Successful marketers reveal the keys to more effective content marketing.

What differentiates B-to-B companies who carry out successful content marketing initiatives compared to those whose efforts are less impactful?

It isn’t an easy question to answer in a very quantitative way, but the Content Marketing Institute, working in conjunction with MarketingProfs, has reached some conclusions based on a survey it conducted in June and July of 2018 with nearly 800 North American content marketers. (This was the 9th year that the annual survey has been fielded.)

Beginning with a “self-graded” question, respondents were asked to rate the success of their company’s content marketing endeavors. A total of 27% of respondents rated their efforts as either very or extremely successful, compared to 22% who rated their results at the other end of the scale (minimally successful or not successful at all).

The balance of the CMI survey questions focused on this subset of ~380 respondents on both ends of the spectrum, in order to determine how content marketing efforts and results were happening differently between the two groups of marketers.

… And there were some fundamental differences discovered. To begin with, more than 90% of the self-described “successful” group of B-to-B content marketers reported that they prioritize their audience’s informational needs more highly than sales and promotional messaging.

By comparison, just 56% of the other group prioritize in this manner — instead favoring company-focused messaging in greater proportions.

Other disparities determined between the two groups of marketers relate to the extent of activities undertaken in three key analytical areas:

  • The use of primary research
  • The use of customer conversations and panels
  • Database analysis

Also importantly, ~93% of the respondents in the “successful” group described their organization as being “highly committed” to content marketing, compared to just ~35% of the respondents in the second group who feel this way.

Moreover, this disparity extends to self-described skill levels when it comes to implementing content marketing programs.  More than nine in ten of the “successful” CMS group of respondents characterize themselves as “sophisticated” or “mature” in terms of their knowledge level.

For the other group of respondents, it’s just one in ten.

Despite these differences in perceived skills, it turns out that content marketing dissemination practices are pretty uniform across both groups of companies. Tactics used by both include sponsored content on social media platforms, search engine marketing, and web banner advertising.  It’s in the messaging itself — as well as the analysis of performance — where the biggest differences appear to be.

For more information on findings from the 2018 Content Marketing Survey, click here.

B-to-B content marketers: Not exactly a confident bunch.

In the world of business-to-business marketing, all that really matters is producing a constant flow of quality sales leads.  According to Clickback CEO Kyle Tkachuk, three-fourths of B-to-B marketers cite their most significant objective as lead generation.  Pretty much everything else pales in significance.

This is why content marketing is such an important aspect of commercial marketing campaigns.  Customers in the commercial world are always on the lookout for information and insights to help them solve the variety of challenges they face on the manufacturing line, in their product development, quality assurance, customer service and any number of other critical functions.

Suppliers and brands that offer a steady diet of valuable and actionable information are often the ones that end up on a customer’s “short-list” of suppliers when the need to make a purchase finally rolls around.

Thus, the role of content marketers continues to grow – along with the pressures on them to deliver high-quality, targeted leads to their sales forces.

The problem is … a large number of content marketers aren’t all that confident about the effectiveness of their campaigns.

It’s a key takeaway finding from a survey conducted for content marketing software provider SnapApp by research firm Demand Gen.  The survey was conducted during the summer and fall of 2016 and published recently in SnapApp’s Campaign Confidence Gap report.

The survey revealed that more than 80% of the content marketers queried reported being just “somewhat” or “not very” confident regarding the effectiveness of their campaigns.

Among the concerns voiced by these content marketers is that the B-to-B audience is becoming less enamored of white papers and other static, lead-gated PDF documents to generate leads.

And yet, those are precisely the vehicles that continue to be used most often used to deliver informational content.

According to the survey respondents, B-to-B customers not only expect to be given content that is relevant, they’re also less tolerant of resources that fail to speak to their specific areas of interest.

For this reason, one-third of the content managers surveyed reported that they are struggling to come up with effective calls-to-action that capture attention, interest and action instead of being just “noise.”

The inevitable conclusion is that traditional B-to-B marketing strategies and similar “seller-centric” tactics have become stale for buyers.

