Why B2B Content Marketing Adoption is Waning

Let’s start by congratulating and applauding the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs for all of the great research they do. The 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America is their best work yet. Both Joe Pulizzi and Ann Handley should be really proud of their efforts at moving content marketing forward as an industry.

Many of the conclusions in the report are pretty straightforward and agreeable. However, there are four areas that I can’t seem to reconcile within my own mind. Below I tackle two of them; with the other two coming in a subsequent article.

The Definition of Content Marketing

For this report, CMI updated its definition of content marketing. Michele Linn concluded that the revised definition was directly responsible for an apparent decrease in the adoption rate of content marketing (more on this in the next section). The below definition is tough to disagree with and most wouldn’t. However, one word in the definition is very problematic: distributing.

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and ultimately drive profitable customer action.

Semantic arguments happen all of the time and are usually silly, but this one matters. Distribution is a specific type of content promotion; it’s a subset. Distribution describes the promotion channel (in this case, paid media). Other promotion subsets include content coverage (earned media) and content broadcasting (owned media). Forrester was one of the first to popularize distribution as the paid content promotion channel.

It’s because of this that the word “distributing” should be replaced with the word “promoting”. Otherwise, CMI would be saying that you’re not doing content marketing if you’re not using paid media for promotion.

Decrease in Adoption

This is an important conclusion to address. As stated above, the updated definition is blamed for content marketing experiencing a decrease in B2B adoption. From 2013 to 2014 B2B content marketing adoption has decreased 7.5 percent. I don’t believe this decline is as simple as a definition change.

Just a few hours ago I got off the phone with a business owner that’s spent over a quarter million dollars in the last two years on content marketing and can’t attribute one customer to her efforts. She’s hired some of the top people in our field (you likely know of them) and has deployed all of the necessary software.

Several months ago a very large brand reached out to me with a problem. After an expensive consulting engagement with other well-known industry folks, they had their blog popping with new, fresh and helpful content. It was clear that the consulting engagement led to buy-in across most of the company. Six months into content marketing, they had hundreds of articles and had barely any audience, engagement or leads. The blog was, and still is, a ghost town.

I’ve recently engaged with the content marketing efforts of a Fortune 300 enterprise – they came to me with the same story, different brand. They’ve been cranking away for over a year and have produced over a thousand helpful articles. Still, no audience, engagement or leads.

What all of these companies were told by their consultants is, “Content marketing takes time.” That’s not something many bosses like to hear and it certainly doesn’t go over well in a quarterly budget meeting.

Something is Happening

The above represents just three examples of content marketing not delivering results. There are dozens more in my inbox. Over the last 12 months, I’ve had more companies reach out to me and complain that content marketing wasn’t working than in any other time in my career.

On the surface, these brands appear to be doing everything right – having a subscribed to strategy, producing high-quality content on a consistent basis, deploying marketing automation and closing the sales/marketing gap with a CRM. After digging a little deeper I’ve concluded that they are doing everything right – if they launched their content marketing efforts in 2010.

The well-known consultants got these brands up and running by simply recommending what worked for them. Unfortunately, what worked for them last decade doesn’t necessarily work for everyone today. The content marketing landscape and channels for discovery have evolved. The “publish, broadcast and pray” adage is dead for the late majority of adopters.

The Secret is Out

It’s no longer a secret that content marketing can be an effective way to attract customers. Last decade, and even some of this decade, many brands could be extremely successful creating high-quality content on a consistent basis and broadcasting it via email and on social media channels.

That was then. Today, many more marketers are competing for online attention. The noise is almost deafening. More than 2.73 million blog posts are published every day and that number is growing. That’s just blog posts. Below shows how much content is being created, consumed and shared every second.

Most of the folks that had success in content marketing last decade, and even some in this decade, built their audiences in a time of online content deficits. Today, many industries are experiencing content surpluses. It is brands in those industries that struggle to gain an audience today because they’ve already been won over by the early adopters of content marketing.

Imagine launching a new digital marketing agency tomorrow and doing content marketing from scratch with no existing audience. How long do you think it would take to build an audience that drove business? It was easy last decade because every agency and their brother weren’t doing content marketing.

The channels of content discovery are changing

Many of the consultants directing brands today are still relying on social media and Google to drive discovery of content marketing efforts. Those channels don’t work like they used to. Google isn’t easily gamed anymore and relies on the signals produced by a real audience – social sharing, link citations, comments, engagement, etc.

This is problematic because many of the early adopters of content marketing are hogging up the audiences that brands want to get in front of today. Search success is now a trailing indicator of audience size, engagement, and health. Brands shouldn’t expect to get much love from Google if they don’t have an audience that out-engages their search competition.

Social also doesn’t work like it once did. Today you’re competing for attention with family photos, memes, stupid videos, selfies, most of your respective industry and sites like Buzzfeed. Not only is there more competition, but organic visibility for brands on Facebook is quickly declining. Last month Twitter announced it will be following Facebook’s lead, too. Expect more social networks to follow suit because it forces brands to pay to play.

The growth of the content promotion ecosystem backs this up

Content promotion tactics, tools and networks are sprouting up all over the place. Why? Because search and social media aren’t delivering on the promise of content discovery anymore. Influencer marketing, media relations, native advertising, amplification, advertorials, content discovery, etc. are all growing in popularity. The growth of paid and earned content promotion is directly related to the failures of the “publish, broadcast and pray” adage that consultants are still peddling today.

Content marketing must evolve to marketing content, or we’ll continue to see adoption rates fall. It’s an expensive endeavor to subscribe to the idea that content marketing “just takes time.” Consultants that built their audiences last decade didn’t need to rely on content promotion tactics, tools, and networks. Unfortunately, many of their clients today must, because their target audience is taken.


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