By Lisa Murton Beets published December 6, 2017

Are B2C Content Marketing Teams Getting What They Need to Succeed? [New Research]

2018-b2c-research-coverWe’ve all known (and probably been part of) small, focused teams that seem to produce incredible results. Unless these teams hang on to their tight focus, though, even the most impressive typically hit a wall. The organizational pressure to do more too often outpaces the team’s ability to keep up.

B2C marketers may be about to hit that stage given the signs that popped up as we read through the survey data and fill-in responses to the latest annual content marketing research. (You can read the full results in B2C Content Marketing 2018: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America, produced by CMI and MarketingProfs.)

Content marketing success increases, but can it last?

Don’t get us wrong – the B2C research reveals many encouraging findings. We saw a higher level of reported success with content marketing, the same level of commitment to content marketing, an increased focus on building an audience, and a higher value placed on creativity and craft in content creation, among other positive signs.

For example, 78% of B2C marketers say they’re moderately to extremely successful (compared with 70% the previous year).

78% B2C marketers say they’re moderately to extremely successful (compared w/ 70% previous year). @cmicontent Click To Tweet

At the same time, we noted a decrease in the total marketing budget spent on content marketing. For all responding marketers, spending decreased by four percentage points year over year (22% vs. 26%); however, the decrease was more notable year over year among the B2C top performers (26% vs. 38%).

Total #contentmarketing spend decreased by 12% among B2C top performers via @cmicontent research. Click To Tweet

Of course, those results could mean B2C content marketing efforts truly are getting lean and mean – prioritizing the content activities that matter most for their organizations. In fact, 53% say they’re discontinuing content marketing activities found to be ineffective to concentrate on those that yield the best results.

53% B2C marketers say they’re discontinuing #contentmarketing activities found to be ineffective. @cmicontent Click To Tweet

One finding, though, makes us question how long organizations can sustain their increased success while decreasing the budget devoted to it: the lack of a documented content marketing strategy. Only 38% of respondents have one (pretty close to last year’s 40%).

2018-B2C-research-chart1-content-marketing-strategy

Stay true to the documented strategy

We talk about the need for a documented content marketing strategy every year. And yet most marketers still don’t have one. If you doubt the need to document your strategy, consider the response from a marketer who does have a documented strategy to the survey question: “What content marketing challenges, if any, do you need to overcome in 2018?”

We manage content and social media strategies for more than 10 brands with a two-person team. That is and will continue to be my greatest struggle. We could do more, but we are understaffed.

Two people handling content and social media strategy for 10-plus brands in a mid-sized (100 to 999 employee) company? Wow. And the respondent reports their efforts as very successful.

I bet that two-person team would have a much harder time achieving success without a documented guide. That’s because writing down an agreed upon strategy helps teams like this one maintain a strict focus on only those initiatives that fit the strategy. It guides the decisions and trade-offs that have to be made.

Documenting a #contentmarketing strategy helps teams maintain a strict focus & guide decisions. @LisaBeets Click To Tweet

If one or two people can sufficiently handle the work created by the vision laid forth in the strategy, great. If not, and the organization wants to do more, then decisions will need to be made on how to invest in the resources necessary to grow.

Without a documented strategy, whatever content marketing success you achieve may be all too easily hijacked (as Kevin Lund described in this recent article):

When you prove internally that content marketing works, others inside the organization may view the approach as the cure to what ails them – and want to piggyback on what you’re doing. While it’s a good sign when others want to join you, it’s often done without thinking through an integrated strategy and process.

If you need yet another reason to get your strategy in writing, consider this: 75% of B2C marketers who say their organization is more successful this year compared with one year ago cite strategy as a reason (in fact, it’s the top reason).

2018-B2C-research-chart 2-reasons-increased-success

Reinforce realistic expectations

Another troubling finding this year: The percentage of B2C marketers who agree their organization has realistic expectations about what content marketing can achieve decreased to 55% from 69% last year.

We’re not sure why the “realistic expectations” percentage decreased so much. It could be that as organizations see initial successes they expect to scale those efforts without first determining the strategy (as Kevin describes) and devoting adequate resources.

The truth is that organizations must be realistic about two things:

Again, a written strategy helps set the appropriate expectations.

Of course, content marketers supplement their in-house teams by outsourcing many tasks, primarily content creation, and a documented strategy is essential to have everyone operating from the same page.

