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More than two-thirds of B2B companies are planning to invest in “content creation” in 2021, according to the latest annual report for the industry from Content Marketing Institute (CMI).

The ‘B2B Content Marketing Benchmark, Budgets and Trends: Insights for 2021’ report is the 11th annual study and has a broader focus this time amid changes caused by the global pandemic. It also takes a look at content creation and distribution and how teams are budgeting and managing campaigns.

A sizeable 94% of business-to-business marketers said that they have had to amend and update content marketing strategies due to COVID-19, and the vast majority (86%) said that they were able to do so quickly. Four in five also stated that the changes were effective.

The pandemic was disruptive though as 70% of respondents said that it had either a “major” or “moderate” impact, while just 6% claimed that it had “none”.

When making changes, 70% optimised targeting and messaging, making it the most popular area for amendment ahead of adjusting editorial calendars (64%) and updating content distribution and promotion (53%).

There was less focus on data and analytics during this time as less than a third said that they revised buyer personas, adjusted KPIs and metrics, or took another look at how customers are moving through the sales cycle.

This suggests that companies are focused on addressing immediate needs first and foremost. However, CMI noted that a customer-based focus will come to the fore again as the pandemic continues, as this will be central to long-term success.

The good news is that there is no loss in appetite for further content marketing investment. When asked what they expect to invest in next year, 70% of respondents said that they would funnel more funds into “content creation”, while two-thirds will do the same for “website enhancement”.

The annual CMI study also takes a look at the ways that “top performing” B2B companies are differentiating themselves. Six in 10 of the most successful marketers have a documented strategy in place, but this slumps to 43% for all respondents and 21% for the least successful.

Having an editorial calendar and using metrics to measure content performance are also linked to higher levels of performance, though there has been an improvement for the latter overall. 81% said that they now dig into data to determine ROI.

Content marketing is also, by and large, still being used at the top of the funnel as 60% said that articles, blogs and videos are enabling them to successfully generate and nurture leads, audiences and subscribers.

Overall, 31% would rate their organisation’s approach to content marketing as “extremely” or “very successful” during the last year, and the vast majority believe that the value of content has been a core part of that success.

MarketingProfs chief content officer Ann Handley concluded: “Our industry met the challenges of this pandemic head on and adapted quickly. No one knows what the future holds, but as long as content marketers continue to believe in the value content provides, and listen to what audiences need, I believe we can weather this pandemic.”


Almost half of small and medium-sized businesses are ready to outsource content marketing to agencies as part of wider cost-reduction strategies, according to a new report released this week by Ask Marketing.

100 SME business owners were asked about their plans for marketing during the next 12 months. The survey also had a particular focus on how the global pandemic has affected core processes and working arrangements.

The findings show that leaders are eager to embrace more affordable marketing strategies and campaigns, with around 15% revealing that they have already reduced spend on marketing and advertising since the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting businesses back in March.

SMEs remain dedicated to organic methods such as content marketing though, and are looking at new options to rein in investment without there being a negative impact on ROI and results.

The solution for nearly half of the respondents is fast-tracking outsourcing to experienced agencies and other third parties. 47% of those surveyed said that they are already attempting to switch in-house roles to outsourced alternatives.

The driving factors for this behaviour are cost-efficiency and continuity. Business owners believe that agencies can pick up where in-house left off and deliver high-quality campaigns without the need for a major overhaul.

This does not appear to be a short-term switch either. More than half (55%) of SMEs want to adopt a leaner approach to marketing for the foreseeable future.

When asked about the benefits of outsourcing and stripping back in-house activities, the main reasons given were cost savings, greater transparency, and greater control over investment.

Ask Marketing co-founder Alexandra King revealed that while the pandemic has been disruptive and forced SMEs away from the traditional marketing model, it did allow businesses to take stock and optimise spend.

She added: “The pandemic has seen many organisations, particularly small businesses, reflect and question their marketing spend and consider where they can realistically cut costs without having a detrimental impact on their organisation’s ability to promote their products and services strategically whilst growing their brand.”

