By Michele Linn published October 3, 2014

Why Fewer People Are Using Content Marketing — and Why It’s Good News

sign image-question mark-arrowWhen the CMI team read the initial results from our newly-released B2B Content Marketing: 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends research, one finding immediately jumped out at us:

Eighty-six percent of B2B marketers are using content marketing — a number that has declined from last year’s adoption rate of 93 percent.

At first glance, this stat seems startling — especially considering how popular and prominent our discipline has become over the last few years. But when you take a look at the underlying message it conveys, this decrease is actually an encouraging sign. Let me explain. 

Using content for marketing isn’t necessarily content marketing

In previous years’ surveys, we defined content marketing as the following:

The creation and distribution of education and/or compelling content in multiple media formats to attract or retain customers.

This past year, we updated our definition in the survey to better reflect the core components of the discipline (this is now the official CMI definition):

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and ultimately drive profitable customer action.”

Truth be told, we were not expecting our revised definition to impact the adoption rate significantly. In fact, we predicted that this year’s research would show rates that remained consistent with last year’s findings. And, by adding a few new questions, we planned to explore the gap between true content marketing vs. using content in marketing efforts (a huge difference — and more on that below).

Still, it came as a bit of a surprise to us that, when marketers read the new definition, it seems they may have started to realize on their own that just because they were creating content, it didn’t necessarily mean they were practicing content marketing.

In short, we see the lower adoption rate of content marketing as an indication that the market is maturing. As an industry, we would much rather see fewer content marketers if it means those who remain are executing strategically — as opposed to flooding the market with those who refer to anything they do that’s content-related as “content marketing.” Not only would those poorly self-identified “content marketers” quickly grow frustrated by their unsuccessful efforts, but they would also likely remain closed off to truly using content marketing as a strategic practice, which is how it has always been meant to function.

Breaking down the definition of content marketing

As mentioned above, we restructured this year’s survey and added questions to help us evaluate how marketers are faring in all of the aspects needed to make content marketing a strategic approach. Here is how the definition breaks down into its component parts — and what we learned about B2B marketers’ understanding and execution of true content marketing. 

Content marketing is strategic, and it requires a plan

Marketers understand the importance of having a plan, as 83 percent of B2B marketers indicate they have a content marketing strategy. How can content marketing truly be a “strategic approach” if you haven’t created a plan? (The answer: you can’t.)

Bonus tip: If you want to be effective, you not only need to have a plan, but you need to document it (learn how with this 16-page guide). Documenting your strategy is one of the key elements that distinguish effective content marketers from their less-effective peers.

Content marketing involves both the creation and the distribution of content

As I’m sure you have heard, your job is not done when your content has been created. You need to market your content for it to be successful. We have been looking at how marketers are using social media to distribute their content for years — and, on average, we’ve found that marketers are currently using six platforms to distribute content. Six doesn’t sound like a lot, but even this might be too many.

Furthermore, while social promotion can be sufficient to help you reach certain marketing goals, we also wanted to begin to track how many marketers are using paid promotion to boost the performance of their content. We found that 80 percent of B2B marketers are using paid promotion, and they use an average of three methods.
chart-paid advertising usageThe content you create must, at the very minimum, be relevant and valuable 

Year after year, content marketers have cited “producing engaging content” as their top challenge. It’s clear that those who create content marketing understand that “any ol’ content” just won’t do anymore. 

Content marketing is consistently delivered

We wondered how many of the people who call themselves content marketers truly publish on a regular basis. Results from this new question revealed that 42 percent of content marketers publish daily or at least multiple times per week, with 90 percent publishing at least monthly. pie chart-how often b2b marketers publish

Your content needs to attract and retain an audience, with the ultimate goal of driving profitable customer action

This year we also evaluated the organizational goals for content marketing to see where in the buying process content marketing is making an impact. In the chart below, you can see the range of goals, with 75 percent of marketers associating content marketing and sales. chart-percentages-b2b goalsYou must have a clearly defined audience in mind for everything you create

While marketers are always talking about the importance of framing editorial for a specific audience, we wondered to what extent they do this. We discovered that marketers have an average of four distinct audiences (typically, the larger the organization, the more personas they target), and 84 percent of respondents indicated that they are working on — or will be working on — gaining a better understanding of their audience.

Where we go from here

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be digging into the research, sharing additional findings and providing insights on how to move your content marketing program forward. But, for today, I think we should be proud as an industry that we are finally ready to progress to the next stage and approach content marketing in more mature and strategic ways. Onward and upward! If you are wondering where to go from here, here are a few suggestions:

Want more details on our latest B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends — North America report? Check out the full study on SlideShare.

