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The Numbers Behind Content Marketing: Essential Statistics for 2017

by Richard Bayston

What’s the state of play in content marketing? What content should you be creating, how should you be distributing it, and where should you be promoting it? There’s a million opinions out there, but here we give you million stats instead.

Well, OK, there’s actually 101, which I swear is a coincidence. But if you want solid data on emails, SEO, strategy and whole lot else besides – we got ‘em. Let’s dive in!

1. The Market For Content Marketing

Importance

How important is content marketing to marketers? It’s probably the most important marketing tool for most businesses.

89% of B2B organizations are using content marketing:

percentage of b2b marketers using content marketing

Source

Of the 11% who aren’t, about half plan to begin within the next 12 months.

And for B2C, while adoption is slightly lower, the total is pretty similar: 86% of organizations are using content marketing.

percentage of b2c marketers content marketing

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Of the 14% who are not, about half plan to start within 12 months.

For startups, the link is clear: content marketing is the most important channel, with 89% of startups saying they’re using it and 70% somewhat or very happy with their content marketing efforts.

Design Pickle acquired its first 1,200 clients solely through guest blogging and content marketing.

Meanwhile, Blue Apron grew 500% in a single year off the back of its content marketing efforts.

Audiences like content too.

80 percent learn from custom content

Source

Budget

What is the typical content marketing budget?

On average, B2B organizations allocate 29% of their total marketing budget to content.

B2C organizations on average spend slightly less, averaging 26% of total marketing budget.

But there’s a clear link between budget and success: the least successful B2B organizations spent 22% of their budget on content marketing, the most successful 39%.

Meanwhile, the least successful B2C organizations spent only slightly less than average at 21%, but the most successful allocated 38% of their total budget to content marketing.

ROI

What kind of return are content marketers seeing on their efforts?

The majority of marketers now measure the ROI of their content marketing – an average of 72% of B2B marketers and 75% of B2C marketers.

In B2B, 56% of the least successful marketers measure ROI, compared with 88% of the most successful.

B2C marketers are more sharply divided: 54% of the least successful B2C marketers measure ROI, and 91% of the most successful.

Perhaps the disparity between the B2B and B2C pictures is down to lower lead volumes and higher deal values in B2B.

Yet the clear correlation between ROI measurements and success indicates a central role for strategy and measurement in successful content marketing.

2. Strategy

What’s the impact of strategy on content marketing success?

That partly depends on who you ask. The more senior someone is in the organization, the more likely they are to say that their marketing strategy is successful:

yes our marketing strategy is effective

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While content marketing strategy effectiveness can be hard to pin down, marketing strategies based on content are clear winners. That’s true for broad-appeal, consumer-facing businesses:

Netflix surpasses major cable providers

Source

And it’s true for B2B businesses too. 72% of B2B content marketers attribute their improved performance over last year to greater strategization.

factors adding to b2b marketers success

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When it comes to content marketing strategies, the problem that was staring us in the face last year still remains: All too often, marketers don’t know if their content marketing is successful or not, because they don’t have a clear definition of success.

B2B and B2C marketers alike are split, with relatively small differences in the picture, among those who have a clear idea of success, those who know they don’t, and those who aren’t entirely sure (which sounds like a ‘no’ to me).

The B2B picture:

percentage of b2b marketer whose organizations have clarity

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In B2C it’s about the same:

clarity on content marketing success

Source

3. B2B vs. B2C: What’s New?

B2B and B2C have historically had different processes and audiences with different priorities.

B2B marketers nurture leads that have long buying cycles and dispose of large budgets. Their buying process is less emotional and impulsive.

B2C marketers deal with short buying cycles and decisions made by individuals about their own money. Their audience requires less information, less nurturing and more emotional interactions.

The differences aren’t anything like as clear cut as that in practice. And both B2B and B2C are changing rapidly.

B2B marketers focus more on the owned web presence of their audiences:

techniques b2b marketers use
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By comparison, B2C marketers focus more on keyword search and social listening:

techniques b2c marketers use
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The differences are relatively minor; marketers in both areas are starting in similar places.

But the two groups of marketers still have different goals. B2B marketers focus on lead gen and nurturing:

organizational goals
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B2C marketers focus on brand awareness and engagement:

organizational goals 2
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Again, the goals are similar, only priorities differ slightly.

When it comes to how the two audiences consume content, the similarities are also strong. Despite big differences in the buyer’s journey, video is increasingly important for both.

