According to a Right Source Marketing study (based on survey responses from a whopping 11 B2B-oriented companies) conducted in November 2014, you, Mr. or Ms. Marketing Leader, either have not finished your 2015 marketing plan, or... gasp...have not even started it.
If you're not interested in building such a plan, or think it's a waste of time, please stop reading. You and I are not meant to have an author-reader relationship, or for that matter any relationship at all. In my world, planners rule. Planners who can also execute are legends. Those who don't think they need a plan? Destined for a career filled with mediocrity, probably with a good deal of complacency mixed in.
For those of you still seeking legendary status, you still have 19 business days to nail that 2015 B2B marketing plan, which, in today's world, ought to include a heavy dose of content marketing. To help, I've assembled the B2B content marketing trends you should be paying special attention to as you build your plan.
1. Content Marketing Plan: Get One, or Get Out of the Game
Speaking of planning...
This is the proverbial no-brainer on the list. Frankly, it shouldn't even be considered a trend at this point - it's a necessity.
This is the year you should stop talking about building a content marketing plan, and start doing it. I could tell you story after story after story about watching companies stumble in the absence of a plan, but instead, let's look at the cold hard facts.
According to the B2B Content Marketing 2015: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends - North America report, B2B marketers with a documented content marketing strategy are more effective than those without one. As a matter of fact, of those who have a documented strategy, 60 percent consider themselves effective at content marketing. Only 32 percent of those who have a verbal strategy say they are effective.
Need to kick-start the content marketing planning process? Learn how to build an effective content marketing plan.
2. Paid Content Distribution: How Committed Are You to More Eyeballs?
I'll let my words from November 7, 2013 do the talking:
"Content distribution, often in places outside of your 'owned' properties, is one of the most overlooked (and underappreciated) aspects of effective content marketing. And distribution does not end with social media."
While the first two types of content distribution, social media and syndication (the free variety), should remain your top priorities, it's time to take a look at paid content distribution opportunities. I wouldn't have recommended this a year ago for most companies, but given how difficult it has become for even remarkable content to break through the clutter and reach its intended audience, it's time for all content marketers to explore paid content distribution. After all, if you're going to invest significant dollars and resources in content creation (you are, aren't you?), you wouldn't want to skimp on distribution, right?
In a 2014 Fast Company article, BMW's Kate Alini said it best, "If we're going to spend money in production and content creation, we need to put media spend behind it."
While most of us don't have budgets that even approach the size of BMW's, in the same way PPC search engine marketing leveled the field between small and large businesses, paid content distribution will likely follow suit.
3. Content Marketing Measurement: The Software is Coming!
In the new world order of B2B marketing, when a particular process, method, or tactic begins rising in popularity, you won't have to wait long for the software nerds to jump in, raise millions of dollars in seed and VC funding, and attempt to make that particular process, method, or tactic work even better via...you guessed it, software!
Let's go back to the B2B Content Marketing 2015: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends - North America report. The data tells us that marketers are struggling to measure the true top line or bottom line impact of content marketing - only 21 percent say they are successful at tracking ROI, and 15 percent do not even track the ROI of their efforts.
Yes, marketing automation software offers the promise of closed-loop marketing measurement, but these platforms are not focused exclusively on content marketing. Solutions are sprouting up, so look for someone to emerge as the market leader in 2015 as companies clamor for an answer to the content marketing measurement question.
4. Marketing Automation: Marketing Automation is NOT a Strategy
According to Pardot, 25 percent of B2B Fortune 500 companies already use marketing automation, as do 76 percent of the world's largest SaaS companies. That's a serious penetration rate for a group of platforms that have only been around for a decade or so.
The picture isn't so rosy, however, when talking about effective usage of these platforms. SiriusDecisions tells us that 85 percent of B2B marketers using marketing automation platforms in 2014 feel that they're not using them to their full potential.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard something like the following, I'd finally be able to purchase the Right Source helicopter that's been on my wish list for years.
Me: I saw that you recently licensed Marketo. How's it going?
Marketing Leader: We licensed it three months ago. We sent one email. We didn't get any training, and no one really knows how to use it, or what we're supposed to be using it for.
Sadly, those conversations are pretty much the rule, not the exception.
So where do most companies go wrong with marketing automation? It starts in three places.
- They think marketing automation IS a strategy or program, instead of just a platform to facilitate marketing programs.
- They license marketing automation with no semblance of a plan for how they are going to use it.
- They don't have the content to support any real campaign volume.
My advice for 2015: Before you license a marketing automation platform, or before you start trying to use it in any organized manner, build a demand generation plan. Otherwise, I'll be here to take your call three months from now when you can't figure out why marketing automation isn't making it rain for your business.
5. Content Creators: Just Pay the Man (or Woman)
No stats here, just a viewpoint from someone who has worked with dozens or writers, editors, and other content creators over the past few years.
Hire the best and most seasoned writers and editors you can find. They WILL be more expensive than others, but in this case, you absolutely get what you pay for.
If you are committed to B2B marketing excellence, and in particular if your content marketing flavor is brand builder or thought leader, creating truly remarkable content should be your first priority. Only 99th percentile content creators can do that for you. Stop looking for and working with the cheap content creators, and bring on the best to develop the content that will break through the clutter.
Conclusion: It's Not Too Late to Plan
Much like you plan for other aspects of your business, such as staffing, business development, or production, marketing planning is the key to staying competitive-and keeping your team focused-in 2015.
As you wrap in your content marketing planning, become one of those legendary planners who believes that his or her content marketing is effective next year. Start your plan now and be sure to address these five content marketing trends.
You have 19 business days. The clock is ticking.