Creating standards, guidelines, processes, and workflows for content marketing is not the sexiest job.
But setting standards is the only way to know if you can improve anything (with AI or anything else).
Here’s the good news: All that non-sexy work frees time and resources (human and tech) you can apply to bring your brand’s strategies and plans to life.
But in many organizations, content still isn’t treated as a coordinated business function. That’s one of the big takeaways from our latest research, B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: Outlook for 2024, conducted with MarketingProfs and sponsored by Brightspot.
A few symptoms of that reality showed up in the research:
- Marketers cite a lack of resources as a top situational challenge, the same as they did the previous year.
- Nearly three-quarters (72%) say they use generative AI, but 61% say their organization lacks guidelines for its use.
- The most frequently cited challenges include creating the right content, creating content consistently, and differentiating content.
I’ll walk you through the findings and share some advice from CMI Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose and other industry voices to shed light on what it all means for B2B marketers. There’s a lot to work through, so feel free to use the table of contents to navigate to the sections that most interest you.
Note: These numbers come from a July 2023 survey of marketers around the globe. We received 1,080 responses. This article focuses on answers from the 894 B2B respondents.
Table of contents
- AI use
- Team structure
- Content marketing challenges
- Content types, distribution channels, and paid channels
- Social media
- Content management and operations
- Measurement and goals
- Overall success
- Budgets and spending
- Top content-related priorities for 2024
- Content marketing trends for 2024
- Action steps
AI: 3 out of 4 B2B marketers use generative tools
Of course, we asked respondents how they use generative AI in content and marketing. As it turns out, most experiment with it: 72% of respondents say they use generative AI tools.
But a lack of standards can get in the way.
“Generative AI is the new, disruptive capability entering the realm of content marketing in 2024,” Robert says. “It’s just another way to make our content process more efficient and effective. But it can’t do either until you establish a standard to define its value. Until then, it’s yet just another technology that may or may not make you better at what you do.”
So, how do content marketers use the tools today? About half (51%) use generative AI to brainstorm new topics. Many use the tools to research headlines and keywords (45%) and write drafts (45%). Fewer say they use AI to outline assignments (23%), proofread (20%), generate graphics (11%), and create audio (5%) and video (5%).
Some marketers say they use AI to do things like generate email headlines and email copy, extract social media posts from long-form content, condense long-form copy into short form, etc.
Only 28% say they don’t use generative AI tools.
Most don’t pay for generative AI tools (yet)
Among those who use generative AI tools, 91% use free tools (e.g., ChatGPT). Thirty-eight percent use tools embedded in their content creation/management systems, and 27% pay for tools such as Writer and Jasper.
AI in content remains mostly ungoverned
Asked if their organizations have guidelines for using generative AI tools, 31% say yes, 61% say no, and 8% are unsure.
We asked Ann Handley, chief content officer of MarketingProfs, for her perspective. “It feels crazy … 61% have no guidelines? But is it actually shocking and crazy? No. It is not. Most of us are just getting going with generative AI. That means there is a clear and rich opportunity to lead from where you sit,” she says.
“Ignite the conversation internally. Press upon your colleagues and your leadership that this isn’t a technology opportunity. It’s also a people and operational challenge in need of thoughtful and intelligent response. You can be the AI leader your organization needs,” Ann says.
Why some marketers don’t use generative AI tools
While a lack of guidelines may deter some B2B marketers from using generative AI tools, other reasons include accuracy concerns (36%), lack of training (27%), and lack of understanding (27%). Twenty-two percent cite copyright concerns, and 19% have corporate mandates not to use them.
How AI is changing SEO
We also wondered how AI’s integration in search engines shifts content marketers’ SEO strategy. Here’s what we found:
- 31% are sharpening their focus on user intent/answering questions.
- 27% are creating more thought leadership content.
- 22% are creating more conversational content.
Over one-fourth (28%) say they’re not doing any of those things, while 26% say they’re unsure.
AI may heighten the need to rethink your SEO strategy. But it’s not the only reason to do so, as Orbit Media Studios co-founder and chief marketing officer Andy Crestodina points out: “Featured snippets and people-also-ask boxes have chipped away at click-through rates for years,” he says. “AI will make that even worse … but only for information intent queries. Searchers who want quick answers really don’t want to visit websites.
“Focus your SEO efforts on those big questions with big answers – and on the commercial intent queries,” Andy continues. “Those phrases still have ‘visit website intent’ … and will for years to come.”
Will the AI obsession ever end?