B2C marketers have long been addressing a heavily visual audience that prefers imagery and video over text. Now B2B audiences have shifted too: 70% of B2B buyers and researchers have watched a video during their purchase process.

Even as content consumption habits have moved closer together, the distinguishing features of the B2B audience have become more exaggerated.

The number of people involved in purchase decisions has increased dramatically. The number of people involved in B2B solutions purchases has climbed from an average of 5.4 two years ago to 6.8 today,’ says the Harvard Business Review, adding that ‘these stakeholders come from a lengthening roster of roles, functions, and geographies.’

59% of respondents to the B2B Buyers’ Survey report say they have formal buying groups or committees to review purchases, and 52% say the number of buying group members has increased significantly since last year.

And the B2B buying processes is getting longer. 32% of respondents to the same survey strongly agreed, and 77% agreed overall, that they conduct a more detailed ROI analysis before making a final decision. That’s up 11% from last year.

has b2b purchase cycle changed
Source

76% of buyers said they ‘spend more time researching purchases,’ while 75% said they ‘use more sources to research and evaluate purchases.’

While 86% say purchase decisions are often either accelerated or put on hold based on changing business needs and priorities, 75% of buyers said the winning vendor’s content had a ‘significant impact’ on their buying decisions. Additionally 89% of respondents stated that winning vendors ‘provided content that made it easier to show ROI and/or build a business case for the purchase’. All of this builds a compelling case that audiences respond to content marketing.

4. Sales and Marketing: Taking The Lead

Sales and marketing alignment can be elusive and contentious, yet is crucial to success. All too often, sales and marketing don’t even agree on what a lead is. How important is lead gen to content marketers, and how closely are we synced with sales?

For B2B marketers, the chief success metric is website traffic.

b2b marketers content marketing metrics usage
Source

Directly below this is sales lead quality – a metric that just 37% of B2C marketers refer to.

Instead, B2C marketers focus on engagement metrics and direct sales, probably because B2C sales cycles are far shorter and simpler.

b2c marketers content marketing metrics usage
Source

Despite B2B marketers’ focus on sales leads, sales and marketing are still poorly aligned. Marketing is sales’ least favorite source of leads.

top source of sales
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That picture changes when you add in sales-marketing alignment at the company. The more well-aligned sales and marketing are, the more that sales likes the leads from marketing.

top source of leads
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The less well-aligned sales and marketing are, the more sales handles its own lead generation.

The trouble with that is that relatively few organizations define their sales and marketing departments as tightly aligned.

sales and marketing relationship
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What’s the solution?

B2B marketers have reoriented their priorities in the last year, focusing more on website traffic than they did last year when this metric was the top priority for 87% of B2B content marketers.

Increasing automation will improve matters, but marketers need to assess their activities in terms of LTV if they’re going to prove their worth long term.

5. What is Content Today?

The days when content marketing meant ‘pumping out 300-word blog posts’ are (mercifully) over. But what do we mean by ‘content’ now?

Increasingly we mean the same kind of content that our audiences are creating, as well as consuming.

For B2B and B2C, video is the most rapidly growing type of content.

4 out of 5 consumers believe that demo videos are helpful.

46% of marketers plan to add Facebook video to their content strategy in the next year.

And 48% plan to add YouTube to their content strategy over the next year.

How does that break down?

YouTube is most commonly used by larger businesses. 71% of businesses with 100+ employees use Youtube, compared with just 38% of self-employed people or microbusinesses.

B2B is increasingly similar to B2C. As millennials enter the boardroom and the C suite, they take their visual-first preferences with them.

Executives are increasingly interacting with visual content. Their favorite form of visual content is data visualizations.

executives respond to visual data
Source

For B2C marketers, the need to capture attention in a noisy world is even greater. They’re leading the exploration of interactive content.

81% of marketers agree that interactive content grabs more attention that static content.

Interactive content creates audience data as well as allowing you to reuse passive content and create engagement. 68% of marketers say that interactive content provides a way to repurpose their brand’s passive content.

77% of marketers agree that interactive content can be reusable, increasing repeat visitors; 75% agree that non-gated interactive content can improve lead nurturing. And 73% say that combining traditional content marketing tactics with interactive content makes their audience more likely to remember their brand message.

In addition, the benefits of audio are increasingly clear. ‘If I was to start a content platform today to build an audience, audio would be my first choice,’ says Joe Pulizzi.

‘Audio and streaming, in particular, is up 76% Y/Y eclipsing video with 250B annual streams,’ concurs Gary Vaynerchuk.