Some content marketers are attempting to move beyond these conventional approaches and embrace more “content-enabled” campaigns that can address interest points based on a customer’s specific need and facilitate engagement accordingly.

Where such tactics have been attempted, content marketers report somewhat improved results, including more open-rate activity and an in increase in clickthrough rates.

However, the degree of improvement doesn’t appear to be all that impressive. Only about half of the survey respondents reported experiencing improved open rates.  Also, two-thirds reported experiencing an increase in clickthrough rates – but only by 5% or less.

Those aren’t exactly eye-popping improvements.

But here’s the thing: Engagement levels with traditional “static” content marketing vehicles are likely to actually decline … so if content-enabled campaigns can arrest the drop-off and even notch improvements in audience engagement, that’s at least something.

Among the tactics content marketers consider for their creating more robust content-enabled campaigns are:

  • Video
  • Surveys
  • Interactive infographics
  • ROI calculators
  • Assessments/audits

The hope is that these and other tools will increase customer engagement, allow customers to “self-quality,” and generate better-quality leads that are a few steps closer to an actual sale.

If all goes well, these content-enabled campaigns will also collect data that helps sales personnel accelerate the entire process.

B-to-B Buyers: Who’s Engaging with What Content?

Different Types of ContentIn my work with manufacturing companies and other B-to-B firms, I’m often asked what type of informational content is the most worthwhile and valuable from a marketing standpoint and for attracting and converting customers.

The question is relevant for most companies because there are limits on marketing resources (both time and dollars), while the methods companies can use to communicate with their target audiences are far more extensive and varied than they were in the not-too-distant past.

The answer to the question about the best information content is always one of “degree” … because the most valuable piece of content for any single prospect or customer is the one that sparks him or her to buy.

And that one piece of critical content could be one of many things.

Helpfully, we now have a new survey that can help with a bit more quantification.  The research, which was conducted by content marketing firm Eccolo Media, surveyed technical buyers (engineers, managers and directors).

It’s a relatively small sample (fewer than 200 respondents), but the directional results are worth consideration.  I also think that the results can be applied to other B-to-B buyer types as well.

One finding that came as a bit of a surprise to me was that most buyers read just two to five pieces of content before making their decisions.

What kind of content do they consult most often?  Here’s what these respondents reported:

  • Product brochures and data sheets: ~57% consult this type of content
  • E-mail communiqués: ~52% consult
  • White papers: ~52%
  • Competitive vendor worksheets: ~42%
  • Case studies/success stories: ~42%
  • Technical guides: ~35%
  • Custom magazines/publications: ~35%
  • Video content: ~35%
  • Social media content: ~34%
  • Webinars: ~34% 

As for which of these types of content are considered the most worthwhile and influential to buyers, the ranking is somewhat different:

  • Product brochures and data sheets: ~39% rate as highly influential content (top five resources)
  • White papers: ~33%
  • Case studies/success stories: ~31%
  • Technical guides: ~23%
  • Competitive vendor worksheets: ~22%
  • Videos:  ~17%
  • E-mail communiqués: ~15% 
  • Social media content:  ~14%
  • Custom magazines/publications:  ~14%

The Eccolo Media report draws this conclusion from its research:

“Marketers have been good at producing large volumes of content, but not quality content and not the right type of content … The more content we produce, the more likely it is to fail.”

One thing the research clearlyshows is that companies need to spend more effort in collecting and publishing customer case examples and success stories, because those appear to have a disproportionately higher degree of influence over potential buyers — if only they are available to consult.

More broadly, the types of content that are of greater value to buyers tend to be the ones that require more time and effort to prepare.  The adage that “success is 20% inspiration and 80% perspiration” appears to apply to marketing content development as well.

More summary findings from Eccolo Media’s 2015 B2B Technology Content Survey Report can be accessed here.

What are your thoughts as to the relative merits of different types of content?  Whether you’re a B-to-B marketer or a B-to-B buyer, please share your thoughts with other readers here.

