B2B content marketing needs better leaders

Spending up, activity up, effectiveness down: content marketing study

There’s encouraging news in the latest B2B content marketing study from the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs. More B2B marketers are using content marketing than ever before – 88%, up from 86% a year ago.

Three out of four B2B marketers are producing more content. Most will spend more next year than in 2015: 51% of marketers plan to increase their content marketing budget.

The most effective content marketers (3 out of 10 respondents) are doing 4 things especially well:

  1. They understand what successful content marketing looks like.
  2. They document their content marketing strategy.
  3. They document their editorial mission statement.
  4. They communicate frequently with the content marketing team.

However, the same study unearths ugly news: B2B content marketing today is less strategic and less effective than just one year ago. 

Those findings make me wonder: Where’s the chief content officer? Why is content marketing less strategic and less effective than in 2014? How can we turn these trends?

Today, 30% of B2B marketers consider themselves effective at content marketing. But a year ago, 38% considered themselves effective. “Effective” marketers are those who accomplish their overall objectives.

One reason is that fewer B2B marketers have a written content marketing strategy today than a year ago. The percentage with written strategies has fallen from 35% to only 32%. Ouch!

A new question in the survey was especially revealing. Only 44% of B2B marketers say their organization is clear about what content marketing success looks like.

To me, these symptoms of content marketing maladies point to problems upstairs. Marketing leadership is not providing enough of what content marketers need to succeed.

It’s clear that marketing leaders need to:

  • Articulate what content marketing success looks like – yet most have not.
  • Assure processes are in place to enable content marketing effectiveness – yet effectiveness is falling.
  • Write down a content marketing strategy – yet only 3 in 10 are doing so.
  • Write out an editorial mission statement – which most lack.
  • Meet regularly with their teams to keep content on track – yet most do not meet at least weekly on content marketing.
  • If marketing leaders don’t have the bandwidth or expertise to handle these duties themselves, then it’s time to appoint a chief content officer.

The same study finds that 28 cents of each marketing dollar go into content marketing. So you might expect marketing leaders to devote a fair share of their attention to this essential, growing function.

Unfortunately, that’s not what the study shows.

Marketing leaders: it’s time to lead the content marketing function better. Or appoint a chief content officer to lead your content marketing team:

  • Show your team what success looks like (the definition of success differs for each company, depending on marketing and sales objectives).
  • Understand which information your customers need, based on buyer personas.
  • Provide or require a written content marketing strategy and a written editorial calendar.
  • Provide the team with a clear and consistent message, which assures on message content and streamlines the review process.
  • Meet regularly – daily or weekly – with your content marketing team.

I encourage content marketers to read the entire study, which may be the single best source of information for B2B marketers. Thanks to Joe Pulizzi at Content Marketing Institute and Ann Handley at Marketing Profs for getting this crucial study done.

At a tactical level, here’s what the study finds:

The 3 top tactics used by B2B content marketers are social media content (other than blogs), case histories and blogs. On average, marketers are employing 13 content marketing tactics.

Most used content marketing tactics
These tactics are most used in B2B content marketing.

Marketers who are just starting out should at first focus on a smaller number of tactics, as Joe Pulizzi points out in his new book Content Inc.

The most effective B2B content marketing tactics, marketers say, are in-person events, followed by webinars/webcasts and case studies.

The most effective B2B content marketing tactics
In-person events are the most effective content marketing tactic.

Among the social media, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are most often used by B2B content marketers in North America. On average, marketers use 6 social media platforms.

The most used social media in B2B content marketing
LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are the most used social media.

But the most used social media platforms are not the same as the most effective ones. LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube rank top 3 in effectiveness. When you put effectiveness first, Facebook and Google+ slide down the rankings, and SlideShare moves up.

The most effective social media
LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube are the most effective social media in B2B content marketing.

As B2B content marketers seek subscribers, they do so primarily with offers for their email newsletters, blogs and online communities.

Content offers that lure subscribers
Email newsletters and blogs lead offers to lure subscribers.

Lead generation, sales and lead nurturing are the top 3 goals of B2B content marketers.

B2B content marketing goals
B2B content marketers focus on lead generation and sales.

The study provides a great set of baselines to use as you start or refine your content marketing. But one size does not fit all.

Here’s what success in B2B content marketing looks like: meet your written marketing objectives for revenue, customers, leads, engagement and awareness. To do so requires building a strategic roadmap:

  • Find out what your customers really need and want by doing buyer persona research. Answer your customers’ top questions.
  • Be clear about your mission: deliver the most useful and freshest content about your topic for your customers.
  • Write down your content marketing strategy and editorial mission.
  • Create a clear and consistent message with a 1-page Message Map.
  • Build an editorial calendar, then execute to it while being flexible enough to include current news.
  • Go deep: it’s better to do one thing well and consistently than to try to do 13 things in a mediocre way.
  • Meet weekly with your content marketing team to discuss performance and results.
  • Experiment, analyze performance data and add resources to build up your best-performing content.
  • Above all, focus on acquiring subscribers.
  • Be patient enough to give content marketing the time to work.

In content marketing, that’s what it takes to win!

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