Beyond video, audio and other forms of content, there’s a host of new ways content interacts with audiences and traditional publishers.

This means content marketers are likely to be working with digital advertisers much more closely, as sponsored posts become an increasingly common form of content.

Worldwide, native ad spend is forecast to rise fast.

us native display ad revenue
Source

While the majority of that is on social media, the sharpest rise will be seen in sponsored content.

native advertising revenue
Source

HuffPo identifies sponsored text posts as the largest opportunity for sponsored content.

That’s borne out by Native Advertising Institute research:

content chart
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Content marketers are focusing more on integrating content types rather than utilizing an extremely broad range of tactics.

B2B marketers are using an average of eight content types in 2017, down from thirteen in 2016.

B2C marketers are using seven, down from twelve in 2016.

The trend is clear – marketers are zeroing in on what works and dropping ‘maybes,’ reducing the number of tactics they use as they become more strategic and data-driven.

Does that mean marketers will miss out on future advances?

Unlikely. Content marketers are looking ahead to possibilities of AR, AI and more granular social marketing.

emerging technology
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6. Blogging: Has The King of Content Lost Its Crown?

Blogs are still among the greatest channels where B2B content marketers acquire leads, traffic, and revenue.

b2b marketers content marketing tactic usage
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And the struggle to acquire good quality blogs is still plenty real. (Better quality content is also the #1 reason B2B content marketers give for improved performance over last year.)

The solution Joe Pulizzi recommends? ‘Get rid of the writers’ in-house, and outsource. It’s cheaper and you get far better material than if you make your in-house staff try to be writers when they’re not.

In the past, blogs have remained a major source of B2B leads even while their utility has declined for B2C marketers.

Business leaders used content primarily to explore ideas, rather than to learn how to do something or for entertainment.

tell me something I dont know
Source

And the tool they were most likely to use was the article.

make it worthwhile
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Whether a media article from a publishing business or a blog post, executives were looking for a long read. 85% stated they preferred video to text.

Has that changed?

At first glance, it looks like it.

Video is forecast to account for 80% or more of all internet traffic by 2019.

90% of customers say product videos help them make purchasing decisions.

Maybe that’s why the typical video is less than two minutes long, and product videos are one of the ‘big four’ most common types of video.

56 percent of all video are less than 2 minutes
Source

But a two-minute video sounds like it might be too short to meet the information requirements of business decision makers.

That’s probably true. Business decision makers report a continued preference for long-form textual material – big blog posts, articles, case studies and research papers.

format for business insights
Source

71% of B2B decision-makers see short-form three to four page documents as important in getting them to engage with thought leadership, compared with 53% who preferred snackable media that can be digested in just one or two minutes. Just 45% favored three to four minute videos – even though that’s double the usual length for a video.

And long-form articles are the form of content that executives are most likely to share.

long form is most shared content
Source

So which is best: videos, blogs, or case studies?

This question has implications for both account-based B2B marketers and B2C marketers. Business decision makers and the C suite still prefer long-form textual pieces. Other positions in businesses may prefer video or infographics, and consumers have a definite visual preference.

So B2B marketers need different forms of the same content for different positions in the company and stages in the funnel. The 400-word B2C blog post may be entirely replaced by video, sooner rather than later.

Marketers are pivoting their activities to reflect this:

content forms marketers want to learn more about
Source

But right now, they’re primarily focused on website traffic, content distribution, and keeping their blogs running.

companys top priorities
Source

7. Mobile

More people now read the news, blogs, and social feeds on mobile than ever before. We’re a few years past the moment when mobile traffic worldwide outstripped desktop traffic.

number of global users
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There’s a sharp split: the consumer is far more mobile than the business customer.

Up to 40% of QR codes and other mobile-centric offline marketing methods link to explainer and product videos.

Meanwhile, mobile and tablet shoppers are three times as likely as desktop shoppers to view a video.

Within these metrics, the younger a consumer is, the more likely they are to be oriented toward mobile.

smartphone market share
Source

Over half of all videos are viewed on mobile – and mobile viewers are far more likely to increase content reach. 92% of those who view video content on mobile share it.

This is where it gets complicated. Most business content consumption activity takes place on a desktop, which may be an indicator of the time of day such content is consumed:

each platform average daily impressions
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But most executives access content like news and articles through mobile.

mobile ads
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The trend is clearly upward. Mobile-first, younger people are moving up into the C suite, and day-to-day consumption of content, especially news, increasingly takes place on mobile.