The study also explored the potential for hybrid approaches to marketing, where businesses have a smaller in-house marketing setup that combines with the strategic expertise of an agency to improve performance and cost-efficiency.

The findings suggest that there is a great appetite for such an approach. 85% of SME business owners believe that they would benefit from a hybrid infrastructure where they would effectively have their own ‘virtual marketing manager’.

A report released by CMO earlier this year found that ‘in-house’ was being relied on for a number of marketing functions, but the latest data points to a change in thinking and outlook for important activities amid the disruption of the pandemic.

The Ask Marketing report was based on answers given by key decision makers in June, several months after its initial impact was felt. Moving forward, many will pursue methods of outsourcing to improve the quality of campaigns without having to invest in in-house roles. Some are also set on removing these roles entirely to streamline operations and cut costs.


How-to content is the top-performing format for attracting traffic and generating leads at the top and middle of the marketing funnel, according to a new survey of B2C and B2B professionals released this week by SEMrush.

The ‘Anatomy of a Powerful Marketing Funnel’ report collates the insights and expertise of 350 employees at small, medium and large-sized companies around the world, with the aim of defining marketing funnel characteristics.

The study found that content marketing is being used across the entire marketing funnel but that the awareness phase at the top of the funnel (TOFU) is still the most popular overall. 95% of marketers said that they now create content for the TOFU, compared to 86% for the middle and 76% for the bottom.

While TOFU gets the most attention, the study noted that 87% of marketers “rely on content” across the entire customer cycle and that articles, blogs and videos are expected to peak customer interest, relay product and service details, and close sales.

Marketers turn to various formats to get the job done, but there is one content type that is driving results and ROI consistently. Three quarters of respondents said that the how-to guide is the top performer for attracting traffic, putting it ahead of landing pages (35%) and infographics (28%).

SEMrush noted that while infographics are behind how-tos, the short, eye-catching and digestible format is particularly adept at helping visitors to make sense of the problem they are facing and determining the best way to solve it.

When assessing the impact of content at the TOFU, 73% of marketers rely on the ‘number of visitors’ metric, while 54% and 52% keep track of ‘conversion rate’ and ‘time on page’, respectively.

Organic search is also the best channel for driving traffic at this stage, with 70% of respondents saying that it is the most efficient, ahead of social media marketing (60%) and email marketing (54%).

What is perhaps surprising is that further along the funnel, how-to guides remain the top performer. 44% of respondents said that how-tos are crucial for generating leads at the middle of the funnel (MOFU), though product overviews (40%) and case studies (34%) are not far behind.

For nurturing leads during this phase, 43% are using success stories in addition to product overviews and case studies, highlighting how content formats can be tweaked slightly to achieve certain objectives.

Channels are also optimised. 69% said that organic search is best for generating leads, but for nurturing leads, search takes more of a back seat with 28% compared to the 72% that deploy email marketing to follow up and engage with leads.

At the bottom of the funnel (BOFU), marketers are set on closing a sale and make liberal use of product overviews (51%) and customer reviews (49%) to drive payments. Email marketing is the most efficient channel here, and ‘conversion rate’ is the most tracked metric for success.

The study also looked at the way that marketers build a funnel. For research, 88% are conducting analysis of keywords and 73% of competitors. Finally, the primary challenge when building a funnel is crafting content that drives quality leads (52%).


Content creation and the demonstration of expertise through high-quality editorials and blogs is one of the five marketing best practices for ‘high growth’ enterprises, according to a recent report released by Hinge.

The ‘All Professional Services Edition’ of the High Growth Study 2020 found that marketing is a key driver for business performance and that there is a range of different levers that companies can use to achieve bespoke objectives and deliver ample return on investment (ROI).

Following the release of the study, Hinge partner Elizabeth Harr outlined five specific marketing initiatives that companies should undertake during the remainder of the year to remain a step ahead of competitors.

