Understanding What Buyers Want: Digging into B2B Content Consumption Data


B2B content consumption increased dramatically for the second year in a row. Practitioners and executives alike are turning more and more to content to answer the question, “What do I do now?” As content consumption increases, so does the importance of having simple but thorough content for multiple audiences at every stage of the funnel. | Originally aired on April 28, 2022

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Key takeaways.


Content consumption is increasing at an incredible rate (by 33% in the last two years).


The C-Suite is not consuming our content; it’s the folks reporting to them that are.


People who engage with webinars are 30% more likely to make a purchase decision in the next 3-6 months.


The C-Suite rarely is making the actual research effort and rarely actually making the final decision. They’re signing off on it, but the people that are reporting to them are the ones who are actively educating themselves, evaluating solutions, etc.

David Fortino • Chief Strategy Officer, NetLine


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David Fortino • Chief Strategy Officer, NetLine

David is the Chief Strategy Officer at NetLine Corporation where he is responsible for the strategic direction and adoption of NetLine's content-centric buyer engagement platform. He brings more than 15 years’ experience managing the development of content distribution, audience monetization, and digital marketing/targeting platforms.

Amber Keller • Associate Content Director, Iron Horse

Amber is an Associate Content Director at Iron Horse with 20 years experience creating and editing content for print and web. Amber works closely with our customers and internal teams to produce impeccable content that engages, informs, and drives business growth. Before coming to Iron Horse, Amber created award-winning e-learning for tech, financial services, consumer, and government sectors.

Episode Transcript

Amber Keller: Hello, hi. Hey, David.

David Fortino: Hey, how are you, Amber?

Amber Keller: Good. How are you?

David Fortino: Doing well, thank you, doing well.

Amber Keller: Great. Well, welcome, David and everyone. I'm Amber Keller, and I'll be your host for today's coffee break, Understanding What Buyers Want: Digging into B2B Content Consumption Data. We are, of course, talking about NetLine's recently released 2022 state of B2B content consumption and demand report. And-

David Fortino: You have to take a breath while saying that, right?

Amber: What's that?

David Fortino: Take a breath while saying that, right?

Amber Keller: Exactly, right. I'm thrilled to be joined by David Fortino, the Chief Strategy Officer Over at NetLine, to talk about those findings. As we get started, a couple of housekeeping things here. We have a poll going. You'll have to navigate over to the poll's buttons in the bottom right of my screen to find that. The question we're asking is, "Which is a bigger challenge, creating the right content or getting that content in front of the right audience?" So go ahead and take some time to answer that poll.

Amber Keller: And also, we would love to see your questions, and we'll try to answer them during this pretty short coffee break chat. There's a Questions tab where you can enter those.

Amber Keller: David, to create this report, you looked at your own first party data, so that's data provided willingly by users in exchange for content that they thought would be valuable to them. Some of the key findings were a 9% increase in consumption over this last year, but over the last two years, a 33% increase in content consumption, so users are just consuming a lot more content across the board. There was also a 12% increase in how long it takes for users to actually consume the content they request, which is one of the things that I found really interesting.

Amber Keller: On the other hand, the time it took for users to request a second piece of content shortened, and then another thing that you looked at was how content consumption relates to purchase intent, which is some of the most exciting information in this report. One stat that jumps out is 31% of respondents are looking to purchase in the next 12 months, which is something that I think we all want to hear.

David Fortino: mhm.

Amber Keller: All of this points to the fact that audiences are not just consuming content for leisure. They have urgent problems that they're trying to solve, and they're turning to content, more and more to content rather than to salespeople for those answers or before they talk to salespeople, at least.

Amber Keller: And at the same time being on the other side of that equation as a buyer, I know that finding the right content can be incredibly overwhelming. I have to wonder sometimes when we see these stats, people are consuming 10 or 13 pieces of content, if they're actually just trying to find the right information, instead of getting good information in each.

David Fortino: Yeah, totally.

Amber Keller: Yeah.

David Fortino: On our side, the report, as you said, was completely based upon first party data. We've been creating this annualized report each year for the last five plus years. This past year looked at a little over 4 million registrations for content, and so I know that sounds extremely way beyond the traditional kind of marketer's footprint, but it's because of our business model, we're powering the lead gen stack across countless B2B media organizations, and marketers are effectively using our platform to get their content in front of the right audiences.