Many B2B marketers surveyed predict AI will dominate the discussions of content marketing trends in 2024. As one respondent says: “AI will continue to be the shiny thing through 2024 until marketers realize the dedication required to develop prompts, go through the iterative process, and fact-check output. AI can help you sharpen your skills, but it isn’t a replacement solution for B2B marketing.”
Team structure: How does the work get done?
Generative AI isn’t the only issue affecting content marketing these days. We also asked marketers about how they organize their teams.
Among larger companies (100-plus employees), half say content requests go through a centralized content team. Others say each department/brand produces its own content (23%), and the departments/brand/products share responsibility (21%).
Content strategies integrate with marketing, comms, and sales
Seventy percent say their organizations integrate content strategy into the overall marketing sales/communication/strategy, and 2% say it’s integrated into another strategy. Eleven percent say content is a stand-alone strategy for content used for marketing, and 6% say it’s a stand-alone strategy for all content produced by the company. Only 9% say they don’t have a content strategy. The remaining 2% say other or are unsure.
Employee churn means new teammates; content teams experience enlightened leadership
Twenty-eight percent of B2B marketers say team members resigned in the last year, 20% say team members were laid off, and about half (49%) say they had new team members acclimating to their ways of working.
While team members come and go, the understanding of content doesn’t. Over half (54%) strongly agree, and 30% somewhat agree the leader to whom their content team reports understands the work they do. Only 11% disagree. The remaining 5% neither agree nor disagree.
And remote work seems well-tolerated: Only 20% say collaboration was challenging due to remote or hybrid work.
Content marketing challenges: Focus shifts to creating the right content
We asked B2B marketers about both content creation and non-creation challenges.
Most marketers (57%) cite creating the right content for their audience as a challenge. This is a change from many years when “creating enough content” was the most frequently cited challenge.
One respondent points out why understanding what audiences want is more important than ever: “As the internet gets noisier and AI makes it incredibly easy to create listicles and content that copy each other, there will be a need for companies to stand out. At the same time, as … millennials and Gen Z [grow in the workforce], we’ll begin to see B2B become more entertaining and less boring. We were never only competing with other B2B content. We’ve always been competing for attention.”
Other content creation challenges include creating it consistently (54%) and differentiating it (54%). Close to half (45%) cite optimizing for search and creating quality content (44%). About a third (34%) cite creating enough content to keep up with internal demand, 30% say creating enough content to keep up with external demand, and 30% say creating content that requires technical skills.
The most frequently cited non-creation challenge, by far, is a lack of resources (58%), followed by aligning content with the buyer’s journey (48%) and aligning content efforts across sales and marketing (45%). Forty-one percent say they have issues with workflow/content approval, and 39% say they have difficulty accessing subject matter experts. Thirty-four percent say it is difficult to keep up with new technologies/tools (e.g., AI). Only 25% cite a lack of strategy as a challenge, 19% say keeping up with privacy rules, and 15% point to tech integration issues.
Content types, distribution channels, and paid channels
We asked content marketers about the types of content they produce, their distribution channels, and paid content promotion. We also asked which formats and channels produce the best results.
Popular content types and formats
As in the previous year, the three most popular content types/formats are short articles/posts (94%, up from 89% last year), videos (84%, up from 75% last year), and case studies/customer stories (78%, up from 67% last year). Almost three-quarters (71%) use long articles, 60% produce visual content, and 59% craft thought leadership e-books or white papers. Less than half of marketers use brochures (49%), product or technical data sheets (45%), research reports (36%), interactive content (33%), audio (29%), and livestreaming (25%).
Effective content types and formats
Which formats are most effective? Fifty-three percent say case studies/customer stories and videos deliver some of their best results. Almost as many (51%) names thought leadership e-books or white papers, 47% short articles, and 43% research reports.
Popular content distribution channels
Regarding the channels used to distribute content, 90% use social media platforms (organic), followed by blogs (79%), email newsletters (73%), email (66%), in-person events (56%), and webinars (56%).
Channels used by the minority of those surveyed include:
- Digital events (44%)
- Podcasts (30%)
- Microsites (29%)
- Digital magazines (21%)
- Branded online communities (19%)
- Hybrid events (18%)
- Print magazines (16%)
- Online learning platforms (15%)
- Mobile apps (8%)
- Separate content brands (5%)
Effective content distribution channels
Which channels perform the best? Most marketers in the survey point to in-person events (56%) and webinars (51%) as producing better results. Email (44%), organic social media platforms (44%), blogs (40%) and email newsletters (39%) round out the list.
