Sunday, October 26, 2014

Is There a Crisis of Confidence in Content Marketing?

There's no longer any doubt that content marketing is playing a central role in the marketing efforts of most B2B companies. The annual content marketing surveys by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs have consistently shown that about nine out of ten B2B companies are using content marketing in some form.

Research also shows that the use of content marketing is continuing to grow.

  • In the 2015 "B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends - North America" survey by CMI and MarketingProfs (the "2015 CMI survey"), 70% of respondents said they are producing more content than they did one year earlier, and 55% said they planned to increase their content marketing spending.
  • In the "2014 BtoB Outlook:  Marketing Priorities and Plans" study by Advertising Age, 75% of surveyed marketers said they planned to increase their content budget in 2014, and only 1.3% said they would decrease their content budget this year.
Despite their commitment to content marketing, many marketers are not satisfied with the results produced by their content marketing efforts. For example:
  • In the 2015 CMI survey, only 38% of respondents said they believe their content marketing efforts have been effective.
  • In another study by CMI of B2B marketers in large enterprises (companies with 1,000+ employees), only 32% of survey respondents rated their content marketing programs as effective or very effective. ("B2B Enterprise Content Marketing:  2014 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends - North America").
  • In a July 2014 survey by Starfleet Media, 35% of respondents said they had "not been successful at all" with their content marketing efforts.
While some of this dissatisfaction undoubtedly relates to the actual performance of content marketing programs, I suggest that most of the uncertainty about content marketing exists because marketers aren't confident that they can accurately measure the business results produced by their content marketing efforts.

A 2014 survey by Contently clearly demonstrated that many marketers lack confidence in their ability to measure the business impact of content marketing. The table below shows how marketers described the effectiveness of their content-related metrics at measuring the business results produced by their content marketing programs. As the table shows, only 9.4% of surveyed marketers said they are very confident that their key performance metrics for content are effective at measuring business results. Another 45% said they are "kind of confident" in the effectiveness of their content performance metrics.

It's difficult to measure the impact of content marketing on business outcomes such as revenues because, like many marketing tactics, most content marketing activities don't directly produce immediate revenues. Despite the challenges, however, it's important for marketers to find ways to measure the value of content marketing and communicate that value to senior company leaders. Without compelling evidence that content marketing is producing significant value, the support for content marketing may begin to wane. In a future post, I'll discuss how marketers can approach the challenge of measuring the impact of content marketing.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Business Case for Interactive Content Marketing

It's now clear that content marketing has become a core marketing strategy for most B2B companies, and the use of content marketing is continuing to grow. Findings from the latest annual content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs reveal both the pervasiveness and expansion of content marketing.

  • 86% of survey respondents said their companies are using content marketing.
  • 70% of respondents said they are producing more content than they did one year ago.
  • 55% of respondents said they plan to increase or significantly increase their content marketing spending.
When it's done correctly, content marketing is the most effective way to create meaningful engagement with today's empowered and independent buyers. However, I suggest that we are beginning to see signs of content fatigue. The irony is that the growing popularity of content marketing is contributing to content fatigue and creating a new challenge for marketers. As more and more companies publish more and more content, it's becoming more difficult to make your content stand out.

Of course, the need to create content that captures the attention of prospects and triggers engagement is not new. In all five of the annual content marketing surveys by CMI/MarketingProfs, producing engaging content has been one of the three top challenges identified by survey respondents. The explosive proliferation of content and the resulting content fatigue have only added to the challenge.

Recent research by Demand Metric reveals that interactive content can be a powerful weapon for combating content fatigue. In the Demand Metric study, interactive content was defined as content that invites or requires some level of active involvement by the prospect. The survey provided study participants several examples of interactive content, including wizards, configurators, assessments, quizzes, calculators, and games. Passive content was defined as content that invites or requires little or no interaction by the prospect beyond reading, viewing, or listening.

Demand Metric asked study participants to categorize their content using one of five options - very passive, somewhat passive, moderate, slightly interactive, or very interactive. Then, Demand Metric grouped the responses into two broader categories. The passive content category included the "very passive," "somewhat passive," and "moderate" responses, while the interactive content category included the "slightly interactive" and "very interactive" responses.

Next, Demand Metric asked survey participants to rate the effectiveness of their content at performing three critical marketing functions - producing prospect conversions, educating the buyer, and creating differentiation from competitors. Finally, Demand Metric compared the ratings of interactive content users with passive content users.

The table below shows the results of this comparison, and the results demonstrate clearly that interactive content is better than passive content at performing all three vital marketing functions.

