How COVID-19 Continues to Impact B2B Content Consumption

NetLine shares in detail how B2B content consumption in the U.S. has evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’re more than 3 months into our new “normal”, whatever that means for each of us, collectively.

Before we released our 2020 State of B2B Content Consumption and Demand Report for Marketers, we shared how COVID-19 had impacted B2B content consumption, reporting on the trend of total content consumption, the initial run on Coronavirus content, and which states and job levels were most active. It’s a great breakdown of how first-party data analysis can tell dynamic stories in near real-time. 

That blog covered what happened in March 2020 and clearly, there has been a significant amount happening since the early Spring. So what exactly has happened since then that B2B marketers and business leaders should know about?

Let’s review.

Total-Content Requests Have Increased Nearly 50% YOY

As we discuss total demand for content, we’ll be reviewing two specific measurements: raw downloads and percentage of downloads within a given job filter (Job Level, Industry, Region, etc). In this section, we’ll touch on raw downloads.

In reviewing NetLine’s data from both April and May 2019 and April and May 2020, we found that the total demand for B2B content rose by 10.5% in April and 49.8% in May. Even when we remove total Coronavirus downloads from May’s raw totals, we still saw a 41.6% increase in demand. Considering that Coronavirus content saw a dip in month over month volume (which we’ll see in the next section), this is an astounding development and an extremely encouraging sign for content and demand generation marketers. 

With a large majority of professionals at home and engaged in the unique events surrounding them, interest in B2B materials unrelated to the pandemic still exists. If anything, their thirst for B2B content not directly speaking about the pandemic is seemingly accelerating. Our data revealed that the most active content seekers came from the IT, Executive, Education, Human Resources professions. 

Through the first week of May, 93% of NetLine’s job functions saw an increase in content requests, most notably including the Legal (+92%), Insurance (+75%), and Food Services/Hospitality (+61%) professions. The only job functions that saw a decrease in consumption demand were Retail (-11%) and Biotech (-4%). Ecommerce aside, the drop in Retail consumption makes sense based on the economic restrictions placed on physical retailers.

By the end of May, every job function had seen at least a 1% increase in total consumption. The delta from the end of March saw Logistics/Transportation (+94%), Real Estate (75%), Finance/Accounting (72%) with the biggest gains, with Biotech (2%), Creative/Design (1%), and Marketing (5%) seeing only minor increases.

While B2B industries as a whole saw a bit of a “freeze” during March and the early parts of April, NetLine’s data indicates that B2B content consumption is returning back to, and potentially even exceeding, a version of pre-pandemic demand with which B2B professionals are familiar. Despite the fact that your context for initial outreach and engagement will likely need to be tweaked, this information should be reassuring to Marketers that their prospects are still actively consuming content. 

Demand for COVID-19 Content Behaved Like a Rollercoaster

In terms of raw volume, COVID-19 content consumption dropped by nearly half from March to April. Given the lack of new information available in April relative to what we’d been learning in March, this was an expected slide. 

While we did see a slight uptick and subsequent plateauing in mid-May, this was soon followed by another drop similar to what was seen in mid-April.

We see an even sharper slide within Google Trends for searches for Coronavirus and COVID-19, respectively.

At this point, we’re confident in saying that the majority of businesses have secured the information that they absolutely need on COVID-19 and what they need to do to operate while keeping employees and customers safe. 

Unless there are colossal developments around Coronavirus treatments, ordinances, a severe second wave, or some other unfortunate and unforeseen occurrence, we don’t expect demand volume to surge beyond its current levels. Be sure to keep this in mind as you’re actively updating, repurposing, and creating content during this time. 

Collaboration and Productivity Software Demand Followed Suit With a More Robust 2nd Spike

Demand for collaboration and productivity software content followed a nearly identical trajectory to Coronavirus oriented content downloads, albeit at roughly one-third of the total volume. Unlike COVID-19 content, this group saw a nearly 900% second life after a 5-week decline. If you’re a vendor in this space, it’s likely that many of your prospects have settled into their solution of preference as it relates to managing and extracting the most of their distributed WFH teams. 

When evaluating the averages by organizational size, as shown in the chart below, companies with less than 25 employees showed the greatest interest in these two topics, specifically during the week of April 5th. 

