Anyone who went to public school as a kid remembers Report Card Day. Sometimes, it was a day to celebrate — to see the results of our efforts written down in black and white, suitable for framing. Sometimes it was a sobering reminder of a misspent semester cutting class to browse the local CD shop (or was that just me?).
I get the same vibe from the annual B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America Report from Content Marking Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs. We can rejoice in big improvements and gains. (More of us are documenting our content marketing strategy! Good for us!) And, of course, we can also see where we could benefit from study hall.
If you find you’re on the wrong side of these stats, there’s good news. You don’t have to show this content marketing report card to your parents. No one’s getting grounded for underperforming. Better yet, the report is also a handy guide for improvement! So let’s take a look at some of the key takeaways that can help you move to the head of the class.
B2B Content Marketing Opportunities for Improvement
Unlike a report card, this report can actually help you improve your grade for next year. It highlights the inconsistencies between what we say we want, and what we’re actually doing. And it shows what the most effective marketers are doing differently.
Opportunity Type 1: What We Say Versus What We Do
Are your content marketing practices consistent with your goals? If not, you’re not alone. Here are four opportunities for your team to stop working at cross purposes with itself.
#1: Are You Building a Subscription Base?
The vast majority of survey respondents (87%) agreed that email newsletters were the highest performing tactic for lead nurturing. Given marketers’ ever-pressing need to prove ROI and seamlessly get customers all the way through the funnel, that means we should be focusing on successfully building subscribers for those newsletters, right?
However, less than half of respondents (45%) said their content marketing efforts were successful in building a subscribed audience. Top performers are doing better, but there’s still a lot of opportunity — 68% have had success.
While building a “subscribed audience” can certainly go beyond a traditional newsletter list (e.g. YouTube, blog RSS feeds, etc.), the email implications and opportunities are real.
As my colleague Nick Nelson so elqouently stated in his recent post Email Marketing is NOT Dead, But It Needs Rejuvenation: “Email marketing is alive and well… This channel can still be a key fixture in your content strategy if you give it the care and attention it deserves.”
#2: Are You Creating Content for the Customer Journey?
I will do my best not to lecture here. As a father of a 10-year-old and 4-year-old, lecturing is a reflex action, but I’ll do my best. But folks:
Less than half of respondents said they’re creating content for specific stages in the customer journey. Only 48% are making it happen.
That means 52% are not guiding their audience to take logical next steps that lead to a sale. That means 52% are not actually doing content marketing. They’re just creating content.
Content marketing requires knowing who your audience is, where you want them to go, and what steps they will need to take to get there. However, only 32% of respondents say they will prioritize getting to know their audience better in 2020.
If you’re not creating content beyond the top of the funnel, your homework is to take the time to gain deeper audience insights to develop a strategy for meeting your prospects and customers wherever they are in their journey.
#3: Are You Using Your Budget Effectively (And Can You Prove It?)
The content marketing gold rush of the early 00s is a distant memory. Nearly 40% of respondents said their content marketing budget would stay the same or decrease compared to last year. About a third said their budget would increase, but by less than 9%.
I’m sure 100% of these respondents believe they could do better with a bigger budget. So why are the purse strings so tight?
The best way to get more marketing budget is to show results from your existing budget. But only 43% said they measure content marketing ROI. And of that 43%, less than two-thirds said they were excellent or very good at measuring.
Marketers need to elevate our profession by tying our efforts directly to revenue. We have the data and the tools to show the dollar value of every optimized blog post or influencer asset. Even top-of-funnel tactics can tie to ROI.
If you know your expected conversion rate for each stage of the funnel, and you can properly attribute those conversions, and you know the value of a sales-qualified lead, you can express your value directly in dollars and cents. Which, as we know, is the native language of the folks who sign off on budget proposals.
#4: Are You Pursuing Sophistication?
First, the good news: 69% of marketers say they are more successful now compared to one year ago. However, that perceived increase doesn’t correspond with an increase in sophistication. Only 9% say they’re truly sophisticated, with the ability to provide accurate measurement and scale across the organization.
If your results are improving, but you’re not pursuing sophistication, those gains are likely to be temporary. Without the ability to scale, there’s a hard limit to what you can accomplish. Without the ability to measure ROI, your budget is likely to stagnate, even if you’re getting results.
To keep growing your program, expanding and exploring new opportunities, even chasing a few shiny objects, it’s crucial to aim for increasing sophistication.
Opportunity Type 2: Borrowing from Top Performers
The other way to identify opportunities is to look at how tactics vary between the most successful and least successful respondents. What are these butt-kicking marketers doing that the rest of us haven’t picked up on yet?
Here are four attributes of the most successful marketers that are the least common in the less successful.
#1: Delivering Relevant Content
Here’s a breaking news item: It’s hard to have a successful content marketing program without delivering “relevant content, when and where a person is most likely to see it.” So it’s no surprise 93% of top performers are doing just that, while only 37% of least successful can pull it off.
Delivering relevant content starts with audience and SEO research to create best-answer content. Then it means distributing said content through paid, organic, and influencer channels to get it to the right audience.
#2: Providing Optimal Experiences
Eighty-three percent of top performers can provide optimal experiences across the customer’s engagement journey. Only 23% of less successful marketers say the same.
What does it mean to provide optimal experience? It goes beyond just creating great content. It means knowing every stage of your customers’ journey, knowing who they are and what they need to hear. And it’s focusing on what they need, not just what you want them to know.
Creating a great customer experience goes beyond creating great content. It means knowing every stage of your customers’ journey, knowing who they are and what they need to hear. @NiteWrites Click To Tweet
#3: Documenting Content Marketing Strategy
I’ll be brief: Only 16% of the least successful folks have a documented content marketing strategy, while 69% of the most successful have one. It’s one of the strongest correlations in the whole report and has been for at least the five years I’ve been covering it.
Make a thoughtful and data-informed plan and write it down. Please. Don’t make Joe Pulizzi cry.
#4: Committing Budget
On average, according to the report, the most successful programs have double the budget of less successful programs.
That doesn’t mean that throwing money at your content is automatically going to make it more successful, of course. It’s more likely that the top performers are better able to justify their budget, prove their results, and inspire more investment. That kind of success builds on itself.
So if better results get you more budget to invest in better results, how do you get on the cycle of improvement in the first place?
It all comes back to measurement. Bake your measurement — metrics, KPIs and goals — into your content creation. From vanity metrics like page views down to dollars-and-cents, measurement is key to both improving your results and showing your work when you pitch next year’s budget.
What Will Next Year’s Report Card Look Like?
If you felt nervous looking at the B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks this year, now’s the time to start planning for next year. Invest in closing the opportunity gaps in your marketing efforts, increase your audience knowledge, pursue sophistication, and measure, measure, measure.
With a more strategic outlook (and a documented content marketing strategy — can’t stress that enough) you can anticipate the 2021 benchmark report with the serene confidence of a 4.0 student.
Tighten up your core marketing strategy with advice and insights from some of the industry’s best and brightest. Check out our interactive B2B Marketing Fitness eBook featuring 16 B2B marketers.
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