B2B Technology Buyers Share Their Content Preferences

B2B Technology Buyers Share Their Content Preferences
Stephanie Tilton - Wed Sep 22, 2010 @ 03:52AM
Comments: 61

Eccolo Media just released its third annual B2B Technology Collateral Survey Report. Working with Global Marketing Insite, Eccolo surveyed 500 C-level execs, vice presidents, managers, directors, developers/ programmers, and technicians about their use of the following in the research and decision process:

  • White papers
  • Case studies
  • Brochures and data sheets
  • Audio or podcasted content
  • Video collateral (i.e., webinars, product tutorials/demos, marketing videos, and customer testimonials)

All respondents were responsible for either making or influencing B2B technology purchases for companies of all sizes.

Key takeaways:

  • The quality, format, length, and topic of marketing collateral, along with the ways in which it is made available, substantially affects the purchase decision.
  • The majority of respondents consumed most content in the pre-sales phase of the sales cycle.

White Papers Take Top Billing

While brochures and data sheets were the most frequently consumed collateral type, for the third year in a row, white papers were rated the most influential in the purchasing decision process. White papers were also the most frequently shared type of content.

When asked what most disappointed in a white paper, poor writing ranked number one. One surprise in the findings – the respondents said they're more disappointed when a white paper doesn't contain enough technical information than when a paper contains too much.

My thought about this finding is that it depends on who is reading the paper and at what stage in the buying cycle. It's true that technical decision makers are likely going to seek technical details – and will want more details further along in the buying cycle. But business decision makers are likely more interested in understanding how a solution can help improve business processes, help the company achieve it's strategic goals, etc.

The majority of respondents indicated a preference for white papers between 4-8 pages. Eccolo's findings about ideal length for a white paper are somewhat in line with the research by TechWeb. In its Tech Marketing Best Practices Research Series on white papers, TechWeb found that 86% of IT buyers want white papers under 10 pages, with 50% wanting papers under 5 pages. Interestingly, between last year's survey and this one, Eccolo found that respondents are slightly shifting their preference from shorter to longer papers.

length of white paper

Case Studies Come in Second

Case studies were rated the second-most influential content type after white papers, the same result as Eccolo's 2009 survey. Respondents greatly preferred written case studies over audio or video versions, in spite of much talk these days about growing consumption of audio and video case studies. In fact, the respondents also overwhelmingly chose written case studies as the most influential of the three formats.

 case study format

When it comes to preferred length of case studies, the majority of respondents chose four pages. The preferences indicated in the chart below closely match the numbers in last year's survey results. Turns out the preferred length of a case study closely correlates to the prospect's company size, with those in larger companies preferring longer case studies, while those in small companies prefer two-pagers.

case study length

How Prospects Find Content

The majority of survey respondents got hold of written collateral through a corporate website, which is similar to 2009's findings. Other channels included direct mail, RSS feeds, link or discussion in social media site, webinar follow-up, forwarded by sales rep or personal contact. I find it interesting that Eccolo didn't offer third-party sites as a potential source of this content, since many tech buyers download white papers and other content from sites such as IT Business Edge, TechTarget, etc.

When Prospects Consume Content

When Eccolo mapped content consumption habits to the buying cycle, it found that the majority of content is consumed early on. In fact, Eccolo found that, in general, influencers tend to consume content earlier in the sales cycle than decision makers. That said, prospects are consuming more content in the middle stages this year than in past years.

Phase of purchase cycle

This aligns with findings by TechTarget in its 2009 Media Consumption Report: Mindset of the IT Pro During the Recession, as you can see in the chart below.

TechTarget content consumption patterns

I'd like to know how tech buyers are responding to eBooks, as we are seeing more of these in the mix (see chart above). A number of companies have realized great success with these, including Lumension (see my post explaining Lumension's process for developing and promoting its first eBook, which was downloaded over 7,000 times). Jonathan Kranz included a mini case study in his eBook about eBooks about Dow Jones' success with its Taxonomy Folksonomy Cookbook eBook, which was downloaded more than 1,600 times and pumped 50 solid business opportunities into the sales pipeline.

The 31-page Eccolo Media 2010 B2B Technology Collateral Survey Report is well worth reviewing for more insights around content preferences and consumption patterns. You can download it after registering.

About the author: Stephanie Tilton is a content marketing consultant who helps B2B companies craft content that nurtures leads and advances the buying cycle. You can follow her on Twitter or read more of her posts on SavvyB2B.

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Comments: 61

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Good one. It's about time we asked prospects what they want to consume and when!

I do think it varies a lot my market and even by product within each market.
We work in some dynamic, information-hungry markets that behave completely differently from more mature markets.

Still, very valuable research.

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