By Lisa Murton Beets published September 27, 2017

New Research Reveals Habits of Top Content Marketers

2018_B2B_Research_Cover

It’s my favorite time of the year – time to report on the findings of the annual content marketing survey. Now in our eighth year partnering with MarketingProfs on this research, I never stop getting excited about sharing the new insights with you.

B2B Content Marketing 2018: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America sponsored by Brightcove, indicates that B2B marketers continue to see content marketing success as they explore ways to work more creatively and build their audiences.

I’m thrilled that, like last year, nearly 65% of B2B marketers surveyed report more success with their overall content marketing compared with one year ago. How can marketers keep that momentum? How will you take your content marketing to the next level?

Nearly 65% B2B marketers’ #contentmarketing programs are more successful than a year ago. @cmicontent #research Click To Tweet

2018-b2b-research-success

To provide some answers, we looked at how the “most successful” of the survey respondents do things differently than the overall marketer population. What kinds of things set these self-described “extremely” or “very successful” content marketers apart? As we’ve found each year, these marketers are more likely to:

  • Have a documented content marketing strategy
  • Describe their organization’s content marketing maturity level as sophisticated or mature
  • Have a high level of commitment to content marketing
  • Agree that their organization is realistic about what content marketing can achieve
  • Agree that leadership gives them ample time to produce content marketing results
  • Deliver content consistently always or frequently
Top-performing content marketers always/frequently deliver content consistently. @cmicontent #research Click To Tweet

In the 2018 results, however, some additional characteristics appear in the picture of the more successful marketers. Consider how you can use these insights to make your content marketing programs more successful.

Build audiences

Across the board – at all levels of content marketing success – the research shows more marketers concentrate on building audiences. Among all respondents, 80% say they are focused on this (versus 92% of the top performers), representing an 18% year-over-year increase.

80% content marketers are focused on building audiences, representing an 18% YOY increase. @cmicontent Click To Tweet

This is terrific news to see more marketers doing what CMI has been urging them to do for years. Why is audience-building important? Because your audience can be one of your organization’s most valuable assets. Content marketing gives you a way to build a subscribed audience, which is what differentiates content marketing from other forms of marketing. The intent of content marketing is to offer valuable information so people want to hear from you … so they sign up to receive your content.

How to use this insight: Distinguishing between leads and subscribers is important for B2B organizations that want to differentiate.

#Contentmarketing lesson: Distinguish between leads and subscribers, advises @LisaBeets. Click To Tweet

A lead is someone who discloses information in exchange for a piece of content or something else of value. This doesn’t necessarily mean they want to have an ongoing conversation with your business. In fact, the lead may not have an active interest in your products or services at all.

A subscriber is someone who signs up to receive regular communication from a company because the subscriber believes you have something valuable to offer him or her— and you’ll continue to provide this value beyond the initial engagement. In other words, the subscriber signs up in anticipation of the value expected to be received.

Think about building an audience through subscription, then mining that subscription list for leads (as the audience engages in your pieces of content). But don’t ignore the possibility of the reverse situation. As Kim Moutsos, CMI’s vice president of editorial, points out, “If your lead-gen piece is great, you could earn a subscriber at the same time you earn the lead. You can also mine leads for subscribers, just as you might mine subscribers for leads. For example, offer an opt-in to your newsletter on the thank-you page of a download or from within a PDF, infographic, or video.”

If your lead-gen piece is great, you could earn a subscriber at the same time you earn a lead, says @KMoutsos. Click To Tweet

2018-b2b-research-opinion

Blend craft and process

Effective content creation entails getting quality projects completed efficiently. Eighty-eight percent of top performers value creativity and craft in content creation and production, compared with 74% of all respondents. In addition, 70% of top performers rate project management flow of their content-creation projects as “excellent” or “very good” versus only 36% of all respondents.

88% of top B2B content marketers value creativity & craft in content creation & production. @cmicontent Click To Tweet

As you can see, most respondents value creativity and craft. Where successful content marketers seem to have an edge is that they have good processes.

2018-b2b-research-management-flow

How to use this insight: Process and creativity are not at odds. Process is key to enable your team to have time to be creative. While it takes time to set up processes, once they are in place, the conversation changes from “who is doing this,” or “what are the steps we need to take,” or “oh no, we forgot to include someone/something.” Then the team has time to work on the art of creating exceptional content.

Discontinue ineffective activities

For the first time, we asked respondents if they stopped content marketing activities they found to be ineffective to concentrate on those that yield the best results.

While 64% of the top performers say they are doing so, only 47% of all respondents say the same. That’s not enough. Even the top performers have work to do in this area.

How to use this insight: You and your team only have so much time to work. You need to be sure you’re working on the right things. Instead of only adding things to your content to-do lists, remove some things to make room for others.

How do you do this? It all comes back to that documented content marketing strategy.

Michael Porter, founder of the modern strategy field, says “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” CMI founder Joe Pulizzi has talked about strategy documentation for years, and it’s more important now than ever.

The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do, says @MichaelEPorter. #productivity Click To Tweet

Once your content marketing strategy is documented, get hyper-focused and work only on things that support your strategy.

Align metrics to goals

In past surveys, respondents picked their content marketing goals and metrics from lists, which included things for goals like “brand awareness,” “engagement,” and “lead generation” and metric items like “website traffic,” “sales lead quality,” and “sales.”

And you know what? Nearly every year brand awareness was the top goal and website traffic was the top metric. We also learned over the years that goals and metrics highly depend on the organization’s situation (e.g., its content marketing maturity level, its prospects’ unique buyer journey, its annual revenue goals).

