Types of B2B Content

by Leslie Hancock

When you're building out a content marketing plan and/or writing content for a brand, you need to know where and how the content will appear in its final form(s). Is it a thought leadership piece that will be coming out in an industry journal? Is it sponsored content that will appear inline with someone else's publication, as if it's one of their articles? Is it an article for the brand's own blog? Is it social media content? These considerations can subtly or overtly change the tone, appearance, purpose and audience of your writing, so you need to know before you put fingers to keyboard.

However, there are tons of buzz-words around content development and distribution. For example, do you know what native advertising is? Do you know the difference between brand journalism and public relations? What about the role of blogging for B2B brands? Don't worry -- we're here to help clarify the differences.

The Table of Content

Here's a simple yet really helpful way to classify your B2B content. The Table of Content is derived from Felix Salmon's "Native Advertising Matrix," published on the Reuters Blog in 2013 (used with permission). I found it to be a useful way to explain to clients the distinctions between types of content they might consider producing and where it should be published, so I tweaked it and had a designer make it better for us.

The Table of Content by Leslie Hancock; derived from work by Felix Salmon; designed by JD Hancock

The Table of Content by Leslie Hancock; derived from work by Felix Salmon; designed by JD Hancock

The Table of Content applies primarily to long-form content, but it encompasses some short-form types as well. For example, content marketing spans social media (where content can be as brief as 140 characters or fewer), to blog posts (typically 500-1,000 words in the B2B space), to white papers and eBooks and beyond. You may be able to repurpose and reuse some of your longer content by distilling it into smaller and smaller modules under the COPE (create once, publish everywhere) philosophy of content production and distribution. But a thought leadership piece will have a very different tone, purpose and audience than a piece of marketing collateral, like a brochure, meant to generate sales leads.

Public Relations

Public relations (PR) is earned media, meaning it's free publicity about your brand that is shared by reporters via broadcast or print media. PR is usually written by the media outlet's editorial staff, but it can also result from press releases the brand's communications staff writes and then shares across the wires for news services to pick up. PR can be far more powerful than paid media like advertising because it can reach a wider audience and is regarded as being unbiased and therefore more credible than paid advertising. 

Sponsored Content

Sponsored content can be long or brief, but it must be written and designed to match the publication in which it is meant to appear. Those articles in magazines and online publications that look just like staff articles but say "sponsored content" or something similar are paid articles that subtly or overtly promote a product or service, but they are couched in an informational or entertaining vehicle that is (one hopes) relevant and interesting to the publication's regular readers.

A Facebook post that you pay to promote is also a form of sponsored content, appearing in the reader's newsfeed with just a "sponsored" tag to reveal that this is marketing content. A blog post written by the person who owns the blog for compensation is also sponsored content (e.g., a popular "mommy blogger" who reviews toys sent to her at no charge in exchange for exposure on her blog).

Native Advertising

Native advertising, like sponsored content, must be written and designed to fit in with the publisher's content and usually appears inline with the regular feed. Where the primary goal of sponsored content is to get people to read it, the primary goal of native advertising is to get people to share it. Native advertising content, like an advertorial, is usually written by the brand's staff, an agency or a freelance copywriter.

Brand Journalism

When brands publish their own news and/or news about their industry, that's brand journalism. Some companies have full publishing operations in-house. With brand journalism, there is no expectation of an immediate return on investment. Instead, the goal is to build brand awareness and a positive image for the company by offering content with continuing value, credibility and honesty.

Thought Leadership

Similar to brand journalism, thought leadership content is not intended to have an immediate return on investment. It's more about building credibility and trust for the company's leadership and the brand in general within the industry. So if your company's CMO is seen as a marketing innovator whose ideas other CMOs want to emulate, it reflects positively on your brand to have that CMO on board and publishing or speaking regularly. Thought leadership can be published by the brand (such as on the corporate blog) or by industry publications, but it is typically written by a company executive, often with the help of a B2B ghostwriter.

Content Marketing

The goal of content marketing is to attract and retain an audience by consistently offering relevant and valuable content. The idea is to woo customers and change their behavior by building trust, credibility and brand awareness over time rather than through outright selling. Content marketing can take many forms, from social media to blogs to web content, print media, and more. Content marketing is essentially omnichannel, but it's typically written and designed by the brand's editorial staff and published by the brand on one of its owned channels.

Marketing

The difference between marketing and content marketing is that plain old marketing sells the company's products or services in a fairly direct way while content marketing is meant to be more subtle and indirect. Marketing copywriting includes collateral like brochures and sales sheets, web landing pages, email, direct mailers, and more. There's usually a clear pitch, persuasive language and a call to action (CTA) associated with marketing communications. Marketing is still more relationship-based than advertising, though. Marketing content is usually written by sales staff, an agency or freelance copywriters, and it's published and distributed by the brand.

Blogging

Blogging has become ubiquitous, though it was a bit slower to catch on in the B2B space. Pretty much every company has a blog at this point, and it can be used as a place to publish company news, tell employees' stories, highlight the company's philanthropic activities, establish thought leadership, curate other people's content about important industry developments, or any other kinds of content the company wants to include. Blogs are useful because they're so flexible and offer a place to create somewhat less formal and more varied content for a variety of audiences -- completely under the brand's control. Typically, corporate blogs are written by brand executives (or by B2B ghostwriters and credited to brand executives) and published by the brand.

How effective or essential each of these types of content is or can be is a topic for another post, as is the question of how to build an overall content strategy with an effective mix of content types. Be sure to subscribe to B2B Ghostwriting to be notified when new posts are published.