B2B Content Marketing: What’s Changed, and What Hasn’t?

CMIMarketingProfs-Most-Effective-B2B-Content-Marketing-Tactics-Oct2014The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs have today released their latest annual report looking at content marketing trends among B2B marketers in North America. As the fifth annual report covering this area (2013 coverage here; 2012 here; 2011 here), the study allows for some comparisons to years past – but also includes new insights resulting from some additional questions in this year’s survey.

(For data regarding B2B buyers’ media and content consumption habits, see the MarketingCharts’ Debrief, “Reaching and Influencing B2B Buyers and Decision-Makers.”)

The following are some highlights from this year’s edition of the CMI and MarketingProfs study, including comparisons to last year’s survey where appropriate.

Content Marketing Usage and Effectiveness

This year, 86% of respondents reported using content marketing, down from 93% last year and 91% in 2012. However, this study used a new definition of content marketing developed by the CMI early this year: “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Interestingly, only 38% of content marketers rated the effectiveness of their organization’s use of content marketing as effective (top-2 box on a 5-point scale), compared to 42% last year and 36% in 2011. Along with the results from this recent survey that found content marketers dissatisfied with the business results of their content marketing, it appears that marketers believe there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Content Marketing Strategies

In last year’s study, only 44% of respondents reported having a documented content strategy. This year, the report took an extra step, asking respondents if they had strategies that weren’t documented. All told, 35% said they have a documented strategy and another 48% an undocumented one. As with last year, those with a documented strategy report being more effective in a wide range of areas than those without such a strategy.

It’s also worth noting that having a strategy is one thing – and following it is another. In this year’s survey, only 42% said their strategy guides their efforts “very closely,” although an additional 51% said it does “somewhat.”

Goals and Metrics

Brand awareness continues to be the top goal for B2B marketers, with 84% of respondents to this year considering it an important objective (top-2 box score on a 5-point scale). However, lead generation follows closely (83%), as does engagement (81%). Compared to last year, these goals appear to be more widely adopted and recognized, as do sales and lead nurturing.

As with last year, website traffic (63%) and sales lead quality (49%) are the top 2 metrics being used by content marketers, although higher conversion rates (48%) is also in the mix (not identified last year). Other metrics such as sales (43%), SEO ranking (40%) and time spent on website (39%) are being measured to similar degrees as last year.

Content Creation and Distribution

This year, 7 in 10 B2B content marketers report creating significantly more (27%) or more (43%) content than the year before, with that overall figure relatively unchanged from the preceding study.

The number of tactics used by marketers remains steady at 13, and the order of popularity remains generally stable. In fact, the top 7 tactics in use are unchanged from last year in terms of the overall rankings. They are:

  • Social media content – other than blogs (92%, up from 89%);
  • E-newsletters (83%, from 81%);
  • Articles on your website (81%, from 80%);
  • Blogs (80%, up from 76%);
  • In-person events (77%, from 76%);
  • Case studies (77%, up from 73%); and
  • Videos (76%, up from 73%).

Infographics continue to become more popular. This year, 62% report using them, up from 51% last year and 38% the year before.

Effectiveness of Content Marketing Tactics

In-person events are rated the most effective tactic for the fifth consecutive year: this year 69% rated them a top-2 box on a 5-point scale of effectiveness. Events were followed by webinars/webcasts, videos, blogs and case studies. Those are the same top-5 as last year, though with the rankings order slightly changed: webinars/webcasts have moved up the effectiveness rankings, while case studies have moved down a few notches.

Looking further at social media, the study finds that adoption of various platforms is generally increasing, with Google+ seeing the biggest jump:

  • LinkedIn (94%, up from 91% last year);
  • Twitter (88%, up from 85%);
  • Facebook (84%, up from 81%);
  • YouTube (72%, down from 73%); and
  • Google+ (64%, up from 55%).

Fast-risers from last year such as SlideShare, Pinterest, Instagram and Vimeo appear to have leveled off this year.

This year’s study notes that back in 2010, only slightly more than half of content marketers were using Twitter (55%), Facebook (54%) and LinkedIn (51%), while just 38% used YouTube.

Interestingly, the effectiveness rankings of the social media platforms hasn’t changed from last year, with the top 5 being:

  • LinkedIn (63% rating a top-2 box score on a 5-point scale of effectiveness);
  • Twitter (55%);
  • YouTube (48%);
  • SlideShare (42%); and
  • Vimeo (40%).

Despite its growth in adoption over the past couple of years, Google+ continues to be the lowest-rated social platform of those measured.

In a new question this year, respondents were asked about their paid advertising usage, with 80% using at least one of the ad channels identified, and the average respondent using three. The most commonly used are: search engine marketing (SEM; 58%); print or other offline promotion (52%); traditional online banner ads (49%); and social ads (48%).

Of those listed, SEM is easily the top-rated in terms of effectiveness (52% top-2 box), followed by promoted posts (e.g. promoted Tweets; 41%), social ads (38%), content discovery tools (36%) and native advertising (36%).

Budgets and Challenges

Not surprisingly given the buzz about content marketing, 55% of respondents plan to significantly increase (9%) or increase (46%) their content marketing spending over the next year, relatively unchanged from last year (58%) and the year before (54%).

Despite those increases over the years, the percentage of total marketing budget spent on content marketing doesn’t seem to have changed much. This year it averages out at 28%, compared to 30% last year, 33% the year before, and 26% the year before that.

This year’s question regarding the challenges that B2B marketers face changed slightly from prior years, so an apples-to-apples comparison isn’t in order. But responses this year show that the biggest challenge is producing engaging content (54% top-2 box), followed by producing content consistently (50%) and measuring content effectiveness (49%).

Other Findings

  • Only 21% of respondents this year rate their organization’s success at tracking ROI as successful (top-2 box score).
  • B2B content marketers target an average of 4 audiences, with this number tending to increase with the size of the respondent’s organization.
  • Some 42% of respondents publish new content supporting the content marketing program daily (16%) or multiple times per week (26%).
  • Of 28 initiatives listed, the ones for which the largest share of respondents are either “working on now” or “plan to begin working on within 12 months” include creating more engaging/higher-quality content, better converting visitors to website and finding more/better ways to repurpose content.

About the Data: The fifth annual Content Marketing Survey, from which the results of the report were generated, was mailed electronically to a sample of marketers using lists from Content Marketing Institute, MarketingProfs, the Business Marketing Association (BMA), Brightcove, Blackbaud, EnVeritas Group (EVG), The Association for Data-driven Marketing & Advertising (ADMA), the Direct Marketing Association UK (DMA), Industry Week, New Equipment Digest, WTWH Media, and Corporate Financial Group.

A total of 5,167 recipients from around the globe—representing a full range of industries, functional areas, and company sizes—responded throughout July and August 2014. The above-referenced report presents the findings from the 1,820 respondents who said they were B2B marketers in North America (1,572 of whom said “yes, our organization uses content marketing”).