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2016 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends

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In what ways do the most effective B2B marketers among us differ from our less effective peers? How do B2B marketers measure content marketing success? Which metric do we say is most important? Which tactics do we use? What increases content effectiveness? And what could we be focusing on more specifically?

The answers to those questions—and many more—are in this year's B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America report, produced by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, and sponsored by Brightcove.

This is the sixth year that MarketingProfs has teamed with Content Marketing Institute to produce this report, which feels like a lifetime in content marketing years.

We'll be interpreting the data over the next few months. But, for now, let's take a closer look at some of the biggest findings.

Content Marketing Effectiveness


Only 44% of B2B marketers say their organization is clear about what content marketing success or effectiveness looks like. Some 55% of us say our organization is either unclear or we're unsure whether our organization is clear...

Not surprisingly, then, just 30% of B2B marketers say their organizations are effective at content marketing (down from 38% last year).

Goals, Metrics, and Priorities

Over the past six years, B2B marketers have consistently cited website traffic as their most often used metric. Still, we say the most important metrics are sales lead quality (87%), sales (84%), and higher conversion rates (82%).

Lead generation (cited by 85%) and sales (cited by 84%) will be the most important goals for B2B content marketers over the next 12 months.

And we continue to heavily focus on creating engaging content (72%), citing it as the top priority for our internal content creators over the next year.

But that finding confounds me: While 72% want to focus on creating engaging content, just 41% of us are looking to hone our storytelling chops and a mere 19% are focused on becoming stronger writers.

I almost wrote a "tragic" 19%, but that seemed like I might be overstating it.

Or am I? The best content marketers need strong writing skills, because the foundation of content marketing is writing (no matter what form that content ultimately takes).

You might argue that because the survey forced B2B marketers to choose their five biggest priorities, the respondents lumped writing skills in with the "creating engaging content" choice. But I'm not so sure (and I say this with an informed love in my heart): My sense is that many of us vastly undervalue writing in the content process, which is why we have a tough time creating "engaging content"—and why that has consistently been a top challenge in the past six years.

Content Effectiveness and...

Documentation: B2B content marketers who document their strategy are more effective in nearly all areas of content marketing, the research consistently shows. Yet, smaller proportions among us have a documented content marketing strategy this year than last (32% vs. 35%).

Meetings: The more effective an organization is at content marketing, the more often it holds meetings: 61% of the most effective B2B marketers meet daily or weekly. Some 44% of us meet daily or weekly—either in person or virtually—to discuss the progress of our content marketing program.

Experience: In general, marketers become more effective as they gain experience. Respondents' content marketing maturity levels were roughly equally apportioned: Approximately one-third of us were in the early stages; one-third, in the adolescent stage; and one-third, in the sophisticated/mature stage.

Budget: The most effective B2B marketers among us allocate 42% of their total marketing budget, on average, to content marketing, and the most sophisticated/mature allocate 46%. The average for all B2B marketers is 28% (same as last year).

Other Findings

Check out the full B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America report for much more:

  • Section 1: Usage & Effectiveness
  • Section 2: Strategy & Organization
  • Section 3: Content Creation & Distribution
  • Section 4: Goals & Metrics
  • Section 5: Budgets & Spending
  • Section 6: Challenges & Priorities
  • Comparison Chart: Profile of a Best-in-Class B2B Content Marketer
  • Comparison Chart: Differences Between B2B and B2C Content Marketers
  • Demographics

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, a monthly contributor to Entrepreneur magazine, the author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content (Wiley, 2014), and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules (Wiley, 2012). Ann co-founded ClickZ.com, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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  • by Peter Altschuler Wed Sep 30, 2015 via web

    This is... depressing. B2B has relied on what's now called content for, well... forever. Sales slicks, data sheets, brochures, white papers, case studies, and multiple other types of information that used to be called collateral or sales aids or product literature have been employed by both Marketing and Sales for at least a century. When done right, that content was specifically tailored for each person in the buying process -- the initiator, researcher, short lister, influencer, evaluator, recommender, and final decision maker.

    While B2C veered into mass marketing in the middle of the last century, B2B had to ensure that each individual's concerns were addressed, objections overcome, and expectations met. That was done with well-crafted print, graphic, audio, and video materials.

    The difference today is that the same information is being provided without a seller's intermediary. It's being accessed online before someone becomes a qualified lead, instead of being dispensed after the lead's in the pipeline.

    The statistics, however, make it seem as if this is a new, never-before-seen, remarkable modern innovation. What they may actually reflect is a myopic ignorance of B2B history.

  • by Ann Handley Wed Sep 30, 2015 via web

    Hi Peter -- Thanks for chiming in.

    You are quite right: Content has long been a part of marketing, especially in business-to-business.

    In my two books, writing and talks, I acknowledge as much (as do the smartest marketing leaders I know). But at the same time, there's new pressure on content to perform as never before -- because of the very shift you rightly identify, as well as the increasing sophistication of audiences and evolution of technology.

    Not sure what's depressing about that, because I see marketing and business as a pretty exciting place to be these days. The idea of crafting our story to speak directly to the people we want to reach without an intermediary strikes me as a tremendous opportunity. The idea of using new tools and platforms to reach them is a pretty tremendous opportunity, too. Which is why I get pretty fired up about helping companies do just that!

