B2B marketing has overwhelmingly adopted the concept of content marketing, according to the 2018 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends survey.
That may mean content marketing is maturing, but that also means competition for an audience will heat up. In fact, 80% of all respondents, and 92% of the most successful content marketers, said their organization is focused on building an audience.
This is an encouraging sign from this report, which is a slice of the annual global survey co-produced by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. It looked at the 870 responses from B2B organizations in North America out of the 2,190 worldwide that took the survey.
Strategy and Quality Drive Content Success
B2B marketers are also claiming success. Some 73% say their content marketing efforts are at least “moderately successful” or better. Notably, just 2% said their content marketing efforts were not successful at all.
What is driving content marketing success?
Most B2B marketers point to better quality content and strategy development or adjustment, although content distribution makes a cameo among the top three answers:
- 78% say better quality content has driven success
- 72% say strategy development or adjustment
- 50% say improved distribution
It’s not all roses in content marketing Camelot however because even if a strategy is being developed, in most organizations it’s not complete. Three-quarters said they don’t have a strategy and when asked why 67% pointed to a small team which suggests limited time and resources.
ROI: How to Ruin a Content Marketing Initiative
For all the upbeat indications in the study, an alarming statistic made a debut late in the report: Just 35% of B2B marketers are measuring content marketing ROI.
When asked why, the responses were underwhelming:
- 38% said no formal ROI justification was required
- 38% they need an easier way to measure ROI
- 27% said they don’t know how
- 21% said it was too time consuming to measure ROI
In my educated estimation, these answers demonstrate a lack of marketing accountability. Even more concerning is that this attitude will ruin an otherwise promising content marketing initiative.
Measuring ROI is hard. Measuring ROI takes time. However, if B2B marketers don’t start developing a framework now, they will have no credibility when the business starts asking for it. And if you are spending money on content marketing, the business will look for a justification at some point in time.
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4 Content Marketing Takeaways for B2B Marketing
If there’s a macro trend that stands out for me in this survey, it’s that content marketers are going to have to up their game significantly in 2018. It’s even bigger than just content marketing – marketing leaders need to get behind content marketing and understand more of the nuances including:
- Adequately and fully funding the initiative;
- Identifying and recruiting experience talent both inside and outside the organization;
- Differentiate and identify a dominatable niche;
- Improving marketing efficiency with process from ideation to approval to distribution;
- And integrate key marketing disciplines including creative, design, technical SEO, and paid media aimed at accruing subscribers.
Taking this further, I’d offer the following four takeaways for consideration.
1) Competition doesn’t equal know-how
While I’m bullish on content marketing I worry the enthusiasm is overshadowing what’s really happening. Yes, there is more interest in content marketing, but I don’t think senior marketers or business leaders really understand the difference between content marketing and marketing content.
There’s a lot of head nodding in meetings – yeah, yeah, yeah, we do content marketing – but they really aren’t. They just producing content and blasting it out on the web. That’s not the same thing as building an audience. This is evident in the content marketing maturity model included in this study shows a stratified distribution.
Since 2008, I’ve helped three different companies – small, medium and large – build out successful content marketing programs. We didn’t call it “content marketing” in 2008, but these efforts were aimed at building an audience. If there’s one thing those experiences taught me it’s that building an audience is incredibly challenging.
More to the point, most marketers have spent their careers striving to extract leads and MQLs from an audience, and usually, from an audience, they’ve rented. Very few have actually built an audience before, studied how to build one, or truly understand the care, feeding and reward that comes with it.
In aggregate, I’m quite worried too many B2B marketers are going off half-baked notions of content marketing. If that’s true, this group will be very disillusioned with the results.
2) Success hinges on a strategy
Developing a content marketing strategy doesn’t have to be complicated – but you have to have one, and it has to be executable.
In the book, Experiences: 7th Era of Marketing, the authors advocate for answering the question why five times removed. For example, applying that concept in context of this blog, Sword and the Script, the 5-why sequence is as follows:
b) I want to be a credible source of knowledge in B2B marketing
c) I think it will help me acquire new clients and close business
d) Because businesses need experienced help marketing their technology
e) Because B2B marketing is complicated and difficult
f) Because the things B2B organizations commercialize tend to be new and complex; sales cycles involve many people and departments, and this requires a sophisticated content program enhanced by a skill set that only a PR professional can bring.
That fifth why is a content strategy. It focuses the editorial on what the audience needs, not what I need or want. That’s a strategy for building an audience and it’s one anyone can use whatever your vertical market.
Is that the end of it?
3) Develop a framework for measuring ROI
At one company, where I helped build a content marketing program, the CMO found that visitors that engaged our blog content were 50% more likely to make a purchase. We had a sophisticated marketing automation implementation – and with a dedicated fulltime developer seated in marketing to develop the scripts needed to produce such statistics.
At another, the company, a marketing director found that that a blog I championed was a touchpoint on roughly one-third of the enterprise deals with ASP north of $1 million.
How did she know?
At the end of the year, she looked at all the deals closed and cross-referenced those contacts with those who had downloaded gated content though the blog. It was a highly manual process, but that’s pretty compelling data.
I knew all along that blog was producing tangible results – the traffic, the engagement, the media coverage it earned, the subscribers, and the references in industry conversations – was incredible. Those are pretty tangible results, but absent marketing automation, it was really challenging to measure business impact, until that marketing director tallied up her numbers.
It took us three years to get to that point, but in hindsight, the formula boils down to developing metrics that answer these four questions:
- What is attracting visitors to the site and how do we get more?
- How do we keep visitors there longer and convert them to subscribers?
- Where are we providing subscribers a chance to become prospects?
- How can we measure and improve the performance of the content over time?
In retrospect, there are also other two other questions that will be important to content marketing in a B2B technology enterprise:
- What role does content marketing have on deals in the pipeline?
- What is the effect of our content on customer retention?
These questions are suggestive rather than prescriptive and every organization needs to find its own way. I can, however, assure you, that merely saying it’s there’s no need to justify content marketing, or that measuring ROI is too hard, is unacceptable to a business.
4) Talent and experience are going to win
More than half of respondents (53%) said their content marketing programs were staff by small or one-person shops. Maybe that’s worked for a little while…but it won’t work much longer.
All signs suggest content marketing is heating up, and that means competition for audiences will be fierce. Showing up and publishing quality content consistently over time, is the minimum barrier to entry. The talent and experience to take this to the next level are going to be at a premium.
Organizations that want to succeed need to breathe agility and flexibility into every aspect of talent management including:
a) attracting or procuring experienced content marketing talent
b) providing the authority and capacity to execute and
c) using this initiative to infuse a culture of content marketing into the broader organization.
Seize the Day; Seize it Now
In 2014, the marketing automation vendor Eloqua published a “State of Content Marketing” that showed a divide between those organizations adopting content marketing and those that were not. At the time it caused me to realize, the content rich keep getting richer, while the content poor keep getting poorer.
The pendulum has clearly swung, as more organizations have become interested in content marketing. Yet, there will still be a gap.
While it will no longer be between who is doing it and who isn’t — it will widen between who is doing content marketing successfully and who isn’t. Then again, considering what B2B marketing has said in this survey, those two ideas just might come full circle in the next few years.
If there’s ever been a time to seize the content marketing day, it’s right now.
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