By Joe Pulizzi published October 12, 2013

8 Shocking B2B Content Marketing Research Findings

shocking content marketing research factsI’ve finally made some time to go deep into the 2014 Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks study (sponsored by Brightcove). After my review, there were a few findings in this content marketing research that just didn’t sit right with me.

Here’s what I found to be most alarming:

1. Less than 10 percent of B2B marketers are truly successful with content marketing: Just nine percent of the 1,217 B2B practitioners who responded feel that their content marketing efforts are “very effective.”

My take: Content marketing obviously has a long way to go, not just in terms of how it’s applied, but also in organizations’ understanding of what a “win” looks like from a content perspective, and how it fits into achieving overall marketing goals.

2. Only 44 percent of B2B marketers have a documented content strategy: Which means 56 percent are flying blind in their content efforts, without having a plan for its execution or success. No wonder there is so much horrible content being distributed by B2B brands.

Click to tweet: Only 44 percent of B2B marketers have a documented content strategy. #CMIcontent

My take: The other scary part here is that this is likely an inflated number to begin with. Based on my experience in working with B2B businesses, I believe the real number is closer to being below 15 percent. The difference: Most marketers don’t know what a content marketing strategy looks like (yet), let alone how to document it for better use across the enterprise.

3. B2B Marketers with a content marketing strategy are nearly 300 percent more likely to be effective: What’s shocking about this? Maybe it’s the fact that 23 percent of B2B marketers without a strategy still consider their efforts to be effective.

My take: Without a strategy, any success you achieve is more than likely to be dumb luck — and probably short-lived, as well.

4. Small companies are 40 percent more likely to have someone in charge of content marketing than larger enterprises: Take it from me: Implementing content marketing in larger enterprises can be a political nightmare — not to mention the added complications caused by the multiple content creators already operating within almost every silo of the company (PR, search, social, email, corporate communications, HR, etc.).

Click to tweet: Small companies are 40% more likely to have someone in charge of content marketing than larger enterprises #CMIcontent

My take: Content marketing will not work without designating someone to be accountable for the brand story across the entire organization.

5. Two-thirds of B2B Marketers without a content marketing strategy are creating more content now than they did in the previous year.

My take: Good grief! Doesn’t that amount to 66 percent more misguided content marketing being produced this year, rather than strategic, effective content? No wonder those reported success stats are so low.

6. Seven in 10 B2B Marketers do not use print distribution in their content marketing: What if I told you that you could communicate with customers through a channel where they would almost surely see your message — and it’s a space where most of your competitors wouldn’t be? Welcome to the world of print.

My take: This amounts to a big opportunity for marketers who want to test out print as a viable content channel.

7. Only one social channel received a positive approval ranking in terms of effectiveness — LinkedIn (62 percent): Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+ all received approval ratings of 30 percent and under. Yet, the lack of success they are experiencing hasn’t stopped marketers from continuing to distribute content on these channels (and others). In fact, compared to results from our 2013 report, the number of B2B marketers who are using each of these channels has increased.

My take: Most B2B marketers do not have a defined “why” for social media channel use (i.e, “Why are we using Google+ as a channel?”). Determine the value each channel holds for your business before adding it to your list of outlets.

8. The No. 1 metric for content marketing measurement is web traffic: Content marketing, as both a discipline and an approach, will remain in our current early-adoption phase until we start looking at better metrics to gauge the returns on our content marketing investments.

Click to tweet: The #1 metric for content marketing measurement is web traffic #CMIcontent

My take: More traffic may not be a positive indicator of more definitive (and essential) metrics, such as subscriber growth, lead quality, or customer retention.

My final thoughts

What are the differences between those who are receiving your content and those who aren’t?  Finding the answer to that question should be your first mission as a content marketer.

Although I’m excited that we are seeing overall effectiveness improvement in the B2B content marketing space, we surely have a long way to go.

For more insight on developing a strong plan for content marketing success, read Joe Pulizzi’s latest book, “Epic Content Marketing.”

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute , Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, including best-selling Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill) and the new book, Content Inc. Check out Joe's two podcasts. If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Mark Capaldini

    While disappointing with regard to “uptake” of systematic content marketing, none of these findings are surprising to me. While components of content marketing have been in existence for decades, the discipline of integrated, cross-channel, metrics-driven, 21st century content marketing is still in its infancy. Let’s admit that some aspects of content marketing is “old wine” in a new bottle, while emphasizing that some aspects are quite new and innovative

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      I would agree with this Mark…but it still always amazes me about the amount of content produced by organizations without an idea of where the ship is heading.

  • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

    These are really interesting observations. Joe, I’m wondering if many marketers continue with “random acts of content” because they don’t know what a content marketing strategy LOOKS like. Maybe CMI could present a handful of hypothetical CM strategies? Possibly abbreviated versions?

    I wrote an article much like yours, where I respond to the findings that bother me with suggested fixes. Gotta’ say, year after year, I get frustrated seeing “brand awareness” as the #1 goal of CMers. It’s so generic. I believe the 5th place response, “engagement,” should be the goal of most.

    My take on the recent B2B report is here:
    http://feldmancreative.com/2013/10/15-b2b-content-marketing-findings-2014/

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Barry…great idea. We’ve been working on some of this, but obviously have to crank it up.

  • Michael Cannon

    Thanks for the quick summary Joe.

    I think this #1 data point “Less than 10 percent of B2B marketers are truly successful with content marketing” is part of a much bigger marketing problem that is summarized in the Customer Communication Index:

    * Over 50% of your marketing and sales communications aren’t relevant to your customers
    * More than 70% of your marketing content isn’t relevant to your sales teams

    The index was compiled from 10+ years reputable 3rd party research, which you can see here http://tinyurl.com/bew9rl9

    What’s truly shocking is that the marketing profession continues to deny/accept how terrible we are.

    I spent great deal of time wondering why…”why is it that year after year we continue pump out well written and produced content that is mostly ineffective?”

    My conclusion and proposed solutions are published here: Resolve the Top 5 Causes of Ineffective Customer Communications @ http://tinyurl.com/k3pd6pc

    Thoughts?

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Michael…I think most marketers believe that our product and service messages can carry some weight because of the product or service itself. Unfortunately, no-one cares about our products and services in the first place. That’s a tough truth to take for most brands.

  • Muneeb ur Rehman

    Thanks Bro Its Great Post

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  • JenKobylar

    Very interesting takeaways. Couldn’t agree with you more on needing to
    designate someone to be
    accountable for the brand story across the entire organization. In
    larger organizations the “someone” who is responsible for content
    marketing plays a pivotal role in getting everyone on board with the
    strategy, identifying content contributors, figuring out the process,
    determining the right tools, finding the right partners, and keeping the
    brand story on track. No easy task for large enterprises, but with the
    right process and partners the lift can be easier – and the story can be
    more powerful! Thanks for the insights.

  • Michael Mussman

    “Most marketers don’t know what a content marketing strategy looks like.” So where could we see an example of a content marketing strategy?

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Hey Michael…you can start here http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/plan/. I also just wrote Epic Content Marketing, and it goes step-by-step through developing a content marketing strategy.

  • http://suebrady5.wordpress.com/ Sue Brady

    Your article reaffirms there’s a place for content developers in the future! The results are a bit shocking for sure. I wonder if the first stat (less than 9% thought their content marketing was very effective) is really B2B marketers selling themselves short because they don’t know how to measure the effectiveness of their content.

  • http://www.mdurwin.com Michael Durwin

    I’d think, considering it’s poor performance (10%), that what companies are actually doing for content marketing is important. Are the blogging, posting newsjacked articles on their Facebook page? Are they creating infographics, videos, are they using landing pages to collect and qualify leads? Are they distributing ebooks, hosting webinars. I think it’s all but useless to have a discussion about the effectiveness of content marketing without knowing what content is working and what isn’t.
    My guess would be that after their marketing agency or director offered up the content marketing strategy, most companies didn’t run out and hire a graphic designer, copywriter, video graphics artist and illustrator.
    From what I’ve seen a majority of what brands are doing for content is reposting other people’s content, links to some bland Word doc or to a product page and a few pictures of beige cubicles. Are any of them really investing in content creation?

  • http://www.mdurwin.com Michael Durwin

    BTW, the reason content marketing is not successful is because brands are using the exact content that consumers DON’T want. While brands are focused on links and status updates, the content consumers crave, and share, and engage with is imagery and videos. According to Pandemic Labs by far the most common content marketing assets is links, which is, by far, the LEAST desired by customer.

  • Dennis Schiraldi

    In a B2B setting I’ve found that an integrated marketing approach consisting of both digital and direct marketing efforts backed with content to be effective, however don’t overlook buyer personas aligned in the buyer’s journey with a good mix of tactical items. Aligning goals w.strategy and content to support it in a B2B environment!

  • Dennis Schiraldi

    Content is king, how content is being delivered to generate quality leads is worthy of discussion. My experience in B2B that aligning strategy w/buyer personas in the buyer’s journey proves to be an effective method. 10% adoption rate shows that we are at the start of the adoption curve, however being an early adopter feels like everyone is doing it. I guess that’s good news for content marketing!