David Fortino: And so that affords us a massive amount of scale, a massive amount of first party data that we can then extract, analyze, and then hopefully share through reports like this, or we have tools that, like Audience Explorer, that allow a B2B marketer to go to market more effectively using the understandings of what their audience and ICP is really doing versus what they assume that audience might be doing or perhaps what their CMO might be telling them that their ICP is doing.

Amber Keller: Right.

David Fortino: And so we've always taken the perspective of letting the data speak for itself, and so you've riffed off a couple observations from the reports, so kudos for paying attention to it and digging in, because there's a lot there. But I think the first thing is that content consumption's increasing, and I think that is wonderful for marketers creating such content, yet on the flip side, it's also challenging, right, in that your content today has to be better tomorrow and that has to consistently hold true, which means the bar is constantly raising because every one of your peers and/or competitors is getting that much better at creating content. And so it's unlike years and years ago where you can have a modest attempt and be received in a pretty strong fashion because there wasn't really a ton of great marketing executions occurring. Now there is.

David Fortino: And so with that comes the complication that the market's flooded with great content. And so it's up to you as the marketer to try to create content that specifically addresses pain points in the most efficient way possible, and that really gets to using content as a way to inform and educate purchase decisions, right, and it's the end goal of all of this.

David Fortino: And so, yeah, I mean, when we looked at trying to quantify that, it was really an interesting opportunity for us because we've always had access into the first party consumption data, yet we've never really had a corollary to purchase intent. And so a lot of people will traditionally comment around the industry that this content format is more bottom-of-funnel content, right? You see that from serious decisions on down, yet there's really no basis for that, right? It's just the assumption and the... I suppose some of it's logical, right? And then if it requires a greater time commitment, odds are that person's expressing greater intent. Therefore, if they're expressing greater intent to engage, therefore, they're probably closer to needing to make a decision.

Amber Keller: Right.

David Fortino: That said, there's never really been a statistical way of backing that up, and so that's ultimately what we've done. We've started to intercept after users are registering for content, trying to solicit actual first party responses around their pain points, the urgency to address those pain points, and the timeline doing so. That's then all matrixed back against the PII, the first party data that we're processing and capturing and those content formats.

David Fortino: And so there's a lot of really cool findings in the report that allow the B2B marketer to understand who their ICP is, the types of content that they're consuming, and most importantly, try to understand that balance of the kind of content that needs to be created that's aligned to greater propensity to purchase versus content that's not, and that's okay too because you can't kid yourself into thinking that the only people you want to communicate with are the people making purchases in the next three months and ignoring everybody else, right? It's not a great way to develop a pipeline and you’ll have something empty at the end.

Amber Keller: Right.

David Fortino: So yeah, there's a lot of neat nuggets there, whether it's the increase in consumption behavior or the time it takes for people to go proactively to request additional content and so on.

Amber Keller: Yeah. So let's dig into a little bit of each of those things. One of the questions that I'm always thinking about, and I think this is reflected in our poll too, is in your report, you say we need to create more, which we do, but also, I'm wondering how do we put the right content in front of the right people at the right time? Can we do that better? Not just a few results in our poll so far, but overwhelmingly, getting that content in front of the right audience is a bigger challenge than creating the right content for our audience today.

Amber Keller: So let's talk about that audience. You found individual contributors were the most active. This was the same finding over the last six years, but sea level managers and directors combined to make up more than 40% of content conceptions, so what's the takeaway here for content creators?

David Fortino: Yeah, I think that the takeaway is to really harness that data and the findings from it and stop listening to CMOs consistently telling you that you need to aim towards the C-suite exclusively to influence purchase decisions. The reality of the data continuously says every year that the C-suite, by and large, isn't consuming your content. As much as you would love for that to be the case, it's just not happening.

David Fortino: And so when you think about this from a logical perspective, it becomes quite apparent. There's far less C-suite people in the world than there are all of those other people that they hire that are directly reporting into them that influence those purchase decisions. And quite honestly, the C-suite rarely is making the actual research effort, rarely actually even making a final decision. They're signing off on it. But the people that report into them are the ones that are actively educating themselves, evaluating the solutions, working across peers inside their organization to have the appropriate vendor mix, the appropriate solution set, appropriate compatibility to existing tech stacks and so on.

