If you believed the headlines, you’d think Forrester had announced Content Marketing dead in the water. A Wall St Journal article on the report proclaimed: “B2B Marketers Struggle To Connect Content Marketing With Business Value” and B2B marketing blog chimed in: “Study Shows B2B Marketers Still Struggle to Retain Customers.”
The truth is, marketers want to call themselves Content Marketers (buzzwords!) without actually doing any of the work—and then wonder why Content Marketing is “ineffective.”
For the “Compare Your B2B Content Marketing Maturity” study, analyst Laura Ramos and her team, along with the Business Marketing Association and the Online Marketing Institute, surveyed 113 senior marketers to determine their “content development sophistication and maturity.” The main takeaway: “Content Marketing practices are not as advanced as marketers believe.” Busted!
The analysts report that over half the companies surveyed claimed their content marketing strategy was “mature,” but Forrester counters that these marketers are far too focused on top of funnel consumers—which results in the loss of decision-makers to more strategic competitors. A massive 87 percent admitted that they “find producing content that engages buyers to be a major challenge,” with Forrester noting: “While creating great content is something even the best marketers and agencies toil over, we feel that this disconnect reveals a more fundamental problem with content marketing today.”
Disconnect is the key word.
Everyone wants to talk the Content Marketing talk, but who is actually walking the walk? Qualitative analysis is a step in the right direction, but unless you are truly measuring reach, engagement, and conversion as your content relates to your brand’s goals, you have no way of knowing if your content marketing is as “mature” as you think.
Brand Narcissism and Non-Commitment
The study also showed that most brands often create content “solely around product and brand offerings: Altogether, this data shows an acute focus on acquisition that practically ignores the rest of the buyer’s journey.” This is one of the biggest problems we see in the marketplace as well. Of course it’s important for consumers to know what you sell and offer, but Content Marketing must go beyond that.
Seventy-one percent of respondents told Forrester they “frequently” feature customer storytelling or case studies, but only three percent claimed that this was a “primary focus of their efforts.” Additionally, only 12 percent of these marketers said publishing research or industry insights was a main focus of their content, but not a single marketer said they engaged outside experts in these endeavors.
If you’re not using content marketing to make your audience better and more educated about your industry, and you’re not sharing your inside expertise on how to do great business—what exactly are you writing about?
It’s a strategy because I said so!
This study makes clear that there are many marketers who claim they have a Content Marketing strategy, but don’t commit. “A startling 72 percent of our respondents said that less than half of their marketing staff plays a primary role in content marketing today…content marketing quickly degrades to talking about products, features, and what the company has to offer.”
Most shocking? Only five percent of brands surveyed said that communicating and building relationships with their customer base was a priority, further proving that despite the proliferation of social, marketers still cannot commit to a brand-wide content and communications strategy in a way that has proven successful.
So Why Isn’t Your Content Working?
After not launching a comprehensive strategy, not committing their staff or efforts to Content Marketing, and only talking about themselves, these marketers wonder why their half-cocked efforts aren’t paying off:
“While almost all marketers say that content marketing is important, an overwhelming 85 percent admit that it is only somewhat effective — or less so — at moving the needle on generating revenue, retaining customers, or winning customers’ long-term loyalty…only 14 percent gave their content practices high marks for delivering value back to the business.” Albert Einstein once famously said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. How is this different than the same old marketing that came before?
The Struggle is Real
Much like social media several years ago, Content Marketing is not a practice you can throw money at or delegate an intern to oversee and wait for the results to come rolling in. Would you read a book or article that an author sloppily researched, designed, and slapped together? That’s not how best sellers are made. Similarly, Content Marketing is a skill, a tightrope walk between message and service.
Brands need to realize that content is not a passing phase, and those who cannot devote the time and resources to real content strategy not only dilute and pollute this kind of marketing for the rest of us, but do a disservice to themselves as consumers move their business to brands with savvier more creative marketers.
Which Bad Content Marketer Are You?
Forrester breaks the marketers into four categories:
- Content executors: People who know they should be practicing content marketing (probably only after their CMO asked what’s happening with that “content marketing stuff”) but don’t do it consistently or reliably. Luckily, only 5 percent fell into this category.
- Aspiring editors: Misguided marketers who think that because they know what Content Marketing is, they’re set. The truth is they’re still assembling a strategy, while their practice is inconsistent and lacks full-company endorsement. They have the foundation to build a successful strategy but aren’t quite there yet. Fifty-two percent fall in this category.
- Proactive publishers: Thirty-eight percent of the marketers surveyed had a strategy and consistent approach to content planning, creation, and distribution. They also have a set of best practices in place and mostly follow them. They’re getting close, but are not quite there yet in terms of a measurable, successful content strategy.
- Content Masters: According to Forrester, only four percent of those surveyed truly understand the Content Marketing ecosystem and what it takes to drive real business. These brands have “formal editorial oversight” and real processes in place—they incorporate consumer feedback into an evolving strategy, have the right tools and technology in place to succeed and can measure and demonstrate their content’s success and its impact on their overall revenue.
What can the other 96% of brands learn from the “Content Masters”?
Listen to your customers.
Since these are the people who’s affection and business you are courting, doesn’t it make sense that your strategy should start with them? What challenges are they facing in their current role as well as their overall career? What events and talking points matter to them? What are THEY talking about? Ask yourself how your brand can add something of value to that conversation.
Make a plan and stick to it.
Marketing teams should set goals and make a plan to tie content to specific business goals and aspirations. Editorial guidelines should be understood and adhered to by the entire team. Forrester calls this the “IDEA” process: “identify, develop, engage, and assess” which should be used to tie customer goals and issues to brand deliverables and solutions.
Give your team the tools they need to succeed.
How are you managing your content across proprietary platforms as well as social and other channels? How can you make sure your team is on the same page when it comes to content production and distribution? We have the technology! Use it!
Forrester noted that this is where brands most often fall short. You should measure your content strategy’s progress regularly and also measure how it correlates with retention, brand recognition, and across-the-board growth. Setting KPIs will help you set goals and measure your success as well as understanding how to pivot or predict how much you need to scale or shift your strategy. But be sure to measure the entire picture, including content traffic, organic traffic, social engagement, and brand affinity, as well as conversion and retention in content audiences as well as product.
It’s time to get real. Take a hard look at your content strategy. Are you proud of the work? Is it consistent, and does it consistently keep the end user, your consumer or your future consumers, in mind? Are you measuring your content and social goals against overall company growth? Create a content strategy you can stand behind. You’ll help your brand, your customers, and you’ll be ridding the world of terrible marketing. That’s something we can all be proud of.
Amber van Natten is the Managing Editor of the NewsCred Blog.