This quote from Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, neatly encapsulates one of the main findings from the latest report from the CMI on the state of B2B content marketing. Namely if you are not fully committed to your content marketing strategy, you just might as well not have a strategy at all.
That suggestion comes from the 2017 edition of the annual B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America report, the seventh in the series. The study, carried out by the CMI and Marketing Profs and sponsored by Bright Cove, questioned more than 1,100 marketers across North America to seek their views on what is now becoming a more mature element of the B2B marketing industry, with some 89 percent of respondents reporting that they use content marketing.
The results indicate that a majority of B2B marketers rate content marketing as being an increasingly successful marketing tactic, but only with a clear strategy in place and a commitment to follow it through.
A Successful Content Marketing Scenario
While the 2016 report suggested that there was some disillusionment around content marketing for B2B marketers, the most recent survey reveals that there is a lot more optimism around now. As this graphic from the report illustrates almost two-thirds (62 percent) of respondents indicated their content marketing had been more successful than a year ago. Just three percent said that they had less success with a content marketing strategy.
Why the change in sentiment? To help to answer that question, a reminder of what content marketing means in the B2B setting as defined in the study.
“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.”
Does that mean pumping out as much content as possible to attract attention? Quite the opposite in fact. As Pulizzi points out with this quote from Robert Rose you should publish, “as little as you can and still have the impact you desire.”
B2B marketers seem to be getting that message according to their assessment of the factors that are contributing to their content marketing success. Higher quality, more efficiency, and a more developed strategy are clear winners, while better targeting and measuring to find out what works are rated highly.
Here are the outcomes:
- More than a third of respondents (34 percent) said that their content marketing strategy is extremely or very effective. Just one in ten reported that their strategy had just a minimal effect and none that it had no effect at all.
- Seventy percent reported that their strategy is much more or somewhat more effective than a year ago; just two percent said their strategy had been less effective.
- Seven in ten said that their organization would produce more original content in 2017 than in the previous year.
Why B2B Content Marketing Winners are Winning
Top performers are doing things differently from the rest of the crowd and reaping the benefits.
- Content marketing takes commitment. Ninety one percent of the most successful said that their organization is very or extremely committed to content marketing. Just 35 percent of the least successful could say the same.
- Top performers have a focus on measurement. Eighty eight percent of successful organizations measure the ROI of content marketing; this falls to just over half (56 percent) for the less successful.
- The most successful are realistic about what content marketing can achieve (91 percent) compared to the less successful (41 percent).
- Critically, the most successful say that they deliver content consistently and that leadership allows time for content marketing to produce results.
That leads me to point out one other result that stands out—the description of content marketing maturity. Just two percent of the least successful described their level of maturity as sophisticated/mature (compared to 72 percent of top performers and 28 percent overall). Content marketing isn’t a quick fix. It takes time, commitment, and consistency to mature and to be effective. Those organizations that are in for the long haul are likely to produce the best results.
Barriers to Content Marketing Success
The point about commitment and consistency is reinforced with the barriers to success recorded by respondents that had seen a decrease in success from content marketing.
Lack of time, absence of strategy, inadequate budget, low priority. This usual list of suspects will be familiar reading to marketers that struggle to get the level of commitment that they need for content marketing from decision makers.
Content Creation and Distribution Trends
Marketers are getting the message about content creation with more than three-quarters (76 percent) saying that they will prioritize quality over quantity. Some other key content creation and distribution trends also emerged from the study.
Tools. B2B content marketers are taking advantage of the range of sophisticated tools available to them. Almost eight in ten (79 percent) employ analytics tools, 64 percent are using a dedicated email platform, 56 percent a Content Management system, and just over half (51 percent) use marketing automation software.
Audience Research. Marketers are using a range of techniques to learn more about their target audience. Website analysis (58 percent) and keyword search (57 percent) head the list, with employee/customer feedback, competitive analysis, and social listening featuring strongly. As a longtime advocate for A/B testing I’m pleased to see four in ten saying they use the method.
Distribution tactics. Social media content (83 percent), blogs (80 percent), and email (77 percent) are the most used methods of content distribution. It might be a surprise to some in this digital age that in-person events are more often used, and considered to be more critical to success, than both video and webinars.
Social channels. There’s no surprise however that email (91 percent) is overwhelmingly named as the most important channel for content distribution. The increased relevance of LinkedIn to B2B marketers is also reflected in a rating (71 percent) that’s well ahead of more consumer-focused channels such as Twitter (55 percent) and Facebook (38 percent).
A Positive Outlook for Content Marketing
The study paints a generally positive picture for B2B marketing in North America as this graphic illustrates.
However, that positivity does come with something of a caveat. The recurring theme from the report is that content marketing can be a valuable tactic for B2B marketers. It’s no quick fix however; it takes commitment, consistency, and a realistic approach. It requires a clear strategy, an understanding of the target audience’s needs, and patience from leaders for results to accrue. It needs tools to distribute content effectively and to measure and analyze results; and it needs an agile approach to react to the results of that analysis.
What has your experience of content marketing as a B2B marketer been? Do you share the optimism that’s reflected in the report? I would love to hear your thoughts.
You can find more about the study at 2017 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends —North America or by viewing this SlideShare presentation.