The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs have released their latest annual report [pdf] looking at the state of content marketing among B2B marketers in North America. As the sixth annual report covering this area, the study allows for comparisons to years past to identify shifts and trends. Even so, some findings, such as the perceived effectiveness of in-person events, appear to be quite consistent over time.
[For an examination of how content marketing fits into the broader B2B digital marketing agenda, see MarketingCharts’ study, the 2015 B2B Digital Marketing Insights Report.]
Following are some highlights from this year’s edition of the content marketingÂ study, including comparisons to prior editions where appropriate.
Adoption and Effectiveness
This year, 88% of respondents reported using content marketing, up slightly from last year (86%), when a new definition was developed: “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.”
In a new question this year, respondents were asked to rate the maturity of their organization’s content marketing. The largest portion – 29% – rated themselves as being “adolescent” (the middle stage of the 5 identified), meaning that they have developed a business case, are seeing early success, and becoming more sophisticated with measurement and scaling. Generally speaking, the majority of marketers fell in the middle 3 of the 5 stages of maturity, with fewer at the “sophisticated” or “first steps” extremes.
Meanwhile, only 30% of content marketers rated their organization’s use of content marketing as effective (top-2 box on a 5-point scale), compared to 38% last year, 42% in 2013 and 36% in 2012. This may not necessarily mean that content marketing effectiveness is increasing, but instead perhaps thatÂ the goalposts, so to speak, are moving. Some research suggests, for example, that content marketers are largely satisfied with their success, although other research indicates that content marketing may not be as effective as other digital marketing tactics.
Part of the problem may be a lack of clarity concerning what content marketing success actually looks like. Indeed, only 44% of marketers surveyed said they have clarity on content marketing success. Measurement problems may be to blame, as content is among the most difficult digital tactics to measure for ROI.
All told, the results suggest, though, that marketers believe there’s room for improvement.
This year’s study notes that experienced (“sophisticated” and “mature” content marketers) are more likely to believe they’re effective at content marketing, as are respondents with a documented content marketing strategy, almost half (48%) of whom report being effective.
The trouble is that few content marketers actually have a documented strategy. This year, that figure stands at 32%, down from last year’s 35%. Another 48% have a strategy that is not documented, on par with last year’s results. Also consistent with last year’s results, those with a documented strategy report being more effective in a wide range of areas than those without such a strategy.
In a couple of new questions, the report notes that:
- Only 28% have a documented editorial mission statement (and another 30% one that is not documented);
- Some 44% meet daily (8%) or weekly (36%) to discuss the progress/results of their content marketing program, with this figure higher among the most effective marketers; and
- About 1 in 5 consider these internal content marketing meetings to be “extremely” valuable, with another 70% rating them “very” or “somewhat” valuable.
Goals and Metrics
This is an area in which there appear to have been some changes (see the chart at the top of this article). In fact, after having been the top goal for at least 3 years, brand awareness dropped to the 4th-most cited organizational objective for content marketers this year. Instead, lead generation (the second-most cited goal overÂ the past couple of years) is now the leading objective, cited by 85% of respondents as being of top-2 importance on a 5-point scale.
Closely following, 84% rated sales as an important goal. This is an interesting finding, and may reflect an increased focus on measurable results as content marketing matures (although it was a more popular goal among immature content marketers…). Nevertheless, the focus on sales may explain the lower effectiveness ratings this year; as objectives shift from brand awareness to sales, content marketers may be finding these results more difficult to prove.
Likewise, while website traffic has traditionally been the most commonly used metric, this year the highest proportion of marketers cited sales lead quality (87%), sales (84%) and higher conversion rates (82%) as important metrics. This is another indication that the focus is shifting away from branding goals to quantifiable sales results. This may not be too surprising given an environment in which CMOs are increasingly feeling pressure to prove their worth to the board.
Respondents to the CMI and MarketingProfs study this year were asked to identify their single most important metric. The top-cited response? Sales lead quality (31%), followed by sales (23%). Brand lift (6%) and website traffic (5%), by contrast, were much further back.
Content Creation and Distribution
Slightly more than three-quarters of respondents expect to produce more content next year than they have this year. Content production has been on the increase for several years now, which may also be contributing to increased competition and lower effectiveness ratings.
The number of tactics used by marketers averages out at 13, steady from the past couple of years. There have been minor changes in adoption from last year, leading to some small ranking changes, though each of the top 7 tactics in use last year are also in that group this year. In this latest edition,Â the top 7 tacticsÂ employedÂ are:
- Social media content – other than blogs (93%, similar to last year’s leading 92%);
- Case studies (82%, up from 77% and the #6 position last year);
- Blogs (81%, up slightly from 80% and the #4 position last year);
- E-newsletters (also 81%, down slightly from 83% and the #2 position last year);
- In-person events (also 81%, up from 77% and the #5 position last year);
- Website articles (79%, down from 81% and the #3 position last year); and
- Videos (also 79%, up from 76% last year and 73% the year before).
