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5 Research-Based Actions to Improve Your Content Marketing


Editor’s note: The 2019 version of the article is available here.

A little over halfway through 2018, you may be looking for insights on how to maximize your content marketing efforts. Or, maybe you need some great stats to help you build your business case for content marketing.

Take stock of what CMI’s annual research with MarketingProfs revealed about the state of B2B content marketing in 2018 – and what you can do to focus your efforts for the best return. (And stay tuned for new research results this fall.)

1. Focus on building an audience

Across every vertical examined, the research shows a year-over-year increase in the percentage of marketers who agree their organization is focused on building an audience regardless of their overall level of content marketing success.

And that’s good news, considering the consent-based marketing approach now required by GDPR and other consumer privacy legislation. As Robert Rose recently wrote:

Data given, rather than scraped or gathered unwillingly, is simply more valuable as a marketing asset … Then it stands to reason that providing valuable content-driven experiences where the data is given willingly, trustingly, and actively is the way to not only comply but to thrive in this new business environment. Right?

CMI has preached this message for years. People who sign up to receive your content are people with whom you’ve been given an opportunity to build a relationship.

People who sign up to receive your content give you the opportunity to build a relationship, says @LisaBeets. Click To Tweet

How you can use this insight

Audience development is a key goal for content marketing. Check how your numbers look versus one year ago. Can you tie subscriber growth directly to individual content marketing initiatives? Do you have solid audience personas so you target the right people? (CMI offers a lot of great information on buyer personas; check out Robert’s recent post for new thinking and recommendations around this topic.)

Of course, the quality of your subscriber list is as important as the quantity. Read this post for considerations on why the occasional purging of your list may be helpful.

The quality of your subscriber list is as important as the quantity, says @LisaBeets. Click To Tweet

Finally, evaluate how your audience is nurtured once they subscribe to your content. Although the buyer’s journey is never linear, ensure that your subscribers are receiving a good mix of steady content.

One of the primary ways to nurture audiences is via email, delivered at a frequency rate that won’t overwhelm the recipients. See Jodi Harris’ tips for evaluating the frequency and content of your emails. And make sure you study the valuable lessons the GDPR panic taught about how to communicate with your audience.

2. Get better at content creation to boost overall success

Respondents to our eighth annual content marketing survey cited “content creation” (e.g., higher quality, more efficient) as the biggest contributor to increased content marketing success over the previous year. The No. 2 success factor was content marketing strategy (developing or adjusting).


How you can use this insight

Assess the health of your content planning and creation machine. Are ideas flowing and captured? If you’re stuck, check out these ideas for breaking a creative slump.

Are topics organized in an editorial calendar? If you need to push yours further than a basic spreadsheet, look for ideas here. Do you have enough resources (talent and budget)?

For a broader picture of how to create well-written content and take your content creation to greater levels of success, check out this comprehensive article on road maps.

3. Streamline your workflow

The other part of improving content creation is developing more efficient content production. In most cases, you can improve efficiency by using sensible work processes. In fact, one of the key differences our research found between top-performing content marketers and their less successful peers is that top performers have a better handle on their workflow (70% of the top-performing B2B marketers rated their flow as excellent or very good, compared with 36% of the total sample, and 14% of the least successful).

Top performing content marketers have a better handle on their workflow, says @LisaBeets. #research Click To Tweet


How you can use this insight

If you’re challenged with content-creation bottlenecks, face the workflow issues head on. I love the tips discussed in this roundtable because the participants share real-life stories on how they improved the processes within their organizations.

If you’re among the marketers whose projects flow well, congratulations. If you aren’t there yet, document the process; it will be valuable to share when new team members and/or freelancers come into the fold.

However, as with most other processes, workflow processes may change rapidly based on shifting priorities and goals. Check out this article by Andrea Fryrear on how to use the principles of Agile marketing to respond quickly.

4. Set realistic expectations about what content marketing can achieve

The good news: Our 2018 research showed higher percentages of marketers agreeing their organization has realistic expectations about what content marketing can achieve compared with the previous year.

But what do realistic expectations look and feel like within organizations? Like so many other things, it depends. For a taste of what one startup achieved during its first two years, check out this inspiring article about Quartz, an online news company.

Your results will vary, based on your goals, resources, industry, and other factors, so walk through the steps outlined here before you get started.

How you can use this insight

Ask if your goals are realistic based on factors such as the size of your organization, its overall goals, management commitment, the nature of your industry and audience, total addressable market, competitive landscape, and available resources.

Undertake this reflection whether you recently started a content marketing project or you’re looking to refresh an existing program. If you’re in the process of overhauling your content marketing, think about what you’re changing and why. Then, read this recent article for tips on explaining your content marketing project to the rest of your company in terms they understand.

(As a side note, the CMI team would love to hear stories from marketers whose organizations have realistic expectations. Are those based on what you’ve learned from past experiences or something else? Please include in the comments or reach me through my contact information in my bio below.)

5. Make a commitment to content marketing and stick with it

Year after year, CMI research reveals that commitment is one of the most important indicators of content marketing success.

Any actions you take based on the insights here won’t get you far if your organization doesn’t have a strong commitment to content marketing.

Each success with content marketing builds upon the next. If you’re operating with a campaign-like or one-off mentality or “trying” content marketing to see how it goes – and you aren’t committed over the long haul – you won’t get long-term results.

If you aren’t committed to #contentmarketing over the long haul, you won’t get long-term results. @LisaBeets Click To Tweet

How you can use this insight

If your organization has a solid commitment to content marketing, great. Keep the momentum going by keeping your company updated with success stories, reports on new things you’re trying (and why), and metrics demonstrating results toward your content marketing goals (be cautious when you use vanity metrics, as you’ll want to show impact versus effort).

Metrics that clearly demonstrate positive impact or results get the attention of upper management and should strengthen or solidify their commitment to content marketing. For tips on how to measure and monitor your content’s performance, see this article by Jodi. To explore a new model for calculating the value of a subscriber, this article by Robert is a must-read.

If commitment isn’t strong in your organization, ask why. Who can you talk with to change this? Check out our updated guide on how to get buy-in for content marketing.

What’s ahead for content marketers? We will begin revealing the findings of the 2019 content marketing survey at Content Marketing World in September. Register today to attend and be among the first to hear the results. Use code BLOG100 to save $100.

To make sure you get the results of the latest research on content marketing in B2B, B2C, tech, manufacturing, and other segments, please subscribe to receive our email updates.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute