A Content Disconnect
August 4, 2015
Survey details how marketers develop content that's not read
By Christopher Hosford
B-to-B marketers are overwhelmingly bullish on content marketing and plan to ramp up their content efforts, according to a new survey by The Economist Group and the communications firm Peppercomm. But there's a catch: Too many marketers are getting content marketing wrong, and their target audiences are tuning out because of it.
According to the study, "Missing the Mark: Global Content Survey of Brand Marketers and their B2B Audiences," which polled 1,000 B-to-B global marketers and business executives, 93 percent of the marketers said they plan to maintain or increase their investment in content creation in the coming year. And they're doing this with a heavy emphasis on generating sales and leads, with 75 percent agreeing that mentions of their products or services are a frequent part of their content strategy.
That's a problem, said the polled executives. Among these consumers of marketing information, 71 percent said they were turned off by content that seems like a sales pitch, as opposed to timely or unique information.
"It's not entirely unexpected, but what is unexpected is how strongly readers of content feel about it," says Jeff Pundyk, global vice president of content solutions at The Economist Group. "There has been an explosion of content marketing, but brands and agencies haven't really embraced the values of what it takes to create content that's compelling."
That's borne out by the metrics marketers typically use to evaluate their content marketing efforts: While 85 percent of marketers surveyed said their primary reason for creating content is to build brand and positive perceptions of their company, 70 percent also said they measure the effectiveness of their content by the number of calls from prospects or customers.
"Within their own logic that's a disconnect," Pundyk points out. "If your goal is to build the brand, your measurement shouldn't be sales."
Closing the Deal
Seventy-five percent of business executives said their primary purpose in seeking business content is for research, the survey found. Strategic thinking and analysis are also prized: 34 percent of executives said they value learning about the views of their industry peers, and 24 percent appreciate the analysis of complicated issues, or learning about business issues they weren't fully aware of.
"Brand building and reputation may not lead directly to a sales lead, but they should help aid and enhance a company's ability to close deals," says Ted Birkhahn, president of New York City–based Peppercomm. "Of course, that's harder to measure."
Marketers who best understand the role of marketing content act like publishers, Birkhahn says. They present information that's valued by readers (or viewers), which in turn keeps the target audience coming back for more.
"Even if your content doesn't link back to services or products, it's about putting your brand into the hearts and minds of those you're selling to, and building credibility as a source of good intelligence and information," Birkhahn adds.
Impact of Social Media, Automation
Consumers of marketing content appreciate the publisher-like approach to business information, as 71 percent cited articles as their favorite format. Research reports (51 percent), briefing papers (27 percent), and newsletters (19 percent) were also noted as favored content vehicles. Eighty-five percent of business executives surveyed, in fact, said they prefer text-based content to video.
"B-to-B marketers have always known that delivering good and valuable content is the way to help businesses make complex sales decisions," says Phil Johnson, chief executive officer at PJA advertising + marketing. However, he believes the rise of social media and marketing automation is impacting the traditional approach to B-to-B marketing.
"Social opened the door to a mass distribution of content, replacing advertising with a content model," Johnson notes. "And with the huge investment in marketing automation, allowing marketers to automatically distribute content via email and social channels, there's been a drive to get an ROI on that. The pressure on marketers is that they now have to design content that delivers on the metrics that others have forced them to set up."
A central theme of The Economist-Peppercomm survey is that, for content marketing to be effective, the metrics associated with brand building and reputation must regain their primacy. In fact, content and brand building appear to be mutually reinforcing, as 89 percent of business executives surveyed said the brand a piece of content comes from is important.
Surprisingly, given the rise of mobile, 78 percent of executives surveyed reported they view content most frequently on laptop or desktop computers.
"A Content Disconnect." Christopher Hosford. BMA Buzz. 8/4/15.
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