Content’s domination of the industry has captured the attention of marketers for years, and it’s clear marketing leaders are continuing to strengthen and measure their efforts to keep up with — and innovate — trends and best practices.
But this year, in the same breath with which the Content Marketing Institute reported 88 percent of B2B marketers are using content marketing, it also reported that only 30 percent say their organizations are effective at it. While it’s great for businesses and customers alike to see such widespread practice of content marketing as a strategy, it’s frustrating that the rise in its use and benefits also comes with a rise in challenges for marketers to implement and measure.
To highlight and address some of this year’s biggest challenges and content marketing trends (and to help marketers prepare for another year of content), here are the top five unexpected themes and takeaways from CMI’s 2016 Benchmarks Report — and what they mean for your team:
1. Fewer marketers have a documented content strategy than last year.
If your company’s content marketing maturity level is still in its infancy or first steps (like 38 percent of marketers indicated this year), it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing your time is better spent actually creating content than developing the comprehensive strategy to guide it. But investing in content efforts without first investing in your content strategy is a lot like deciding to cook a meal without knowing what ingredients you’ll need or how you’re going to prepare it.
Your content strategy outlines your game plan. Documenting it ensures every member of your team can align content with your company strategy. In 2015, only 32 percent of B2B marketers had one in place — a 3 percent decrease since last year.
While it’s unclear exactly why marketers don’t document their content strategies (or why the percent of those who do is decreasing), one thing is certain: Marketers who develop and document comprehensive strategies can maximize ROI, and they consistently report better results from their content marketing tactics than those who don’t.
If strategy development is something your organization is struggling with, try the method our marketing team uses, and break your strategy into smaller, more manageable pieces:
- At the beginning of each year, gather your team to create the overall strategy that will guide your content efforts. Document your target audience, key messages, and goals for the year.
- Reassemble your team every quarter to brainstorm campaigns and generate ideas for specific content, including your topics, experts, authors, and publications you'd like target.
- Assess your effectiveness every month at company KPI meetings, and alter your tactics when necessary to better align with your strategy and goals.
2. More than six out of 10 of the most effective content marketing teams meet at least once a week.
It’s not enough to simply document your content strategy, though — you have to hold yourself and your team accountable for executing that strategy to achieve the results your company needs. One of the best ways to do this is by meeting regularly, and while 44 percent of marketers meet at least once per week, CMI reports that 61 percent of the most effective teams meet that frequently.
Meeting at least once a week will keep your marketing team members accountable for aligning content creation and distribution with your documented strategy, and it allows you to keep a pulse on all of your current content efforts.
Our marketing team meets in-person each Thursday and communicates regularly every day through email, Slack, and our custom content software. By doing this, we’re able to provide status updates on various content projects and evaluate the effectiveness of our marketing initiatives to help us hit our monthly, quarterly, and yearly organizational goals.
3. For once, the top goal of content marketing is not to build brand awareness.
For five years, B2B marketers around the world have indicated brand awareness as the most important organizational goal for content marketing — that changed in 2015. This year, 85 percent of marketers reported lead generation as the most important goal for their companies. According to the CMI report, the most important metrics marketers use to determine content effectiveness in reaching that goal are: sales lead quality (87 percent), sales (84 percent), and higher conversion rates (82 percent).
This shift in goals from brand awareness to lead generation is great news for marketers because the metrics for measuring lead-gen effectiveness are very objective. There’s no guesswork in tracking the ratio of qualified leads to leads generated, the number of sales won, and the number of visitors converted into contacts. The data is available if you know where and what to look for.
The difficulty comes in attributing those qualified leads, sales, and conversions to specific pieces of content. (In fact, measuring content effectiveness challenged 57 percent of marketers this year.) But if you’ve built your content strategy using a three-part funnel of guest-contributed content to attract, blog content to educate, and gated content to convert, you’ll have more success in not only measuring effectiveness, but also in achieving your organizational goal.
4. Marketers continue to prioritize — and struggle with — consistently creating effective, engaging content.
It’s no surprise creating consistently engaging content that achieves organizational goals remains a top priority for content marketers. Regardless of company size or team effectiveness, 72 percent of marketers reported that creating more engaging content is a top priority for 2016.
Despite its high-priority status, content marketers continue to struggle with it. Reported as the top challenge year after year, CMI indicates that 60 percent of marketers struggled with producing engaging content in 2015.
But content creators don’t need to face this challenge alone. Look beyond your marketing team, consider the talent and expertise in other members at your company, and crowdsource content creation from your entire team. Ask your team for ideas and input for content. Further, store and organize company info, customer pain points, employee expertise, and more in a knowledge bank to streamline your process.
5. Marketers rank promoted social posts as the second most effective paid distribution.
LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook remain the most popular social networks for distributing content (with 94, 87, and 84 percent of B2B marketers using these platforms, respectively), and while this trend hasn’t changed much since last year, the use of social promotion as a paid content advertising method has.
Rising from 32 percent last year to 42 percent this year, promoted posts saw the greatest increase in use of any paid advertising method. After attending a session at INBOUND15 on social media advertising, our marketing team optimized our paid efforts, and we have to agree with 48 percent of marketers this year: It’s been very effective. In fact, our promoted posts on Twitter earned an average of 18 times the number of clicks our non-promoted posts did. On LinkedIn, our sponsored updates have generated more than 12 times the contacts of our organic efforts.
As the industry continues to evolve, it's up to content marketers to keep up and keep innovating. Analyze top trends, adjust your (documented) strategy, and test new tactics to improve content creation, distribution, and ROI — and establish a foundation for long-term organizational success.