B2B Content Marketing – It Takes A Village

This year Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs published their 7th B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America study. While there are many studies that are published every year, this is one that I truly analyze and review as it is full of insights and shows a very clear picture of where B2B marketers are on their path to maturity.

The study was a bit different this year with some new questions and sections, but overall, comparing this year to previous studies provides insight into how B2B marketing organizations are succeeding and in many cases, continuing to be challenged with the discipline of content marketing.

It Takes a Village-

It was surprising to me to see that 55% of organizations have small teams (some only one person) that are responsible for serving the entire organization with content. Less than 40% of those surveyed said they have a dedicated organization and/or people throughout the organization.

Good content that engages buyers and aligns to the buyers purchase process is not easy to create. It takes time to understand your buyer, their pain points and challenges and their buyers journey. According to CEB, in a typical B2B buying cycle there are on average 6.8 people involved in the buyers committee all of whom want specific content that is relevant to their role.

With this being the case, how is it expected that only a handful or only one person will be able to create compelling content? In order for content to be done properly and produce value, there must be a team dedicated to it.

Measurement Must Be a Priority-

When asked, “Is it clear what an effective or successful content marketing program looks like?” only 41% responded yes. The other with 59% responded with an unsure or a no. While this may be while only 28% are mature or sophisticated, the need for measurement has never been more apparent.

According to the study the following are true:

  • 29% of a B2B marketing budget is spent on content marketing
  • 39% of organizations will increase their content marketing spend
  • 45% will spend the same amount next year as they did this year

That is quite an investment to make without an understanding of the results. While producing relevant and engaging content is crucial, it is just as, if not more important to know the impact these investments are making on an organization.

The Metrics Do Not Align to Goals-

Respondents to the study listed lead generation as the number one goal for their marketing efforts. Yet when asked “Which metrics does your organization use to determine how well its content marketing is producing results?” only 57% stated they were measuring sales lead quality.

If the goal of content is to generate demand, simply measuring web traffic (78% do as the leading metric) will not give any indication on success or failure. If B2B marketers are going to improve on measuring value, they must measure that which aligns to their goals.

  • How would you characterize the success of your organizations current overall content marketing approach? 22% stating very or extremely successful and 53% stating moderately successful (I am not sure the goal of organizations is to be marginal)
  • How does the success of your organizations current overall content marketing approach compare with one year ago? 62% saying either somewhat more or much more successful

There is Improvement, But Still a Long Way To Go

While 72% of organizations reported more effectiveness with their content (with web visits are the leading metric this is questionable), the telling statistics that tell the true story of how organizations are faring with content marketing were the following:

  • Only 37% of B2B organizations have a documented content strategy (sorry but if you say you have one but it is documented, YOU DO NOT HAVE A STRATEGY!!)
  • Only 22% say their organizations approach to content marketing is very or extremely successful
  • Only 28% of respondents stated their organizations are either sophisticated or mature with content marketing
  • Only 34% state their organizations are extremely or very effective at meeting their content marketing goals

With all of the attention given, money invested and time spent on content, one would think we would be much further along. What is more perplexing with these low numbers is that 63% of respondents stated that their organizations were either extremely or very committed to content marketing.

I believe it is time (I have said this many times before) for marketing leaders to truly take a look at this commitment to content and rather than invest in more content production, invest in understanding buyers at a deeper level so that their content can be better informed. Simultaneously, invest in better enabling and equipping content marketers with the needed skills so they can perform their roles at the highest levels.

Content marketing is not going anywhere anytime soon and is necessary to engage, nurture and convert buyers and build customer relationships, but year over year the numbers either stay flat or decline indicating we have a problem. Hopefully 2017 (I said this about 2016) is the year marketing leaders take the time to address it.

Strategic Market Analysis

Last week, I sat through a meeting with one of my clients where we discussed the infamous question of “who are we?” that faces every retailer. As retailers grow – both in store count and in product diversity – the ongoing challenge is to keep a laser focus on what the brand really stands for. Growth for the sake of growth can deteriorate the essence of the brand faster than any other catalyst.

Developing a Strategic Market Analysis is critical for companies that grow one of two ways: 1) organically or 2) through acquisition. For organic companies, the question is easier to implement with varying geographic nuances. Speed to market share is much slower with companies that build new stores (organic growth) then it is for companies that acquire locations. The challenge with growth through acquisition is that the company is buying someone else’s dream. Enveloping their dream into the go-forward direction of the acquiring company is the toughest part.

Companies in growth modes are faced with an ongoing dilemma of keeping their expanding portfolio on plan with regard to their strategic branding direction. In concert with maintaining a store database, creating a strategic market analysis helps act as a guide post for every new store entity that comes on board. While the vision of the founders may be more aspirational, how an organization plans to grow often predicates what their strategic market analysis ultimately identifies.

What Do You Want To Be? This is easier said than done. First and foremost, it has to be believable. Many brands aspire to be something they are not. If Waste Management were to claim they are the “Tiffany of waste hauling”, it would be a farfetched stretch. Secondly, it has to be practical. I once worked for an organization that did not like a certain word that was embedded in the logo of the brand. Simple enough, we will remove the word… until the estimated cost was north of $7 million since the logo was on the stores, uniforms, packaging, letterhead, etc. Great thought, impractical reality check.

Identify The Roadblocks: As mentioned above, some of the roadblocks are due to the type of growth the company expects or the capital expense to turn a vision into reality. With an acquisition growth model, the strategic market analysis should determine on a store-by-store roll up of what could be and that will determine who the company canbe based on an acquisition model. When you buy others visions, there are limits on how far you can influence your brand unless you are simply buying dirt and plan to raze and re-build at an inflated capital expense.

Fantasy Vs. Realism: We all want to be best in class, but sometimes the reality is that we can’t. Either through the physical limitations or financial ones, the fact is that with a growth-oriented company, many outside factors influence “who we want to be.” If money is no object, then the issue is solved. For the other 99.9%, prudent investment is clearly the mandate in order to achieve the ROI on investments. It is time to check the ego or your pocket book will run amok.

“War Game” The Reality: Start with a list of existing stores – how similar are they? What enhancements would be required in order to get them all to the same level from a strategic market branding perspective? Is it even feasible or has growth over the years limited your ability to invest that much capital in your existing (and future) sites to align the vision? Going through this store-by-store will help identify the commonalities as well as creating a targeted strategic direction. Better to know this in advance than self-actualize halfway through your business plan.

Operationalizing Your Vision: Once a store-by-store list is completed, setting out a plan for capital investment is next on the list. This project plan must not only work for existing stores, but should also apply to new stores as they come into the fold. Store count growth can be a wonderful thing but left unmanaged when it comes to on-boarding new locations and the overall essence of your brand will quickly deteriorate. Capital investments should be made to ensure that the strategic alignment of the stores is consistent and fiscally practical.

There is an excessive amount of traffic coming from your Region.