With the release of The Content Marketing Institute's “B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends” report for 2015, we were able to glean a tremendous amount of actionable information to inform both our own content marketing strategy and the content work we do for our clients.
What makes this report so special (and so highly anticipated) each year is the fact that CMI and MarketingProfs consistently bring together the voices of a large disparate group of marketers from tiny companies to huge conglomerates.
All the respondents who take the survey are asked to look honestly at their own current situation and where they hope to be going forward. And since it's completely anonymous, it gives all of us a priceless look behind the curtain to see what challenges are facing our colleagues and what tactics seem to be working for them.
Since content marketing is an ever-evolving field, it's helpful to review some of the key insights we took away from this year's report.
Document your content strategy and stick to it
One of the main takeaways from the report involved documenting a formal content strategy.
There seems to be a correlation between those marketers who have a formal, written content strategy, and how effective those marketers are. A full 60% of those who stated they had a written strategy also rated their content marketing as “highly effective,” as opposed to 32% of those without a documented strategy.
Another interesting point is that 62% of the most effective marketers in the report stated they stuck closely to their formal strategy. So, while some companies may have seen the need to formalize their strategies, that document may not be getting the respect it deserves and effectiveness is being sacrificed as a result.
Action Item: If you haven't done so yet, take the time early in 2015 to gather input from all internal stakeholders and any outsourced talent you work with and put your content strategy down in writing. Then, make sure everyone involved in making and distributing content sticks to the plan as closely as possible.
Measuring content effectiveness
It's not new, but it has taken over the top spot this year: many marketers are finding it difficult to accurately measure the effectiveness of their content and to use that information to positively adjust their strategy.
86% of B2B marketers are involved in content marketing, but only 38% consider their content to be effective. Understandably, “measuring content effectiveness” came in as the number one goal marketers plan to go after in 2015.
Return on investment (ROI) is an especially important but elusive metric. Only 21% of marketers state they are successfully tracking content marketing ROI. Of the remaining 79% who are not doing so successfully, I was shocked to see that 15% weren't even trying.
Although everyone seems to agree this problem exists, there are some significant disconnects in how marketers are attacking it. For example, 69% of marketers indicated their main goal right now was “creating more engaging content.” And yet, only 55% were simultaneously focusing on “getting a better understanding of what content is effective and why.”
Those goals are so closely tied together, I don't understand how that happens.
Another example: of all the content marketing tactics being used, 69% of marketers considered “in-person events” to be the most effective option available to them. And yet many more marketers are spending their time, effort, and budgets on social media, blogging, enewsletters, and website content than are putting together in-person events.
Granted, keeping active in social media and blogging are standard operating procedure for most content marketers, but if it's not the most effective thing going, why aren't we evolving to include new tactics based on what works?
Another concern could be the metrics we use to measure the effectiveness of our content. Overwhelmingly, B2B marketers cite website traffic year-over-year as the metric they look to most often. And sure, traffic numbers have some value. But does the fact that eyeballs are landing on your content mean it's actually moving them toward a purchase (or whatever your particular goal is?)
Action Item: Review your unique content marketing situation, your buyer personas, and all other relevant information available to you, and determine what metrics you can track that can realistically lead you to making informed decisions on what content is most effective and why. Then, be willing to adjust the strategy accordingly.
Some changes on the social media playing field
For B2B marketers, LinkedIn has always been the leading social media network. And that hasn't changed. A full 94% of marketers use LinkedIn for B2B marketing purposes. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Google+ round out the top five spots.
Although it may fit better in the section above, I was interested to see that Google+ saw a 9% increase in usage while remaining at the very bottom of effectiveness ratings. In other words, 64% of marketers use G+ but only 20% think it's worth the time. So why do we use it?
This year also saw historic meteoric risers Pinterest, Instagram, and Slideshare leveling off in both usage and effectiveness. In all three cases, their effectiveness for B2B marketing appears to be dependent on the industry, the messaging, and the products or services being sold, whereas LinkedIn and Twitter are more universally effective regardless.
Action Item: If you're not using LinkedIn, you're silly. In every other case, take a look at your specific content needs and the audience(s) you're trying to reach, and decide where to focus your limited social media time. If something isn't working for you, don't feel you have to be there just because it's there.
Content marketing is gaining business value
There has been a steady trend for years for businesses to create more content, but in many ways it seemed to be a kind of vast experiment. This past year, however, we saw content marketing truly evolve to the point that it's proven itself as valuable and is receiving the requisite respect.
Exemplifying this point, 80% of B2B marketers use some form of paid content marketing with search engine marketing (SEM) being the most popular and effective option. Those marketers who consider themselves the most effective utilize 37% of their marketing budget for content, while the least effective only spend 16% of their budget on content.
Showing that the trend to value content is continuing, 55% of marketers expect to increase their content marketing budget over the next 12 months.
Action Items: While content marketing is notably less expensive than more traditional outbound marketing methods, don't make the mistake of sacrificing quality or needed quantity to save a few dollars. A high, measurable ROI requires an “I”. Invest in your content marketing program.
What other insights did you pull out of the CMI 2015 B2B Content Marketing report? Light up the comments!