In 2010 The Base One Agency of London sponsored some of the most important research I’ve seen in our field.  And they have followed it up with another great report for 2011! Their Buyersphere Report provided statistically-valid data connecting inbound marketing activities with buyer behavior.

In a social media world filled with questionable research and lightweight infographics, this is research we can really use. I’m proud to be able to provide an advance summary of this report to the {grow} community.

Here is the report summary of data from more than 1,000 European B2B purchasing agents.  What are your main take-aways from this research?

The dominance of ‘traditional’ online

Despite the rising popularity of social media, “traditional online” channels of supplier websites, search and emails are those most used by buyers.

68% of buyers said they consulted supplier websites, while 65% used search engines to find the information they needed to support their purchase decision. The use of social media channels such as Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and Facebook all grew (Facebook, in fact, doubled in popularity from 2010 to 2011) but they are still much less frequently used than the ‘traditional online’ methods. Of course, this does not prove that social media is on the wane. A Google search frequently leads to a link provided by a social media network even if the buyer does not start there.

The youth factor

Splitting the data between under-30s and over-30s shows the inevitable tendency of younger buyers to use the newer channels — the under-30s were three times more likely to use blogs to help them select suppliers, for example — suggesting that social media usage will only increase as one generation gradually succeeds the other. But in the short term, it would appear that investing in SEO and websites should still command the lion’s share of the marketing budget.

A growing hunger for information

Comparing results from last year shows a significant growth in the number of information channels used by buyers. This is a clear sign that we are moving from the traditional outbound marketing model [where we used to broadcast information in the hope that some of it would stick] to an inbound model [where buyers choose what information they need and go and find it themselves online]. This means that there is a greater appetite for information – and therefore a greater burden on the brands to create more content of all kinds, in order to satisfy this hunger. It is clear that companies with a structured, considered programme for creating whitepapers, videos, blogs and the like are going to be the ones more likely to appear on buyers’ radar as they do their online research.

Are webinars coming of age?

One of the most dramatic change in behaviour will interest marketers who run their own events, because we have seen the proportion of buyers who used offline events when seeking purchase information fall dramatically. Last year, one in three buyers attended an event as part of their information gathering; in 2011 that proportion had almost halved to just 18%. This was accompanied by – although not necessarily caused by – an equally marked rise in the use of online events or webinars. One in ten buyers used this channel last year; in 2011 that rose to 27%, almost a threefold increase

There could be many reasons. But it is reasonable to assume that buyers are getting more used to webinars and that brands are creating many more of them. But perhaps the most interesting observation is that this is a classic case of digitisation; of digital technology creating a version of something that is utterly distinct from its offline counterpart.

But this is only part of the picture. In terms of influence, webinars do not come close to real events, which were rated as the most influential information source across all buying stages with 46% of buyers giveng them a rating of 9 or 10 for influence.

A two-tier Europe?

One of the improvements of this year’s Buyersphere Report was to include and compare the responses of 500 business buyers in France, Germany, Benelux and Italy. B2B brands are increasingly operating on a pan-European basis and we need to understand cultural and behavioural differences.

These differences emerged most strongly when we looked at the social media information sources used. In Germany and the UK, 48% and 46% of buyers respectively used social media tools during the buying process; this compared to just 22%, 26% and 35% of French, Benelux and Italian respondents. The use of traditional online, by contrast, was consistent across all five, varying only between 88% and 93%. In the UK, 16% of buyers used Facebook at some point in their research, compared with only 5% of Benelux buyers.

Attitudes to sharing

Another fascinating insight was the attitudes towards forwarding information. While tools like Twitter and Facebook are very efficient at quickly spreading information through friend networks, they are not the preferred options. Only 9% said they used Facebook “very often” to share professional information, whilst 27% used the company intranet and 44% used email with the same level of frequency.

But how willing are users to share their own data? Marketers often agonise over whether to allow their content to spread freely or to use it to generate leads by insisting on a data capture form. The Report suggests we should tread carefully, with 55% of buyers discouraged ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ often from downloading content by the content owner’s insistence on data capture. There were geographical differences here too: 22% of UK buyers said they were discouraged ‘very’ often, compared to 10-12% in Germany, France and Belgium.

If you would like to download the free Base One research, you can find the report at:  www.b2bmarketing.net/buyersphere11.

What are your conclusions from this interesting report?

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