This past week (September 6th through 9th) marked the sixth annual Content Marketing World conference in Cleveland, Ohio. For the third time in as many years, HiP attended this show. This year also marked the first time HiP sponsored and exhibited at the event.
Growing from just a few hundred attendees, Content Marketing World is now a standard-setting show in the content marketing industry. This year, it boasted 3500+ attendees from 74 countries, 550+ companies (with 40 of the Fortune 100 represented), and 123+ hours of sessions networking and entertainment.
As has become tradition, CMWorld offered multiple celebrity keynotes – in 2016 this included Star Wars’ Mark Hamill and comedian and late night TV regular Michael Jr. Presentations were filled out by prominent industry voices like Robert Rose, Ann Handley, Jay Baer, Andrew Davis, Rand Fishkin, Kristina Halvorson, Scott Stratten, and, of course, the Godfather of Content Marketing, Joe Pulizzi.
The event this year was framed by some interesting findings in the Content Marketing Institute’s annual B2B Content Marketing Report and the status of content marketing as a whole.
The State in Content Marketing in 2016
Content marketing is near ubiquitous in B2B marketing. According to the aforementioned report, 88% of those surveyed say they use content marketing. As has been the case for the past several years, a sizeable percentage of marketers (76%) plan to create more content than they did the previous year. Content marketing now commands an average of 28% of marketing budgets.
As you might expect, content marketing efforts run the gamut from fully developed content marketing machines to fledgling efforts just beginning to craft their strategy. The majority of marketers surveyed put themselves somewhere in the middle. Efforts were also pretty evenly split between those with a documented strategy and those without.
The most concerning aspect of the report was that only 30% of B2B marketers said their organizations are effective at content marketing. That number is down from 38% last year. On top of that, only 6% say their content is “Very Effective.”
Moreover, more than half (55%) of B2B marketers aren’t even sure what constitutes content marketing success. How can an organization set itself up to succeed when it doesn’t know what success is?
Altogether, content marketing enjoys widespread adoption and buy-in (literally), but many are struggling to justify their efforts. There’s a lot of marketers using content marketing, but there aren’t nearly as many marketers using it well.
Content Marketing World’s Answer for the Challenged Content Marketer
Though the presenters at Content Marketing World didn’t make direct mention of the report or many of the enclosed industry metrics, it was clear that these findings shaped the topics of discussion. A lot of emphasis was placed on common misconceptions and doing things differently.
The guidance for struggling content marketers wasn’t necessarily new recommendations or tactics – more clarification on the guiding principles many already (thought they) knew. This is best exemplified by three pieces of advice from the show:
1. Be the exception, not the rule
At Content Marketing World 2014, we were cautioned about the dangers of content clutter. With more and more content being produced, there would naturally be less and less attention to go around. The only difference today is that the problem is now two years worse.
Joe Pulizzi wasted no time in addressing this at CMW 2016, saying it’s better to do nothing than put out mediocre content. More middling content is not the answer to content marketing challenges, but, unfortunately, it’s become a common approach.
The Rule: Content marketing is a mandate. The solution is always more content. The content is generic, misaligned, and untargeted. It’s more promotion than value.
The Exception: Content marketing is designed for one audience with one message and one mission. It tells a unique story. It’s consistent over time. It builds value outside the products and services offered.
2. Content marketing is nothing without a real content strategy
Since 2014, the percentage of B2B marketers who said they have a documented content strategy has actually dropped from 39% to 32%. That doesn’t even account for the portion of those marketers who have an incomplete or improperly documented strategy.
As Kristina Halvorson pointed out, many content marketers say, “We need a content strategy!” as a fix to their problems. Far fewer consider what it takes to have a successful content strategy. Many make the mistakes of not researching their audience, not making content the centerpiece of their website, and failing to develop appropriate content workflows and editorial guidelines.
Halvorson favors the following definition of content strategy: “Content strategy guides planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.” Your strategy should provide a framework and reasoning for the actions you’re are taking – everything you do and don’t do.
3. You have to create not just great content, but content that accomplishes your goals
As content marketers, we love great content. We enjoy being involved in creating content that is different, valuable, and interesting. In his presentation, Robert Rose commanded, “Build things that people want to engage with. Build an audience of value.” Most of us get that.
The disconnect comes at this point. Great content is only the start. There’s still another half of that equation. It is content marketing, after all. As Rand Fishkin put it, “[…] Don’t Expect ‘Greatness’ to Compensate for Marketing.”
In his talk, Rand Fishkin said, before we produce content, we need a great answer to the question, “Who will help amplify this and why?” The answer is not, “It will happen naturally,” or, “Because it’s relevant to their interests.” A great answer will have data-backed choices for amplification, whether through targeted influencers, social media, search, paid channels, or all of the above.
Though it may sound obvious, the content we should be creating is the content that accomplishes our goals. Part of that is providing value. Part is having a strategy and effective goals to align with. The final part is considering goals and amplification from the start.
Let us know what you think:
- Did you attend Content Marketing World 2016?
- How successful would you rate your content marketing efforts?
- What is your biggest content marketing challenge?