The 2016 B2B Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report from Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs announced a new, lofty aim: to uncover what an effective content marketing program looks like. The results are clear: strategy and communication are the habits of highly effective B2B marketing organizations. But how are these habits executed?

In this post, I explore B2B marketers’ progress towards these highly effective habits, and offer a few tips to help you stay ahead of the pack in 2016.

The State of B2B Marketing in 2016: The Good, The Bad… and The Immature?

According to the findings, successful B2B marketing organizations don’t just have a documented content strategy; they also have a documented editorial mission statement (28% have this). And you won’t find top B2B marketers waiting until the end of the quarter to look back at how their content did; 61% of those who reported success met daily or weekly with their teams to pull-up on their strategy and its impact.

However, when we compared the results from the 2015 report against the 2016 results, it appears that we marketers have taken a few steps backwards. Despite resounding evidence that a content strategy is essential for content marketing effectiveness, fewer B2B marketers have a documented content marketing strategy compared with last year (32% versus 35%).

top content marketing trends

Our self-image as marketers also underwent a reality check this past year. According to the 2016 survey results, fewer than ⅓ of B2B marketers say they are effective (30%), down 8% from 2015.

The 2016 report also introduced a new metric for content marketing sophistication, asking B2B marketers to rate their marketing maturity. Apparently, most B2B marketers consider their content to be child’s play; only 32% assess their content marketing as “sophisticated or mature.”

top content marketing trends

But immaturity isn’t keeping B2B marketers from creating more content; 76% of B2B marketers say they will produce more content in 2016, up from 70% in 2015. If you’re keeping score, that means that you can expect more content from B2B marketers in 2016, ⅔ of whom consider themselves “immature.”

Content Marketing Immaturity And Content Overload

This explosion of content is a phenomenon we all intuitively know to be true; there are more digital channels, and more content being spewed out across them. But what will be the impact of this explosion of content in 2016? Just how hard will it be to be heard?

When we looked at 2 years of data for 8,800 brands, one high-level trend became crystal clear: brands are creating more and more content, and it’s having less and less impact.

It’s what we call the content marketing paradox: we’re investing more resources into content marketing, but seeing less return on that investment.

top content marketing trends

Undoubtedly, the adoption of content marketing by immature marketing organizations will continue to compound the crush of content overload in 2016. So how can you escape the paradox of more content with less return?

These three bright spots from the 2016 B2B trends report offer directional guidance to keep you a step ahead of the curve:

    1. Build your content marketing strategy around business outcomes: Collectively, marketers’ mission for content has taken on greater alignment with revenue generation: Lead generation (85%) and sales (84%) are the two most important goals for B2B marketers across the next 12 months. To keep up with the Joneses, stay focused on revenue.
    2. Report on ROI-focused metrics, not marketing activity: As Kristina Halvorson noted at Content Marketing World 2015, marketers often confuse activity with productivity. While web traffic has historically been the go-to metric for measuring content marketing success, this year sales lead quality, sales, and higher conversion rates topped the list: More than 80% of B2B marketers ranked these metrics as most important to their organization.
    3. Invest in the social media basics: Across the board, the consensus is clear that social media is a core competency. Social media is the most-used content marketing tactic among B2B marketers, used by 93%. Among this group, LinkedIn usage is nearly universal; 94% of B2B use the network, and 66% rate it as LinkedIn is the most effective social media platform.

Looking for even more fuel for your B2B marketing engine? Here are 7 key stats on the business impact of B2B content marketing to help you keep your content machine running smoothly year round.