Skip to content

New Research Reveals Habits of Top Content Marketers

Editor’s note: We’ve updated our annual B2B research study for 2024.

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


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


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.


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


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.


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.