By Michele Linn published October 24, 2014

Is Paid Advertising Worth It? B2B Content Marketers Share Their Insights

dollars-426026_640Did you know effective B2B marketers are using paid advertising more often than their less effective peers?

While we have talked a lot about the need for a documented content marketing strategy, CMI research also reveals that effective marketers are using more paid advertising, which makes sense. As we often say, you need to market your marketing. And, while earned and owned media are quite prominent, those who fare better in content marketing rely on paid media as well. Our qualitative, executive research and conversations with marketing leaders reveal the same thing.

But, perhaps surprisingly, B2B marketers are using every single method of paid advertising less often than their B2C peers – and they find every method to be less successful. During the last segment of our B2B research roundtable, our guests talk about why this may be.

As always, a big thanks to Ardath Albee, CEO and Marketing Strategist at Marketing Interactions; Carla Johnson, Principal at Type A Communications and Vice President-Thought Leadership at the Business Marketing Association; Nick Panayi, Head of Global Brand and Digital Marketing at CSC; Gary Van Prooyen, Senior Director, North America Demand Center, at Motorola; and Steve Rotter, Vice President, Digital Marketing Solutions at Brightcove, for participating in this conversation.

Nick Panayi offers one explanation but listen to the roundtable video for more:

It’s a misconception that B2B doesn’t have the same availability of tools for paid media that B2C does … it’s just used differently. It’s not a shotgun, it’s a rifle shot.

Considering usage and effectiveness stats, Gary Van Prooyen captures what many B2B marketers may be thinking:

We wouldn’t count on anything from it, but we’ll just dip our big toe in the water.

If you are looking to “dip your big toe” in the paid-advertising water, here are some things to consider.

A quick look at the numbers

First off, it’s useful to understand how many B2B marketers are using each paid tactic – and how many of those users are finding them to be effective.



General questions to consider

While paid media has been core to marketing for an incredibly long time, it is an evolution for content marketing. In this scenario, marketers are marketing their content instead of their products or services.

It’s always important to consider the impact of your content, but it is especially important when you are trying to evaluate paid media. Chad Zimmerman talked about paid advertising in his Content Marketing World presentation, “How to Market Your Content ‘Off-Site’ and Why It’s Critical to Get Right.” (Get CMW’s Video on Demand to see his presentation.) He covered several questions you need to consider when investing in paid media:

  • What are your goals?
  • What are your KPIs?
  • How will you measure performance?
  • How will you define success?
  • How should you get started with a test?

As goals are key, here are the ones cited as important most often by B2B marketers:


Search engine marketing most used, most effective

Search engine marketing is the type of paid media used most often by B2B marketers (58%), and it’s also the medium considered to be effective by the highest percentage of users (52%).

Not only is search engine marketing something that has been used for a long time, but it allows you to highly target, and it’s a fantastic method for brand awareness and lead generation, which were cited as top goals.

Print and traditional banner ads used a lot but not deemed effective

The next two most popular types of paid media for content promotion are print (52%) and traditional online banner ads (49%). However, B2B marketers also consider these two tactics to be the least effective. Only 30% of B2B print users and 26 percent of those who use banner ads consider them to be effective. (And, in fact, print is the only paid media that effective B2B marketers use less often than their less effective peers.)

While banner ads may not seem like the natural place for content, Nick Panayi explains why they might be worth another look:

Take one example: The banner campaign. I kind of gave up on that a few years ago to tell you the truth. In B2B, it’s like buying eyeballs. It just wasn’t successful, but now you can actually use it reverse IP and actually target your message to very specific companies. Consider a company that sells 70 to 80% of a $15 billion revenue target a year to 300 customers. All of a sudden the ROI is just amazing, you can just target your messages, your company-specific customized messages to the right people in the right companies.

B2B marketers have some success with native advertising, social ads, and promoted posts

Native advertising, social ads, and promoted posts are all related to each other. Robert Rose provides this definition:

Native-advertising tools provide opportunities to feature promoted (i.e., “sponsored”) posts in social-media feeds or place long-form content contextually across a network of publishers’ websites.

