Lies, damned lies, and statistics! What to make of the 2016 B2B Content Marketing Report.

Forgive my indulgence in a bold title. It draws from a favorite quote of mine attributed to Mark Twain. He said, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” The statement is an attempt to capture the persuasive—but often confusing—power of numbers to make a point or convince an audience.

I don’t mean to imply that the latest report from The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) is misleading in any way. But it is difficult to interpret what the data reveals about the state of content marketing.

I’m referring to the recently released 2016 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America report. The study is indeed rich with statistics based on responses to a survey of 1,334 B2B marketers in North America who say they use content marketing.

The CMI report defines content marketing as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Wow. That’s a lot to deliver. No wonder only 30% of the B2B marketers surveyed said their organizations are effective at content marketing. That’s down from 38% last year.

Of those surveyed, only 44% said their organization is clear about what an effective or successful content marketing program looks like. Only 32% have a documented content marketing strategy. However, compared with 2015, the respondents said they plan to produce 76% more content in 2016.

When it comes to measuring content marketing effectiveness, these B2B marketers cited website traffic as their most often used metric. However, when asked to rate metrics by importance, they noted sales lead quality, sales and higher conversion rates as the top three.

Regarding tactics used, a whopping 93% identified social media as number one. Yet 75% rated in-person events as the most effective tactic.

I’m not a statistician or a mathematician, but something doesn’t add up. It seems like a lot of the respondents desire certain outcomes, but are engaging in a content strategy (or lack thereof) that doesn’t get them where they want to be.

If more than half aren’t clear on what effective content marketing is, and 68% don’t have a documented plan–yet they are going to crank out a lot more content–then we’re going to see more of the same disconnect in the next year.

How can B2B marketers break out of this content marketing rut? Perhaps breaking down CMI’s definition of content marketing might help.

A strategic marketing approach: A good way to achieve a strategic approach to content marketing is to document a plan. Think it through, and then write it all down. That way, you and your colleagues have a roadmap to follow throughout the cycle of your content marketing campaigns. CMI’s findings indicate that B2B marketers who have a documented content marketing strategy get better results from their content marketing tactics, social media platforms and paid methods of content distribution.

…focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience: In our experience, effective content marketing often boils down to tried and true marketing practices. Results come from identifying your audience, learning about what kind of industry information they’re seeking, figuring out where they go to look for it and determining what form it takes. This information is vital for creating your tactics. As for consistency, it helps to create a calendar, assign writers, and—perhaps most importantly—appoint someone as the tormenter-in-chief, that person who has the knack of keeping people and projects on track.

…and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action: Before you can “drive profitable customer action,” you have to define what you want customers to do in response to engaging with your content. For example, if your goal is to build awareness of your business among prospects, a jump in website visits could be seen as an effective result. However, if your goal is to increase online purchases, mere visits without buying would suggest a need to reexamine your plan. Having a documented content marketing strategy gives you the opportunity to build upon what is working well and tweaking or even eliminating what tactics aren’t delivering results.

Are your B2B content marketing experiences accurately reflected in the CMI report? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Rich CarangoCarango_color is president of Schubert Communications. Starting at Schubert in 1994, Rich now heads the agency in creating effective IMC campaigns, PR campaigns, advertising, brochures, direct mail, logos, websites, multimedia and content. Rich holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in design from American University. When Rich is not in the office he enjoys spending time with his wife and children and is a huge history buff.