8. Content and SEO Come Together

Changes to search algorithms mean that content is increasingly vital for search rankings. Google is increasingly working to deliver better quality and answer search queries, and it’s not just verbal content that makes the cut. What about keywords? Topic-orient your content first, then target keywords for extra traction afterward.

Content is increasingly the vehicle for SEO – that which is optimized. Here’s what happened to CoSchedule’s traffic when they emphasized content optimization with strategic keyboarding:

Jan 15 chart
Source

Essentially this is about using SEO methods to drive traffic to content: answering your audience’s questions, then helping them find your answer.

Google doesn’t yet have a clear timeline for its mobile-first index. We know it’s coming, so it makes sense to begin prepping for it. Gary Ilyes recommends to:

  • Make sure your mobile site has the content you want to rank for
  • Make sure structured data are on your mobile site
  • Make sure rel-annotations are on your mobile site

That being said, the update probably won’t be here until 2018.

9. Social Media in 2017

Social media shows a B2C/B2B split too. It’s more mobile and more video-oriented among younger users and consumers as compared to business users.

commonly used types of content
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At the same time, something has happened to snatch another seemingly-secure crown: chat apps have outpaced social media use for the first time.

messaging apps surpassed social network
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There’s some hope that chatbot-enabled content marketing efforts can be carried out on these channels, leading to highly-personalized ‘conversational experiences.’

Meantime, in business, LinkedIn is (unsurprisingly) top for decision makers.

Linkedin most used social media
Source

But, most executives focus on getting news from social media – and they prefer Twitter as a news channel.

Twitter for news
Source

Executives are active sharers:

source of good content
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But they care a lot about the source of the content they share.

They’re equally fastidious about the source of the content they consume, meaning that on social reputation is – well, not everything, but about 55% of everything.

notice source of links
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For consumers, Facebook retains supremacy in terms of total numbers:

social networks ranked
Source

But organic reach is still in freefall. It fell 42% from January to May last year.

By July of last year, it was down 52% on the start of the year.

And that woeful figure is where this graph starts.

average facebook engagements
Source

Facebook is a paid channel now. But its Audiences feature makes it a fantastic data gathering tool to partner with other channels, including email.

10. Email: Still Number 1

Email continues to be the most efficient and remunerative channel of outreach.

It has the best ROI of any channel- only SEO can compete:

rate channels roi
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And perhaps most importantly, it’s the channel with far and away the greatest proportion of sales attributed to it.

total sales from email marketing
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How do we create emails? Within the organization, emails are typically the broad responsibility of the marketing team rather than of specific individuals or teams.

who is responsible for email marketing in your organisation
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Where that’s not the case it usually becomes owned by one person, rather than having a dedicated team – perhaps a budget issue.

And how do we judge whether the results we get are good? It seems the majority of email marketers are staying with click-through and open rates, though healthy numbers focus on conversion rate and a significant proportion track earnings per email.

company agency respondents
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How are these messages being received?

They’re typically being read on phones, then desktops, with tablets in the rear.

device used to email
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Work emails and personal emails get treated differently, checked on different devices and opened at different rates.

Personal emails are more mobile, while work emails are more likely to be checked on a desktop:

primary device type for checking
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Meanwhile, work emails are more likely on average to be opened (80%) as compared to personal email (65%).

total number of received emails opened
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Executives sate their hunger for news and facts with emails at twice the rate that they do with video:

executives get news from email
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So it’s still very worthwhile getting into the executive’s inbox. And while people continue to grouse about email, the 25-34 year-old age range is actually more active in checking emails than the general population.

where email gets checked
Source

Probably the 23% of younger folks who check their emails while driving should ease up a bit though.

Conclusion

Content marketing is more indispensable now than ever before. It’s a vehicle for every other kind of marketing as well as a powerhouse in its own right. Winning at anything from email to SEO will be a lot harder, if not downright impossible, without a solid content game.

The increasing importance of video as a consumer and a business channel shouldn’t blind us to the fact that executives and decision makers often want long-form text too. To hit the high number of decision-makers in modern B2B you’ll need a variegated content arsenal. For consumers, there’s a clear basis for an emphasis on mobile video and access to chat channels.

Finally, the challenges of attribution, coherence and targeting are on their way to being solved by the best, most organized marketers – but for most of us, it’s not a done deal yet.

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Richard Bayston

Richard Bayston creates copy and content at RBCopywriting.com, mostly about tech, digital marketing and content strategy. When he’s not doing that, he’s arguing amicably with his wife and Googling the answers.

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