Aug 24, 2020

What B2B Content Marketing Looks Like in 2020

In June and July 2019, the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) surveyed nearly 700 North American B2B marketers for their B2B Content Marketing 2020 report.

The respondents came from a wide range of B2B industries, with Technology, Manufacturing, and Agencies comprising the largest percentage of industries.

The organizations represented ranged from small (0 to 10 employees), to large (over 1000 employees) and respondents held several job functions, with marketing management, content creation/management, and corporate/executive management comprising 77% of the total.

The following chart represents the full breakdown of respondents by industry classification, size and job title/function:

Source: Content Marketing Institute’s 2020 B2B Content Marketing Report

In this post, we’ll summarize the key findings of the CMI report, including content benchmarks, trends and key findings with a focus on what the top performers are doing in the realm of B2B content strategy.

Top-of-funnel content and other key findings

The key findings of the CMI study reveal some not-so-surprising trends, along with some insight that can help you understand where your B2B content strategy fits in with the competition.

One of the top revelations is that B2B marketers are largely creating content that addresses top-of-funnel goals like brand awareness, education, and building trust, as demonstrated by the below table.

Source: Content Marketing Institute’s 2020 B2B Content Marketing Report

Another notable trend is that content is being used more widely—regardless of the goal—in 2020 versus one year ago.

Other key findings include:

  • Content teams tend to be small, even for large companies, with most teams ranging from two to five people.
  • About half of the respondents indicated they outsource at least one content marketing activity (the top outsourced activity was content creation).
  • Alas, the top-performing content type for obtaining and converting leads was listed as in-person events, presenting a challenge in a post-pandemic world.
  • About 84% of respondents said they use paid content distribution channels, with LinkedIn being the top platform listed.
  • Top performers were more likely to link KPIs to their content marketing initiatives.

Content success, maturation, and technology

Just under 60% of respondents in the CMI survey rate their company’s content marketing success as moderately successful, versus 36% who rated it as very or extremely successful.

What sets the highly successful companies apart from the others? A written strategy, for one thing.

Nearly 70% of the companies that reported a high level of success with their content had a documented content marketing strategy versus just 16% of those that were least successful.

It seems that a documented strategy is a key ingredient to content success, as demonstrated by the following chart which compared top performers to low performers from 2018 through 2020.

Another important distinction between high and low performers was that the most successful B2B content marketers tended to provide their customers with optimal content experiences across the entire engagement journey. That is, they delivered relevant content when their audience was most likely to see it and valued creativity and craft in content creation.

The most widely used content-focused tech includes analytics tools/dashboards, email marketing software, social media publishing apps, and CRMs. The following chart illustrates the top seven tools used by respondents in the survey:

Source: Content Marketing Institute’s 2020 B2B Content Marketing Report

These are not, by any means, the only technology tools used by B2B marketers. Other tools listed in the study ranged from content distribution platforms to digital asset management (DAM) systems and more.

What content marketing teams look like

As we noted above, content teams tend to be small, even in large organizations with over a thousand employees, and the top performers have a centralized team structure.

Other team content approaches include:

  • Assigning a content team or department to each product/brand. Large organizations are much more likely to do this than small and medium-sized ones.
  • Having both a centralized content team and individual teams throughout an organization. Again, large organizations are more likely to do this than smaller.
  • Having a small (one person) marketing and content team that serves the entire organization. This approach is, understandably, much more common with small and medium-sized organizations than large ones.

Team size matters, though not as much as you think it might, with organizations of all sizes overwhelmingly apt to have small teams of 2-5 members. The following table breaks down the trend of content team size as it relates to organization size:

Source: Content Marketing Institute’s 2020 B2B Content Marketing Report

With even large companies of 1000+ employees limiting their content teams to just a handful of people, it’s no surprise that about half of B2B marketers outsource at least one content marketing activity.

The top outsourced content activity (by far) is content creation, with 84% of respondents listing this as a task they’re likely to outsource. Other activities include content distribution (31%), content technology (22%), content strategy, measurement, and editorial planning.

Content creation trends

When it comes to content creation, the most successful B2B marketers prioritize several things versus their less successful peers. First, 88% of top performers prioritize their audience’s needs versus 50% of low performers. Additionally, 74% of top performers create content based on stages of the customer journey versus just 26% of low performers.

Both low and high performers fact check their content to ensure accuracy, although the most successful content marketers do this more consistently compared with the least successful (95% versus 81%, respectively).

More audiences are better than less, with 73% of respondents creating about four audiences for their content, on average, and roughly 22% indicating they create 6+ audiences. Just 5% of respondents indicated they create content for only one audience.

And, finally, the top content type produced by B2B marketers is social media posts (tweets, stories, etc.), followed by blog posts and short articles, then email newsletters. The following chart summarizes the top 10 content types:

Source: Content Marketing Institute’s 2020 B2B Content Marketing Report

Content goals and measurement

We won’t bore you with too many statistics about how B2B marketers measure content success. You have a lot of numbers to unpack, after all. But we feel it’s worthwhile mentioning that while 80% of B2B marketers use metrics to measure their content’s performance, only about 40% measure content marketing ROI.

The top metrics tracked are email engagement, website traffic/engagement, social media performance, and conversions.

Measuring ROI is important because, for those who take the time to do this, 43% rate their ability to demonstrate ROI as excellent. It’s important to think of content the way you would about any other form of media—it must be tracked, measured and optimized for it to be effective.

Content in the age of COVID

We would be remiss in talking about content if we didn’t say a few words about how COVID is affecting it, particularly since the CMI survey was conducted back in 2019, when we could still have lunch with people and go to sales meetings (ah, good times).

Perhaps the biggest impact COVID is having on content is the elimination of live events. We’ve taken our meetings and events online, and the content you create needs to reflect this.

Back in March, Gartner put out some guidelines for how B2B organizations should address content. Namely, be helpful and authentic. Don’t seek to profit from the current catastrophe, but don’t harp on it either. It all comes back to helping people navigate through the current environment of uncertainty. Communicate any business disruption. Be human. Present your product or service in the context of being as helpful as possible, without coming off as overselling.

Remember, the top performers document their content strategy and create content their audience wants. If you create content purposefully and conscientiously, then your content will resonate with your audience. That’s the best way to drive growth for your business.

Related Articles:

How to Use Paid Digital Media to Give Your Content a Boost

Four Facts That Will Change How CMOs See B2B Content Marketing

4 Steps to Storytelling in B2B Content Marketing

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