Not too long ago, if you produced enough content with the right keywords, you were in pretty good shape as a content marketer.
Today, the field is much more crowded, and audience expectations are much higher. Content marketers are feeling the squeeze: Just being competent at your job requires creativity, strategic thinking, and great organization. And becoming a truly masterful content marketer? Who knows what to focus on?
This is the issue that drove Skyword to conduct a year-long study of nearly 1,000 content marketers (download the full report here). We wanted to understand the state of content marketing today and how it is being practiced by marketers worldwide. But even more importantly, we wanted to zero in on the highest performers—those we call Visionaries and Leaders on the Content Marketing Continuum—to understand what sets these marketers apart. These learnings give marketers who want to progress to the next level a place to focus their efforts as they work to transform their marketing organization.
These five statistics from our research create a revealing picture of content marketing—as it is practiced by marketers as a whole, and as it is practiced by the top performers.
It’s a telling look into the future that for Visionaries and Leaders, content isn’t one of the things that marketing does but the central thing around which marketing is organized. With more traditional forms of marketing losing their efficacy as audiences ignore or opt out of interrupt advertising, it’s unsurprising that leading marketers are leaning more heavily on content marketing as the primary way they reach consumers.
In contrast, at companies just getting started with content marketing, it is frequently treated as a tactic that they can tack on to what they are already doing. This attitude jeopardizes the resources content marketers need to be successful.
It’s tempting to think of content creation as a purely creative pursuit, but the truth is that creativity needs to be supported by serious discipline. The difference between beginning content marketers, less than half of whom use a calendar to manage their content, and Visionaries and Leaders, who almost uniformly use a calendar, is stark. The most adept content marketers know that the key to scaling content production while maintaining quality is process and documentation.
Even among Visionaries and Leaders, there is a lot of variation in the way they set up their teams. The lack of consensus on the structure of the content team is a remnant of how content marketing has grown as a discipline. Few content marketing teams are built all at once—instead, they’ve been tacked together from existing marketing functions and added to as their needs grew.
Instead of being a problem, this state of affairs has actually been beneficial for content marketers because it has allowed them to mold their teams to suit their own unique circumstances instead of being beholden to a set of best practices that may not actually work for them.
Even though content marketers widely report a need to prove ROI, a whopping 18 percent of respondents to the survey don’t have any metrics in place to measure the effectiveness of their content. This state of affairs speaks to the fact that even with the many tools available to measure content, a significant knowledge gap still exists when it comes to how to use them effectively.
A more revealing picture of content marketing metrics emerges when the results are stratified by level on the Content Marketing Continuum. Compared to more mature marketers, Visionaries and Leaders measure more across the board, from traffic all the way to sales attributions. The gulf widens the farther down the marketing funnel you go, reflecting the fact that the difficulty of setting up a measurement system grows as you continue from awareness to consideration and through to sales.
Interestingly, Visionaries are more likely to measure engagement (96 percent) and sales attribution (91 percent) than traffic (87 percent). This suggests that more advanced marketers are eschewing, or at least paying less attention to, so-called “vanity” metrics in order to focus on more meaningful metrics like indicators of audience growth or content value, which more directly affect their bottom line.
These content marketing statistics get to the heart of where novice marketers need to improve in order to become masterful content marketing organizations.
Across the board, the most successful content marketers are not producing content in an ad hoc way. Not only do they approach content in a deeply strategic way, putting it at the heart of their marketing strategy, they are also crafting systems and workflows, like editorial calendars, that allow them to scale their production without sacrificing quality, and they are disciplined in monitoring their content performance so that they can adjust their strategies to deliver results.
Featured image attribution: Lukas Blazek