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Survey Finds Tough Grades on B2B Content Marketing

B2B content marketing effectiveness

If content marketing was a self-evaluated college class, marketers would give themselves a “C.”  That’s my sense after reading the new B2B Content Marketing 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America report.

The annual report is a joint effort between MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute. Now in its sixth year, the report is derived from a survey of 1,521 North American B2B marketers.  The study has a confidence interval of +/- 2.5% at a 95% confidence level. My perspective on last year’s B2B survey can be found here: Study: Effective Content Marketing Has One Element.

Content Marketing Effectiveness

Just 30% of respondents classify their content marketing efforts as effective or very effective – that’s down eight percent year-over-year.  Likewise, respondents have a wide distribution in terms of maturity.  Thirty-two percent consider their organization “sophisticated” or “mature” while most (56%) classify themselves as “adolescent” or “young.”

Notably, the more mature content marketing organizations give themselves higher grades for effectiveness. Of those that consider themselves “sophisticated” or “mature” 64% said their content marketing was effective.

content marketing maturity

Confusion, Clarity and Bright Spots

The survey found considerable organizational confusion as to what effective content marketing looks like. When asked, “In your organization, is it clear what an effective or successful content marketing program looks like?” – 44% said “yes,” and 55% said “no” or “unsure.”  It’s an understatement to say, it’s challenging to get a team to work together toward a common goal if they aren’t all running the same play — and views of “content marketing” vary greatly.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, and marketers are probably predisposed to giving themselves tough grades.  After all, we spend as nearly much time justifying our jobs as we do…doing them, which speaks volumes and squanders valuable time.

Yet, on the upside, 44% said their content marketing program is “somewhat effective” and the report itself notes “marketers become more effective with experience.” Iterate and improve is the path to success.

Related B2B Content:
B2B Solved the Biggest Content Marketing Challenge Yesterday
B2B Customers Want Thought Leadership
Infographic:  B2B Marketing Budgets Focus on Content, Digital

Popular vs. Effective Distribution Tactics

Social media (93%), case studies (82%), blogs (81%), email newsletters (81%), and in-person events (81%) top the list of as the most popular tactics.  On average, B2B organizations employ 13 tactics.

In terms of effectiveness, the top five tactics included in-person events (75%), webinars (66%), case studies (65%), white papers (63%) and videos (62%).  Infographics moved up the most on the list of effective tactics from 50% last year to 58% in the most recent report.

LinkedIn was the most popular (94%) and the most effective (66%) social media platform used for distribution, followed by Twitter (87%), Facebook (84%) and YouTube (74%). It’s somewhat surprising to me that SlideShare tallied up at just 37% given the effectiveness (47%) of the platform and B2B’s predisposition to presentations.  SlideShare is an undervalued social media outlet and this very report can be found on SlideShare and is embedded nearby.

I often find a counterintuitive apprehension in the sharing of presentations. B2B organizations usually have no problem giving a presentation to an audience of 200 at a conference, but worry that sharing that content online, will somehow tip their hand to the competition.

Search advertising remains the most effective paid distribution channel (55%), but less than half of B2B marketers use social advertising, such as promoted tweets. Social advertising is a necessity for effective distribution – the future of social media is a path paved in payment.  For example, just 30% rated Facebook as effective, but it’s virtually impossible for a brand to get any organic traction on Facebook outside of paid advertising, yet it does offer targeted audiences in a way search ads cannot achieve.


Content Marketing Goals and Measures

What are B2B organizations trying to achieve with content marketing?  The survey found leads (85%), sales (84%), lead nurturing (78%), brand awareness (78%) and engagement (76%) were the top five. The measures of effectiveness or ROI fall more or less in line with the stated goals.

ROI, I suspect, is probably one of the primary causes for low grades in this report, not because the content isn’t having an impact, but that it’s incredibly challenging to measure.  Curation Suite, a content discovery tool, recently noted two extremes of content marketing ROI.

One customer made a purchase after following a blog for six years while another completed a transaction just 30 minutes after seeing a tweet.  Measuring ROI is a challenged because “you never really know what triggered the reason for a purchase,” according to the post.

Many marketing organizations use a “last touch” attribution model that overlooks an increasingly complicated cycle of the buyer’s journey.  It’s all but guaranteed that buyers are “touching” content before making a purchase — the challenge is structuring the analytics to prove it.

One customer made a purchase after following a blog for six years while another completed a transaction just 30 minutes after seeing a tweet. 

content marketing effectiveness

Content Marketing Budgets

On average, B2B organizations spend 28% of their budgets on content marketing – not including headcount. Just over half, or 51%, say their organization will spend more on content in the next 12 months.  The size of investment is certainly related feeding the content monster (producing engaging content was the top challenge again this year) but the report also finds it’s also related success:

“There is a correlation between effectiveness and the amount of budget allocated. The most effective B2B marketers allocate 42%, on average (up from 37% last year), whereas the least effective allocate 15% (down from 16% last year).

B2B marketers whose content marketing maturity level is sophisticated allocate the most (46%).”

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Like the recent documentary on the story of content marketing, the study was sponsored by Brightcove. The full report in PDF format is freely available online without registration, but it’s worth scoping out both CMI and MarketingProfs and signing up for both organization’s email newsletters anyway.

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