This time, we switched it up to focus on a single question – how well does the organization align its metrics to its content marketing goals.

Only 19% of marketers rate their organization as “excellent” or “very good” at aligning metrics to their content marketing goals (compared with 54% of the top performers and 2% of the least successful) – another big disparity between the most and least effective. Again, though, even the top performers have room to improve.

54% of top performers align metrics and #contentmarketing goals via @cmicontent. #research Click To Tweet

2018-b2b-research-alignment-goals

How to use this insight: To correlate your goals and metrics, first consider the four primary reasons why you may use content marketing:

  • To be found by the right people (awareness)
  • To build an interested and engaged audience (consideration)
  • To increase sales with new customers (decision/purchase)
  • To build loyalty and increase revenue with existing customers (loyalty)

Once you pick your goals, then pick the corresponding metrics. This chart offers some suggestions.

goals-metrics-suggestions

Image source: 10 Most Common Content Marketing Questions: Real-World Insights for Enterprise Marketers, a CMI e-book

More insights

There are several more new questions on the 2018 survey – as well as a restructuring of the way we ask about the content types, distribution formats, and social media. View the report today to see the new findings, and watch for more analysis of the results – along with tips for continuously improving your content marketing – in the months to come.

If you have ideas for future questions that you’d like to see us ask, let us know in the comments – we’d love your feedback.

Special thanks to all our survey respondents and distribution partners, as well as to Kim Moutsos, CMI vice president of content, and Michele Linn, CMI editorial strategy adviser, for their assistance with this article.

To ensure that you receive the latest research when it’s released, subscribe to the free CMI daily newsletter.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute.

Author: Lisa Murton Beets

Lisa Murton Beets is Content Marketing Institute's research director. She oversees all aspects of our annual content marketing survey, as well as the reports we publish based on the findings. Lisa also works with CMI’s consulting/advisory and sales teams to develop and report on custom research surveys. Follow her @LisaBeets.

Other posts by Lisa Murton Beets

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  • Mobile Copywriter

    This article contains some valuable insight for small business owners! Thanks, Ray

    • Lisa Murton Beets

      Hi Ray – Thank you for the note. I’m so glad the insights are helpful!

  • http://gvoz.com.br Marcos

    Great Article, I’m really enjoying reading your posts thanks for sharing

    • Lisa Murton Beets

      Thank you, Marcos! Really appreciate your feedback!

  • https://www.imbloggingtips.com Vishwajeet Kumar

    Hello Lisa,

    Great Insight. Research the topics is very helpful to create a quality content. This is the reasons which makes pro content writers to craft well maintained post. Thanks for sharing this post.

    • Lisa Murton Beets

      Hi Vishwajeet! Thank you — I’m so glad to hear it’s helpful!

  • Mikael Gullström

    Thanx, very good 😉

    • Lisa Murton Beets

      Thank you, Mikael!

  • lisanirell

    Hi Lisa, some interesting insights here. I have 2 questions regarding the research:
    1. How many people responded?
    2. How many were C-level or VP level?
    3. How were “top performers” identified and by whom?
    Much appreciated, Lisa

    • Lisa Murton Beets

      Hi Lisa — Thanks for your note! There were 870 B2B North America respondents — 14% at the C-level and 4% at the GM/VP level (see p. 38 of the report for more demos). Top performers = respondents who characterize their organization’s overall content marketing approach as extremely or very successful (see p. 4 (footnote) and p. 12 of the report for more info). Hope this helps!

  • Lisa Murton Beets

    Hi Martina – Thank you, and I love your infographic! I would love to see the new one when you’re finished. If you have any questions while you’re working on it, just let me know!

  • Lisa Murton Beets

    Hi Elisa – Thanks so much for letting us know. We are thrilled to hear that the report helps with your strategic plan!

  • Lisa Murton Beets

    Thanks for your note, Mark — really appreciate hearing from you!

  • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/author/roger-c-parker/ Roger C. Parker

    Dear Lisa:
    Thanks for your informed curation of the wealth of information in this year’s B2B report.

    I especially like the way your how-to “Insights” added context and specificity to the key results. The insights definitely add value to the stats. I also appreciated the table added to the “align metrics to goals” topic, linking specific actions to goals.
    Roger

    • Lisa Murton Beets

      Hi Roger – Thank you! @MicheleLinn is a huge help every year with delivering these insights, and I loved her idea to add the metrics/goals chart (glad you did, too). Happy belated birthday! 🙂

  • http://www.thesocialesque.com/ Socialesque

    Any failure stories to learn from as well?
    Is there a white paper version of the findings on Google Scholar for an academic audience?

    • Lisa Murton Beets

      Hi and thanks for the note! Please see p. 4 of the report to see how the “least successful” compare to the rest of the sample. Nothing is posted to Google Scholar.

  • Emily Drever

    Great insights backed up with stats! Any move in the future to do a UK survey?
    Emily

  • Andrzej Czech

    Hello Lisa, this is a very good piece of knowledge. Have you ever considered conducting such survey in.. Poland? Contact me if there is a room for such ideas. I’m running communication agency in Poland and could help. Cheers Andrzej

    • Lisa Murton Beets

      Thanks, Andrzej! I appreciate your contact info!

  • Saskia de Jong

    Hi Lisa, thanks for these new facts&figures. I will blog about it next week.
    Saskia (b2b marketeer Netherlands)