Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs recently released their B2B Content Marketing 2020: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America research. The tenth annual report is packed with findings collected from B2B marketers representing a full range of industries, functional areas and company sizes.

The 43-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. This year’s survey was limited to respondents whose organizations have used content marketing for at least one year. In addition, respondents were also qualified to confirm they were actually involved (directly or indirectly) with content marketing—providing a more experienced pool of practicing content marketers and better insights.

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:

Most marketers consider their B2B content marketing efforts to be successful

This year’s report indicates marketers have made significant progress over the last several years, and content marketing is thriving. When asked to rate the success of their overall content marketing efforts, this year 84% of marketers said their efforts were either extremely successful (5%), very successful (21%) or moderately successful (58%). A somewhat significant number of marketers (15%) considered their efforts minimally successful and only 1% reported their efforts to be not at all successful. When asked how the success of their organization’s current overall content marketing approach compares with one year ago, 69% reported their organizations are more successful (18% much more, 51% somewhat more).

Overall success with content marketing is similar to that reported for the last 3 years, with the largest percentage saying their organization is moderately successful.

B2B marketers are using content marketing successfully to achieve goals

Over the last 12 months, B2B marketers have used content marketing successfully to achieve a wide variety of marketing goals, with notable year-over-year increases. These goals include creating brand awareness (86%), educating audiences (79%), building credibility/trust (75%), generating demand/leads (70%), nurturing subscribers/audience/leads (68%) and building loyalty with existing clients/customers (63%).

Less than half of B2B companies measure content marketing ROI, but the majority measure content performance

Despite success achieving goals using content marketing, targeted measurement is lacking. Only 43% of B2B marketers are measuring content marketing ROI. However, of those who measure ROI, 59% rate their ability to demonstrate ROI as excellent or very good. Highlighting the importance of metrics, 80% of B2B content marketers report their organization is using metrics to measure content performance and 65% have established key performance indicators (KPIs). The top 5 metrics tracked to measure content performance are email engagement (90%), website traffic (88%), website engagement (86%), social media analytics (83%), and conversions (78%).

Less than half of B2B companies measure content marketing ROI, but the majority measure content performance

The majority still consider their content marketing “immature”

One question asked was: “How would you describe your organization’s content marketing maturity level?” In line with last year’s report, only 42% defined their content marketing as mature or sophisticated. While the majority considers their content marketing maturity level immature (“adolescent”, “young” and “first steps”), only 4% 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 companies become more sophisticated and seasoned in their content marketing efforts, this statistic is certainly shifting. 

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

In this year’s survey, only 41% said they had a documented content marketing strategy. There is a direct correlation between having a strategy and effectiveness, as 69% of the most successful content marketers have a documented content marketing strategy. The annual research has consistently found that a documented strategy is a key indicator of content marketing success.

Content marketing efforts are largely focused on the early stages of the customer journey

Regardless of their organization’s size, half of the content produced by B2B marketers is created for audiences in the early stages of the customer journey. In spite of the growing emphasis on customer experience (CX), only 11% of content is created for post-sale (loyalty/advocacy) purposes. As opposed to late-stage (14%) and mid-funnel (22%).

In-person events reign supreme for lead generation and conversion

When asked which content types are the highest performing for their organization, in-person events topped the list for securing leads (19%) and converting leads (25%). Unsurprisingly, webinars and online events were a close second for securing leads, with 16% reporting them as the highest performing content type. These findings underscore the importance of personal interaction and relationship building as integral aspects of the business development process.

Social media is an integral component of the equation with LinkedIn as the top choice

While some may question the long-term relevancy of social media—especially for B2B audiences—social media has shown no signs of slowing down as a tool for B2B content marketers. In fact, 91% used social media as an organic content distribution channel in the last 12 months, with the company website/blog (89%) and email marketing (87%) as close seconds and thirds.  Nearly all B2B marketers (95%) use LinkedIn for organic content distribution, as well as Twitter (86%), Facebook (83%), YouTube (53%) and Instagram (46%) rounding out the top five.

Social media is an integral component of the equation with LinkedIn as the top choice

The majority use paid methods to distribute content

Paid amplification has become a widely used means of content promotion, with two-thirds of B2B content marketers having used paid methods to distribute content in the last 12 months. 84% of the B2B content marketers use paid methods to distribute content, and of that group 72% use social media advertising/promoted posts. Other paid content distribution channels include sponsorships (66%), search engine marketing/pay-per-click (61%), banner ads (46%), partner emails (32%) and native advertising (31%). When it comes to social media advertising and promoted posts, LinkedIn is the top choice (76%), followed by Facebook (66%), Twitter (29%), Instagram (17%) and YouTube (11%).

B2B marketers rely on technology 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. The top technologies B2B marketers use to assist with managing their content marketing efforts are analytics tools (86%), email marketing software (85%), social media publishing/analytics (80%), customer relationship management (CRM) systems (65%), content management systems (51%), content creation/collaboration workflow (48%) and marketing automation (44%).

B2B marketers rely on technology for managing content marketing

Half of B2B marketers outsource at least one content marketing activity

When asked about outsourcing, 50% of B2B marketers outsource at least one content marketing activity. Large firms are the most likely to outsource (71%), with small firms the least likely to outsource (37%). The activity most likely to be outsourced is overwhelmingly content creation (84%), regardless of company size, content marketing budget, or overall content marketing success.

Small content marketing teams serving the entire organization is the most common team structure

The majority of marketers (52%) reported that their organizations have a small (or one-person) content marketing team serving the entire organization. While only 12% of large organizations (1,000+ employees) have a small team, 70% of small organizations (1-99 employees) have a small team serving the entire organization. The second most common reported way of organizing is the centralized group structure (25%), although this varies by company size (19% small, 32% medium and 28% large). Interestingly 32% of respondents reported that they have no one full-time dedicated to content marketing, while most companies regardless of size are most likely to have teams of 2-5.

Nearly half of B2B marketers expect their content marketing budget to increase in the year ahead

While 39% of B2B marketers expect their content marketing budgets to stay the same (35%) or decrease (4%) in 2020, nearly half expect their budgets to increase, with 34% expected increases of 1% to 9% and 12% expecting increases of more than 9%. 36% of B2B content marketers reported a 2019 annual content marketing budget of less than $100,000, while the average reported annual budget for all respondents was $185,000. Not surprisingly, there was a direct correlation to budget size and content marketing success, as well as company size.

Nearly half of B2B marketers expect their content marketing budget to increase in the year ahead

Read the full report

The annual report from Content Marketing Institute 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 2020: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America.