The second wave of interest, which began the week of May 24th, was driven primarily by companies with fewer than 5 employees, further supporting our theory that larger organizations (with more resources and manpower) had already completed the bulk of their research by the beginning of May. 

Regardless of the company size, peak Productivity and Collaboration orientated content occurred on the week of April 5th and the low (thus far) occurred on May 31st. On average, there was a 88% decline in this kind of content being consumed across all company sizes

Google Trends also reflects the relative cooling in interest for information related to these topics, with a relatively similar bump in Work from Home interest on May 13th.

Human Resources Had the Most Interest in COVID Content

Despite the fact that total demand declined from March to May, the Human Resources industry had the highest percentage of subs for Coronavirus content among all job functions. Despite their aggressive peaks coming nearly two weeks later than other job functions, the Legal and Insurance industries finished behind HR for total demand.

There are a few assumptions we can make from this data. 

1. HR, Legal, and Insurers Must Be Ahead of the Curve

The first is that Human Resource departments (not to mention lawyers and insurers) are doing their best to stay up to date about everything that is being about with COVID-19. Given their roles within their respective organizations and/or how they can best inform their clients, HR, Legal, and Insurers will be the most engaged consumers of this content. 

2. The General Professional Need for COVID-19 Content Has Expired

As we shared in the second section unless there is an unfortunate outbreak within their particular field, professionals who aren’t associated with the HR, Legal, or Insurance industries are unlikely to have a continuing need for Coronavirus-related content.

3. Marketers Will Remain in the Top 5 of Consumers

Finally, our third assumption is that if we were to continue to review this specific data on a monthly basis through the rest of 2020, it’s likely that Marketing will continue to finish within the top 5. We say this because Marketers are often charged with navigating how businesses communicate with their consumers and prospects, regardless of what is happening in the world. If and/or as information around COVID-19 evolves, Marketers must be in the know so as not muddy the waters for anyone associated with their company or clients.

The Legal Industry’s Content Demand Was Voracious

In this section, we’ll touch on the percentage of downloads by Industry.

As we alluded to above, the Legal profession was quite busy in April. Specifically, professionals in the Legal world were the most interested in Collaboration and Productivity software content during the month of April. At its peak, the total demand for content within these two categories reached 16.60%, with an average of 6.52% of total Legal industry downloads for the month. 

Think about that, 16 out of every 100 pieces of content a legal professional downloaded was specifically focused on Collaboration and Productivity software. At peak, this behavior was 155% above benchmark averages for the profession. 

Following its peak during the week of April 26th, Legal’s appetite seems satiated as it settled back to roughly match the same levels of demand seen by Human Resources and Insurance.

Given that remote work and collaboration software platforms became necessary tools for businesses and employees across the world, legal teams have a lot on their plates. Not only must they keep up with government news surrounding the virus and its impact on employee/employer rights, they must also be aware of the risks this new version of work presents. Considering the upward trajectory the Legal industry ended the month with, it’s not farfetched to assume that interest from this field will continue for the foreseeable future. 

The most interesting group to show interest in this information happened to be Creative/Design. This is an industry that has adapted quite well to working remotely for more than a decade if not two. Our best-educated guess here is that many businesses have now approached designers and creatives to help them produce high-quality content related to working from home in one form or fashion. The best way for us to measure the accuracy of our theory? Paying attention to what’s uploaded to our platform, of course.

What Comes Next?

As we shared in the first COVID-19 consumption post, each month will have its own set of surprises, gimmes, and headscratchers. What’s important to remember as retail locations and offices begin to reopen around the United States is that professionals are still interested in the things that drive their business.

One of the takeaways from our 2020 Content Consumption Report is that marketers have less time than ever to convince their prospective audiences; said another way, the first piece of content that your prospect consumes had better be a great one. Now it can be argued that this window has shrunken even further, with so many businesses being budget conscious and focused on maximizing short-term returns. 

We’ll continue to monitor the macro-trends of the B2B world to give your business a fighting chance in this strange, new world. If you’d like to see how your industry has been impacted by the novel Coronavirus, visit Audience Explorer and see how your business can adapt to a new reality.