2018-B2C-research-chart 3-outsource

As a side note, our B2C research didn’t indicate that companies outsourcing content marketing functions are any more successful than those that do not. In fact, the top performers were a bit less likely to outsource than the total sample. Whether that indicates that your company would be better served by a cohesive, internal team is up to you to determine based on your unique business circumstances.

Top #contentmarketing performers are a bit less likely to outsource, says @CMIContent research. Click To Tweet

Conclusion

B2C marketers who want to do more with their content marketing – and who could if they had more resources – may want to go back to the strategic drawing board and conduct a thoughtful cost benefit analysis. If that’s you, keep us posted on your results.

For more research findings, view the report released today. Learn about:

  • Key differences between top-performing B2C content marketers and their peers
  • Digital technologies B2C marketers use for content marketing purposes
  • The types of content and email they use
  • Which social media platforms they find most effective for distributing content
  • How often they take various factors into account while creating content, and much more

To receive the latest CMI research as it’s published, subscribe to our free daily e-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.

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  • heidicohen

    Lisa–

    Thank you for this useful research and your in-depth insights regarding the findings.

    Like you I was surprised by the fact that like B2B marketers only 36% of B2C marketers have a documented content marketing strategy BUT 75% of respondents attribute their success to their strategy. That said, even Jay Baer admitted to finally documenting his content strategy that until this fall had been in his head.

    By contrast, I view reduced content marketing budgets as reflecting improved processes and integration of content marketing disciplines across organizations. While you can’t cut your way to profitability, you can improve budget utility especially as content marketing shows that it’s capable of driving profitable revenues.

    Done effectively content marketing can tap into other people’s budgets across the organization such as sales and customer service (Hat tip: Marcus Sheridan) to eliminate redundant content and communications efforts.

    On a related note, the research doesn’t account for paid promotion including advertising (especially on Facebook), search (for which quality content is critical) and influencers.

    Happy marketing,
    Heidi

    Heidi Cohen
    Actionable Marketing Guide

    • Lisa Murton Beets

      Hi Heidi – Thanks for sharing your take on budgets. It’s amazing what people can do with limited budgets, especially when they are laser-focused on documented priorities that are most important to their organization. Thanks, too, for the reminder that budget might be available in other areas of the company. On your other note, hopefully we’ll have new insights in those areas soon. Appreciate your feedback!

  • http://www.ceralytics.com Brandon Andersen

    I’ve been on pins and needles waiting for the B2C report to come out (well, maybe not pins and needles, but I’ve been REALLY looking forward to it since the B2B report came out a while back).

    I echo Heidi’s comments about a low number of B2C companies having a documented content strategy, yet they attribute their success to the strategy. Whether we like it or not, a lot of companies have strategies in their heads and when they see any signs of success, they attribute it to that “strategy.”

    The trend of budgets potentially shrinking is a sign – to me at least – that we’re about to go a bit downhill in terms of people’s perceived value of content marketing. We’re at the top of the hype cycle and on our way down into the trough of disillusionment. Throwing money at content marketing is no longer the answer that many businesses thought.

    Going forward, I think we’re going to see a major separation between the companies that really succeed at content marketing by doing it extremely well, and those what were just playing it lip service with a lack of real strategy. Those who were giving it lip service will be faced with the dilemma of really incorporating content marketing strategies into the overall business strategy, or cutting content marketing entirely. My fear is that many may scrap it and invest in other methods that have proven short-term value, like PPC.

    Those that forego content marketing for PPC or similar programs are going to be in for a rude awakening in the coming year though. PPC rates are going to continue to climb and price many people out of the market.

    Those that double down on content marketing now, with a solid strategy aligned to business goals, are going to see real success in the future. They will build solid audiences, drive trust that only the best PR programs can, and be able to monetize those audiences when the time is right.

    TL;DR – If you’re not seeing returns in your content marketing efforts, you need to put time and resources into your content strategy ASAP. If you don’t, there are other marketing programs just waiting for your budget.

    • Lisa Murton Beets

      Hi Brandon – Thanks for your insights! There could be several reasons why this year’s data indicates a lower percentage of budget spent (see Heidi Cohen’s take below). Like you, I would encourage any company that gets started with content marketing to stay the course. Your advice is solid: Double down with a strategy tied to goals (and make changes if you need to based on what you see working with your audience).

  • https://www.mybloggertruth.com/ Blogging/marketing with yaya

    This article is very informative with a solid comment. When it comes to content marketing, I work alone and it has been really challenging.

    • Lisa Murton Beets

      Thank you! Keep up the good work; hopefully, your big wins will make up for the challenges 🙂