Popular paid content channels
When marketers pay to promote content, which channels do they invest in? Eighty-six percent use paid content distribution channels.
Of those, 78% use social media advertising/promoted posts, 65% use sponsorships, 64% use search engine marketing (SEM)/pay-per-click, and 59% use digital display advertising. Far fewer invest in native advertising (35%), partner emails (29%), and print display ads (21%).
Effective paid content channels
SEM/pay-per-click produces good results, according to 62% of those surveyed. Half of those who use paid channels say social media advertising/promoted posts produce good results, followed by sponsorships (49%), partner emails (36%), and digital display advertising (34%).
Social media use: One platform rises way above
When asked which organic social media platforms deliver the best value for their organization, B2B marketers picked LinkedIn by far (84%). Only 29% cite Facebook as a top performer, 22% say YouTube, and 21% say Instagram. Twitter and TikTok see 8% and 3%, respectively.
So it makes sense that 72% say they increased their use of LinkedIn over the last 12 months, while only 32% boosted their YouTube presence, 31% increased Instagram use, 22% grew their Facebook presence, and 10% increased X and TikTok use.
Which platforms are marketers giving up? Did you guess X? You’re right – 32% of marketers say they decreased their X use last year. Twenty percent decreased their use of Facebook, with 10% decreasing on Instagram, 9% pulling back on YouTube, and only 2% decreasing their use of LinkedIn.
Interestingly, we saw a significant rise in B2B marketers who use TikTok: 19% say they use the platform – more than double from last year.
Content management and operations
To explore how teams manage content, we asked marketers about their technology use and investments and the challenges they face when scaling their content.
Content management technology
When asked which technologies they use to manage content, marketers point to:
- Analytics tools (81%)
- Social media publishing/analytics (72%)
- Email marketing software (69%)
- Content creation/calendaring/collaboration/workflow (64%)
- Content management system (50%)
- Customer relationship management system (48%)
But having technology doesn’t mean it’s the right technology (or that its capabilities are used). So, we asked if they felt their organization had the right technology to manage content across the organization.
Only 31% say yes. Thirty percent say they have the technology but aren’t using its potential, and 29% say they haven’t acquired the right technology. Ten percent are unsure.
Content tech spending will likely rise
Even so, investment in content management technology seems likely in 2024: 45% say their organization is likely to invest in new technology, whereas 32% say their organization is unlikely to do so. Twenty-three percent say their organization is neither likely nor unlikely to invest.
Scaling content production
We introduced a new question this year to understand what challenges B2B marketers face while scaling content production.
Almost half (48%) say it’s “not enough content repurposing.” Lack of communication across organizational silos is a problem for 40%. Thirty-one percent say they have no structured content production process, and 29% say they lack an editorial calendar with clear deadlines. Ten percent say scaling is not a current focus.
Among the other hurdles – difficulty locating digital content assets (16%), technology issues (15%), translation/localization issues (12%), and no style guide (11%).
For those struggling with content repurposing, content standardization is critical. “Content reuse is the only way to deliver content at scale. There’s just no other way,” says Regina Lynn Preciado, senior director of content strategy solutions at Content Rules Inc.
“Even if you’re not trying to provide the most personalized experience ever or dominate the metaverse with your omnichannel presence, you absolutely must reuse content if you are going to deliver content effectively,” she says.
“How to achieve content reuse? You’ve probably heard that you need to move to modular, structured content. However, just chunking your content into smaller components doesn’t go far enough. For content to flow together seamlessly wherever you reuse it, you’ve got to standardize your content. That’s the personalization paradox right there. To personalize, you must standardize.
“Once you have your content standards in place and everyone is creating content in alignment with those standards, there is no limit to what you can do with the content,” Regina explains.
Why do content marketers – who are skilled communicators – struggle with cross-silo communication? Standards and alignment come into play.
“I think in the rush to all the things, we run out of time to address scalable processes that will fix those painful silos, including taking time to align on goals, roles and responsibilities, workflows, and measurement,” says Ali Orlando Wert, senior director of content strategy at Appfire. “It takes time, but the payoffs are worth it. You have to learn how to crawl before you can walk – and walk before you can run.”
Measurement and goals: Generating sales and revenue rises
Almost half (46%) of B2B marketers agree their organization measures content performance effectively. Thirty-six percent disagree, and 15% neither agree nor disagree. Only 3% say they don’t measure content performance.
The five most frequently used metrics to assess content performance are conversions (73%), email engagement (71%), website traffic (71%), website engagement (69%), and social media analytics (65%).
