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The maturity rise of content marketing - our survey says…slowly

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher November 4, 2019
Content marketing is on the rise as part of wider marketing strategies - but don't expect a speed warning just yet...


The Content Marketing Institute - in association with MarketingProfs -  has released the annual B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report. Top line conclusion - content marketing is maturing…slowly

In the North American version of the research, 21% of marketers think they are very successful at content marketing, while 5% reckon to be extremely successful. It would be nice to know who that 5% is and how they do it. It seems like it’s an ideal state that’s incredibly difficult to reach for most organizations, which is probably why the majority (58%) more modestly think they are moderately successful.

The report notes that compared to last year, just over half (51%) of respondents think they have been more successful, but a quarter (28%) feel things are still about the same.

Change is happening, but slowly

Part of the success of a content marketing strategy is documenting it, and although more companies are documenting their strategy, it’s not much more. Based on an average of all companies that responded to the survey, 41%  say they document their strategy, up from 39% in 2019 and 37% in 2018. Among the most successful companies, 69% document their content strategy, again only up slightly from prior years.

Why do so many still not document their strategy when there is so much information available on how to do it? There’s no golden rule on how to do it properly, there is no right or wrong way, so why not document it? Create a simple document by outlining the key components: team members and responsibilities, personas/audiences, customer journeys, content development, distribution and promotion, and some metrics and KPIs. Adjust as you move forward and learn. At least then you have a stake in the ground to know where you started.

Small content marketing teams rule

This one doesn’t surprise me: just over half of respondents (52%) has a small or one-person marketing/content marketing team. It doesn’t matter if the company is small, medium or large, smaller teams exist in all size organizations.

In this year’s report, 35% of companies have, on average, 2-5 people working full-time on content marketing. Also interesting to me was the fact that 12% said they had no-one who is dedicated…

A lot of companies outsource some of their content marketing activities, which might explain why the internal marketing teams are small. According to the report, 71% of large companies outsource activities, while 56% of medium companies outsource some activities.

The most popular thing to outsource? Content creation dominates at 84%, with the other top activities to outsource including distribution, technology, and strategy, although these came in noticeably lower, on 31%, 22%, and 13%, respectively.

The focus is still on the top of the funnel

Although content is developed for all stages of the funnel, the majority (50%) is created for 'top of the funnel'.

CMI report 2

The top type of content created is social, followed by blogs and short-form articles, email newsletters, and in-person events.

Video content is also in the top ten, as are webinars and online events (57%), but podcasts, research reports, and long-form articles (3000+ words) fall way down the list at 21%, 34%, and 38%, respectively.

A lot of brands are starting to create podcasts, with a focus on creating shows. This approach is still in its infancy even though there are a ton of podcasts out there. It’s the research reports and the long-form content that are the most surprising because both are considered top content types that customers find credible.

In the 2019 State of Original Research for Marketing by Mantis and BuzzSumo, it states that “94% agree original research elevates a brand’s authority.” I suppose it falls lower on the list because you only do one or two research reports a year; however, the CMI report also lists the top three content types for different parts of the customer purchase journey (create awareness, capture leads, nurture leads and convert leads) and none of them mention research or long-form content.

Here’s a slightly different take on content marketing. Another report -  2019 Content Marketing survey by Decibite  - found that “building relations with customers” was the top reason for content marketing. Building brand awareness came in at number four after “become a trusted expert” and “give people a reason to come back to your website.”

This survey was smaller and with entrepreneurs and small businesses, and it relates to content marketing with blogs, but it shows the importance of content marketing as an enabler for more than brand awareness, especially with smaller companies with less marketing budget.

Measuring content marketing performance

How do marketers know if their content marketing is working for them? There are lots of metrics to track, some that mean less than others. The good news is that 80% of marketers measure performance, and 65% have established KPIs in the last year. It’s also good to see that 43% measure ROI considering how challenging it is to do. Of those that  do measure ROI, 45% rate their ability to measure it as very good.

What are the top metrics?

  • Email Engagement (opens, clicks, downloads)
  • Website Traffic (page views, backlinks)
  • Website Engagement (time spent, bounce rate, form fills)
  • Social Media Metrics (shares, followers, views, and likes)

These metrics are the easier ones to track, and they don’t tell you ROI or, on their own, give you an idea of how your content marketing is contributing to conversions and revenue.

Only 49% track MQLs/SQLs and even fewer track sales effectiveness, customer acquisition costs, customer retention, or lifetime value. Going back to the Decibite survey, content marketing effectiveness was primarily measured by Sales (27.9%) and leads generated (22.4%).

If you are only using content marketing for brand awareness, then you wouldn’t track these metrics. However, if you want to get better at understanding and tracking how your content marketing is performing, these last metrics are the ones marketers need to think about.

The focus for 2020

When asked what the content marketing priorities are for 2020, improving the quality/conversion of audiences topped the list at 48%, followed by improving content display and promotion (46%), focusing on content quality/quantity (46%), and improving measurement (44%).

CMI graphic

My take

Something I would like to see a focus on in 2020 is how content marketing integrates with account-based marketing. In some ways, the audience work listed above is part of that integration, but the need to build audiences falls on both ends of the marketing spectrum.

Content marketing is very much about building brand awareness (or brand affinity), but it can also be a key component of account-based marketing in that it helps build awareness within key accounts and improves loyalty and retention with existing accounts.

I’d like to see a content marketing strategy that is structured to support both sides and how you can do that through a content operations model that encourages governance and content reuse.


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