Each Fall the latest B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America report comes out from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. I have to admit, it’s one of my favorite studies of the year. It gives marketers a great look into what other companies are doing in terms of content marketing, how effective and successful they feel their efforts are and new trends they’re noticing, trying out or driving. It helps teams who are making a commitment to content marketing know where they stand and get a few ideas about what to try next year.
The 2016 report came out recently and content marketing is playing an increasingly important role at business-to-business companies. The number of B2B organizations that have embraced content marketing climbed a couple percentage points this year, reaching 88% according to the survey.
Content touches so many facets of a company—brand recognizing, social media, lead generation, conversion rates, sales, engagement, customer retention, SEO, brand reputation—that getting a handle on content marketing can help or hurt an organization’s overall marketing success.
Unfortunately, many companies still feel like they’re missing the mark. The number of organizations that consider their content marketing efforts successful dropped from 38% in last year’s survey to 30%. More than half of the survey respondents report not even knowing what effectiveness looks like for their company’s content marketing efforts.
Organizations are beginning to understand the larger role that content marketing plays. While last year web traffic was the No. 1 metric for measuring program effectiveness, this year the survey asked a different question, “How important are the metrics your organization uses?” and “What is THE MOST important metric your organization uses?” In both cases, sales lead quality and sales took the top two spots. This shift in thinking could be what’s leaving some companies feeling lost and undefined.
It’s clear that content marketing is evolving, but it’s not maturing at every B2B company. Why is that? Survey results and years in the industry point at a major difference between teams that consider their efforts effective and successful and teams that are still trying to get there: A clear understanding of the company goals for content marketing and a roadmap created around that understanding.
Forty-four percent of the teams that consider themselves most successful have a clear definition of content marketing effectiveness, this most recent study found. That extends beyond a discussion and verbal understand—the best teams document their strategy, goals and KPIs.
Despite the noted effect a documented content strategy has on the effectiveness of content marketing (it’s been a hallmark stat in this study for years), fewer companies are taking the time to document their strategy—32% this year down from 35%. Nearly 50% of teams do have a strategy, just not a documented one. These teams are reportedly less effective than their peers who take the time to put strategies down on paper.
Mature and effective content marketing teams take strategy a step further and also officially document an editorial mission statement. This helps the team have a consistent, cohesive, “one source of truth” regarding the company’s target audience. Though right now it’s a practice of mature content marketing teams, it can easily be embraced by younger and smaller teams. Creating a company-cohesive editorial mission statement is one aspect of successful content marketing that doesn’t rely as heavily on expertise and experience (outside of branding and understanding the target audience).
Together, the mission statement and content marketing strategy help teams stay focused and on-track. They’re no longer creating misguided pieces of content or arguing about who to target. Those questions have been officially and definitively answered, leaving little room for waffling or differing priorities. If something needs to change in the content marketing strategy or target audience, the appropriate stakeholders can meet and adjust the plan, but in the meantime the team (both internal and external agencies) are working from a common game plan to achieve the same pre-defined goals.
In that light, it’s easy to see how a documented content strategy and mission statement lead to not only more successful teams, but teams that spend their time for effectively and are able to better measure ROI and content marketing results.
Each company needs to define its own goals. A young company might be more concerned with web traffic and brand recognition than a tenured company that chooses to focus primarily on lead generation and conversion. Neither way is right or wrong, it’s all about sitting down and deciding what the company needs the marketing department to achieve at this point in time. That goal should be the north star of the content marketing strategy and should be reevaluated each year.
However, goals alone are not enough to constitute a complete content marketing strategy. Teams must also decide what methods and platforms they want to pursue. From the wealth of content options available, including social media posts, webinars, in-person events, white papers, infographics, illustrations, blogs, newsletters, case studies and many, many more, the average company use 13 different tactics the 2016 B2B survey found (the survey included 24 different content types). Having a clear editorial mission statement will help teams decide what their audience is most likely to engage with and respond to and how the organization wants to present itself.