(It’s interesting to see the adoption of videos continue to gradually rise, as they’ve been cited as being very effective in recent studies.)
Infographics also continue to become more popular. This year, 67% reported using them, up from 62% last year, 51% in 2013 and 38% in 2012.
Effectiveness of Content Marketing Tactics
Here’s what hasn’t changed: in-person events are rated the most effective tactic, for the sixth consecutive year. This year 75% rated them as being effective, giving events a considerableÂ degree of separation fromÂ those following: webinars/webcasts (66%); case studies (65%); white papers (63%) and videos (62%). Compared to years past, blogs appear to have fallen a little out of favor in terms of effectiveness, replaced by white papers.
The largest jump in effectiveness ratings this year came for infographics: 58% rated them as being effective in meeting their goals, up from 50% last year.
Social media, the most-used tactic, continues to lie outside of the top 10 tactics by effectiveness. Looking further at social media, the study finds that adoption of various platforms is generally stable, with the 5 most popular consistent fromÂ last year:
- LinkedIn (94% using, flat from last year);
- Twitter (87%, down a percentage point);
- Facebook (84%, flat);
- YouTube (74%, up a couple of percentage points); and
- Google+ (62%, down a couple of percentage points).
SlideShare and Pinterest, which had been fast-risers in 2013, took a step back in usage this year after leveling off last year.
The effectiveness rankings of social platforms remains largely unchanged from last year, though Facebook replaced Vimeo as the fifth-most effective:
- LinkedIn (66% of users rating as effective);
- Twitter (55%);
- YouTube (51%);
- SlideShare (41%); and
- FacebookÂ (30%).
Google+, meanwhile, continues to be the lowest-rated social platform of those identified.
For the second consecutive year, respondents were asked about their paid advertising usage, with the average respondent again using three. The most-used are also consistent from last year: search engine marketing (SEM; 66%); print or other offline promotion (57%); and traditional online banner ads (55%).
Of the paid channels listed, SEM is again easily the top-rated in terms of effectiveness (55%, up from 52% last year), followed by promoted posts (e.g. promoted Tweets; 48%, up from 41%), social ads (45%; up from 38%), content discovery tools (45%; up from 36%) and native advertising (40%; up from 36%).
It’s interesting to note that more respondents are finding these paid channels to be effective relative to last year’s results, though it’s too soon to call that a trend.
Budgets and Challenges
Not surprisingly given the buzz about content marketing, 51% of respondents plan to increase their content marketing budgets over the next year, though this figure is down slightly from prior years (55% last year, 58% in 2013, and 54% in 2012).
Despite those increases over the years, the share of total marketing budgets spent on content marketing doesn’t seem to have changed. This year it averages out at 28%, on par with last year, and compared to 30% in 2013, 33% in 2012, and 26% in 2011.
As regardsÂ content challenges, the top issueÂ continues to be producing engaging content. This challenge is unlikely to abate, given that most marketers plan to yet again increase their content production.
Of note, though measuring content effectiveness moves up this year to the second-most cited challenge, with this again potentially a reflection of the added focus on quantifiable results.
- A majority of content marketers ask their audiences to subscribe to e-newsletters (72%) and blogs (56%), and 87% extend at least one offer. Interestingly, newsletters are low on the list of content types that buyers will complete a form to obtain, according to data contained in MarketingCharts’ B2B Digital Marketing Insights Report.
- The top priorities for B2B content creators are creating more engaging content (72%) and better understanding what content is and isn’t effective (65%). Another high priority is the creation of visual content (51%), as visual assets grow in importance.
- The most effective content marketers differ from the least effective in several ways, including: having more clarity on what success looks like; meeting daily or weekly to discuss their program; having a documented strategy and editorial mission statement; and dedicating a higher portion of their total budget to content marketing.
- The study for the first time contains a table comparing B2B and B2C content marketers, indicating that someone read this last year. (If you made it this far, you’re treated to some friendlyÂ snark!)
About the Data: The sixth 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), Blackbaud, The Association for Data-driven Marketing & Advertising (ADMA), Industry Week, New Equipment Digest, and WTWH Media.
A total of 3,714 recipients from around the globe””representing a full range of industries, functional areas, and company sizes””completed the survey during July and August 2015. This report presents the findings from the 1,521 respondents who said they were B2B marketers in North America (1,334 of whom said, “yes, our organization uses content marketing”), producing a +/-2.5% degree of accuracy at a 95% confidence level.