Those are among the top-level findings from an annual survey of content marketers by the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs. The survey is now in its ninth year, and it draws seemingly similar conclusions year after year.
However, this year the survey administrators switched things up. For responses to be included, the respondent’s organization had to be using content marketing for at least one year. Tenured survey takers modified the conclusions in several ways. Below are five that stood out for me.
1) Successful content marketers put the audience first.
- “Nearly all of the most successful B2B content marketers (90%) prioritize the audience’s informational needs over their sales/promotional message, compared with 56% of the least successful.”
Analysis: Too many organizations focus on what they want to say versus what the audience needs to hear, and then wonder why no one is reading, listening or subscribing.
Think about your favorite news publication. It is likely staffed with reporters and editors that obsess over what their audience needs. Businesses need to think in the same terms if they want their content marketing programs to be successful.
This is one of the reasons why good PR professionals make excellent content marketers. The experience of writing and pitching content intended for editorial contacts makes content marketing instinctive.
2) Marketing needs a direct relationship with customers.
- “Well-researched personas can help teams create successful content; however, too few content marketers are actually talking with customers to understand their needs (42%).”
Analysis: This is a long-standing challenge in B2B marketing because of the account management sales model. Typically, an account manager (AM) controls access to customers and the structure means they limit access.
For example, an AM is very reluctant to ask customers to do a case study with marketing, when they’d rather save that “ask” to support sales activities – cross-sell, upsell, retention, or sales reference. In other words, the sales commission structure often incentivizes AMs to drag their feet on letting marketing talk to customers.
Rank and file marketers can and should strive to cultivate relationships on the sales team, but this problem deserved to be solved at a leadership level. Part of this is aligning sales and marketing upstream and not waiting until lead scoring and routing becomes a firefight. Marketing leaders should build systematic opportunities for their team to gain exposure to, and build relationships with, customers.
3) Subscriptions are imperative to content marketing.
- “B2B content marketers primarily use email (87%) and educational content (77%) to nurture their audience and may be missing other opportunities (e.g., only 23% are using community building/audience participation to bring new voices to the table).”
Analysis: Content marketing must distinctly be its own channel. That means people subscribe to a publication your organization produces and get new content automatically – the same way we get subscription content from any media organization.
There are several important dynamics at play here, including these:
If the beautiful, informative, and thought-provoking content you labored to produce is competing for a slot in the company email blast, it will lose out to those lead generation emails every time.
In addition, this will force the team to look for alternative ways to build community and audience participation. It’s counterintuitive, but constraints with the right guidance, boost creative thinking.
This breaks the email marketing addiction and forces your content marketing program to be more strategic, and moves subscriptions into focus, giving you a powerful metric of success. Research shows B2B organizations spend upwards of $150 to obtain a single email address.
4) Use long-form content and make it epic.
- “74% of B2B content marketers say they’ve used or developed long-form content in the last 12 months.”
Analysis: People do not have the attention span of a goldfish. This is a ridiculous idea that grew out of a single, small and perhaps misinterpreted study conducted by Microsoft several years ago in Canada and has not been replicated. Unfortunately, it’s still cited as a reason not to publish long-form content.
This is a mistake. Three-quarters of content marketers use long from because it’s useful, people read it, spend more time with it, and come back for more. Over the last several years I’ve cited many studies on this blog that have the same conclusion (here, here and here and I’ve read and shared, like a gazillion other studies and sources making the case for long-form content).
Does this mean everything should be long-form? Of course not. First and foremost, content should only take what it needs. Mixing up the variety, tone, format and length are all useful experiments.
5) Content distribution matters as much as creation.
- “71% of the most successful B2B content marketers use paid methods to distribute content, compared with 55% of the least successful.”
Analysis: Most businesses focus on content creation. The smart ones also focus on distribution. Certainly, there are creative ways to earn distribution, but it’s also worth experimenting with paid channels.
You can find a lot of success with small amounts of spend on paid media. Think of your content investment as a small portfolio, and when you see a piece gaining traction, double down on it.
The key here is how you think about it: you’re not pitching a registration page, your pitching content and by extension promoting a subscription. In other words, you rent an audience in an effort get a bit of that rental to join the one you own.
I’m a fan of paid social, email takeovers (insert orders), and retargeting. Additionally, selective strategic native ad opportunities – matched with your best performing content – can add shelf life to the investment in content creation you’ve already made.
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The full survey, which is also embedded above, is freely available on SlideShare: 2019 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends – North America. In addition, Ann Handley’s piece on Marketing Profs is a good summary and it’s where I first saw the study announced: 2019 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: A First Look at New Research.
It’s worth noting this survey was sponsored by Conductor. I’ve never heard of that business before but they used their sponsorship space at the end of the study to pitch another content marketing study that looks interesting.
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