By Robert Rose published June 3, 2014

Make the Most of Your B2B Marketing Channels: Research on Webinars

webinars cover cmi researchWe are all aware that the process of engaging consumers has changed — so much so that the cliché of starting a blog post or conference presentation with a series of “did you know the world is changing?” statistics has reached astounding proportions.

Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that content marketing — and how brands use it to interact with buyers at all stages of their engagement journey — is fundamentally reshaping the way businesses create their go-to-market strategies. This impact is both good and bad. As Joe and I have discussed frequently on our podcast, there are strategies and then there are “random acts of content.” Either of those activities will affect the business — it’s just a matter of how. 

As the first rule of holes goes, “If you are in one, stop digging.” So, interestingly, I think we’ve moved well beyond the question of if content can affect our business — there’s simply no doubt that every single business is producing more content than it ever has before. The task at hand is to determine how it should affect our business, and what we should be doing about it.

Where is the biggest impact of B2B content?

With all due irony noted, let me hit you with two statistics. According to Sirius Decisions, business buyers now go through 67 percent of their buying process by consuming content online. This doesn’t necessarily mean sales isn’t involved; it just means that prospects are holistically consuming content as part of their buyer’s journey. Forrester Research has gone even further, stating that buyers may be anywhere from “two-thirds to 90 percent of the way through their journey before they ever reach out to the vendor.”

Though it ultimately doesn’t matter which number is right, what’s important is how businesses identify, create, and manage content opportunities to address the challenges brought by these process shifts. This includes the need for all functions of the business to be facile with content — not just the marketing team.

Are you watching your marketing channels, or are they watching you? 

One of the greatest challenges for many B2B businesses is where to use this content. While many of the most popular marketing channels we deliver our fabulous content on are new, just as many are mature and are solely used for their tried-and-true legacy purposes. For many B2B businesses the website still functions only as a direct marketing brochure; print is still just for delivering promotions or one-sheets; television is still only leveraged for 30-second ads; and email is the way to go for customer newsletters. And just as early television shows were simply filmed radio programs, many content marketing tactics are simply “classic” marketing techniques wrapped in a new format. Thus, when these marketing efforts don’t achieve expected results, the whole process (rather than the channel approach) gets discarded.

Now, remember both the Sirius Decisions and the Forrester number are averages — not best case (or worst, depending on your point of view) scenarios. How much of a B2B buyer’s journey will be fulfilled through consuming content will vary greatly, depending on the industry and the product or service being considered for purchase.

For example, it’s highly unlikely that the purchaser of microprocessors or someone looking for a banker to handle an extremely complex financial transaction would go through two-thirds of his or her buying cycle by exclusively searching for and engaging with content online. No. You can bet that they’re talking to someone early and frequently.

Though content may not be the key to “greasing the funnel” for some of these more complex products and services, it may play an extremely important role in higher-level engagement of the influencers of that purchase. Or, it may play an important role in educating the purchasers of that product that a new approach or solution even exists.

Our new study: Webinars are one prime example

It’s critical that B2B businesses learn to balance the effectiveness of both new and existing marketing channels — and experiment with where it’s best to deliver content during their customer engagement journey. We at CMI have seen evidence of this need while finishing a new study on webinars as a marketing channel.

Webinars have been a method of B2B online communication, literally, since the beginning of the web. From a marketing and sales perspective, they have long been one of the more popular ways to deliver mid-funnel focused content to prospective buyers.

Traditionally, they’ve been used to present sales/product demonstrations, training, and online education illustrating thought leadership around particular topics. And, from a content marketing perspective, webinars have always been a fairly popular tactic, as well: CMI’s broader research shows that marketers consistently rate webinars among the top 12 most frequently used tactics, and among the top five most effective.

So why the gap between usage and effectiveness? How are the most successful marketers using webinars as part of their content marketing strategy? Are webinars producing a good return on investment? To what degree are marketers experimenting with broader uses for webinars (e.g., to create engagement and brand awareness), and are those approaches effective? These are the questions we began asking ourselves prior to conducting this research.

Our hypothesis going into this study was that webinars are effective for engaging audiences across more stages of the buying cycle than previously thought. Ultimately, this research study sought to test that hypothesis.

With the help of Adobe Connect underwriting this research, we surveyed 227 marketers, half of whom currently use webinars and half who do not.

Overall, the study seems to confirm the importance of occasionally revisiting the roles particular channels should play in our marketing strategies. I think you’ll find the results to be enlightening, but check it out for yourself by reading the full study: Webinars: They’re Not Just for Leads Anymore.

