Content marketing goes mainstream

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Content marketing has become a key element of b-to-b marketing today, according to a new study by BtoB, “2013 Content Marketing: Top Tools, Benchmarks and Metrics for Success.” Based on an online survey of 197 b-to-b marketers conducted in August, the study found that 97% use some degree of content marketing. Further, 26% of respondents said their content marketing initiatives are “very” or “fully” integrated into their sales and marketing initiatives, compared with just 16% last year. Looking ahead to 2014, 57% of marketers will be “very” or “fully” engaged in content marketing, according to the study. The reason: Good, relevant content can subtly influence marketing conversations, improving perceptions of companies, brands and products. “Content has been particularly effective for us in our brand transformation,” said Barbara Basney, VP-global advertising at Xerox Corp. The company has diversified its offerings greatly since its introduction of xerography and the copier machine more than half a century ago. Basney and her team have used content marketing to help explain the company's expansion into printers, scanners, work-flow software and consulting services. “Putting meaning behind a brand and helping it grow is a big job by itself,” Basney said. “But trying to transform a brand that people already know, love and appreciate is a really hard job. This is where content is a great tool for us. It allows us to tell a deeper, richer story, to have a conversation in meaningful ways that people aren't expecting.” Content marketing's key objectives feed directly into this type of conversation, according to respondents to BtoB's survey. Brand awareness was cited as the major point of content marketing (by 39% of marketers), followed by thought leadership (36%) and engagement (25%). Content marketing's key strengths, according to the study, include its ability to improve lead generation (cited by 54% of respondents), make brands a trusted source (40%), help nurture leads (27%), improve search engine optimization (21%) and create more relevant touch points with prospects and customers. The study found marketers are exploring all content types to determine the right combination to achieve their objectives. Social media is considered the most important type of content used to improve sales and marketing effectiveness, cited by 78% of respondents. Other popular types of content include online articles (72%), videos (65%), live events (65%), e-newsletters (61%), white papers (60%), case studies (59%) and blogs (57%). When marketers were asked which distribution channel they're most satisfied with, live events topped the list, followed by case studies, white papers, articles, videos, webinars, blogs and e-newsletters. Considered less effective means of distributing marketing content were infographics, mobile apps, tablet apps and games. Among social channels used to distribute content, marketers most often avail themselves of the “big three” of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, in that order. These are followed by such other channels as YouTube, Instagram and Vine. Video, in fact, is playing an increasingly important role in the development and distribution of engaging marketing content. “Video is the channel of the moment and of the future,” said Erich Parker, director- strategic corporate communications at DuPont. The company has grown well beyond its chemical roots, offering products and services in electronics and communication technologies, safety and protection, and agriculture and nutrition. “Telling science stories requires the time to present the science,” Parker said. “With video you actually can show more than you have to say, making the experience richer.” Budgets devoted to content creation and distribution have increased an average of 9% over last year, and content marketing's slice of the overall budget stands at 21%, according to BtoB's study. Forty-eight percent of marketers said they will be increasing their allocation for content marketing next year, while 50% plan to stand pat. Despite this show of confidence, marketers said they face an array of challenges that prevent them from deploying content more aggressively. Being able to produce engaging content is marketers' most pressing concern, cited by 42% of respondents. Other significant obstacles include producing enough content (40%), lack of resources (38%), too low a priority for management (22%) and lack of infrastructure to tie content marketing to lead-generation efforts (21%).
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