Cover image by Petr Kratochvil via

Author: Michele Linn

Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research, a consultancy focused on helping brands create and amplify original research they can use in their marketing. Before starting Mantis, Michele was head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute, where she led the company's strategic editorial direction, co-developed its annual research studies, wrote hundreds of articles, spoke at industry events and was instrumental in building the platform to 200,000 subscribers. In 2015, she was named one of Folio's Top Women in Media (Corporate Visionary). You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

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  • Sam Barnes

    Interesting post Michele.

    Less competition is always a good thing …

    I think that if you’re going to see success with content, you’re going to need to put in a lot of time and effort.

    Some businesses, perhaps those who have used PPC heavily in the past, are hoping for ‘instant wins’. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of businesses, this just isn’t the normal trajectory with content marketing.

    If it doesn’t start bringing in revenue within a certain time scale, corporate accountants get scared when they look how much they’re spending on creating and promoting this content with seemingly little results. That leads to lots of companies returning to ‘instant’ forms of marketing.

    Just my mental picture of what’s happening in the industry.

    • Michele Linn

      Hi Sam,

      Lots of things I could comment on from your observations, but I think you’re absolutely right.

      I was just talking with a friend this week who needs some marketing help for her nonprofit. She is looking for “instant wins” as you say, and I explained that I’m not the person who can do that. However, I did suggest that, while she focused on the immediate needs, that at the very least she start to build a subscriber base by offering a newsletter (which we brainstormed ideas for). You often need to have that balance of short term and long term wins.

      Of course, it all goes back to having agreement on goals — what needle(s) do you need your content marketing needs to move by when.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Sam Barnes

        Hi Michele

        You’re right there! There’s always a balance to be struck.

        Good shout on the email list. To be honest, that’s probably the best balance between quick wins and long term benefit. I hope you’re friend does well!

  • Maël Roth

    Excellent point Michelle. A few weeks back I also dedicated a blogpost in German to that topic. The problem is that so many businesses and marketers have started producing content and labeling it Content Marketing but haven’t thought about it in a strategic way / align the content with business objectives.

    • Michele Linn

      You’re so right, Mael. If you don’t have a strategy behind content marketing, it’s going to be very tough (if not impossible) to be successful.

  • Joshua Foote

    The title said “Fewer People”, but your blog only mentioned B2B marketing. Is this trend matched in consumer and nonprofit markets? I mostly ask because I work in nonprofit marketing and have seen some signs of industry momentum to very strategic content marketing, but don’t have any firm data.

    • Michele Linn

      Great question, Joshua. We’ll be releasing the findings for B2C and nonprofit in the coming weeks, but the same trend of a lower adoption rate holds true for both of those as well. If you need more specific data, let me know.

  • Nick Usborne

    I don’t think you can legitimately compare the two results. Not only are the definitions different in terms of meaning, but they are also different in terms of clarity. The first definition is simple and clear. The second seems to have been written by a committee and is much harder to grasp at a single reading. Or even after three readings.

    • Michele Linn

      Every year we evaluate the questions we’re asking in the resaerch. While we like to keep as much consistent year-over-year, we also need to account for the changing landscape — and we want to uncover ways the industry is changing. This year, after thought, we decided to change the definition because we wanted to emphasize that content marketing is a strategic approach, and not simply content as part of a marketing program.

      To your point, because the definitions are different, we wanted to be clear about that and explain why we’re seeing differences in the research this year. Like you say, it’s not a straightforward comparison (and it’s something we call out in the research as well so our readers can account for the year-over-year change). I appreciate your perspective!

  • Abu Nizar al-Hasan

    I had scored good page and domain authority by good content.
    While I was hosting my site, I was on the top ranks. So I agree with point that
    a good content can lead you at top rank. Beside this I suggest having virtual tour
    on your website that attracts and bring more visitors at your website.

  • Jonathan Kranz

    Yes, the two definitions are different. While the newer one requires actual digestive thought, it is the better of the two. Frankly, I’ve seen too many people pumping out the SOS and calling it content. When these same people discover (to no one’s surprise but their own), that their efforts don’t do much, they go on to say that “content marketing doesn’t work.” I think the lower number of self-described content marketers reflects a higher degree of truth.

    • Michele Linn

      I think you’re absolutely right, Jonathan. Thanks for stopping by.