The 6 Most Important Takeaways From CMI’s Annual Study

For six years, the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) has studied the evolution of content marketing. Sometimes, the numbers from its reports are encouraging for the industry. Other times, not so much. One statistic frequently thrown around is that, in both B2B and B2C, the majority of marketers do not use documented content strategies.

Of course, CMI loves playing up that stat because the organization can help you build a strategy. But it is legitimately a problem for marketers—or anyone in business, really—to pursue an initiative without a documented strategy. Otherwise, you’re just shooting in the dark, not knowing if what you’re doing actually works.

CMI’s latest study, which was sponsored by the creative collaboration company Hightailsuggests that marketers are finally getting better at content strategy. Below, you’ll find out why, in addition to five other major takeaways from CMI’s reports on B2B and B2C marketing.

1. Marketers are getting better at documenting content strategy


Both B2B and B2C marketers got better at documenting their strategies this past year. In 2016’s study, 37 percent had a documented strategy, versus 40 percent this year. B2B marketers, meanwhile, improved from 32 percent last year to 37 percent this year.

In both cases, it’s still stupefying that the numbers aren’t higher. As CMI pointed out in last year’s study, more than 50 percent of the most effective marketers have documented strategies. 70 percent (for B2C) and 72 percent (for B2B) said strategy was a factor in improving their success in the past year. Creating one has no downsides yet plenty of benefits.

So what exactly are marketers including in their strategies? The number one element was “a plan to operate content marketing as an ongoing business process, not simply a campaign.”

Overall, marketers seem to find their strategies effective. Nobody said their strategies were “not at all effective,” while more than 80 percent said their strategies were either “moderately effective” or “very effective.”

That’s a testament to how useful strategies are to a content marketing program—now, the question is if the more than half of content marketers without a documented strategy will see the light.

2. Social is the most popular type of content


As mobile usage explodes and the mobile web stagnates, social media has become the best place to reach customers. Not surprisingly, companies are using more social media content than ever.

In general, marketers are planning on creating more content: Only 2 percent said they were expecting to produce less, and 73 (for B2C) and 70 percent (for B2B) said they were planning on creating more compared to last year.

3. But email is king


For B2C marketers, Facebook and email take the top spot when it comes to content distribution. 89 percent of marketers said they use the channels for their content, 26 percent above the closest channel, Twitter.

B2B marketers put email at the top for usage, at 93 percent, followed closely by LinkedIn, at 89 percent.

In terms of pure importance, however, email blasts its competitors out of the water. As the charts above show, no other channel comes close to email’s importance as a distribution channel. That makes sense since email is one of the few channels that provides a loyal, recurring audience that you own. Also, it doesn’t hurt that customer email addresses are key for a variety of martech tools, such as CRMs.

4. Content software is underused


Data collection and analysis are at the heart of digital marketing, which is why analytics tools are the go-to resources for most marketers. Implementing a content marketing program without any analytics software would be like taking a class without any feedback—it would be impossible to know if you’re successful.

However, analytics aside, it’s somewhat amazing how many content marketers don’t use critical tools such as email platforms, calendars, and CMSs. Perhaps they’re sending out email manually, or using a physical calendar tacked to the wall? CMSs are required to publish content, so the fact that only about half of marketers are using them is difficult to square.

No matter the explanation, it’s obvious that software is a big area of improvement for content marketers.

5. Promoted posts are booming


Across B2B and B2C, promoted posts saw big leaps in usage, particularly for B2C, which jumped from 52 percent last year to an incredible 89 percent this year.

Social promotion also took the top spot for effectiveness according to B2C marketers, while B2B marketers put it four percentage points behind search engine marketing (SEM). It’s safe to assume that much of these gains are a result of recent targeting improvements introduced by Facebook, LinkedIn, and their ilk.

6. Brand awareness and website traffic are still top goals


Even though some marketers are obsessed with finding one-to-one ROI, plenty of others still want brand awareness more than anything. Even B2B marketers, whose ultimate goal is always direct sales, named brand awareness a key content marketing goal.

So how are marketers tracking these goals? Website traffic, mainly: 73 percent of B2C marketers named it their top metric, versus 78 percent for B2B. Website traffic was also named the main metric for providing “truly measurable results of content marketing efforts” by both B2C and B2B marketers.

That’s somewhat surprising because website traffic can be unsophisticated and lean on the side of vanity. For B2B marketers, one would think lead generation would be tops (though “sales” and “sales lead quality” did take second and third).

Perhaps the biggest takeaway of all, however, is that a significant portion of marketers don’t measure ROI at all: 25 percent of B2C marketers and 28 percent of B2B marketers aren’t tracking ROI. It’s baffling that B2B marketers measure ROI less than B2C marketers, considering how much easier it is (and considering that lead generation was named the most-used metric).

It’s obvious from the report that—despite certain improvements—content marketers still have plenty of room to grow.

[Correction: An earlier version of this article used data from CMI’s report that was released last year. All figures have been updated to reflect data from this year’s report.]

Image by CMI

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