Hinge says that these best practices have empowered companies to outgrow peers by 20% over a sustained period of three years or more.

The first, and arguably the most important as a base to work from, is content creation. With both B2B and B2C customers looking for high-quality materials, thought leadership pieces and informative articles are a crucial method of generating leads and attracting new clients.

Those capable of publishing relevant, value-added content are more likely to be viewed as leaders, which not only has a positive impact on marketing and sales but also makes a company a more attractive prospect for potential employees.

The study found that a company’s content marketing output embodies its culture and employee development.

The second best practice for high growth is the deployment of search engine optimisation (SEO). Fast-growing firms are 19% more likely to focus their efforts on SEO, and optimising strategies in this area leads to higher levels of visibility in Google.

Next up is social media marketing and management. Social networks enable companies to distribute and share high-quality content, which is a product of the effective creative marketing efforts outlined earlier.

Social media plays a vital role in amplifying the power of content, giving companies a visible online presence within target client groups. Managing accounts on sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn is also cost-effective and sustainable in the long term, making it perfect for new tech companies and other start-ups.

The fourth best practice is one that Google has championed during the last 12 months. Website performance is now viewed as a fundamental element of SEO and also underpins the sales cycle.

Optimising for technical SEO makes it easier for companies to rank on the first page of search results while also providing the excellent user experiences that customers expect when they navigate to a webpage. This makes it easier to capture and retain the interest of new leads who might otherwise click away.

The study noted that high growth firms also regularly dip into web analytics for feedback about the performance of webpages with the view to optimising them regularly.

The fifth and final best practice is ‘brand differentiation’. High growth companies set themselves apart by conducting research and identifying industry trends that can be put into practice.

The study found that this allows fast-growing firms to meet the evolving needs of clients and customers. Research is also completed regularly, at least once every three months, which leads to a three times uptick in profitability compared to those that don’t conduct research.


What is a keyword?

Keywords are one of the simplest technical aspects of SEO. There is no code or HTML, just basic words, phrases and queries that are entered into search engines to find content and the answers to questions. Keyword research will find the words that are related to your brand and that you want to rank for.

Nine in 10 pages struggle to drive any sort of meaningful organic traffic. This is why it is important to have one or two phrases that you can target with your content marketing. You can tailor content to these keywords and related topics so that it finds the audience you want to engage with.

How do I find them?

Seed keywords are the bread and butter of a successful SEO campaign. These keywords define your brand, your product and service offerings, and your industry and niche. Seed keywords can be used as the base for an extensive brainstorming session where you populate a long list of potential keyword ideas.

If you are scratching your head thinking about what exactly your brand’s keywords are, you can pop over to Google Search Console and take a look at the Search Results report. You will already have an exhaustive list of keywords that your webpages are ranking for. There are other tools you can use to do this if you haven’t yet set up Google Search Console.

Who are my competitors?

If you are unsure exactly who your competitors are for a seed keyword, head over to Google and input one. The first page of results for that keyword will show you who is ranking for it. Again, you can use third-party tools such as Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to see the most popular pages for a keyword based on search traffic for the month. These pages are getting the most organic traffic for that particular keyword.

What do I do with keywords?

You can use keywords as the basis for content marketing materials. Keywords show you what consumers are searching for, so you can meet their needs by publishing a blog or an article that expounds on that keyword with useful information. You can also communicate a few of these keywords to an agency if they are managing a blog campaign for you as it will make the copy more targeted and relevant for your audience.

Is there anything else I need to do?

Seed keywords can be quite limiting as they are likely to be directly related to who you are and what you are doing right now. This is great to begin with, but over time you will need to drill down a few more ideas. You can do this by studying your niche in greater detail using keyword research tools, browsing forums related to your industry, and extracting insights from communications with clients and customers via email and social media.

How do I know what’s best? You can find out the best keywords for your business by analysing SEO metrics. There are a number of metrics you can track, but some of the most valuable include search volume, traffic potential, click total, and cost per click (CPC).