  • http://www.mostpixels.com/ Steve Faber

    Joe,

    Great insight. The fact that only 10%
    of B2B content marketers are successful probably has plenty to do
    with your next finding; fewer than half have a defined content
    marketing strategy. Of those that do, how many correctly execute?
    Moreover, how many of those strategies would be effective, even if
    executed correctly?

    We’ve discovered success is determined
    by the proper strategy, effectively executed. Both pieces must be in
    place to win with CM. Then, of course, there’s the content. Is it
    compelling, and does it deliver the value content consumers are
    looking for?
    Steve

  • aboer

    Terrific post. B2B is where the pain is.

    Google is sending a mixed message. They say “you have to be creating enough content or we won’t let people discover you.” But then also: “you also have to be creating great authoritative content that has utility and social engagement.” So “spray and pray”, sourced by a content network is where a lot of B2B firms still are today, which inevitably fails. It seems a little unfair, actually, that Google is forcing B2B brands to become “epic publishers”. But I agree that is where we are.

    Also (and I disagree with Jay Baer here) B2B and B2C Content marketing are fundamentally different animals.

    There are three major distinctions: 1) the level of authority that is needed 2) the paucity of amplification options (you can’t “Outbrain” b2b content) and 3) the challenges of identifying whether you are targeting and engaging the right audience.
    In B2B, putting up a 500 word piece of click-bait risks more than just failing…it can succeed in the wrong direction.
    If it drives engagement and traffic, you might think you are successful; while it might be working against you : attracting non-qualified leads are actually a major cost to assess and qualify, and turn off your most serious customers. Tracking through to conversion(which is the answer) can be extremely complicated and expensive in a complex sales cycle.

    In my view, influencer based marketing (from both journalists and industry experts) becomes the most important and effective tactic. This has both an inbound and outbound component. Inbound, use authoritative *external* influencers who reach your target audience as a kind of “author channel” to your firms content–then you know you are reaching the right people. Outbound, start to turn your own employees into influencers to post in the b2b places your customers inhabit.

    You simply can’t create content well with generalists or your social media team — they don’t both know the pains your customers are experiencing and how to tell a story. Influencers won’t generally raise their hands to write for you, so you have to either create them internally or recruit them externally.

    All in all, a very tough environment for B2B companies, who really were never set up to be publishers in the first place.

  • GodGivenRights

    Seems to me that the true power is in ‘customer generated content’ not company generated content ( which means the argument or issue raised about silos or lack of strategy within a company is tangential). Content from a company is just a newer firm of the same old paid PR or paid advertising that neither B2B nor B2C customers want to hear, trust or are persuaded by. If the company actively triggers, encourages, shares and actively listens and interactively dialogues with, ‘content’ that their current, past or potential new customers create, independently they will have tons of rich powerful content flooding in.
    And one final point is that the content most powerful is that triggered by and is about the consumers direct, live experience with your product (or service). My comments come from years experience with the creation of ‘Live Product Advocacy’ which can be triggered on demand via live product ‘touch, taste, try the discuss in a group of friends. Yes full disclosure for my passion and strong views on the subject is I am active creating New consumer generated content tool with beta version available soon at klatchlive.com for those interested in learning more.

    • aboer

      I think this kind of brand ambassadorship works well for B2B if you can combine an influencer with someone who is also customer. But many B2B brands are wary of “customer generated content” since it tends to focus on existing customer problems and solutions. We had one client, a B2B accounting software platform, discover that their (very) active customer forum was successfully creating a vibrant community, but was also leading to dissatisfaction and discussion of the competitors benefits. Tricky business.

  • GodGivenRights

    I agree the open candid customer discussion may contain negatives and comparisions to competition, but this is new whole point in the shift of power to the consumer. Companies should be delighted to now be able to hear what customers are sharing with each other, especially the problems, so they can be fixed! If the client doesn’t want to have the open forum and therefore doesn’t want to hear about the problems their clients have with their service, I humbly suggest they have bigger company issues than their content marketing strategy.

    • aboer

      It is true, the client does have bigger problems. Just about everybody has a competitor that does a part of their business better. And you are also right that if the brand doesn’t host the conversation, then the conversation likely still happens somewhere, so they need to be listening. But imagine being responsible to the CEO for allowing negative dialogue to foment under his roof. Hard to be the champion of that.
      The real question is, how do you leverage your B2B customers to be vocal advocates (and not detractors) of your brand?
      Create things that delight them and that they want to share because it makes them look smart and helpful. Which is inevitably, in some form, company created content.

