On-Target Marketing

Oct 19 2011   7:12PM GMT

Study Reveals B2B Content Preferences & Trends

StephanieTilton Profile: StephanieTilton

Eccolo Media just published its fourth-annual report on B2B collateral trends and consumer preferences and technology marketers should take note. On behalf of Eccolo, Global Marketing Insite surveyed 501 C-level execs, vice presidents, managers, directors, developers/ programmers, and technicians involved in technology purchase decisions.

Highlights of the report:

  • B2B prospects are consuming a wider variety of content types
  • The influence of white papers, case studies, and product brochures/data sheets increased even as consumption decreased
  • Embedding social-sharing buttons significantly boosts the perceived influence of all content types
  • A growing number of respondents consume content on mobile devices
  • Adding interactive elements significantly increases the perceived influence of written content

Note that because Eccolo Media saw some marked differences in responses from this year compared to last, for the first time, it conducted a follow-up survey with respondents to confirm these are true trends and not anomalies.

Prospects Turn to More Content Types

Respondents reported consuming significantly less of three major collateral types year over year:

  • Brochures/data sheets: 72% compared to 83% last year
  • White papers: 62% compared to 76% in 2010
  • Case studies: 50% versus 67% in 2010

It appears the reason for this dramatic decline in consumption can be attributed to the fact that prospects are gathering information from a wider variety of sources, including company Web pages, eBooks, social media sites, blog posts, and presentations. That means technology marketers need to consider adding these content types/sources to their marketing mix.

Notably, respondents reported consuming more of the five “traditional” collateral types in the earlier stages of the buying cycle. And compared to 2010, respondents consume more content in the pre-sale phase, making consumption in this phase just about even with that in the initial sale stage. Marketers should take this into consideration as they’re planning what types of content will address their prospects’ needs throughout the buying cycle.

Growing Influence of White Papers, Case Studies, and Brochures/Datasheets

Even while consumption of key content assets declined, the perceived influence of these content types on the purchase decision has increased. Here’s how respondents rated these collateral types in the categories of “very” to “extremely” influential this year compared to last:

  • White papers: 65% in 2011 versus 41% in 2010
  • Case studies: 68% in 2011 compared to 39% in 2010
  • Brochures/datasheets: 61% in 2011 compared to 47% in 2010

The sway of podcasts and videos also rose tremendously, from 44% to 67% and from 48% to 62% respectively.

Sometimes Shorter is Better

The majority of respondents (48%) prefer 4-page case studies, as they did in 2010 (37%). They also still turn to written case studies more than to video or audio testimonials. What we’re missing from this year’s survey results is how these case study preferences align to the respondents’ company sizes. In 2010, those in larger companies preferred longer case studies, while those in small companies gravitated to two-pagers. This could be due to larger companies needing to check off more boxes across different areas of the organization to push a purchase through. In other words, they want/need to see how a vendor’s solution addressed the needs of the:

  • Business user
  • Finance group
  • IT department


Oftentimes, that level of detail isn’t found in shorter case studies.


Also just as in last year’s survey, the majority of respondents chose six pages as the ideal length for a white paper. This year, Eccolo doesn’t provide insight into how the overall preferences have changed. Between 2009’s survey and 2010’s, Eccolo found that respondents were slightly shifting their preference from shorter to longer papers. It would be interesting to see if that trend is holding true. (For a summary of last year’s Eccolo Media survey, see my post on the Savvy B2B Marketing blog.)

Looks Matter

For the first time, Eccolo surveyed about the importance of charts, illustrations, and tables in white papers. 77% of respondents find it extremely to moderately important that white papers include these types of visuals. This reinforces the importance of design in making it easier to consume and remember content. (For more on this topic, read my post on the Savvy B2B Marketing blog.)

Mobile Takes Off – But Still Lags Far Behind

While 37% of respondents say they’ve consumed content on a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet, the vast majority are still viewing white papers, case studies, and brochures/datasheets on their desktops or are downloading and printing them. This finding comes as no surprise since it’s usually not enjoyable to read a lengthy content asset on a mobile device, especially a smartphone.


Getting More Out of Your Content

Making content easier to share and more multimedia in nature can go a long way in impacting how prospects regard content. Of the 52% of respondents that recalled seeing a social-sharing button in content, 77% said they perceived the collateral as “much more” or “somewhat more” influential. At the same time, written content that was enhanced with audio elements was viewed by 83% of respondents as more influential, and content with embedded video positively influenced the perceptions of 92% of respondents.


While it can take some effort to add interactive elements to white papers, eBooks, or other content, it appears to be well worth the investment. And considering how simple it is to add social-sharing buttons to content, technology marketers would be remiss not to embed these into all their content templates. Do a search on “how to add social sharing buttons to PDF” for instructions from a variety of sources.

For more on the findings from this year’s survey, download the 17-page report from Eccolo Media’s site (after registering).

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