How 4.6 Million B2B Downloads Can Inform Your Content Planning

Data is the backbone of everything we do as content marketers.

But as creative as I believe myself to be, I still look for rock solid information to guide my editorial decisions for NetLine. It also helps that we have access to some of the juiciest, most information-rich behavioral data on the web.

Using First-Party Consumption Data to Guide Your Content Strategy

For the past six years, NetLine has been publishing an annual State of B2B Content Consumption and Demand Report for Marketers which highlights real buyer behaviors and how they engage with content across our platform. While we love all of our children equally, the 2022 edition is perhaps our most actionable report yet—and we’re honored to be able to share it with the DivvyHQ audience!

In this post, we’ll break down some of our favorite insights, findings, and stats all within the lens of content planning, production, and execution.

Understanding Who’s Consuming Content

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Professionals working in an IT job function or the IT industry are the most voracious consumers of content.

In our annual report, we break out and analyze consumption across a number of unique job parameters. In each category, IT and it’s sibling cohorts reigned supreme. With how often the IT landscape innovates, their heightened registration rates almost need to be at the top by rule; the breakneck pace of the field requires constant reinvention, reeducation, and attention.

CategoryGroupTotal Audience Share
Job AreaInformation Technology28%
Job FunctionIT Systems12.6%
IndustryComputers and Technology17.9%
Sub-IndustryInformation Technology7.6%

Beyond IT’s stranglehold on content consumption, there were a number of trends that stuck out to us at each level. (Spoiler: COVID influenced these behaviors in a major way.)

Registrations by Job Area

  • Marketing, which accounted for 4.78% of the total audience, had a very down year, as overall consumption dropped 4.07%. Our theory? With how hectic 2020 was from a communication and recalibration standpoint, 2021 saw marketers shift more into action than preparation.

Registrations by Job Function

  • Despite the fact that IT Systems Management had the largest audience share in this category, consumption from this job function fell 26.83% YoY! Wow, were these folks busy keeping everything afloat in 2020.

Registrations by Industry

  • As the world faced a shipping crisis, Manufacturing (+12.86%) and Transportation and Logistics (+12.15%) each saw significant increases in B2B content consumption. Given that we still find ourselves facing shortages and backlogs presently, it will be fascinating to see how the trends for these two groups have evolved YOY.

Registrations by Sub-Industry

  • The Service Industry is one of the industries most affected by the calamity of the past two-plus years. YOY, this sub-industry saw a 10.42% growth in overall registrations, as professionals in this field raced to keep up with the overwhelming demands placed on their shoulders.

By understanding which job areas, functions, and industries are the most engaged, you can begin to tailor your content and approach in real-time. While it always makes sense to keep your eye on untapped audiences, be sure to heed the words of TLC and don’t go chasing waterfalls; please stick to the (metaphorical) rivers and the lakes that you’re used to—especially when they’re actively seeking content.

TLC waterfalls gif

“Pandemic” Drove the Most Clicks

Keywords and phrases drive a significant portion of the decisions content marketers make in their strategic planning. Through tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush, we can see what folks are actively seeking out. But when it comes to gated content, what made people click in 2021?

Keyword Rank20172018201920202021
1Occupational outlookSustainable innovationAdvice pickCovid-19Pandemic
2GDPRPeople dataTravel policyCognitive searchVirtual
3Pricing modelAI machineHire personRemote workNext Generation Sequencing (NGS)
4Robotic automationManagement ICMCreating agileSoftware reviewsArtificial Intelligence (AI)
5Life insuranceIndustry transformativeCost-effective scalableCoronavirusConstruction Financial

As NetLine’s data science team uncovered, the pandemic still has our attention, literally and figuratively. Two years in, information about the pandemic (not the virus itself but the relative domino effect) appeared both across the majority of new uploads while driving registration behavior.

What we found to be most interesting is how each of the top five keywords related to one another. As COVID forced us to adapt to and now further adopt virtual events, webinars, and AI technologies, this has prompted B2B professionals to continue to educate themselves on what these opportunities can offer their businesses.

Thanks to research from ON24 and Heinz Marketing, we know that online events provide 79% more data than physical events, which means that hybrid events are here to stay. Have you revisited your content approach to address this shift in behavior?

IT Dominated Requests at the Sub-Topic Level

When it comes to content, NetLine recognizes more than a few dozen parent topics. This is all quite helpful in organizing our backend but we’re more than aware of just how niche subject matter can be. Because of this, we like to focus hard on content sub-topics.