Organic Search: Still King of the Hill in Generating Web Traffic

online searchingIn recent years, the focus on “content marketing” has become stronger than ever: the notion of attracting traffic via the inherent relevance of the content contained on a website rather than through other means.

It seems eminently logical.  But content marketing is also relatively labor-intensive to build and to maintain. So there’s always been an effort to drive web traffic through “quicker and easier” methods as well.

But the newest findings on web traffic really do demonstrate how fundamental good content is to meeting the challenge of generating web traffic.

An analysis by web analytics and measurement firm BrightEdge reveals that organic search (SEO) drives over half of all traffic to websites (both business-to-business and business-to-consumer).

By contrast, paid search (SEM) accounts for only one-fifth of SEO’s result, and social is lower still:

  • Organic search: Generates ~51% of all web traffic
  • Paid search: ~10%
  • Social media: ~5%
  • All other methods (e.g., display advertising, e-mail and referred): ~34%

Web traffic driversSource:  BrightEdge, 2014. 

In other words, all forms of advertising put together don’t drive as much traffic as organic search.

The BrightEdge statistics also remind us that social media, however popular it may be to millions of people, isn’t a highly effective traffic generator like search. Here are some of the key reasons why:

  • Social shares are fleeting and can get drowned out easily.
  • Most users don’t go on a social platform, only then to click on different links that take them away from social.
  • Not everyone uses social media, whereas everyone uses a search engine of some kind when they’re in “investigative” mode.

That’s the thing:  People use SEO when they’re seeking answers and solutions — often in the form of a product or a service.  Unlike in social or online display advertising, there’s no need to “disrupt” the user’s intended activity.

And if you’re in the B-to-B realm, organic search even more prevalent:  Organic search drives ~73% of all web traffic there.

Even consumer categories like retail, entertainment and hospitality find that organic search is responsible for attracting 40% or more of all web traffic.

The takeaway for companies is that any marketing strategy that doesn’t adopt “content development” as a core tactic instead of an “ornamentation” is probably destined to fall well-short of its full potential.

Advertising and MarComm: So often ineffective … yet so often necessary.

Ineffective MarketingIn a column published in late 2013 titled “Why Does Most Marketing Stink?”, Forbes BrandVoice writer Michael Brenner (who is also a marketing executive at SAP) reminds us how the marketplace is tuning out the advertising and marketing messages being pitched to it.

We’ve heard these stats before, but it’s sobering to think of them in the aggregate.  Here are the figures that Brenner reported:

  • On any given day, consumers encounter more than 5,000 marketing messages (which is up significantly from approximately 2,000 messages only a few years ago).
  • ~85% of consumers skip TV ads that appear on their screen.
  • ~45% of direct mail goes straight to the trash without ever being opened.
  • Two-thirds of American adults have placed themselves on the “Do Not Call” Registry to avoid telemarketing pitches.
  • Nine out of ten e-mails are never opened.
  • 99.5% of e-mails receive no clicks.
  • 0.1% (or fewer) of banner ads receive clicks.
  • Eye-tracking studies show that most people have near-complete “banner blindness” when visiting web pages.

Seeing these stats presented all in one place is almost enough to make one swear off of advertising for good!

Except for one thing:  Some sort of promotion is essential for the success of nearly every enterprise.  It’s hard to think of any company or organization that has been successful without engaging in advertising or promotion of some kind, at some point in its evolution.

Of course, the hottest new approach in a MarComm field hungry for more effective strategies and tactics is “content marketing.”

But how new is that concept, exactly?

After all, let’s remember that advertising guru David Ogilvy preached that very gospel for decades, exhorting companies to concentrate on the content of their advertising, not its form.

Michael Brenner suggests that companies “publish content that informs and entertains customers through a content strategy that holistically considers audience content and channel needs.”

… Which is a fancy way of saying that companies need to think beyond the obvious traditional marketing channels.

Plus, they should focus on creating content that provides insights and answers, not the standard feature/benefit information about their products or services.

Let’s see how successful companies can be in leading with content marketing.  Surely, the results couldn’t be worse than the grim MarComm stats quoted in the Forbes BrandVoice column.

