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Buyersphere Report 2011: A European Perspective on B2B Content Consumption

The recently released Buyersphere Report 2011 on shifting trends in buyer research behavior is particularly interesting for two reasons:

  • It focuses on European markets, providing an intriguing counterpoint to the many U.S.-based surveys.
  • It surveys the actual behavior (rather than just the opinions) of over 1,000 buyers involved in purchases of over £20,000 (approximately $32,500 USD). In this way, it paints a highly accurate and objective picture of the rise of B2B content marketing.

Here are some highlights that may help inform your own B2B marketing plans.

B2B buyers simply want more information

One of the broadest and most significant findings of the Buyersphere research is that B2B buyers’  hunger for information is higher than a year ago. For example, when asked which media channels B2B buyers used when gathering information to help them make a purchase, they reported increases in usage of almost all channels, compared to responses from the Buyersphere Report in 2010.

Specifically, 70% of respondents said they had referred to supplier websites as an information source at some point during the buying process, which is up from 55% last year. And while social media channels continue to experience significant growth, even the conventional channels  such as press advertising were being accessed more frequently. It should be noted, however, that these are still used by the minority. For example, only 16% of B2B buyers reported using Facebook, for example, but Facebook use still experienced one of the greatest increases in usage, when compared to 2010 results (9%).

This significant growth in pre-purchase research clearly demonstrates the value of content marketing strategy. It also signals an ongoing shift from outbound to inbound marketing efforts­­—ones where individual buyers have control over when, where, and how to source information that is relevant to them. The natural conclusion here is that the brands that succeed in engaging customers will be those that rise most effectively to the content challenge.

Issue-based vs. product-based content

The Buyersphere survey allowed results to be compared across different stages of the buying cycle. This provides insight into another key piece of the marketing puzzle such as when to deliver specific marketing messages through a given channel.  For example, buyers reported using supplier websites more often when they were at the “need identification” stage than when at the “supplier selection” stage. Essentially, this means that buyers are more likely to turn to supplier websites when looking for ideas on how to deal with general issues than they are when selecting which supplier to choose.

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, these results suggest that suppliers would benefit from investing in high-level strategic content on their websites rather than simply treating their sites as a shop window for their products. The website clearly has a crucial role as part of the overall product/service experience, but the survey results highlight the dangers of not catering to information-hungry buyers who are looking for issue-based content from your site.  If you don’t provide it, your competitors will.

European attitudes toward social media

For U.S.-based marketers, the European nature of the research may provide an interesting contrast to experiences of content usage in their domestic markets. But there are also significant differences among the European countries themselves, suggesting that different content strategies should be considered for different national markets.

Buyer behavior varies widely throughout Europe, and these linguistic differences and social nuances should be taken into account when planning any content marketing efforts. These differences emerged most strongly when the Buyersphere study examined usage of social media information sources. Here are a few examples:

  • In Germany and the U.K., 48% and 46% of buyers, respectively, used social media tools during the buying process; this is compared to just 22%, 26% and 35% of French, Benelux, and Italian respondents, respectively.
  • The use of traditional online channels, by contrast, was consistent across all five countries, varying only between 88% and 93%.
  • When looking at Facebook use,  16% of U.K. buyers used this platform at some point in their research, compared with only 5% of Benelux buyers.

Why the differences? While it may be reductive to fall back on the lazy stereotype of the rational, calculating German compared with the intensely personal- and relationship-conscious Italian, but cultural issues are clearly at work here.

The Italians love to talk – but not in English

To get additional perspective on cultural influences, I asked Holger Ambroselli, Head of European Planning for Base One in Amsterdam, for his view on the findings. As a German with an Italian surname working in Amsterdam for a British company, I felt he was well positioned to share some insight here. Ambroselli was adamant:

“I really believe there is a two-tier Europe. Social media has taken off more readily in countries where English is accepted as a business language, so it is naturally more popular in Germany than in Italy. The use of LinkedIn, for example, can be daunting because Italians are less comfortable using English, which is understandably the de facto working language of U.S.-originated social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.”

Ambroselli thinks that the unusually high level of reported blog usage in Italy (16%) reinforces his theory:

“Blogging is an online tool, but it is more intimate than wider platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn, so it is not surprising to me that Italians use it well. And don’t forget that the Italians love to talk about their opinions…”

He also believes the value placed on relationships plays a key role here.

“Some countries place a greater emphasis on personal, physical relationships, while others have simply not yet reached the stage where these relationships can develop online as it has in the U.S.  In the short-term, social media provides access to information; the benefits of relationship-building take longer to achieve.”

Get the full story: download the full report

The full Buyersphere Report 2011 is highly detailed. I have only skimmed the surface of its value here. Download it now for more useful information that will help any content marketer wishing to convince clients or bosses of the growing need for a carefully-planned and well-executed content marketing strategy.