Netline research - most requested sub-topics

Overall, the most popular subtopics overwhelmingly dealt with IT issues related to equipping, securing, and bolstering the needs of respective businesses and employees. It’s also worth noting that the IT groups account for half of the top 10 most requested sub-topics.

Those not in the IT-realm also fit the WFH theme, as pros in management and HR roles sought ways to lead their teams effectively while still being empathetic and understanding (see Productivity and Stress Management) to what work looks like in a new environment. Lifestyle content saw a massive surge as professionals sought out content to improve their well-being both at work and at home.

Marketers Love White Papers, But Consumers Love eBooks

It’s 2022 and marketers still love their white papers. Like, absolutely adore them.

Based on 2020’s trends, as you can see in the chart below, we believed eBook production might overtake white papers uploads by the end of 2021. Instead, marketers uploaded 22% more white papers YOY, besting 2019’s previous watermark.

Netline research - most uploaded content formats

White Paper registrations increased 8% YOY, this behavior from marketers goes against the behaviors of consumers. For example, demand for concise, quick hitting formats like Cheat Sheets saw their YoY content consumption grow 56.5%. So why are marketers so enamored with white papers? As it turns out, they have quite a favorable relationship with purchase intent.

Based on our buyer-level intent data, we’ve come to the conclusion that white paper registrations are a greater indication that a user is in a late stage of a purchasing decision. This is a major discovery for B2B marketers and Sales pros alike.

Just don’t forget: It’s critical to remember that each of these formats matter—they simply need to be deployed correctly. While white papers have the bottom of the funnel covered, eBooks dominate the top (eBooks accounted for 43.3% of all registrations across the NetLine platform in 2021). Each of these formats (and others) play a vital role across the content marketing ecosystem and affect the entire buyer’s journey.

Is the juice worth the squeeze?

B2B content marketers are always wondering about whether or not the effort they’re putting into an asset and its kin will end up paying off. Essentially, the question is this: Is it worth the effort?

The short answer is overwhelmingly yes.

While there was a significant amount of demand for Lifestyle and Career topics, established B2B topics like IT, HR, Marketing, and Manufacturing—all with consistent reliable audiences—feature a great deal of variety from which B2B professionals can choose.

As we share in our Consumption Report, the average number of registrations an asset generated (per topic) on our platform in 2021 was 158. Naturally, the topic matters a great deal and will influence where it lands on the “Juice for the Squeeze” spectrum.

  • Information Technology was sixth overall with 183 registrations/asset, yet possessed the largest share of overall audience and assets
  • Life Sciences content had the lowest ratio, averaging ~40 registrations/asset

But simply knowing how many registrations you might net isn’t worth anything until you consider all of the other factors that come with content production.

Research from PathFactory reported that the average B2B content asset cost $2,791 to produce in 2021. In the same vein, CoSchedule’s 2022 Trend Report mentions that content production takes one to six hours, on average. (Personally, I would argue this figure is a bit low, but this is merely the opinion of one very slow writer.) Finally, Chilipiper shares that the median conversion rate for the B2B “sphere” is 2.23%. Now we can go to work here.

Using these figures, let’s assume your brand new asset took you six hours and cost you $2,791 to produce. Once you put it out into the world, it grossed 158 registrations and converted at 2.23%, which is roughly 3.5. In the name of science, let’s call the 3.5 4 and say the price point is $5,000. With all of this in place, here’s the juice that’s been yielded from the squeeze:

  • $20,000 in sales
  • $126.58 generated per registration
  • $33,333.33 generated per hour spent producing the asset
  • 616.59% Total return on investment

Yes, these numbers have been slightly cherry-picked to make the math simple, but the point remains. If your content simply performs to the average, you should be quite happy with the returns.

Using First-Party Data to Guide Your Content Approach

It takes a great deal of work to have a functional, efficient, and effective content strategy. While having a lot of content is terrific, it’s not as good as having assets that are clear, concise, and directly addressing a pain point.

B2B content consumption has risen 33% since 2019…and there’s no signs of this slowing down. Clearly, B2B professionals need more and more content each year to validate their own strategies and buying decisions. These are difficult choices and everyone wants to have the right information and come to the best conclusion possible.

Hopefully, with the information NetLine has shared from our own platform, you’ll be able to make some impactful decisions on how you can improve your own content production. Our hope is that by knowing these details, you’ll be able to better position your content in every facet and deliver more impactful results for you and your audience.

NetLine’s 2022 Content Consumption Report is now available for download. Best of luck in your content creation and strategy.

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