Essential truths about content marketing today

It’s hard to quantify the reach and impact of this rapidly expanding trend. Surveys and studies are helpful, though. Here are key findings to enlighten you.

Content marketing is a mammoth, seemingly all-encompassing concept whose definition varies greatly depending upon whom you ask.

Firm figures on the extent of global spending on content marketing aren’t easy to come by. So we pacify ourselves knowing that content marketing is “big” and getting bigger every year.

A bold few try to help our peers get a handle on exactly what’s going on behind the content marketing curtain in terms of priority and spending, and sometimes their insights are not what you might expect.

Let’s look at recent facts and figures:

Quality remains the chief challenge.

Despite the rise in prominence of content marketing, many brand representatives concede they don’t have it all figured out. The challenges mirror those in other marketing areas, but chief among them remains the ability to produce content that audiences value.

According to a survey of brand, agency and media executives commissioned by The Content Council, the biggest challenges confronting content marketing are creating engaging content (63 percent), lack of budget (53 percent), lack of time (50 percent) and proving ROI (49 percent).

Social media and blogs still triumph.

Content marketing can encompass anything from a brand-produced tweet to a feature-length film. Despite deeper exploration of content opportunities by marketers, content marketing staples are still the most valued channels among B2B marketers.

According to a 2015 worldwide survey of B2B marketers by Euromoney Institutional Investor, social media (18 percent) and blogs and opinion articles (18 percent) are the most effective delivery channels for content marketing. Far fewer respondents ranked infographics (8 percent), video (6 percent), surveys (4 percent) and webinars (3 percent) as being the most effective channels for content marketing delivery.

Is B2B content marketing getting worse?

According to the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, content marketing confidence among B2B marketers is declining. In the groups’ 2016 annual B2B content marketing trends survey, only 30 percent of B2B marketers said their organizations are effective at content marketing, down from 38 percent last year.

Fewer B2B marketers reported having a documented content marketing strategy compared with last year (32 percent versus 35 percent), even though research has found such strategies are vital to effectiveness in nearly all areas of content marketing.

B2C marketers are (slightly) more organized than those in B2B.

Compared with their B2B counterparts, B2C marketers are making greater strides in documenting their content marketing strategies. The Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs reported that for 2016, 37 percent of B2C marketers have a documented strategy-a notable increase over the 27 percent who reported a documented strategy last year. That pushes B2C marketers ahead of B2B marketers (32 percent of whom reported having a documented strategy for 2016) when it comes to that crucial metric.

B2C marketers are also investing more than those in B2B.

In addition to better strategy documentation, B2C marketers are putting notably more money toward content marketing in 2016, according to the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs report.

They’re allocating about 32 percent of their total marketing budget to content efforts for 2016, versus 25 percent last year. B2B marketers stayed flat year over year, at 28 percent of their total marketing budgets.

Business priorities and content priorities are disjointed.

Most marketers will tell you that content strategies must be aligned closely with business objectives, but it seems few companies are doing so.

According to a Forbes Insights and PricewaterhouseCoopers content survey of global executives, the highest-ranked content strategy goals concerned sales conversions and lead generation, which were not as highly ranked as business goals. Brand development was the top-ranked business goal (54 percent of respondents), but only 40 percent had corresponding content goals.

Although 46 percent of executives deemed customer engagement a business priority, only 25 percent said targeted digital marketing experiences were a content strategy priority.

The marketing tech stack comes up short for content professionals.

According to the 2016 Content Report by Rundown, the marketing technology stack still has a long way to go toward fulfilling content professionals’ needs. No respondents in the 2016 study said they were “thrilled” with any of the current tools in their marketing tech stack.

Although respondents said they were satisfied with technical elements such as file storage (80 percent), analytics (73 percent) and website CMS capabilities (69 percent), they were much less satisfied with functions such as automation (24 percent) and social media monitoring (17 percent).

Marketing departments are bringing content in-house.

Although plenty of outsourced content marketing options are cropping up across the board, many organizations are putting greater emphasis on internal resources for content ideas and production.

According to research by Skyword and Researchscape International, more than a quarter of brands surveyed have recently brought storyteller roles, such as editorial manager (33 percent) and content marketers (33 percent), in-house.

They’re tapping contributors across their organizations.

At the same time, these brands’ marketing teams do not depend on their departments alone to tell the brand story. Of those surveyed by Skyword and Researchscape International, 65 percent said they recruit the executive team for their storytelling abilities, and 54 percent depend on the company as a whole.

Content marketing is going global—slowly but surely.

Finally, Skyword and Researchscape International also reported that 43 percent of enterprise marketers already have a global content marketing strategy in place. Another 39 percent plan to lay the groundwork in the next two years.

At present, though, only 23 percent are creating content in five or more languages. This area is fraught with challenges, and great attention should be given it in coming years.

Drew Hubbard is a freelance marketing consultant and a writer. A version of this article originally appeared on iMediaConnection.

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