David Fortino: And at that point, yes, it's going up one level and someone is saying, "Did he do all of these three things? Has this been vetted? Has this gone through compliance, all of that stuff, and do we have the budget," right? Rarely is the C-suite theoretically vetting all of those nuances. And so this gets back to a very important reminder, which is influencing the influencers, right? You need to be getting in front of those people with the appropriate content that speaks specifically to their needs, their pain points, their urgency. It's up to them to really articulate their internal pains and seek budget approvals and so on, and I mean, that really even spurs the idea of creating really unique content that helps that person go fight for a budget, right?

David Fortino: If you can create a toolkit that kind of flips the script and say, "Here's the things," if you're going to pitch your CFO on this type of solution, "Here are the things that that person's going to want to hear from the marketer's perspective." There's lots of cool things that you can do, but yeah, getting the content in front of the right audience is really vital at the end of it, right, because you could have the best ideas and the best content, but if you lack the ability to get it in front of that right user at the right time and do that cost effectively and efficiently, that's really going to be a challenge to demonstrate ROI on the content's existence in the first place which, if you're not focused on that, you probably have a short career.

Amber Keller: Right. So this is a sort of similar question, but one of the questions that we got during the registration process for this event was how can I get more of the right professionals to consume and act on our content?

David Fortino: Yeah, so I obviously have a lot of perspectives on that, being who we are. So we operate the largest B2B content-centric, lead gen platform on the web and so theoretically, if you're a B2B marketer, content marketer and you're aspiring to get that content in front of super finite niche audiences completely on a CPL basis, that's what our technology is designed to do. There's clearly a lot of different solutions that you can leverage.

David Fortino: Our model is really not about getting content in front of the users and charging on that capacity, and I think there's a ton of models whereby you're paying for exposure and you're hoping to back into a league on an effective CPL basis at some point. Our model's really the opposite in that your distribution of content, the targeting and so on, is all part of the model, and there's zero cost for that. The only time there's a cost is when you are actually providing the explicit filters that match the criteria of your ICP and if and only if that user matches that criteria, has registered for your content will that be actually a lead that gets delivered to you, and so algorithmically, we have a system called audience target that really is a one-to-one kind of PII to content matching system. At the core, it's about creating exactly what you described, which is getting my content in front of the exact audience that's sharing permission-based first party data and only that data, and that is the only deliverable of our business model to the marketer.

David Fortino: On the users' side, they're getting access to incredibly targeted content. They're not being sent off to third party landing pages or being asked to go through some convoluted funnel. More often than not, those users are actually kind of part of an existing registration experience on our side too, so it's pretty frictionless for them.

David Fortino: But yeah, I clearly have a lot of perspectives and loyalty to our type of business model, but yeah, there's many other ways of going about it, too, that are complementary to what we do, so just certainly consider those as well.

Amber Keller: Well, I want to go back to that idea of who the right professional is, though, for that content because I agree with you. There's a lot of pressure out there to create content for the C-suite and that's not really who's doing most of the influencing. Did your research turn up what kind of content is the most valuable for the C-suite?

David Fortino: Yeah, so one thing that's challenging here is that there's a massive disparity across different industries and different company sizes as to what that specific type of content means for that specific job level, in this case, the C-suite. And so, one thing I would suggest is that there's a companion tool that is available beyond the actual report, so think of the report as a static snapshot on a ton of analyzed data, but it's designed to be pretty comprehensive in nature, right? It's trying to cover as much ground to help as many B2B marketers as possible.

David Fortino: There's an interactive companion called Audience Explorer that's completely free and it's undated and it's just on our site. It's easy to access. I believe it's netline.com/audienceexplorer. And that allows you to answer that question specifically with your ICP in mind. So if you are a B2B marketer and you're in the construction industry and you're targeting, I don't know, field engineers at companies of 200 plus employees, you can actually filter the report based upon that and see the exact type of content that's most engaging and driving the most response with that finite audience.

