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The Content Formats Consumers Prefer Throughout Their Buyer Journey

August 25, 2021 3 min read

We need to talk about a pretty big problem with inbound marketing and sales right now.

Content marketing is a more widely used strategy than ever for both marketers and salespeople. Only, according to recent data, we’re not creating the kinds of content that our prospects actually want to consume.

Spending effort to create content that isn’t helpful or attractive to our prospects is not only a waste of time—it significantly reduces the ROI of content marketing. So, how can marketers and salespeople more effectively align the content they put out with their prospects’ buyer journeys? Here are the content formats consumers prefer throughout each stage, backed up by new data from HubSpot’s eighth annual State of Inbound report.

Are we prioritizing the wrong kinds of content?

According to the State of Inbound, in which HubSpot surveyed over 4,500 marketers from small to mid-size B2B companies, one of the top inbound marketing-related priorities for companies in 2016 is blog content creation. In fact, blogging is ranked second in the list of priorities marketers have for their inbound efforts. Lower down on the list are creating online tools, how-to videos.

Are we prioritizing the wrong kinds of content? Source: The State of Inbound 2016

But wait—is blogging what we should really be focusing on? The answer—it depends on how it’s executed.

In their Future of Content Marketing report, HubSpot asked internet users about their content consumption habits. They asked respondents which content formats they tend to skim and which they read thoroughly.

Skim vs Consume Source: The Future of Content Marketing: How People Are Changing the Way They Read, Interact, and Engage With Content

Not surprisingly, video and social media posts emerged as the clear top choices for content that people pay the most attention to. Blog posts, interactive tools, and long form content are more likely to be skimmed by readers. This tells us that marketers’ content priorities don’t align with what consumers want to consume.

Creating the right content for the buyer’s journey

So, if consumers are skimming our blog posts and our meticulously crafted eBooks, how to we reach them at the awareness and decision phases of the buyer’s journey?

It’s a matter of diversifying content formats and channels. Inbound marketing has always been about aligning your company’s brand with where your customers naturally want to be—reaching them where they already are. So it’s time for marketers and salespeople to recognize the shift that’s happening, and move away from a centralized content strategy to start exploring new ways to reach potential buyers.

HubSpot also asked people in their Buyers Speak Out study about their preferred content formats when trying to learn more about a new product or service compared to when they were ready to buy (awareness stage vs. decision stage). Here are the results:

Perferred Content Formats Base: 505 global consumers; Source: HubSpot Sales Perception Survey, Q1 2016

Prospects consume as much information as they can to answer their questions, and the top content they’re seeking relates to product information, features, and functions. Almost 60% of respondents said they look for content that provides that information when they want to learn more about a new business or service.

One insight that may surprise salespeople is that buyers seek out product demos very early on in the buyer's journey (demos rank fifth overall for content types -- above best practice tips, expert reports, how to guides, etc). As the report states, “[o]ften sales organizations peg the demo as the final closing action. Our data shows that a third of buyers want the opportunity to see a product in action very early on. They want a very tangible understanding of what they’re potentially buying, and they want it right away.”

Most teams can’t spare valuable sales time on a demo before a buyer is properly vetted. A pre-recorded video demo that is clearly visible on a vendor’s website can satisfy this particular content need and has the potential to be an useful prospecting and qualifying tool. And, since videos are the type of content that consumers say that pay the most attention to, this is actually quite an effective solution.

Aligning distribution channels with new content formats

Distributing content through the right channels is becoming increasingly important, and thanks to new data, we have a better understanding of the best content channels for different stages of the buyers journey.

Overwhelmingly, prospects turn to search engines when they are trying to learn more about a product or service. When they’re ready to buy they seek to connect with sales reps on their own.

Preferred Content Channels Base: 505 global consumers; Source: HubSpot Sales Perception Survey, Q1 2016

Salespeople and marketers need to keep these content channel preferences in mind when mapping content to the buyer’s journey, to ensure that the time and resources being spend on content creation are providing the best possible ROI.

The preferred content formats and distribution channels may differ between businesses, buyer personas, and industries, but these benchmarks will help salespeople and marketers plan more effective content strategies that help their prospects at each phase of the buyer’s journey.

Want more insights like these? Download the 2016 State of Inbound Marketing Report:

State of Inbound 2016

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This post was originally published September 13, 2016