Here are a few more key findings from the study:

  • Marketers who prioritize tactics other than webinars may be missing an opportunity to broaden their use of webinars and extract even greater value than they may have achieved when using webinars for just one purpose (e.g., training).
  • Marketers who take the time to integrate webinars and document them into a cohesive content marketing strategy are realizing new opportunities for engagement, brand awareness, and thought leadership; having a documented content strategy in place increases the chances for success.
  • Developing strategies around higher-funnel opportunities — such as audience development, thought leadership, and relationship building — can reinvigorate or strengthen a webinar program.
  • Marketers who are broadening the scope of their webinars are finding more opportunity for ROI and cost-effectiveness from this approach. Webinars are most cost-effective when integrated across the customer’s buying journey.
  • Generating content and audience development are the biggest challenges for marketers using webinars. However, those with strong, integrated content marketing strategies are less challenged with attracting audiences, which gives them more time to develop quality content.

The opportunity to derive great value out of a (now) classic, mature, and well-worn media channel is here. Webinar tools have evolved, and so too must the content marketer’s use of them.

Download the full report: Webinars: They’re Not Just for Leads Anymore.

Author: Robert Rose

Robert Rose is the Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory - the education and advisory group of The Content Marketing Institute. As a strategist, Robert has worked with more than 500 companies including global brands such as Capital One, Dell, Ernst & Young, Hewlett Packard, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Robert is the author of three books. His latest, Killing Marketing, with co-author Joe Pulizzi has just been released. His last book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, was called a “treatise, and a call to arms for marketers to lead business innovation in the 21st century.” You can hear Robert on his weekly podcast with co-host Joe Pulizzi, "This Old Marketing”. Robert is also an early-stage investor and advisor to a number of technology startups, serving on the advisory boards for a number of companies, such as Akoonu, DivvyHQ and Tint. Follow him on Twitter @Robert_Rose.

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  • Neal Taparia

    Hey Robert,

    Great article. We’ve had a lot of success nurturing leads with webinars. One thing we started doing is communicating at the end of the webinar that we’ll do an optional demo of our product. It’s therefore split into an education segment, and then the demo segment.

    During the demo segment, we provide a CTA to sign up to our service. It has generated more trials and sales for us, and has helped funnel users faster.

    • Carlos Abler

      That’s a great architecture. Bridges information seeking needs of what could translate as two “funnel stages”, as well as transitioning people from one stage to another within the same asset. Very nice. I wonder if you are monitoring behavior. Do people drop off during the demo, indicating that those who stay may have a different lead score? Perhaps to imprecise to measure that well since people who leave early may have left for other reasons and people who stay may not still be watching. But is interesting.

      • Neal Taparia

        That would be great intelligence. To take it a step further, you could send those who dropped off the webinar deck, ideally starting at the point where they left.

        I’ve also found that asking questions and polls consistently keeps people engaged, and might be an indicator of lead intelligence.

    • Robert Rose

      Neal… that’s a great idea… It’s the “choose your own adventure” type of Webinar program… Ha… Great idea…

    • Sanjay Singh

      Hi Neil
      We are thinking of using webinars in a similar way. Quick question…

      Do you offer the demo immediately at the end of the webinar for those who want to stay back… or do you do it on a later date for the group… or do you do it later one-on-one.

      • Neal Taparia

        Hey Sanjay, we do it immediately after. We think that gets us maximum exposure.

        • Sanjay Singh

          Thanks Neal. We have used reports and videos for marketing in the past. We haven’t used webinars but I am planning on using it in the next few weeks.

  • Hashim Warren

    The link seems to be incorrect for ” Webinars: They’re Not Just for Leads Anymore.”

  • Carlos Abler

    Thanks for this research and article. IMO these Sirius and Forrester stats have only a really basic takeaway. That digital channels are the 21st century equivalent of “location location location”. That you need to have content to address needs/solution related information seeking behaviors to virtualize the “consultative selling” type situation. Once marketers get the “aha” that a lot goes down in non-traditional engagement channels, the applicability of those aggregate statistics pretty much ends and needs to focus on real buying behaviors. Like the mattress example where people make on average 5 trips to a brick and mortar store, and engage any number of other channels in a complex channel oscillation. That type of scenario probably accounts for much complex decision buying behaviors. Most certainly in manufacturing you might have and oscillation between 7 customer-side players, channel partners who are selling, your business that is specifying, customer’s manufacturing partners, customer colleagues, and on and on.

    In any case webinars are a great tool that I think meets many engagement level needs. You can keep some distance from the business if you aren’t ready to directly engage a human, but can still benefit from the consultative expertise of the business, taking them on a test run as it were.

    • Robert Rose

      Thanks Carlos…. Great thoughts…. I think one of the keys of the Sirius/Forrester numbers is that they are often (mistakenly in my mind) used to show how content is *replacing* the sales/nurturing process… I think content is rather best “infused into” the sales/nurturing process…. In many cases the sales guy can actually physically deliver the content to the prospect…. As Ardath Albee has said much more elegantly than i – in the B2B complex sale – sales people now become the “facilitator of buying”… Content can be a fuel for that (as you point out)… Anyway – thanks for the great comment.