Content marketing investment continues to skyrocket according to a new study by the Association of National Advertisers that shows the average spend on campaigns soared 73% during the two years to early 2020.

The ANA partnered with the The Content Council to conduct the new survey which was completed prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 but nonetheless highlights just how crucial content now is for many major companies around the world.

One hundred twenty-six people took part in the report, 90% of them classed as marketers and 10% as other professionals and key decision makers.

On average, brands were spending $8.9m on content marketing annually in 2018 but that figure has since climbed 73% to $15.3m as more companies devote a greater share of marketing budgets to the practice to reach and engage with customers organically.

The marked growth in investment is indicative of the “strong commitment” that 52% of respondents now say they have for content marketing. Just 26% said the same in the survey two years ago.

As noted, content is now taking up a larger share of budgets. The respondents are using 18% of funds to support content marketing campaigns and other processes that attempt to influence target audiences and deliver a sustainable return on investment.

Funnelling more money into content will continue as respondents expect their average content marketing budgets to increase by a further 42% by 2022. That means the total spend will increase to almost $21m.

While content becomes more a focus for companies, many of the respondents still admit to struggling with measuring its impact, mirroring the findings from other recent studies.

Six in ten say they do not unearth enough actionable insights using current tracking methods, and almost a third are overwhelmed by the amount of data that needs to be processed and analysed. 31% also say they find it challenging to decide on key performance indicators.

These factors that are not helped by the fact that 52% of respondents admit to not having a documented content strategy in place, something which makes measuring and tracking campaigns more difficult.

Just over a third (35%) said they have a clear documented strategy and not unsurprisingly, half of this group claim to have a positive outlook for their efforts. The findings show that a unified plan is a crucial first step for those struggling with certain aspects of content marketing.

Implementing new technology is a priority for marketers during the next twelve months, with 46% saying they would test and learn new strategies. Four in ten say they will aim to implement automation and more than a third want geotargeting and actionable reporting.

Finally, many companies will look to outsource content marketing responsibilities after the study found that in-housing often amplifies certain issues. That insight is similar to comments made to website Marketing Dive by marketers earlier this year.

Forrester’s Jay Pattisall revealed: “Companies will likely want to outsource those to the extent that they can, because in the long-run, that’s a more cost-effective way to deal with it than making significant investments in employee infrastructure.”


Nine in 10 US companies now leverage digital content marketing to engage audiences, while the majority of brands will use blog content as the primary inbound marketing activity in 2020, according to two separate reports released by eMarketer and HubSpot.

The mantra ‘content is king’ will continue to ring true this year as more companies awaken to the power of blogs, news and articles and the value that excellent storytelling and consistent content creation can bring to a business.

The report by eMarketer found that enterprises both large and small will implement content strategies to one-up their peers and reach wider audiences, with editorial blogs and other forms of written content being a major focus when attempting to attract qualified prospects and then convert them into meaningful leads.

In order to stay ahead of the pack in 2020, Forbes has also recommended using “authentic content” to foster a sense of community and to stay consistently on brand over an extended period of time.

To do this, marketers must first avoid a hard sell and then outline how a particular product or service can have a positive impact on the reader or viewer.

This must be demonstrated via relatable examples that will prompt audiences to engage and then, after a pleasing experience, become a brand advocate by sharing that content.

Storytelling will be a top trend in 2020 as it will allow marketers to deliver relevant messages in an entertaining way.

While written content is crucial, marketers should also use visual content, including videos and infographics, to get their points across and to deliver a more varied and rewarding experience for the consumer.

“Along with the great story-based content – whatever that may be – we will occasionally introduce ways to directly encourage action, with clear trial or purchase mechanics,” Britvic’s head of brand PR Davnet Doran says.

“Evidence of this working, and greater rigour around the results more broadly, will unlock significantly increased budgets over the next five years.”

Content distribution will also be important this year as social media management comes to the fore as a core marketing practice.

