In marketing, I value three things: quality over quantity, great writing, building an audience over stuffing a pipeline until it bursts at its seams with so-called leads.
I value other things, too. But those three things are top of mind for me this morning, because we just released a brand-spankin’-new research report, B2B Content Marketing: 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America, produced by MarketingProfs and Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and sponsored by Brightcove.
The report—blandly titled, but nonetheless full of rich insights—presents findings from the 8th annual content marketing survey. (Yes, 8th!)
And therein we find… quality bests quantity, craft and creativity matter, and building an audience is better than simply collecting leads.
And we know this because 870 of us business-to-business marketers paused for 5-7 minutes this past July long enough to take the survey that spells it out.
Here are two of my favorite takeaways from this year’s research, cozily located in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the same chart:
Let’s first talk about the first stat:
80% of all B2B content marketers surveyed agree their organization is focused on building audiences
(i.e., one or more subscriber bases); that’s an 18% increase from last year. And nearly all—92%—of the top-performing B2B content marketing programs say they are focused on building audiences.
Why it matters: The marketing world has shifted. In 2010, when C.C. Chapman and I published Content Rules, it was enough for marketing to create blogs and webinars and inforgraphics and puppet shows to generate leads.
Now, eight years later, it’s far more valuable, from both a practical and a philosophical point of view, to create value for an audience that wants to hear from you.
In 2018, you need to matter.
Here’s the practical reason: A built-in audience is key to a successful marketing program because it’s composed of people who value what you’re producing—who agree to hear what you’ve got next. Subscribers are long-term, in other words, whereas a lead is less committed, often purely transactional, and not necessarily interested in hearing from you on a regular basis.
Here’s the philosophical reason: We marketers love to talk about ourselves. We get so excited about our products and services and revolutionary value-add solutions that we forget that our potential customers flat-out don’t care. Communicating with an audience-first mentality is an important mindset for any content program, because it means we are putting the needs of our audience above our own.
It’s often a subtle shift, but a significant one: What does our audience need from us? What will they value? How can we improve their lives?
I don’t mean that a company is selflessly unconcerned with sales. But I do mean that we put our products or services or “revolutionary solutions” in the context of what people care about. It means that we consistently ask ourselves (before putting a single pixel on a page): Why should anyone care?
Takeaway: Are you merely stuffing a pipeline full of leads? Or are you building an audience who will rely on you for information, advice, and help and will seek out your expertise? Are you building relationships based on trust? Is your thought leadership truly… well, leading?
A clearly defined audience is one of the foundations of a successful content program. Think audience. Not leads. Without it, content is merely a tiny asset wandering in the wilderness—shivering, alone, friendless.
Now let’s talk about the second stat:
74% of B2B marketers agree their organization values creativity and craft in content creation and production
(compared with 88% of top performers).
Writers and artists! This moment is dedicated to you!
Let’s revel in the fact that right here, in black-and-white math backed by spreadsheets, is testimony that art and craft and creativity in marketing matters.
This is a good chart to print out and march down the hallway and into the conference room where that miserable group is seated around the conference table planning 2018 budgets. Tack the chart to the wall, stand on a chair, point squarely to that 74%, and annunciate (loudly, dramatically): “THIS!”
Ha. I’m half-kidding. The truth is that brains matter way more than budget in marketing. But, at the same time, it’s good for writers and artists to get some overdue respect, isn’t it?
Why it matters: Again, there are both practical and philosophical reasons why this matters.
First, the practical reason: We live in a noisy world full of chatter and blather, GIFs and rants. In 2018, you need to go beyond superficial: You need to matter.
That means that you need to hone your story—you need to have a story!
You need to differentiate who you are and why you do what you do by creating stories that uniquely resonate with a defined audience.
Creativity and craft aren’t just a nice-to-have in marketing. They’re critical, and we need to put them front and center.
Packaged with creativity come pluck, nerve, spirit, and a bit of grit necessary to take a creative risk. Embrace that, too. You’ve got this, boo.
Elsewhere in the 2018 B2B Content Marketing report, we point out that 70% of top performers rate project management flow of their content-creation projects as “excellent” or “very good” versus only 36% of all respondents.
My friend (and research report co-producer) Lisa Murton Beets of CMI points out a key takeaway here: Effective content creation entails getting quality projects completed efficiently.
Most respondents value creativity and craft. But the most successful content marketers also know that while “process” sounds about as fun as alphabetizing canned goods, it’s in fact a necessary foundation to creativity.
Process does all the ruddy grunt work so that creativity can bask in the sunshine and glory.
“Process and creativity are not at odds,” Lisa writes. “Process is key to enable your team to have time to be creative. While it takes time to set up processes, once they are in place, the conversation changes from ‘who is doing this,’ or ‘what are the steps we need to take,’ or ‘oh no, we forgot to include someone/something.’ Then the team has time to work on the art of creating exceptional content.”
And here’s the philosophical reason: It’s not just the work itself that needs to matter. We need to matter, too.
We need to create programs that feed our souls. Do work you’re proud of. Create a body of work you love (don’t just “do your job.”)
Takeaway: Metrics and measurement are important. But the art in marketing is just as important as the science! (Maybe more so.)
I talk to too many marketers who are burned out by relentless deadlines and who feel restless—unfulfilled by the relentless focus on MQLs and quantity of leads, their creativity shackled.
I talk to a lot of marketers who start sentences with, “I’d love to do that but….” (Following the “but” is typically something about clueless leadership, a risk-averse client, job-performance measurement.)
The antidote is to rethink content’s role in marketing, and Marketing’s role within the organization—which includes how marketing is valued, and how marketers are measured.
Some forward-thinking organizations are already having these conversations and challenging these assumptions, including my friends at SnapApp (shoutout to Aaron Dun and Seth Lieberman). People like Seth and Aaron know:
It’s not about the quantity of the content, but about the quality of the content.
And it’s not about the quantity of the leads, but about the quality of the audience.
You could just look at that important chart and two awesome stats and rethink your content.
Or you could consider what the chart is signaling about marketing, more broadly. Because that’s the real opportunity, isn’t it?
Anyhoo – Download the whole research via SlideShare for yourself: