easy route to effective content marketingWhat do you get when the best and brightest minds in content marketing unite? You get best practices, winning tactics, trends and challenges to help you continually optimize your current content marketing efforts.

Thanks to the folks at eConsultancy (in collaboration with Outbrain) you get all of the above, and more, in their 2012 Content Marketing Survey Report.

Filled with insights from the 1,300 marketing professionals interviewed (from brands, agencies, and publishers), the report covers what’s top-of-mind for all of us, such as:

  • What strategies are most effective, and which ones are least effective?
  • What challenges do we all share?
  • What lies ahead?

With more than 90 percent of respondents stating that content marketing will continue to rise in importance for their companies over the next 12 months, these findings are worth paying attention to. However, the report is so jam-packed with stats that we could pick only the top 10 takeaways to share with you here. While we don’t want to give too much away too soon, we do encourage you to do two things:

1) Read the full report.

2) Ask yourself the question that underlies this report: Are we taking the “easy” route when it comes to our content marketing planning and execution?

Now, let’s dive in.

1. For many, a content strategy is coming together (if not now, it will soon!)

The findings indicate that while 91 percent of respondents use content to market products, the overwhelming majority of participants will be increasing their efforts even further over the next 12 months.

content marketing increases in 2013

However, while 91 percent will be increasing efforts, what those efforts will look like, tactically, is still very unclear for most, with more than 50 percent stating that a defined content strategy does not yet exist for their company (but they are planning to develop one!).

still developing effective content marketing

2. What’s being measured remains consistent (but are we being too easy on ourselves?)

While responses varied at times between agency and in-house marketers, a few findings were fairly consistent, including what most content marketers take into account when measuring the success of their programs. Look through this list — does it look familiar?

1) Increased traffic to site

2) Improved engagement

3) Increased sales

4) Social mentions/shares

5) Leads generated

*Challenge Question – Are these the right things? In the report, Kevin Gibbons (Managing Director and Founder of Quaturo) asks content marketers to challenge their measurement tactics: Are we measuring these activities because they are most important or, perhaps, because they are easier to track? He states: “The metrics used really have to reflect the campaign goals more closely. If that happens to be increased sales, agencies and brands need to measure the impact that content has made towards increasing revenue.”

3. Five content types remain prominent (for now)…

For all respondents, five content types remained prominent:

  • Social posts and updates
  • Email newsletters
  • News/articles
  • Press releases
  • Blog posts

More complex types of content, such as videos, infographics, and podcasts, trailed behind, and the survey asks readers to contemplate if we are limiting our investment in these types of content due to their complexity. Also, as new cost-reducing content tools come to the market, will it change what marketers are able to invest in (i.e., what was once too expensive may become reasonable)? Again, are we taking the easy route by creating what we know can be done easily and cost-effectively, rather than taking risks?

4. Content marketing effectiveness varies by company type

Here is where we start to see some variations between agencies and in-house marketers, with usage of the top most effective types of content varying slightly between the groups:

content marketing effectiveness varies

most effective content types for agencies

However, again in the survey Kevin Gibbons points out that, “The more creative types of content are towards the bottom of the graph – while the safer bets are those that get the budget. This could present a big opportunity, provided you’re not afraid to fail along the way. Focusing on the less popular types of content… can be a great way to stand out!”

Takeaway: Take some risks with your content!

5. The “Big Three” in social currently are…

Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube remain favorites for both in-house marketers and agencies, with both groups reporting that they currently use these channels to promote their content.

big three in social media for content

Despite the buzz surrounding Pinterest, a smaller percentage of respondents currently use it (about on par with Google+).

6. The “Big Three” in social will be…

There’s some slight variation in what content marketers will increase usage in over the next 12 months, with the “Big Three” remaining steady at the top and most all looking to increase Google+ and LinkedIn usage, as well. The variance comes with Pinterest, with 55 percent of agencies viewing that platform as something to invest further in, and only 41 percent of in-house marketers feeling the same.

big three in social for content in 2013

Question: Do you think Pinterest and Google+ will “pick up” in 2013? Why or why not?

7. Build a content marketing department? Do we NEED to?

Across the board, survey respondents agree that content marketing lives within the marketing department, with barely any (2 to 4 percent) claiming a separate department for their content marketing efforts.

separate content marketing department

What’s interesting, however, is that when the survey pries a bit more, and asks if an individual currently exists who is dedicated to content marketing, a big variation between agencies and in-house marketers appears:

  • 46 percent of in-house marketers say yes, with an additional 23 percent planning to create this position.
  • 16 percent of agency respondents say yes, with 52 percent stating they have no plans to identify one.

Question: Do you think agencies need a dedicated person for their own content marketing efforts, or should a majority of their efforts be focused on externally facing efforts (i.e. ones that help their clients)?

8. Content marketing is vital (just don’t ask us to spend money on it!)

One of the most fascinating findings from this survey was the “Budget” section. Even though most respondents (Remember that 90 percent+ number?) stated that content marketing is important now, and will be even more so in 2013, a vast majority do not have budgets set aside for content marketing.

budget for content marketing

In fact, among survey respondents’ budgets, content marketing only takes up about 1 to 20 percent of marketing budgets (on average) — but don’t let this deter you. Doug Kessler (Creative Director and Co-Founder of Velocity Partners) states: “Expect these numbers to rise dramatically…we’re seeing content marketing eating up budgets because it’s measurable, outperforming just about everything else.”

9. Beyond budget: Other barriers to success

As still a relatively “newer” concept for many companies, content marketers struggle for attention and budgets within their organizations. However, other barriers to having effective content marketing programs include:

  • Lack of resources (higher for in-house marketers)
  • Company politics (i.e., resistance to change)
  • Lack of ROI/business case
  • Lack of understanding/training (higher for agencies)
  • Lack of content creation skills (higher for agencies)

barriers to effective content marketing

What’s the solution to these barriers? Amongst the colorful commentary from survey participants was this helpful nugget: “What overcoming these barriers” will require… are individuals who not only have the interdisciplinary skills required by content marketing, but the ability to overcome politics and win buy-in across the organization for a content-driven agenda, regardless of organizational structure.”

10. At the heart of effective content marketing lies… a heart

While varying opinions about social investment, budgetary and resource commitments, and who’s “to blame” for common content marketing barriers, one theme still remains the same across agencies and in-house marketers: that at the bottom of all we do in content marketing is the desire to create an emotional connection with customers. We may not have tactics, measurement, organizational setup, or ROI established 100 percent quite yet, but at the heart of all we do is a common desire to connect: to tell powerful stories that tie us to our customers now, and for the future. And that makes it all feel (even the struggles) so worthwhile.

While there’s much more to cover from this survey, we’ll end it here and ask for your feedback to these select findings. What felt familiar? What didn’t you agree with? What surprised you the most?

To read the entire report, check it out here — and thanks to eConsultancy and Outbrain for sharing these findings with us!

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Read more: How to Pick Content Topics That Appeal to Professional Services Executives