When creating the plan, it’s important to leave room to test the effectiveness of each tactic and have a clear goal each piece of content is measured against (not all the goals may be the same). Social media content is by far the most used piece of content marketing, being included in 93% of efforts according to the survey (and rightfully so, not having a well maintained and consistent social media presence can severely harm a company today). However, the much less commonly used white papers, infographics and webinars actually have a higher reported effectiveness rate. This doesn’t mean companies should abandon social (because they shouldn’t), it simply means that to goal for social media engagement should be recognized as slight different and potentially less likely to contribute to the main content marketing goal. This understanding will help teams focus their efforts and resources appropriately.
Defining company marketing goals and individual goals for each content approach will set teams up to prioritize efforts and measure the effectiveness of each tactic. If one particular approach isn’t paying off as you’d hope and isn’t contributing to the ultimate goal in a meaningful way, consider reallocating those resources and trying a different method.
The same thought-process should be applied to social media engagement. While having a presence on all the major social media platforms is essentially mandatory, deciding which to focus the most energy on will depend on your particular industry and which platform your target customers are most likely to use (for either business or personal purposes). While Facebook is arguably the dominant social media player in today’s field, it’s typically not as effective from a content marketing distribution standpoint for many B2B organizations. When it comes to targeting business people with a business message, LinkedIn is generally more effective (66% effectiveness versus Facebook’s 30%). Reflect the different social media strategies and goals in your overall content marketing strategy so it is officially documented.
When it comes time to evaluate effectiveness, don’t be blinded by Facebook Likes or Twitter retweets. Instead, look at whether that social media program met its pre-defined goal (be it engagement, web traffic, lead gen or even sales). Then look at how much time and budget was spent on those efforts. Does that align in a positive way to the top content marketing goal?
Leave room in the overall strategy to try different types of content. For each tactic you plan on testing create a documented timeline for ROI and effectiveness measurement against whatever KPI is appropriate for that particular media and against the larger goals. Testing isn’t testing unless you honestly evaluate the results and make adjustments.
This entire process can be difficult and daunting to navigate without the appropriate internal resources, knowledge base and time. If that’s the case, don’t slip into that 12% of B2B companies that are simply ignoring the importance of content marketing. Instead, seek professional help from a marketing agency.
The top content marketing challenge facing many businesses right now, according to the survey, is creating engaging content. Other important challenges include:
Without a large in-house team, creating an appropriate, well-targeted content marketing strategy and editorial mission statement can easily slip perpetually to the back burner. Even once a plan has been created, execution needs to stay on track and regular reports and analysis need to be performed. If you don’t have the ability to run an aspect of marketing in-house—or need a little extra help—look to a reputable and experienced marketing agency.
Choosing an agency with a wide range of digital services can provide you with not only content marketing strategy expertise, top-notch execution and deep-understanding analysis (that you don’t have to worry about staying on top off every day of the week) but also allows you to accomplish content marketing that is well integrated with SEO, advertising and social media best practices. Overall, this results in a stronger marketing approach set up for better results.
The 2016 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report is a great window into what some companies are doing right, what others are struggling with and, if you look closely enough, interesting takeaways that can give you a leg up on the competition for next year.
Content marketing is an increasingly important component of successful marketing at any organization of any size and stage. Focus on the type of content you’re creating, its quality, how it’s being distributed and, most importantly, if it’s working. Don’t fall behind because you need a helping hand—turn to an agency that is already up and running and waiting to kick start your content marketing. The playing field is advancing quickly and you can’t afford to fall behind.
Ben Smith is a Researcher at Fruition. Ben is a graduate of the University of Denver’s Mathematics program, and he enjoys learning about Google’s algorithm updates. He's a vital asset of the Fruition team, and he one day hopes to publish a book. In his free time, you can find Ben walking around reservoirs in Colorado.
President & Founder, Tru Family Dental
Marketing, Dependable Cleaners
President, Frame Destination
President & Founder, Family Travel Association