By Joe Pulizzi published November 22, 2015

Doing Content Marketing Right, and Wrong, at the Same Time [Australia Research]


The results of our 2016 Content Marketing Benchmark, Budgets, and Trends for Australia caught the research team in an interesting predicament.

You’ll see the usual findings this year on content marketing usage, budget, and more, but what was most peculiar was this set of results:

The percentage of Australian marketers who said their organizations are effective at content marketing dipped slightly from 29% last year to 28% this year. At the same time, those marketers having a documented content marketing strategy increased from 37% to 46%, and more than half of Australian marketers surveyed (55%) said their organizations have clarity on what an effective or successful content marketing program looks like. In addition, Australian marketers rated nearly all of the content marketing tactics, social media platforms, and paid methods of promotion as more effective this year than last.

These results just didn’t make sense to us.  Overall effectiveness is stagnant, while tactical effectiveness and documentation is up? How strange.

I immediately thought of the following quote from Sherlock Holmes author, Arthur Conan Doyle, (which I once mistakenly believed came from Spock on Star Trek):

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

The research team and I sifted through additional qualitative data for the research. After review, here are the reasons why we could be seeing a dip in effectiveness, even while strategy creation is up.

Proper results take time

Creating a documented content marketing strategy is just one step (you can get the basics with our 16-page guide). Once the plan is in place, and you begin sharing and iterating the plan on a consistent basis, you need to have patience. It takes time to build a loyal relationship with a defined audience. In my latest book, Content Inc., we found that it took an average of 15 to 17 months of consistent content creation and distribution to reach monetization (or results).

You may have to wait longer to find the results you are looking for. Content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.

The strategy is wrong

Just because marketers say they have a documented content marketing strategy doesn’t mean that it’s correct. Simply put, it could be a glorified to-do list of content activities and not a business strategy for content.

In reviewing the qualitative responses to the research, we identified the following:

  • Lack of subscription: The majority of content marketing approaches did NOT include subscription options. This means that, while Australian marketers are creating a number of pieces of seemingly valuable content, they are not working to build audiences from the content (this could be a huge issue). Without building an audience with whom you can have an ongoing dialogue, content marketing becomes more of an expense than an asset for the organization.
  • Low-level indicators: Many answers to the effectiveness question included awareness, creation of valuable articles, and web traffic. We call these low-level indicators. Yes, they are important, but they need to be just part of what gets us to concrete business goals – driving revenue and profit for the organization, saving costs, and creating quality, long-term customer relationships, and loyalty.

Long story short, CMI now is scrutinizing the elements that go into a content marketing strategy even more closely to identify what truly contributes to a successful content marketing strategy – it’s something that we are focusing on in major detail for 2016.

The story is not different

While most marketers believe the content they are distributing is valuable, there is a significant possibility that Australian marketers aren’t really delivering value. It’s likely that the stories being told are not differentiated in any way, and is like anything else their customers can find in various places around the web. You could have the greatest strategy on the planet, but if your content marketing mission is not centered on positioning you as the expert, and you are not delivering differentiated value outside of the products and services you offer, it just isn’t going to work.

It comes from a lack of consistency

Without a subscription program, it’s seductive to fall into an inconsistent publishing schedule. Take a look at some of the additional answers from Australian marketers to the question, What does an effective or successful content marketing program look like in your organization?:

We have goals set for each campaign on visits, marketing qualified leads, and sales conversions.

Greater brand awareness and qualified prospects and leads delivered into the funnel.

Content meets agreed KPIs for the campaign. Content meets secondary objectives (typically traffic, reach, social shares).

Note the use of words “campaign,” “funnel,” and “traffic.” In and of themselves, these aren’t wrong, but they lead us to believe that these marketers take a sale- or marketing-centric approach to their content marketing. Instead, they should consistently deliver value to the audience first, and THEN extract the value through revenue of some sort.

Here’s one answer on what content marketing effectiveness looks like that might be closer to the mark:

A methodology, not separate from marketing efforts, not a campaign or tactic. It is an approach where you use curated, created, and combined content in the business to drive a profitable customer action.

Words like campaign or program could be triggers for short-term focus and not ongoing value creation. While we could be wrong, we believe the qualitative answers lead to questions regarding consistency.