David Fortino: Our report doesn't do that for every single nuance. It would be 400 pages long, but yeah, I would invite you to use that tool. It's updating daily as well, so what works today, maybe in a few months, it's going to be different, and so that allows the marketer to really understand it from beyond their own corporate website, right? So they're not looking at their own site and saying, "Well, of the 300 people that registered for content here, this is their breakdown of format and so on and their job titles." This allows you to look around all of those four plus million registrations and say, "Beyond my own site, what's happening out there, and what is the content that I really do need to create by format, by even trending topics, and even the top most active organizations by account. Which companies are actually registering for the most types of content in a given topic?" So you can see all of that.

Amber Keller: Yeah. That's fantastic.

Amber Keller: I wanted to ask you about content formats. So one of the things that you looked at was which content formats indicated that the user was closer to a buying decision. What stood out to you there?

David Fortino: Webinars, certainly. Yeah, what's most interesting there is that I think pre-COVID, webinars were clearly a persistent medium for communicating with buyers. During COVID, there was a massive rush to just... it replaced almost everything, right? It was the only way to humanize your brand and create a face and a voice. And then I would say late stage COVID, which arguably we're still kind of lingering in, you've got, I think, a view that webinars have kind of hit a point of saturation, and we're just not seeing that, which is interesting, and that if you threw my opinion hat on, I would probably echo some of those feelings, but the data says otherwise.

David Fortino: And so from a data perspective, when we're intercepting that user experience in trying to qualify those pain points and the urgency and the timeline, people who are actually registering for webinars and engaging with webinars are 30% more likely to be making a purchase decision relatively soon within the next three to six months. And so that, to me, speaks volumes around the insights that you can capture there.

David Fortino: And part of it, again, I try to always go back to layering data with common sense, and the common sense aspect is that people are giving you their time. Time is extremely valuable. If they're giving you their time, clearly there is an intent this better be worth their time. And the worth part is about getting that equitable exchange of value back, right? They gave you their time, they gave you their PII, and so what are you going to do with that? As a brand, it's your responsibility to deliver on that and not be nothing more than a superficial dog and pony show, right? That can't be what you're doing.

David Fortino: And so knowing that the data says that those people are that much closer to be making a purchase decision, it actually reinforces the importance to nail the webinar, and so don't view this as just one other thing that you're doing. It better be incredible. It better be convincing that person and/or that group of buyers to go with you because if your webinar's not all that credible or compelling, then maybe your peers' or competitors' might be.

Amber Keller: Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

Amber Keller: And one of the questions that we got from the audience was what's the best way to follow up on a webinar?

David Fortino: Yeah, so there's all the normal things, which a lot of webinar platforms provide, right, in terms of follow-up emails that are dynamically occurring. Realistically, the best use cases I've seen are when you're leveraging tools like this, and so if you've got a poll running in your webinar where there are questions coming in, coming in through the webinar, that allows you to hyper personalize follow up after the webinar.

David Fortino: So theoretically, if someone answered the poll with one answer versus another, you better use those learnings when you're reaching out to the actual participant, instead of just simply saying, "Thanks, and here's some additional pieces of content," or if it's a salesperson reaching out and saying, "Hey, if you'd like to talk, we're here as a resource, whatever it might be." There's a way to immediately dive in to address and/or expand upon that answer that was provided or that question that was asked. If you're not doing that, you're really missing the value of what a webinar was supposed to do, right? It's about not only providing value at that moment, but how you can actually take the learnings outside of that session and provide more value back to that prospect..

Amber Keller: Continue the conversation, really continue that.

David Fortino: Totally. Yeah, and it's about I think contextualizing follow-up responses, personalizing clearly because you're taking what they personally shared, which is unique, and really trying to lean into maybe the not sexy part of personalization, which is a lot of that is it's manual and it's not scalable and you need to be attentive and your sales team through marketing teams need to be great listeners so that you're taking that data and reacting. And sometimes, people don't want to do it because it's harder, but the vendors that are doing the hard stuff are the ones that stand out.

Amber Keller: Right. Right. We are already almost at the end of our time here, but I want to make sure I ask another question about follow-up. So one of the things that was really interesting to me was this consumption gap, as you mentioned, the amount of time in between when somebody downloads a piece of content, when they actually read it. I noticed my own behavior in this regard the other day where I downloaded another report from a different vendor, and then a few days later, I got an email from them that said, "Hey, I don't know if you've read this report yet. Here are some of the top takeaways," and I thought that was so clever because usually, we give the top takeaways when we're trying to get somebody to download the report, but this seemed to really understand this idea of the consumption gap, and you talk in the report about how important nurture and follow-up is because of that consumption gap. Can you share some thoughts on that before we close out?