Outsourcing to third-party agencies can give brands the edge here as they will have the experience and knowledge required to put content in the right places.

High-quality, thoughtful content will still struggle to move the needle if no-one reads it or engages with it in any way.

Distributing content that involves a robust and regular posting schedule across a variety of platforms could unlock greater success for marketers in 2020.

Forbes does sound a note of caution about using the ever-growing number of platforms to reach customers though as it believes that some may not be the “best fit” and that it is important to “choose wisely”.

This year, brands should look at a platform and ask themselves whether it will work for them, whether it is capable of putting them in touch with target audiences, and whether it represents the brand in the right way – for example, the impersonal Snapchat may not be the best outlet for a health-related company.


The liberal use of marketing buzzwords is causing confusion for IT professionals and making it more difficult for both departments to communicate, collaborate and align objectives according to a new report released last week by CMS provider Magnolia.

The report, Straight Talking Content Management, incorporated a survey that polled 400 professionals evenly split between IT and marketing about the digital experience (DX), which is defined as the interactions between consumers and organisations facilitated by digital tech and the attitudes of the key players involved.

Buzzwords, such as SEO, micro-moments and algorithms, are now commonly used in marketing, but IT teams are struggling to keep up.

More than three-quarters say that they don’t understand the range of buzzwords marketers use, which leads to growing tensions between the two groups.

About 29% of the IT professionals surveyed believe that there are too many buzzwords being used, especially in relation to digital marketing and experiences.

Among the phrases that are causing problems include omnichannel, which 21% admit to not knowing, and call to action, a term that continues to stump 24% of respondents.

The disconnect may not appear to be a major problem in isolation, but the study found that 80% of marketers are collaborating with IT every week, while almost half are doing so every day.

With confusion often reigning in important interactions, both teams are finding it more challenging than necessary to achieve goals and objectives.

Magnolia CMO, Rasmus Skjoldan, said: “In order for brands to create great content, both IT teams and marketers must work together to understand each other’s unique pressures and objectives.

“Talking in technical jargon and marketing buzzwords isn’t helping, if anything it’s just causing more frustration for both groups.

“Too many CMS brands add to this problem, expanding rather than bridging the divide.

“As an industry we need to focus on developing straight-talking solutions that work for everyone across the business – from marketers, to developers, to customers and IT teams.”

However, the frustration is not just a one-way street, as the study, which was completed in June, also found that 84% of marketers do not fully grasp the complexities of IT and the work undertaken.

Meanwhile, 70% of IT professionals believe that they “should own the digital experience”, which suggests they do not look favourably on the interference of other departments.

A separate study released this week by Yext and Forbes found that brands are missing out on an opportunity to ‘differentiate themselves’ by providing verifiable and relevant information about products and services both on their websites and across the web, after a study that found consumers often find inaccurate information in searches.

More than half said that they prefer to navigate directly to a brand’s website rather than rely on a blurb in Google, Bing or DuckDuckGo, as they believe that they will get a better chance of finding complete and accurate information.

Yext CEO, Marc Ferrentino, added: “Our research shows that regardless of where they search for information, people expect the answers they find to be consistent and accurate – and they hold brands responsible to ensure this is the case.”


Keeping track of data has been cited as a common challenge for marketers in 2019, and a new study by Blis has revealed a new area of this vast undertaking that is causing problems – location tracking.

A quarter said that they are unable to make use of location-based data to inform content campaigns and other activities.

Titled Real-world intelligence: Mapping human behaviour to effective mobile marketing, the whitepaper canvassed the opinions of C-suite executives to find out whether cutting-edge tech and a growing mass of big data is being deployed effectively, primarily in advertising but also across general marketing.

Participating in the study were 150 chief marketing officers and agency directors in the Asia-Pacific area, and the findings suggest that location-tracking and data is a major pain point for digital brands.

Many admit to not having full knowledge of its capabilities, and 25% said that they could not apply it effectively to their brand.

