuters report, 50% of consumers say that podcasts provide more depth and understanding than other types of media. Video, in particular, is becoming an increasingly essential component of B2B content marketing strategies, with 83% of marketers saying that video helps generate leads and 80% saying it directly leads to sales (80%).

The preferred content format is often intimately linked to the particular learning style of the consumer. Whether they are a visual, auditory, verbal, social or solitary learner, for instance, will have a profound impact on how they choose to consume knowledge. The content you create for them needs to reflect this diversity.

The content consumer is in charge

As buyers progressively look to quality content for information and answers throughout the buyer’s journey (specifically at the research, consideration and evaluation stages), they expect a richer experience from the brands they choose to engage with. Good content marketing puts the customer’s experience first by giving them the content they need in the format they want, not in what format you think they should have.

Neglecting to customise your content in this way means that you risk serving the wrong content to your audiences at the wrong time, in the wrong format, and potentially neglecting parts of the buyer journey in the process. Did you know that half of all content created is in a format designed to create awareness at the top end of the sales funnel, such as blog posts, short articles and social media content? This suggests that not nearly enough longer-form content is being produced for other stages of the buyer journey. In this case, both you and your buyers are losing out.

Test content format options

It’s important to ensure the formats you choose really do engage the audience, and to measure consumption habits so you can optimise your mix of content assets for maximum impact.

Understandably there has been a big focus on digital formats recently, but don’t neglect other formats that have been proven to perform well with certain types of buyer. Many brands that engage in content marketing would probably be surprised to hear that 3,000-10,000 word blogs achieve nearly double the social shares of a much more consumable 1,000-word piece.

Our advice? Do the due diligence, find out what your audiences really want, and be prepared to rethink your expectations.
Asking prospects how they like to consume content is something few brands do, but it will give you a clear sense of their preferences. Similarly, the content marketing formats your competitors are using may also indicate what they find to be effective, and what’s not.

If you’re working with a quality content marketing agency, they should be willing to suggest and recommend what might work best, based on their vast experience of the marketplace. That may include creating content in cutting edge formats not previously considered, particularly if you are a leader in your field.

As with all content, choosing the right format should, where possible, be based on facts and evidence, rather than assumption. So, the answer is to try out different content format options and see which perform best using a range of metrics.

Backlinks from blog posts, increases or decreases in traffic flows, changes in your site’s domain authority, or the volume of social media shares, will all give an idea of what content formats are working for your audience and which are not.
Whatever the format, quality of content must always take precedence over mere quantity. That’s especially true when developing longer content formats that rely on the unique perspective they offer to create credibility.

Content and format working together

Traditionally, content marketing has been seen as a linear process, delivering increasingly challenging formats along the buyers’ journey. This, however, does not reflect the needs of prospects and customers who want to be able to choose content that’s right for them at that moment.

With two-thirds of B2B executives relying on content, even more, to inform their purchase decisions, getting the right format for them is increasingly important if you are to engage.

So, any attempt to force them into a pre-determined course is likely to backfire. This means that for brands looking to maximise their content marketing’s ROI, format should not be an afterthought but an integral component of the content creation process.

Learn more about creating your B2B content marketing strategy with our practical guide for how B2B brands can use content marketing to better engage audiences throughout the buyer journey.

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About the author: Emily Taylor Gregory

Emily is our marketing director, responsible for the brand, marketing and communications strategies for FT Longitude and the Thought Leadership Network. Emily leads our content and events programmes, our digital marketing channels, as well as our speaking engagements and PR activity, working closely with our editorial and research teams to develop and promote insight and best practice at the cutting edge of thought leadership.

Before joining FT Longitude, Emily spent 14 years working in various marketing roles in the publishing and technology sectors.

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