There’s a good chance we will look back at 2014 as the year brands first seriously plunged into the content marketing waters. Terms like native content, brand publishing, and owned media are set to evolve from buzzwords into crucial staples of marketing success. Marketers are looking to invest in longform storytelling, both in print and online. And instead of relying on disruptive banner ads, brands are starting to get smart about targeting customers with original content.
But content marketing is still in its infancy, and marketers have a number of challenges to overcome. As we discovered earlier this year, measurement remains a hurdle; our content measurement survey from this summer found over 90 percent of marketers were not confident that their key content metrics were effective in measuring business results. For the year’s end, we wanted to broaden our scope and ask our audience of content marketers some important questions related to their triumphs, failures, and future goals: What types of content led to the most ROI? What resources were in short supply? What are some of the biggest challenges marketers face on a daily basis?
What follows is a crucial snapshot of the content marketing landscape as we get ready to transition into 2015.
Between November 5 and November 17, we surveyed 601 marketers with an 18-question online survey.
As the survey was answered by nearly our entire population target, the calculated margin of error was approximately one percent.
In the next section we’ll unpack the noteworthy results in detail, but at first glance, a few striking data points stand out:
— Sixty-nine percent of marketers back original content over licensed content.
— Fifty-seven percent of all companies have two or more people dedicated to content marketing.
— While a slim majority of marketers are devoting 25 percent or less of their marketing budgets to content, 23 percent are now devoting over half their marketing budgets to content.
— Fifty percent of marketers are looking at return on investment (ROI) and lifetime customer value (LTV) as the most valuable goals to measure.
— Seventy-four percent of marketers believe that they could drive 2.5x more ROI, brand lift, or LTV if they had an expert content team, indicating a strong level of optimism heading into the new year.
RESULTS & ANALYSIS
Publishing quality content over time requires a healthy investment when you account for the talent and tools required. Here, we see there’s a huge range in the resources companies are committing to content marketing. While 52 percent of marketers are devoting 25 percent or less of their marketing budget to content, a significant group—23 percent—have shifted over half of their marketing budget to content.
Over the past few years, it’s been common to see content marketing treated as an experimental marketing practice, often put in the hands of a single employee juggling other responsibilities. While that’s still the case for 43 percent of respondents, it’s promising that more than half of all brands have at least two employees dedicated full-time to content marketing. Companies like Coca-Cola have succeeded with a balanced model that teams a few full-time employees with dozens of freelancer working remotely.
Given the small teams who are dedicated to content marketing, it’s not a big surprise that approximately two-thirds of respondents are creating fewer than five pieces of content per week. Finding the right balance of quality and quantity is one of the biggest challenges marketers face today, but it’s one that needs to be tackled if brands want to compete with traditional media companies for audience attention.
Considering most marketers only publish a few times per week, filling those slots with the right content becomes even more important. Interestingly, respondents didn’t overwhelmingly prefer or dismiss one medium over another—save for infographics. Longform, shortform, video, and social media posts were all deemed the most effective medium by between 16 and 23 percent of respondents.
Of note: Almost one-fifth of those surveyed picked “I don’t know.” Perhaps the popularity of that answer choice echoes the idea marketers are still searching for the best way to link their content to business results.
A marketer is only as good as his/her tools, and those tools include time, money, and analytics. Fittingly, our respondents identified budget (34 percent), the inability to measure business results (22 percent), and lack of time (11 percent) as their biggest challenges.
Ostensibly, these challenges are all connected. A larger budget can open access to the necessary analytic tools and resources, and the right analytics help content marketers devote their time and money to the most effective tactics.
When it comes to publishing original content versus licensing content from other publishers—also known as syndication—the results are clear: More than two-thirds of those surveyed favor original content. That answer shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. If readers can get your content elsewhere, what would make them come to you specifically?
As Cyrus Shepherd, director of content and SEO at Moz, told Contently co-founder Shane Snow: “Syndicated content is like giving popcorn to children. It will keep them busy for a while, but that’s it.”
Moz, a robust content creator in its own right and a leader in search engine optimization, doesn’t syndicate any content in either direction. “I think all the value is having something original,” Shepherd said.
Licensed content from other publishers rose in popularity in the early days of content marketing as a one-click solution to populating corporate blogs and as a hack for boosting search rankings. But its clear from these findings marketers see limited value in it.
What if marketers could create content under ideal conditions? The responses here show how optimistic marketers are about the maximum benefits of their content marketing operations. Notably, a majority of respondents seem to think they could increase ROI or brand lift by 2x–5x with the right team producing high-quality content.
Interestingly, even though a plurality of marketers selected ROI as their most important marketing goal, lifetime customer value and audience growth were very close behind. When it comes to content, measuring success can be a complex endeavor, with ROI, LTV, and audience growth all intersecting at various points.
However, the results suggest marketers are embracing a nuanced approach when figuring out how content can impact their bottom lines. Cultivating a loyal audience takes time, but the benefits are long-lasting. Once you have a relationship with your consumers, the ROI should follow.
Though many still treat content marketing as an experimental trend, brands are quickly learning that there’s a science to creating content—and spending their sacred budget.
Clearly, there’s plenty of room for growth. According to a recent study by the Content Marketing Institute, only 23 percent of B2C marketers are successful at tracking ROI. Everyone points to Red Bull, GE, and American Express as the all-stars of content marketing, but aspiring content marketers likely need some of the resources afforded to those best-in-class brands—a stable supply of time, money, and analytics that take the guesswork out of their jobs.
Ultimately, the fate of content marketing isn’t in the hands of the marketers pushing for creativity on a daily basis. In reality, it depends on a dedicated investment from the executive level. For example, American Express President Ed Gilligan fully supported Open Forum’s initiative to publish small business content, and Marriott International Chairman Bill Marriott, who doesn’t use computers, still saw the value of telling his company’s story directly to consumers and has invested heavily in content.
Thanks to an early commitment from the executive level, Red Bull now employs approximately 135 people just for their media house, and Nestlé’s digital editorial team consists of almost 20 community managers and designers producing content every day. And according to the Columbia Journalism Review, Coca-Cola “now reportedly spends more money creating its own content than it does on television advertising.”
In 2014, many brands tested the waters, and a few dove in headfirst. In 2015, we’ll see how many follow.
(Full disclosure: Coca-Cola, GE, and American Express are Contently clients.)
Charts created by Brian Meyers