2016 is already shaping up to be a busy year for B2B content marketers. Research released by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) has revealed that 88% of UK marketers expect to produce more content in 2016 than they did in 2015. Two-thirds also believe their organisation’s content marketing budget will increase in the next 12 months.
With competition for business remaining high among B2Bs, and rising volumes of content on the cards, how can marketers ensure that what they are planning and producing is going to be effective? And what are the other key industry challenges they face?
By pulling together global studies, including research from North America, Europe and the UK, we’ve analysed, scrutinised and digested the latest industry thinking to reveal which issues are now sitting at the top of leading marketing teams’ agendas.
From content marketing, to inbound and enterprise marketing channels, overall the data paints a clear picture of what marketers see as the current areas of focus. We’ve also pulled out the golden nuggets – those top pieces of advice and ideas for how these issues may be approached:
Challenge 1: Measurement – proving a positive ROI
Across all the studies we’ve look at, being able to measure effectiveness and to provide proof of a return on investment (ROI), remains a core focus. Particularly due to its potential influence on future budgets. Success remains hard to prove without a process of measurement in place that can provide the right figures to back it up. Every tactic has an impact, the key is being able to measure and record the numbers. This includes key metrics such as sales lead quality and conversion rates. Marketers need to be able to track the success of content marketing right through from the beginning of the sales process to the end.
A global State of Inbound study by HubSpot found that respondents were 20% more likely to have received a higher budget in 2015 if ROI was tracked, and twice as likely to have seen their budget increased if that ROI was shown to be higher than the previous year.
Despite this, in a North American study B2B Enterprise Content Marketing: 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends 17% of respondents revealed they had no measurement in place and 14% said their measurement was not at all successful.
Solution: closed loop marketing
To be able to link marketing activity directly to sales, companies need to use a closed loop marketing system. This can be achieved by using marketing software that links to the CRM system. Getting evidence of impact and ROI becomes easier once this type of system is in place and the data is being monitored and collated automatically. For example, Lead Forensics’ marketing hub can bring lead generation, analytics and insights into one place. It allows marketers to track prospects through the buying journey from end-to-end, uncovering which channels are driving sales-ready leads and including the original source of every individual website visitor.
Challenge 2: Ensure everyone’s ‘on the same page’
Across all studies it was noticeable that the most successful teams were those who not only had a content marketing strategy and editorial mission statement in place, but who had documented it – by this meaning they had set out a clear and written roadmap that everyone was aware of, engaged in and working towards. This is in contrast to those with just use a verbal strategy – or even have no strategy at all, simply using a shotgun approach to their activity with no clear vision.
In the UK a recent CIM study found only 37% of respondents have a documented content marketing strategy and even fewer (32%) have a documented editorial mission statement.
And across the pond the issue is growing. In its 2016 North American study the CMI found fewer B2B marketers have a documented content marketing strategy compared with last year, even though research consistently shows that those who document their strategy are more effective in nearly all areas of content marketing.
Solution: have a strategy and document it
The studies showed that when there is a clear strategy and plan in place, and everyone knows what success will look like – i.e. the key metrics – then their efforts are more likely to lead to success. It takes time in the beginning to develop a strategy but the effort will pay dividends in the end by leading to strong, joined up thinking.
Challenge 3: Increasing effectiveness
Increasing the effectiveness of content is an ongoing challenge for teams, and across all studies it remains a key focus. Teams are aiming to create more content but also better quality and more engaging content. When you work in content marketing you are playing the long game. It takes a lot of trial and error, review and analysis, to pinpoint what is really working and also what’s not – whether it’s for a particular industry, company or product. In order to move forward and increase effectiveness, teams need to be able to make an informed decision as to what needs changing. By regularly analysing the effectiveness of pieces of content, teams will get data and insights that can be used to shape their future decisions about what content to produce going forward.
UK marketers said producing engaging content was their biggest content marketing challenge and remains their biggest priority for the coming year, according to the CMI.
Teams who checked their marketing metrics three or more times a week were over 20% more likely to see an increased ROI in 2015, according to the State of Inbound study.
Solution: Regular reporting and analysis
Regular reporting and analysis for each piece of content is the best way to measure effectiveness. This data can then be used to adjust the strategy and planning as needed. The process should then continue…track and measure, adjust, repeat. Keep a logbook of all of the activity and the analysis/findings, along with the changes and why they were made. After a period of time (such as 6-12 months) the data should clearly show patterns and what is working particularly well, and what’s not. This information is crucial for developing an highly effective strategy going forward and for proving ROI.
Challenge 4: Closing the deal
It’s all about the figures and the end goal – those much sought after sales – for B2B companies worldwide. Lead generation remains the main aim for content marketing activity, and not just any lead – it needs to be the right leads But tying activity to actual sales figures is also becoming increasingly important too. While SME’s are likely to concentrate on lead generation and sales, enterprise B2B companies often have more of a focus on brand awareness. But even for them the studies show that actual sales are an important figure to measure, and of course to be seeing increase.
When the CMI asked respondents to identify the most important metric they use to measure content marketing success, 20% of UK marketers said sales and another 20% said sales lead quality.
Solution: Informed nurturing
Understanding the target audience and the journey they take is key to nurturing leads on through the sales process and will go a long way towards helping to increase conversion rates. Closed loop marketing can help by uncovering and pulling together the information that is needed to understand how customers are interacting, with which content and when. This can give insights that can aid improvements being made to a content marketing strategy.
So there you have it, the top challenges facing content marketers in 2016 and some of the top takeaways from the latest industry research. Overall the ability to measure, to track and to understand exactly how effective every piece of content is remains a key driver. And for teams, knowing their numbers, making informed decisions and adapting activity based on what’s working or what’s not, really can be the secret to success.