David Fortino: Yeah, absolutely. This was a metric that we started tracking years ago, and it was really an open question internally, which was like, "Well, we've got access to all of this data. We should probably try to explore are there commonalities between people and the time that they ultimately get around to following up and/or touching base with those users," and there are. And so what's interesting is that it diametrically kind of opposes what a lot of organizations do is that there is someone registers for a white paper, a sales rep calling instantaneously.

Amber Keller: Right.

David Fortino: And it's like that user had no idea what was covered in the material.

Amber Keller: Yeah.

David Fortino: They probably don't even know your brand, unless they've registered through your own corporate website. They saw content. They saw a title. They saw a cover graph. They saw a description that was appealing to their pain points and they said, "Yeah, I'm going to check that out, and I feel like that's going to be worth my time."

David Fortino: But quite honestly, we all know we're crazy busy and we rarely have time to sit there and read a full document. We rarely have time to give you an hour to attend a webinar, which is why on-demand webinars are hugely popular. And so when you start thinking about that and using the data to inform your follow-up processes, that allows you to do things differently, right? Maybe that instantaneous response is nothing more than a thank you, and we'll be in touch in a couple days with some of the just TLDRs and stuff like that. There's a lot of ways that you can do that.

David Fortino: If you want to give people the breathing room, totally fine too, but don't be ignorant in the sense that this person's only task that day was to register for your content and read it with ferocity, right? It's simply not going to be happening. And so I think it's a cautionary tale to anyone who's got a lot of automated responses. Love the little smiley face. Anyone who's got an automated nurture path, I would just check not so much the timing alone, but check the context of what you're saying. Instantaneous responses are still fine if the context is right, which is like, "Hey, we're going to give you a little time to digest this. I know it's a lot. There's a lot of great nuggets." I like personally saying call attention to a page or call attention to a timestamp inside a video and say like, "Be sure, if you don't have enough time, be sure to go check out this page or go check out at minute marker two and nine seconds. Check that out because it's really great."

David Fortino: And there's a lot of ways to do that, but don't be ignorant and think that these people are just sitting there waiting for you because they're not.

Amber Keller: Yeah, the number of open tabs in my browser of things that opened last week, even that I thought were going to be interesting and helpful to me really underscores what you're saying.

Amber Keller: Is there an opportunity for a savvy salesperson to insert themselves at a better point based on this data?

David Fortino: Yeah, I think so. When you start looking at, especially if you're soliciting custom responses, that is a phenomenal area where sales can actually leverage those points of feedback, whether it's answers to questions or polls or even a custom question and leverage that as a contextual driver and even say immediately like, "Hey, I know you just did this and you provided a poll response of this, and I'm going to be in touch in a couple days. I'm going to let you digest that and be respectful of your time, but I'm going to be ready to talk about a few things that have specifically addressed your pain point."

David Fortino: And it's almost like conveying the value before you've even delivered it, and that's a bit disarming for most prospects because I think most people that you call upon tend to think clearly, "Yeah, you're just going to sell me and I got to sit through the deck and I got to sit through the demo," and we’re saying, "I already know your problem, so you already told us, and I've been paying attention, and so I'll be armed with a few quick hits on that first and then yeah, if there's relevance there, we'll explore further and we'll get into the normal stuff that you'll need to hear." If you do that well, you're going to earn a lot of trust and a lot of credibility with your prospects.

Amber Keller: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. That really is taking that personalized or humanized approach and really making it real.

Amber Keller: We are already done, unbelievably. I have so many more questions that I would love to ask you about this report. I encourage anyone in the audience to download the report and explore that Audience Explorer tool. I want to thank you so much for your time today, David.

David Fortino: Yeah. Thank you.

Amber Keller: Yeah. Terrific chat.

David Fortino: No, this was a great session. Thanks so much. Yeah and if anybody has any other questions or comments, feel free to fire away and thanks again.

Amber Keller: Thanks.