About half (52%) mention the quality of leads, 45% say they rely on search rankings, 41% use quantity of leads, 32% track email subscribers, and 29% track the cost to acquire a lead, subscriber, or customer.
The most common challenge B2B marketers have while measuring content performance is integrating/correlating data across multiple platforms (84%), followed by extracting insights from data (77%), tying performance data to goals (76%), organizational goal setting (70%), and lack of training (66%).
Regarding goals, 84% of B2B marketers say content marketing helped create brand awareness in the last 12 months. Seventy-six percent say it helped generate demand/leads; 63% say it helped nurture subscribers/audiences/leads, and 58% say it helped generate sales/revenue (up from 42% the previous year).
Success factors: Know your audience
To separate top performers from the pack, we asked the B2B marketers to assess the success of their content marketing approach.
Twenty-eight percent rate the success of their organization’s content marketing approach as extremely or very successful. Another 57% report moderate success and 15% feel minimally or not at all successful.
The most popular factor for successful marketers is knowing their audience (79%).
This makes sense, considering that “creating the right content for our audience” is the top challenge. The logic? Top-performing content marketers prioritize knowing their audiences to create the right content for those audiences.
Top performers also set goals that align with their organization’s objectives (68%), effectively measure and demonstrate content performance (61%), and show thought leadership (60%). Collaboration with other teams (55%) and a documented strategy (53%) also help top performers reach high levels of content marketing success.
We looked at several other dimensions to identify how top performers differ from their peers. Of note, top performers:
- Are backed by leaders who understand the work they do.
- Are more likely to have the right content management technologies.
- Have better communication across organizational silos.
- Do a better job of measuring content effectiveness.
- Are more likely to use content marketing successfully to generate demand/leads, nurture subscribers/audiences/leads, generate sales/revenue, and grow a subscribed audience.
Little difference exists between top performers and their less successful peers when it comes to the adoption of generative AI tools and related guidelines. It will be interesting to see if and how that changes next year.
Budgets and spending: Holding steady
To explore budget plans for 2024, we asked respondents if they have knowledge of their organization’s budget/budgeting process for content marketing. Then, we asked follow-up questions to the 55% who say they do have budget knowledge.
Content marketing as a percentage of total marketing spend
Here’s what they say about the total marketing budget (excluding salaries):
- About a quarter (24%) say content marketing takes up one-fourth or more of the total marketing budget.
- Nearly one in three (29%) indicate that 10% to 24% of the marketing budget goes to content marketing.
- Just under half (48%) say less than 10% of the marketing budget goes to content marketing.
Content marketing budget outlook for 2024
Next, we asked about their 2024 content marketing budget. Forty-five percent think their content marketing budget will increase compared with 2023, whereas 42% think it will stay the same. Only 6% think it will decrease.
Where will the budget go?
We also asked where respondents plan to increase their spending.
Sixty-nine percent of B2B marketers say they would increase their investment in video, followed by thought leadership content (53%), in-person events (47%), paid advertising (43%), online community building (33%), webinars (33%), audio content (25%), digital events (21%), and hybrid events (11%).
The increased investment in video isn’t surprising. The focus on thought leadership content might surprise, but it shouldn’t, says Stephanie Losee, director of executive and ABM content at Autodesk.
“As measurement becomes more sophisticated, companies are finding they’re better able to quantify the return from upper-funnel activities like thought leadership content,” she says. “At the same time, companies recognize the impact of shifting their status from vendor to true partner with their customers’ businesses.
“Autodesk recently launched its first global, longitudinal State of Design & Make report (registration required), and we’re finding that its insights are of such value to our customers that it’s enabling conversations we’ve never been able to have before. These conversations are worth gold to both sides, and I would imagine other B2B companies are finding the same thing,” Stephanie says.
Top content-related priorities for 2024: Leading with thought leadership
We asked an open-ended question about marketers’ top three content-related priorities for 2024. The responses indicate marketers place an emphasis on thought leadership and becoming a trusted resource.
Other frequently mentioned priorities include:
- Better understanding of the audience
- Discovering the best ways to use AI
- Increasing brand awareness
- Lead generation
- Using more video
- Better use of analytics
- Repurposing existing content
Content marketing predictions for 2024: AI is top of mind
In another open-ended question, we asked B2B marketers, “What content marketing trends do you predict for 2024?” You probably guessed the most popular trend: AI.
Here are some of the marketers’ comments about how AI will affect content marketing next year:
- “We’ll see generative AI everywhere, all the time.”
- “There will be struggles to determine the best use of generative AI in content marketing.”