The use of interactive content is not new. Some companies, primarily larger enterprises, have been using configurators, assessments, and calculators for several years. But, the interest in interactive content is growing rapidly, and the technology required to produce interactive content at scale is becoming more affordable. Therefore, the next major phase in the evolution of content marketing may well be the marketing app.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Why Your Content Marketing Should Alienate (Some) Prospects

Recently, I attended a webinar presented by Doug Kessler titled Insane Honesty in Content Marketing. If you're not familiar with Doug Kessler, he's one of the co-founders of Velocity Partners, a content marketing agency based in the UK. Velocity consistently publishes great resources regarding content marketing, and this webinar is a must-see for B2B marketers.

According to Kessler, insane honesty in content marketing consists of:

  • Actively seeking out your weaknesses and sharing them openly; and
  • Strategically putting your worst foot forward.
Obviously, this approach runs counter to a whole laundry list of widely-accepted marketing principles and practices, and the idea is probably difficult for many marketers to swallow. In the webinar, Kessler shared several examples of insane honesty at work, which is another good reason you should view the presentation.

Six Reasons to Practice Insane Honesty

Kessler identified six reasons to practice insane honesty in your content marketing:
  1. It surprises and charms - Because this type of content is rare, it is more likely to capture the attention of potential buyers.
  2. It signals confidence - Kessler contends that confidence is the most powerful attribute of all effective content marketing.
  3. It builds trust - If you're insanely honest about the weaknesses of your solution, potential buyers will be more likely to trust what you say about the strengths and benefits of your solution.
  4. It alienates less likely buyers.
  5. It attracts your ideal prospects.
  6. It focuses your sales and marketing team on the battles you can win.
All of these reasons are important, but I want to focus on reason #4 in this post. Marketing content that is insanely honest will alienate some of your prospects, and that is a good thing because of the economics of B2B demand generation.

Insane Honesty Supports Economic Demand Generation

The diagram below illustrates the point that your investment in a prospect increases as the prospect moves through the marketing/sales funnel. On average, you will have much more invested in a Sales Opportunity than you will in an Inquiry. Therefore, it's important to determine whether your solution is a good "fit" for a prospect as early as possible in the prospect relationship.

Marketing content that is insanely honest serves two critical marketing objectives. It functions as a magnet that simultaneously attracts prospects who are a good fit for your business and repels those who aren't. The result is a more effective and efficient demand generation process and a lower likelihood of winding up with frustrated and unhappy customers.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

More Insight on the Content Preferences of B2B Buyers

DemandGen Report recently released the results of its 2014 B2B Content Preferences Survey. The 2014 survey received responses from 105 buyers of B2B products and services. It asked survey participants about their use of content in making purchasing decisions. About 38% of the survey respondents held C-level or VP-level positions at their companies, while almost 27% held director-level positions.

The results of the 2014 survey are not terribly surprising. For the most part, they are similar to the findings of DemandGen's 2013 content preferences survey, and they are also similar to the results of several other research studies, such as the 2014 B2B Technology Content Survey conducted by Eccolo Media. Still, the 2014 DemandGen survey provides several insights for B2B marketers. Here are a few of the survey's major findings:

  • Content is more important than ever - Three-fourths (75%) of survey respondents said they rely on content more than they did a year ago.
  • Desktop and laptop PC's remain the primary tools for accessing business-related content, but mobile phones and tablets are growing in importance - Ninety-five percent (95%) of respondents said they frequently use a desktop or laptop PC to access content, while 56% said they frequently use a mobile phone, and 42% indicated that they frequently use a tablet.
  • Buyers trust user-generated content most - Sixty-five percent (65%) of respondents said they frequently give more credence to content that includes peer reviews and user-generated feedback. Forty-three percent (43%) of respondents said they frequently trust content that is authored by a third party and sponsored by a vendor, and only 13% said they frequently give more credence to content that is created directly by a vendor.
The authors of the DemandGen survey report noted that the popularity of white papers fell by 5% in 2014. However, the survey also revealed that B2B buyers still rate white papers as the most valuable type of content. The 2014 survey included this question:  "What do you feel are the most valuable online content formats for researching B2B purchases? (rate on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 = most effective)" The table below shows the percentage or respondents giving each content format a "1" rating.

One important takeaway from the DemandGen survey results is that white papers authored by third-party experts are still one of the most powerful and effective types of marketing content that B2B companies can use.

You can get a copy of DemandGen's 2014 B2B Content Preferences Survey report here.