CMI research evolves

While we are incredibly proud of our ongoing benchmarking research, we know we have to make changes to understand some of these seemingly conflicting results and better provide you with the insights you need to do your job better. Thanks for being patient with us as we continue to refine our processes to get you the best content marketing information on the planet. Until then, I think you’ll see some real value in this report. In the meantime, let us know what types of questions you would like to see on our annual survey of content marketers.

To read all the results from the Australia marketer research, download 2016 Content Marketing in Australia: Benchmark, Budgets, and Trends produced by Content Marketing Institute in partnership with the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) and sponsored by made by Fairfax Media.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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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  • rogercparker

    This blog post reflects the CMI at its best. It emphasizes not only the importance of research, but identifying inconsistencies in the research results–and commuting to further the research.

    And, once again, I commend you for your “no silver spoon, no instant results” realism. In an age of instant gratification, your candor is refreshing.

    By the way, I’d like to know how you define and differentiate “combined” content, in the pull quote at the end. Simply putting your “thumbprint” on curated content, or something more?

  • Patrick Briscoe

    Joe, you are so on the money with your prognosis. Having worked in the Australian digital marketing industry, I “know” there is a fixation on results for each and every piece of content in so many organisations. Why is this so? Because too many digital marketers tell them to play the short term game and wrongly measure their performance.

    It is so frustrating working with respected people who promelgate these myths and wonder why they churn and burn so many clients.

    Isn’t it uncanny how data can throw up such a quandry, hiding the truth until someone digs into it and begins asking questions that short-sighted people don’t want to know about?

    In my opinion, searching for a gold egg-laying goose is a fool’s game. I hate to generalise because there are some fine examples of content marketing in Australia. I just wished the old SEO companies who have tried to reinvent themselves as content marketers would spend more time helping their customers “invest” in building audiences and authority through their content, rather than promising them short term returns on their efforts.

  • Val Melamed

    Hi Daniel,

    You raise an interesting point re: SEM & content distribution. Whilst I mostly agree with your views – distinction should be made here between marketing low / medium ticket items and high ticket items (i.e. property investment services). Certainly budgets in AU are not what they are in EU and US, but if invested correctly SEM and SMM dollars can bring quicker results (and validation) even when marketing blog posts vs product pages.

    Also it’s important to recognise that 9/10 marketing folk would be under significant pressure to deliver short / med term results, in particular where new media channels are concerned (to validate & prove it as a valid approach). So I don’t find it surprising that a lot of the marketers default to SEM as a go to method to validate the thinking.

    • DanielHochuli

      Hi Val.
      I agree with you that SEM can be affective at driving conversions (I mentioned that in my original comment) and also that marketing teams are under pressure to produce sales results.

      However a strategy with a sole focus on a sales ROI is not a content marketing strategy. It’s sales marketing strategy. Writing ads in the form of a blog post (which is what you should do if you need sales) does not make it content marketing. This is the difference that many marketers and teams don’t seem to understand.

      I’ll explain.

      Yes, conversions play a role in a content marketing strategy but that is just one part of why you create content.

      Other reasons to create content is for audience growth, advocacy, nuture, brand reputation and most importantly, audience research. How has SEM contributed to these primary content marketing goals? It doesn’t. SEM for all intents and purposes is an advertising channel (and should be used as such) but advertising is not content marketing. It’s advertising.

      I believe content marketing is an audience research strategy used to make better business decisions for your brand. This does not mean to make more sales. Sure, it should assist with sales but it should also provide long term insight on how your brand is perceived, how your audience is engaging with the brand and how your brand can provide value outside of making a quick buck. Thus I feel when a survey like this says the most effective distribution channel for content marketing is SEM, I feel that my fellow aussies just don’t understand content marketing at all.

      There is clearly industry confusion about what content marketing is and that is because there are too many terms and buzzwords flying around. We content marketers need to do a better job at making the distinctions clearer between a content marketing strategy and a digital sales strategy. Each have their place but they are different in goals and how we should report success.

      I am keen to see those successful SEM results for blogs posts you mentioned. If you are happy to share, PM me on LinkedIn.