- “AI will likely result in a flood of poor-quality, machine-written content. Winners will use AI for automating the processes that support content creation while continuing to create high-quality human-generated content.”
- “AI has made creating content so easy that there are and will be too many long articles on similar subjects; most will never be read or viewed. A sea of too many words. I predict short-form content will have to be the driver for eyeballs.”
Other trends include:
- Greater demand for high-quality content as consumers grow weary of AI-generated content
- Importance of video content
- Increasing use of short video and audio content
- Impact of AI on SEO
Among the related comments:
- “Event marketing (webinars and video thought leadership) will become more necessary as teams rely on AI-generated written content.”
- “AI will be an industry sea change and strongly impact the meaning of SEO. Marketers need to be ready to ride the wave or get left behind.”
- “Excitement around AI-generated content will rise before flattening out when people realize it’s hard to differentiate, validate, verify, attribute, and authenticate. New tools, processes, and roles will emerge to tackle this challenge.”
- “Long-form reports could start to see a decline. If that is the case, we will need a replacement. Logically, that could be a webinar or video series that digs deeper into the takeaways.”
What does this year’s research suggest B2B content marketers do to move forward?
I asked CMI’s Robert Rose for some insights. He says the steps are clear: Develop standards, guidelines, and playbooks for how to operate – just like every other function in business does.
“Imagine if everyone in your organization had a different idea of how to define ‘revenue’ or ‘profit margin,’” Robert says. “Imagine if each salesperson had their own version of your company’s customer agreements and tried to figure out how to write them for every new deal. The legal team would be apoplectic. You’d start to hear from sales how they were frustrated that they couldn’t figure out how to make the ‘right agreement,’ or how to create agreements ‘consistently,’ or that there was a complete ‘lack of resources’ for creating agreements.”
Just remember: Standards can change along with your team, audiences, and business priorities. “Setting standards doesn’t mean casting policies and templates in stone,” Robert says. “Standards only exist so that we can always question the standard and make sure that there’s improvement available to use in setting new standards.”
He offers these five steps to take to solidify your content marketing strategy and execution:
- Direct. Create an initiative that will define the scope of the most important standards for your content marketing. Prioritize the areas that hurt the most. Work with leadership to decide where to start. Maybe it’s persona development. Maybe you need a new standardized content process. Maybe you need a solid taxonomy. Build the list and make it a real initiative.
- Define. Create a common understanding of all the things associated with the standards. Don’t assume that everybody knows. They don’t. What is a white paper? What is an e-book? What is a campaign vs. an initiative? What is a blog post vs. an article? Getting to a common language is one of the most powerful things you can do to coordinate better.
- Develop. You need both policies and playbooks. Policies are the formal documentation of your definitions and standards. Playbooks are how you communicate combinations of policies so that different people can not just understand them but are ready, willing, and able to follow them.
- Distribute. If no one follows the standards, they’re not standards. So, you need to develop a plan for how your new playbooks fit into the larger, cross-functional approach to the content strategy. You need to deepen the integration into each department – even if that is just four other people in your company.
- Distill. Evolve your standards. Make them living documents. Deploy technology to enforce and scale the standards. Test. If a standard isn’t working, change it. Sometimes, more organic processes are OK. Sometimes, it’s OK to acknowledge two definitions for something. The key is acknowledging a change to an existing standard so you know whether it improves things.
For their 14th annual content marketing survey, CMI and MarketingProfs surveyed 1,080 recipients around the globe – representing a range of industries, functional areas, and company sizes — in July 2023. The online survey was emailed to a sample of marketers using lists from CMI and MarketingProfs.
This article presents the findings from the 894 respondents, mostly from North America, who indicated their organization is primarily B2B and that they are either content marketers or work in marketing, communications, or other roles involving content.
Thanks to the survey participants, who made this research possible, and to everyone who helps disseminate these findings throughout the content marketing industry.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
About Content Marketing Institute
Content Marketing Institute (CMI) exists to do one thing: advance the practice of content marketing through online education and in-person and digital events. We create and curate content experiences that teach marketers and creators from enterprise brands, small businesses, and agencies how to attract and retain customers through compelling, multichannel storytelling. Global brands turn to CMI for strategic consultation, training, and research. Organizations from around the world send teams to Content Marketing World, the largest content marketing-focused event, the Marketing Analytics & Data Science (MADS) conference, and CMI virtual events, including ContentTECH Summit. Our community of 215,000+ content marketers shares camaraderie and conversation. CMI is organized by Informa Connect. To learn more, visit www.contentmarketinginstitute.com.
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