  • http://jeffkorhan.com Jeff Korhan

    Wow, this completely fits with my experience, especially small businesses embracing content marketing and the political nightmare within larger organizations. Thanks for this – will come in handy with a client I’m working with next week.

  • http://imrcorp.com/ Danielle Winkler

    I’m curious where you got the statistic “B2B Marketers with a content marketing strategy are 600 percent more likely to be effective” – when I do the math I only get they are ~200% more likely to be effective.

    Were you comparing that 66% of “Most Effective” companies had a documented strategy and only 11% of “Least Effective” companies had one? That just means that “‘More Effective’ B2B marketers are 600% more likely to have a CM strategy than ‘Less Effective’ marketers” – what you should be comparing here is the % of marketers WITH a strategy who are “More Effective” to the % of marketers WITHOUT a strategy who are “More Effective.”

    Time for math! Here’s how I see it:

    # of North American B2B respondents: 1,217

    # of “more effective” content marketers (rated themselves as 4 or 5/5): 511
    [21% (9% + 33%) out of the 1,217 = 511]
    # of “average” content marketers (rated themselves as 3/5): 499
    [41% out of the 1,217 = 499]
    # of “less effective” content marketers (rated themselves as a 1 or 2/5): 195
    [16%( 2% + 14%) out of the 1,217 = 195)

    % of “very effective” marketers with a documented strategy: 66%
    % of “average” marketers with a documented strategy: 44%
    % of “least effective marketers with a documented strategy: 11%

    # of “very effective” marketers with a strategy: 337
    [66%*511=337]
    # of “average” marketers with a strategy: 220
    [44%*499=220]

    # of “least effective” marketers with a strategy: 21
    [11%*195=21]

    TOTAL # of marketers with a documented strategy: 578
    [337+220+21=578]

    % of all marketers WITH a strategy who are “very effective” : 58%
    [ 337 / 578 = 58% ]

    % of “very effective” marketers WITHOUT a documented strategy: 34%
    % of “average” marketers WITHOUT a documented strategy: 56%
    % of “least effective marketers WITHOUT a documented strategy: 89%

    # of “very effective” marketers WITHOUT a documented strategy: 174
    [34%*511=174]
    # of “average” marketers WITHOUT a documented strategy: 279
    [56%*499=279]
    # of “least effective” marketers WITHOUT a documented strategy: 173
    [89%*195=173]

    TOTAL # of marketers WITHOUT a documented strategy: 626
    [174+279+173]

    % of all marketers WITHOUT a strategy who are “very effective”: 28%
    [174 / 626 = 28%]

    So then when we compare “58% of B2B content marketers WITH a documented strategy rate themselves as ‘very effective'” to “28% of B2B content marketers WITHOUT a documented strategy rate themselves as ‘not very effective'” we get:

    “B2B marketers with a documented content marketing strategy are 208% more likely to be effective”
    [58% / 28% = 208%]

    Does that make sense? I think you may have read the table incorrectly because you say “11% of B2B marketers without a strategy still consider their efforts to be effective,” but it looks like the table is actually showing that “11% of ‘least effective’ marketers have a content strategy” (the columns are the segments, and the rows are the properties, not vice versa). The actual statistic of % of marketers without a documented content strategy who still think their efforts are effective is even more alarming (28%! (174 “more effective, no strategy” marketers / 626 total “no strategy” marketers)

    • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Danielle…you’re hired!

      I’ll have our research lead take a look at what you put together, but I’m not doubting you at all on this. Thanks!

      • http://imrcorp.com/ Danielle Winkler

        Speedy response, thanks Joe! I think the confusion is because the report itself refers to how to read that table inconsistently. On Page 6 it says “B2B marketers who have a documented content strategy are far more likely to consider themselves effective (66% vs. 11%)” (which is how you ended up interpreting it – each row is a segment (like “people with a documented strategy”, each column is a property (like “effectiveness”)) but the next page says “The majority of the most effective B2B marketers (86%) have someone who oversees content marketing strategy; however, only 46% of less effective marketers do.” (which is how I interpreted it – each column is a segment (like “effective marketers”), and each row is a property (like “has someone overseeing strategy”))

        • Lisa Murton Beets

          Hi Danielle,
          Yes, you are correct. The 11% is the number of respondents who
          said they have a strategy, but that they are ineffective at content marketing;
          23% who said they didn’t have a strategy consider themselves effective! We’ve adjusted the wording above. Great
          catch – we appreciate all of the detail!

  • Plan Promote Prosper

    Strategy is vital to effective content marketing! That’s why planning is so important! Great article. Thank you!