Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs recently released their B2B Content Marketing: 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America research. The eighth annual report is packed with findings collected from B2B marketers representing a full range of industries, functional areas and company sizes.

The 39-page report provides a snapshot of the current state of B2B content marketing while providing insight into how the most effective content marketers do things differently. The survey featured many changes and saw the addition of new questions that better reflect the maturation of the B2B content marketing discipline. As the findings support, content marketing is without a doubt, an evolving discipline and one that both marketers and organizations continue to work out.

Here are some key insights from the report:

B2B content marketing is thriving

This year’s report indicates marketers have made significant progress over the last year, and content marketing is thriving. 91% of B2B marketers are using content marketing, and 54% of the small percentage not currently using content marketing plan to do so within the next year. There was also an 18% year-over-year increase in respondents who say they are focused on using content marketing to build their audience or subscriber base. And more than 70% of B2B marketers can demonstrate with metrics an increase in engagement and leads as a result of content marketing.

Most marketers consider their B2B content marketing efforts to be successful

When asked to rate the success of their overall content marketing efforts, this year 77% of marketers said their efforts were extremely successful (4%), very successful (20%) or moderately successful (53%). Only 2% reported their efforts to be not at all successful.

Marketers have made progress with their content marketing since last year

When asked how the success of their organization’s current overall content marketing approach compares with one year ago, 63% reported their organizations are much more (18%) or somewhat more (45%) successful. Some of the factors marketers attributed to the increased success included content creation (78%), strategy (72%), better content distribution (50%), making content marketing a greater priority (49%) and spending more time on content marketing (46%). Not surprisingly, marketers who said their organizations were less successful than a year ago listed “not enough time devoted to content marketing” as the top reason for the decrease in success.

B2B Marketers’ Opinions About Content Marketing

Many companies outsource one or more content marketing activities

More than half (56%) of organizations outsource at least one content marketing activity. Among activities that are outsourced, content creation (e.g., writers, designers, video production) was the most popular (47%), followed by content promotion/distribution (23%), content marketing measurement (11%) and content marketing strategy (9%).

B2B companies can demonstrate how content marketing is increasing their audience’s engagement and number of leads

77% of B2B marketers believe they can demonstrate that content marketing has increased audience engagement, 72% say it has increased their number of leads, and 51% say they can demonstrate how content marketing has increased their company’s sales, underscoring the importance of content marketing to the entire marketing funnel. Furthermore, 25% of B2B marketers said content marketing has decreased their cost of customer acquisition.

Most companies are highly committed to content marketing

In line with last year’s report, 56% of marketers said their organizations were either extremely committed (20%) or very committed (36%) to content marketing. Not surprisingly, 89% of the top performers in content marketing said their organizations were extremely/very committed to content marketing. This further highlights that content marketing is no longer simply a trend or a “shiny new object,” but rather it’s become a core competency of B2B marketing teams.

The majority consider their content marketing “immature”

One question asked was: “How would you describe your organization’s content marketing maturity level?” Only 34% defined their content marketing as mature or sophisticated (up from 28% in 2017). While the majority considers their content marketing maturity level “immature,” only 9% are in the “first steps” category. But as it turns out, content marketing—while fairly simple and straightforward in theory—is quite challenging to execute. As more companies become more sophisticated and seasoned in their content marketing efforts, this statistic is certainly shifting.

How B2B Marketers Assess Their Organization’s Content Marketing Maturity Level

Less than half of B2B companies are able to measure the right things

Despite success in audience engagement and leads, targeted measurement is lacking. When asked to rate the alignment of metrics with content marketing goals, only 46% of B2B marketers rated alignment as excellent (3%), very good (16%) or good (27%). Furthermore, 13% rated alignment as poor, representing a great need for clarity and improvement in measurement. 

Most companies have a content marketing strategy, but only a third have it documented

In this year’s survey, 75% of marketers said their companies had a content marketing strategy, however only 37% said their strategy was documented. There is a direct correlation between not having a strategy and ineffectiveness, as 62% of the most successful marketers have a documented content marketing strategy. Plus, 75% of those without a content marketing strategy in 2017 plan to adopt one in 2018, demonstrating the growth in importance of content marketing.

B2B marketers rely on digital technologies for managing content marketing

As content marketing has grown as a discipline, so has the availability of digital technologies (often referred to as MarTech) that can be used specifically for content marketing. When B2B marketers were asked what technologies they use to manage their content marketing efforts, those who were most successful used an average of five technologies. The most popular technologies used were: analytics tools (87%), email marketing technology (70%), content management systems (63%), marketing automation software (55%) and webinar/online presentation platforms (43%).

Email is the most used and most effective content distribution channel

Email marketing remains a marketing juggernaut in spite of all the attention given to social channels in recent years. B2B marketers (93%) cite email as their most used channel, followed by social media platforms (92%), blogs (79%), in-person events (56%) and webinars (55%). The most-used social media platforms included LinkedIn (97%), Twitter (87%) and Facebook (86%). These same top three most-used social media platforms were the most effective (82%, 67% and 48% respectively).

Email marketing is also the most effective channel (74%) to distribute content, followed by blogs (45%) and social media platforms (40%). Interestingly, although print was the third-highest rated distribution channel last year (58%), only 47% used print to distribute content this year, demoting it to the sixth-highest rated distribution channel this year. 

Types of Email B2B Marketers Use for Content Marketing Purposes

Strategy, priority and approach are keys to success

The findings from this year’s report reveal the fact that, without the right strategy and approach in place and a high commitment and priority placed on a company’s content marketing program, it will not be successful. Content marketing is first and foremost a strategic exercise, requiring a documented strategy and meticulous execution. 

Read the report

The annual report from CMI and Marketing Profs allows B2B marketers to check the pulse of content marketing and gain insight into its ongoing growth, maturity and evolution. There are many more insights in the report, in addition to the key insights that stood out to us. Download the complete report here: B2B Content Marketing: 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America.