Blis managing director, Nick Ballard, said that this issue needs to be addressed urgently, as a growing knowledge gap could be disastrous for enterprises during the next decade when location tracking takes on a more central role in determining the return on investment and supporting the creation of targeted personas in content marketing.

He added: “Despite location data technology advancing in leaps and bounds over the last few years, what is alarming is the significant knowledge gaps that remain within the industry, particularly when it comes to measuring location data, which, if not addressed, will start having a major toll on digital marketing revenues moving forward.”

Ballard believes that marketing leaders basically need to go back and learn the basics, which would involve establishing key metrics linked to location-based marketing.

Brands also need to take location into account when setting new KPIs and use the right tools to quantify the return on investment.

Being able to do this regularly could transform the effectiveness of campaigns and enable companies to deliver a step-change in the quality of their advertising and marketing methods.

The study also uncovered a few specific problem areas and constraints to better outcomes.

Almost half said that there is a lack of transparency in regards to finding the right data sources and methodologies, while 45% said that a dearth of established standards, metrics and guidelines is holding them back.

Confusion around GDPR also still reigns, which suggests that marketers have yet to take heed of consumers’ concerns about security and data privacy.

A third of respondents also said they are concerned about the quality of data.

Blis concluded by covering the ways real-world location data can improve various marketing strategies.

Tracking the return on spending for advertising is one of the basic uses, but it can also be used to influence shoppers directly via geofencing and to chart links between traffic and sales.

“Location-based data is the missing part of the puzzle for many marketers who want to focus on successfully understanding their consumers’ real-word habits,” Blis Asia Pacific head of marketing, Premanjali Gupta, concluded.


Bringing marketing functions in-house usually leads to disappointment for corporations of all sizes, according to a new study by DMA and Mailjet that found creativity and productivity can crater without the expert guidance of agencies and other third parties.

Understanding In-Housing: Bringing Marketing Functions Home serves as a warning to brands that do not have the infrastructure, tools or personnel to support marketing internally. While B2C and B2B brands can struggle to manage tasks in-house, they also miss out on the added value derived from relationships when outsourcing.

For those trying to implement strategies in-house, four in ten respondents said they have run into trouble due to a limited budget, while more than a third are struggling to install and adapt to new technology. A lack of collaboration and communication is another bone of contention for marketers.

However, there is no widespread desire to go it alone fully, as nine in ten say they are committed to maintaining or increasing their current levels of investment in agencies. Content marketing agencies are well-placed to benefit from the need for outside assistance, as 39% said that “content and copywriting” works best when handled by a partner, while 46% said the same for “creative and design.”

However, certain functions do lend themselves more readily to internal management. Email marketing is the most popular in-house function, and the report noted that it is possible to get things up and running with relative ease but that many are still seeking guidance for outside training and monitoring for their programs.

“Looking at some of the biggest challenges companies face, it’s notable how many of these could be resolved by improved communication and collaboration internally and with external partners,” Mailjet Chief Customer and Marketing Officer, Judy Boniface-Chang, said in a statement.

She added: “To address this, companies should focus on choosing tools that enable them to effectively collaborate in the creation and execution of their campaigns, reducing the number of iterations and maintaining a high level of control over their brand.”

DMA Head of Insight, Tim Bond, believes brands do not have to make a binary choice when deciding whether to manage functions internally and externally and that a mixture of the two can work well. Therefore, the onus is on enterprises to identify their own strengths and weaknesses so that they can create the best in-house and outsourcing strategy.

He added: “It’s not either/or. Our research shows one in 12 organisations are using what we have called a ‘blended’ strategy – combining the two.”

Bond also says enterprises should invest in skills, talent and technology so they can increase the capabilities of their marketing and support agencies and partners in their efforts more effectively.

The report found that brands also look to agencies to provide a new perspective on topics and subjects, as 37% of respondents said they fear to create an “echo-chamber” by working alone. A similar number are also concerned about a lack of agency expertise in certain technical areas, such as search engine optimisation.