The Very Latest Trends in B-to-B Content Creation Activities …

Content Marketing, Content CreationFor anyone who’s paying attention in business, “content marketing” is all the rage right now.  That’s not surprising, considering that “content” is the common link between advertising, promotion, public relations and social media.

Each year, the Content Marketing Institute, working in conjunction with MarketingProfs and Brightcove, conducts research among B-to-B marketers to gauge the type of content marketing that is increasing in popularity.  The CMI’s most recent report, B2B Content Marketing: 2013 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America has now been issued.

This report provides results from more than 1,400 surveys collected from North American members and subscribers of MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute.

I think the survey is representative of business as a whole because the respondents include a mix of company sizes – ranging from fewer than 10 employees (~39% of the survey sample) to the very largest firms having more than 1,000 employees (~5% of the sample).

Respondent titles are varied, too – encompassing advertising/MarComm functions (~37%), corporate management (~31%) plus various other functions that handle marketing and communications as part of their responsibilities.

When we compare the results of the new survey to the one that was completed last year (I blogged about that survey here), we find that in nearly every category of B-to-B content creation, there is greater participation now.  (The one exception is the use of print magazines.)

For the record, here is how B-to-B content activity breaks down today, from highest to lowest usage:

  • Social media:  ~87% of respondents are using
  • Website articles (own site):  ~83%
  • e-Newsletters:  ~78%
  • Blogs:  ~77%
  • Case studies:  ~71%
  • Videos:  ~70%
  • Website articles (other sites):  ~70%
  • In-person events:  ~69%
  • White papers:  ~61%
  • Webinars and/or webcasts:  ~59%

A number of other tactics are used by a minority of B-to-B respondents:

  • Research reports:  ~44%
  • Web microsites:  ~40%
  • Infographics:  ~38%
  • Mobile content:  ~33%
  • e-Books:  ~32%
  • Print magazines:  ~31%
  • “Virtual” conferences:  ~28%
  • Podcasts:  ~27%
  • Mobile apps:  ~26%
  • Digital magazines:  ~25%
  • Print newsletters:  ~24%
  • Annual reports:  ~20%
  • Gamification:  ~11%

So it’s clear that “a lot of people” are employing “a lot of tactics” in content creation.  But which ones do they feel are most effective?

An interesting finding of the survey measures the “confidence gap” between respondents who feel that certain content tactics are “more effective” versus “less effective.”  Taking the difference between these two percentages yields a “confidence spread.”

This evaluation shows that B-to-B marketers consider a traditional tactic — in-person events – to be the most effective one:

  • In-person events:  +34 “confidence gap” rating
  • Case studies:  +28
  • Webinars and webcasts:  +22
  • Blogs:  +16
  • e-Newsletters:  +16
  • Videos:  +16
  • Research reports:  +14
  • White papers:  +14
  • e-Books:  +10
  • Website articles (own site):  +6
  • Website articles (other sites):  +0
  • Web microsites:  +0

And where are marketers publishing content?  The survey finds that B-to-B marketers are using an average of five social media sites to distribute content, with the “usual suspects” coming in at the top of the list:

  • LinkedIn:  ~83% of respondents use for distributing content
  • Facebook:  ~80%
  • Twitter:  ~80%
  • YouTube:  ~61%
  • Google+:  ~39%
  • Pinterest:  ~26%
  • SlideShare:  ~23%
  • Vimeo:  ~12%
  • Flickr:  ~10%
  • Foursquare:  ~8%
  • Instagram:  ~7%
  • Tumblr:  ~7%

A number of these social sites didn’t even show up in last year’s results – Pinterest and Vimeo in particular, but also Tumblr, Instagram and Foursquare.

It really underscores how “fresh” things remain in the social sphere – and how marketers can’t afford to take their eye off of the ball even for an instant when it comes to the tactical considerations of content creation.

There are additional findings available from the CMI research report, which you can download here.  And feel free to comment below on any of the results that seem particularly interesting (or surprising) to you.