The numbers tell the story of how important content marketing has become: Spending in the U.S. on content marketing totaled $40.1 billion in 2010, according to estimates by the Custom Content Council. The CCC said more than half of that figure, $24.0 billion, was spent on custom print publications, but that total was down from $30.9 billion the previous year. That shift indicates marketers are spending more on electronic forms of custom content, such as webinars, online videos, white papers, blogs, customized social networking sites and content for their own websites. “It's the next evolution of marketing,” said Chuck Richard, VP-lead analyst at Outsell Inc. B-to-b media companies are angling to get a larger share of custom content, but an estimate by Veronis Suhler Stevenson put the outsourced custom content market at just $3.7 billion in 2010. That's a small slice of the overall custom content pie, as many marketers create their content in-house. But b-to-b media companies are coming up with inventive ways to better position themselves as providers of custom content to their marketing clients. At the same time, new competitors are vying to gain a share of the outsourced custom content market, which VSS expects to grow to $4.5 billion by 2015. B-to-b media companies still produce custom print magazines for marketers. For example, 1105 Media publishes MSDN under a contract with Microsoft Corp. The media company also produces a companion e-newsletter and website for Microsoft, as well as a digital-only property called TechNet. For b-to-b media companies, the growth area appears to be in creating innovative digital content. Earlier this year, Penton Media, publisher of Machine Design, acquired digital agency EyeTraffic Media in a bid to provide more marketing services to its advertising customers. A key part of this play is to offer more custom content to marketers, including helping them populate their websites with content that will attract traffic. “The clients want some more meaningful way to connect with people aside from showing them advertising,” said Michele Crockett, VP-content solutions at Penton Media. In addition to helping marketers expand the content on their websites, Penton helps create other custom digital content. “As far as lead generation goes,” Crockett said, “email newsletters and downloading of valued content are still pretty effective.” Another b-to-b media company, WTWH Media, which publishes Design World, has created custom search engine-optimized macrosites for ITW Heartland, Siemens and Texas Instruments that feature videos, product descriptions and comment areas. Among the leaders in creating digital custom content, especially content that takes advantage of social media's rise, is UBM's TechWeb, which publishes InformationWeek. TechWeb has pioneered what it calls “community in a box.” Among the custom online social networking communities TechWeb has created are Internet Evolution, for IBM Corp. and Enterprise Efficiency, sponsored by Advanced Micro Devices and Dell Inc. Both sites feature regular bloggers, messages from marketers and posts by members of the community. Other technology media companies are producing similar sites. IDG Enterprise recently launched Community Works and TechTarget introduced Social Engage. Through its Strategic Marketing Services group, IDG has led the way for media companies in helping b-to-b marketers monitor social media chatter and respond with customized content to bloggers and social network posters. IDG also recently launched Knowledge Vault, which places a priority on custom online video, particularly shorter pieces. (See sidebar, at right) Many b-to-b marketers see an advantage in concise online messages for their customers and prospects. “We have seen it needs to be in shorter form,” said Mike Paradiso, VP-content and messaging at CA Technologies, of custom content. He said CA uses shorter-form custom content to drive home its “Agility made possible” tagline. “We used to have attention spans of 45 minutes; now, you do not have five minutes,” he said. “We're seeing videos not in the 10-minute range but in the three-to-five-minute range.” B-to-b media companies don't have the custom content market to themselves, as atypical competitors are encroaching on their space. An example is GlobalSpec, a company that enables b-to-b marketers to post searchable product catalogs online. In October, GlobalSpec added custom webinars to its offerings and now also offers custom virtual events. “It all starts with people who are looking for products they need and searching for that information online,” said Chris Chariton, senior VP-product management and supplier marketing for GlobalSpec. The Financial Times is grabbing custom content dollars through its global conference division, which is led by Jayne Van Hoen, managing director-global conferences and events. When Van Hoen started with the division about seven years ago, FT produced five conferences a year; it now produces about 80 events in New York, London, Hong Kong and elsewhere. About 60% of FT's events are custom, Van Hoen said. “A company like IBM, for example, likes to host an annual dinner for CFOs, and they want 40 to 50 CFOs,” she said. “We will put that together for them.” AOL Inc., through its 5Min Media business, offers marketers and publishers a library of video content to use for their websites. UBM's PRNewswire is also trying to dig into custom content budgets. “We've been finding a market for content for years,” said Ninan Chacko, PRNews-wire's CEO. In the past, that market has focused on the press. Now, as the press has expanded to include anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account, the avenues for disseminating content have grown exponentially. To help marketers reach these expanded channels, PRNewswire has introduced SocialPost, a social media press release that is noted on PRNewswire's Twitter feed, LinkedIn account and Facebook page. Even with all these new forms of content and new ways of distributing it, the ultimate purpose is the same. “It's about content as a means of telling a story,” Chacko said.