In fact, Gary Van Prooyen called out paid social ads as the method that Motorola has seen the most success with:

I know that we’ve seen surprisingly strong results with paid social. Probably, our best click-through rates and best engagement were with paid social done on LinkedIn and Twitter. I mean the abilities you talked about to really narrowly define it to an audience group and influencer group has been really powerful for us.

Here are some posts on how to get more from your social ads:

To help make sense of the native-advertising space and the technologies that support it, download Content Discovery and Native Advertising Tools: An Analysis of 7 Solutions in a Disruptive Marketplace.

Tips for using content discovery

If you are unaware of what content discovery is (only 13% of B2B marketers are using it), it is the technology that presents semantically related content to online viewers. You see it all the time with headers such as “If you like this article, then you might like this article, as well.” In short, it is a way for marketers to get their content “discovered.”

While this is the paid tactic B2B marketers use the least often, 36% of users consider it to be effective. While you can learn more about content discovery and the tools available at the guide above, here are some additional tips specific to content discovery that Zimmerman shared during his presentation.

Focus on these six things when using paid-content discovery:

  • Headlines
  • Thumbnails
  • CPC (cost-per-click)
  • CTR (click-through-rate)
  • Timing
  • Mobile vs desktop

Additionally, consider these hacks:

  • Start with higher CPC to get more impressions, then bring down the cost after a high CTR is established.
  • Promote new content early in the month and the quarter when inventory is less competitive.
  • Create multiple campaigns and test new content in new campaigns to avoid competing against your own content.
  • Test as many headlines as possible. Try 20 or more per content piece.
  • Restart content over time to refresh data and get more promotion of content that appears to be slowing down.

And now I want to turn this back over to you. What paid methods are you having the most success with? What methods would you like to try, but need more information about? Let us know in the comments.

Want to learn more from the experts on paid advertising and marketing your content? Check out all the fantastic CMW sessions that are available through our Video on Demand portal.

Cover image by RabidSquirrel via

Author: Michele Linn

Michele is the Vice President of Content at the Content Marketing Institute. She is one of those people who truly loves what she does and who she works with. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

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  • Mark Masavage

    Michelle, I found this article to be very informative and beneficial. Do you think SEM is utilized more often than Social Media because of its familiarity among the administrators and the length of time it has been available? I am shocked to see the effectiveness rating being lower for Social than SEM. Of course, this might be due to the “rifle” approach over the shotgun approach. Social, used in middle of the funnel, allows for greater targeting accuracy with the ability to re-market and better demographic control. Perhaps the lower performance is due to administration versus platform.

    • Michele Linn

      Hi Mark — Glad you found it to be useful. We did not delve into where in the funnel various paid approaches are the most useful, but your observation is reasonable to me. My guess is that people need to better understand how to use paid social in the middle of the funnel. Thanks for the great suggestion for a future post on CMI, BTW :)

      • Mark Masavage

        I can’t wait to read that one. I am interested to see what you discover.

      • Candyce Edelen

        Michele, I also look forward to reading that one! I’d love to see SEM broken out by campaign type. For example, is remarketing more or less effective than traditional keyword ads? I’m just starting to explore techniques in this area, and would love to find some strategic guides.

        • Michele Linn

          Thanks for chiming in, Candence. This will help with the scope of the post.

  • Kostas Chiotis

    Excellent discussion Michele. Paid social is certainly something that I am working on more. I haven’t seen massive returns, but I am still very much in the testing phase right now.

  • rogercparker

    Excellent synthesis of a complex topic; thanks for simplifying content discovery and the already-downloaded ebook.

    BTW, of all the paid advertising tactics, content discovery is the one I often *appreciate the most* when I run across it; I usually follow the links and find information of interest.

  • kizi3

    Good post. Thanks you for sharing this article.

  • JonYoffie

    Is there empirical data behind this or was this anecdotal from your roundtable? Can you share the entire study results?