    Thanks again for your comment -- nice to see your name here.

  • by Peter Altschuler Wed Sep 30, 2015 via web

    The depressing part, Ann, is in the maturity and effectiveness stats. While the delivery media may have changed, the notion that most companies' content marketing is "young" or "adolescent" and ranks primarily "2" and "3" on a 5-point scale suggests that targeted content is being created for the very first time.

    My perspective, I'll grant you, is rather long -- I've been doing this for... awhile. Yet the information I've guided or created has always been geared toward specific readers with distinct requirements: engineers who need to know about tolerances and mean time to failure, finance executives who worry about long-term costs of maintenance and replacement, line-of-business people who will use or benefit from a product/service, IT folks who want to know about integration and updates, etc.

    If companies are waking up to the need for this kind of targeting, they must either be relatively new, staffed by less experienced people, or emerging from a coma.

  • by Deborah Briers, CPSM Wed Sep 30, 2015 via web

    Throughout my 20-year career marketing professional services, I've also used content marketing for developing new business and creating engaging marketing campaigns. It isn't that the need for content has changed, it is our ability, as marketing professionals, to get our message heard in a very noisy world.

    Content marketing has evolved to meet the needs of how clients go through the buying process today. The first touchpoint almost 90% of your clients will experience is finding your firm on-line. Marketers need to make sure that what clients find catches their interest and compels them to find out more about you.

    The majority of content from 10+ years ago focused on the services or products being offered by the firm. However, in today's attention-deprived, digitally saturated market you have about 8 seconds to engage your target audience.

    People seek content that solves their problems, educates, or entertains them; not a description of what services you offer in a general brochure or product specification sheet. We need to emotionally connect with our audience. This requires content that tells a differentiated "why" story, not a "so what" list of facts.

    This is why creating engaging, influential, and compelling content is challenging. It is also what makes being a content creator so exciting! I've never had this much fun in my professional career! Great content is the result of a creative process that incorporates targeting specific market segments, telling stories, integrating visual elements, writing attention-grabbing headlines, using SEO keywords, and integrating consistent brand messages.

    It is these changes in B2B marketing that motivated me to change my career path this year. I went from being an internal marketing director to a freelance content writer. So far so good, and I rarely find myself bored or depressed.

  • by Stephan Thu Oct 1, 2015 via web

    There's a shift in the demands of customers (which is fueled by technology) that is forcing companies to bring teams together that used to enjoy operating in silos. That could explain why some of the responses seemed like they should be just common sense, where in reality they're coming from companies who are wrestling with this shift.

    We haven't seen any major breakthrough or disruption in marketing, social, or search technology in the past year, and won't until live streaming video and predictive/personal assistant tools like Google Now mature a bit more. So the results also point at a desire to button up what may have been a rush to explore and create for the past couple years. At least that's what I'm reading into some of the charts.

    For what it's worth, while I appreciate the way the report curated the results in a way that focused on best practices, each slide kind of exists on its own once you get into the tools and types of content marketing that companies are using. It would have helped to have more granular breakdowns, for example, that highlighted the % of "sophisticated" marketers who use LinkedIn or newsletters, and how that segment rated their effectiveness. Because let's face it, 81% say they use email newsletters, 60% say they're effective, but is the bulk of that 60% comprised of the top companies? (my guess is yes)

  • by Peter Altschuler Thu Oct 1, 2015 via web

    Deborah, I think you're over-generalizing about the focus of collateral (what content used to be called). I've worked with multiple B2B companies and agenices, and the emphasis was always, except for technical documents like spec sheets, on benefits -- how the product would reduce expenditures, improve output, enhance productivity, minimize downtime, simplify maintenance.... Depending on the intended reader, the benefits would change -- to address that person's interests, concerns, and expectations.

    And the approach was never dully matter-of-fact. It found something particularly intriguing or important and made it captivating -- machine shock mounts described in a piece called "Good Vibrations" and a problem-resolution application outlined in a case study entitled "How to Remember What You Don't Even Know." And all the things that you list as defining contemporary "content" were abundant in materials I created or directed in the '80s... and it wasn't new then.

  • by Steve Lubahn Sat Oct 3, 2015 via web

    Excellent article and great summary slides!

    I find few small to medium sized businesses have a documented B2B plan or process. It takes the commitment to content management planning, resources, and budget into your annual budget. I like the survey summary of how people are using dedicated meetings as a way to oversee their content management activities throughout the year.

  • by Francoise Mon Oct 5, 2015 via web

    It would be interesting to see further segmentation by industry (health, vs. IT, vs. Energy, etc). More disparities would surely emerge and be very insightful.

  • by Aishwarya Wed Jan 27, 2016 via web

    Good Read Ann!
    Write for your customers, not for you, and not for search engines. The reason why most businesses fail at content marketing is because their content is just not good enough. It's either too pushy and talks only about the product they sell, rather than providing any real value to readers.
    You can also checkout this blog on SalesPanda:

    http://resources.salespanda.com/showcase/Effective-Content-Marketing-Tips-for-B2B

  • by Anton Mon Mar 28, 2016 via web

    Just stumbled upon this Ann, great information for a B2B marketer. Any predictions for the rest of the year?

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