Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs recently released their B2B Content Marketing: 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America research. The report is packed with fascinating findings gleaned from the more than 5,000 marketers who participated.

B2B Content Marketing 2015

The 40-page report provides a picture of how B2B content marketing continues to mature and evolve as a business and marketing discipline and provides a snapshot of the current state. Here are some of the findings that stood out.

Content marketing gets a new definition

In previous years, Content Marketing Institute (CMI) defined content marketing as the “creation and distribution of educational and/or compelling content in multiple media formats to attract and/or retain customers.” For this year’s survey, content marketing was defined as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Fewer B2B marketers identify with the new definition of content marketing

In 2014, 93% of marketers said they used content marketing, however in 2015 that number dropped to 86%. While not a massive drop by any means, I believe the drop is purely a reflection of the survey’s change in the definition of content marketing as more of a strategic discipline and less of a tactical exercise. And this is an issue we’ve previously discussed, because depending on who you ask, you’re likely to get a wide range of definitions of what exactly content marketing is. I do believe CMI’s definition change of content marketing is noteworthy, but also necessary.

Most companies have a content marketing strategy; it’s just not documented

In last year’s survey, B2B marketers were asked whether they had a documented content marketing strategy. Nearly half (49%) of marketers said no, leaving speculation that perhaps many had a strategy but it just wasn’t documented. This year’s survey simply asked marketers if they had a content marketing strategy and gave the option of “yes, and it is documented” and “yes, but it is not documented.” What this revealed is that 83% of marketers said they have a content marketing strategy, but only 35% said it was documented.

CMI-2015-documented-content-strategy

B2B marketers have grown less confident in their use of content marketing

When asked to rate the effectiveness of their organization’s use of content marketing (defined as “accomplishing your overall objectives”), only 38% of B2B marketers said they were effective. While the number was slightly higher last year (42%), the low percentage emphasizes the fact that the majority of B2B marketers face ongoing content marketing challenges, such as documenting a strategy, creating engaging content and measuring ROI.

B2B marketers are creating more content than they did a year ago

Compared with a year ago, 70% of B2B marketers—regardless of company size or their level of effectiveness—are creating more content. This year’s results are consistent with last year’s, showing that B2B marketers continue an upward trend of creating more content. In fact, 26% of B2B marketers said they are creating significantly more, compared to just 5% that said they are creating less.

CMI-2015-content-creation

Nearly half of B2B firms are publishing content multiple times per week

As would be expected, the rise in content creation has led to nearly half (43%) of B2B marketers publishing content daily or multiple times per week. Interestingly, those who consider themselves most effective (23%), as well as those who have a documented content marketing strategy (23%), are the most likely to say they publish new content daily. And a higher percentage of both publish multiple times per week (31% and 32%, respectively).

Creating more engaging content is both the top challenge and top initiative

Unsurprisingly, B2B marketers’ biggest challenge is also their biggest initiative. Producing engaging content has been a top challenge for marketers and this year saw it rise to the top of the list at 54%. New to the survey this year was the question of “which content marketing initiatives are you working on?” And at the top of the list of initiatives for B2B marketers was creating more engaging and higher quality content—with 88% working on it now or planning to in the coming year.

CMI-2015-content-initiatives

LinkedIn is the most used and most effective social platform

No big surprise here—B2B marketers (94%) cite LinkedIn as their most used social media platform to distribute content, followed by Twitter (88%), Facebook (84%) and YouTube (72%). Google+ saw the biggest leap in usage this year, up 9 percentage points to 64%. And in addition to being the most used social platform, LinkedIn is also cited as the most effective, with 63% of marketers rating it a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale. Interestingly, while 84% of B2B marketers use Facebook for content marketing, only 32% consider it effective.

In-person events remain the most effective tactic

The pending death of tradeshows and in-person events as B2B marketing tactics has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, in spite of all the growth in digital tools and tactics, for the fifth straight year, B2B marketers considered in-person events as their most effective tactic for content marketing, with 69% rating it a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale.

The majority of B2B marketers are using paid advertising to promote content

While content marketing is typically an exercise in inbound marketing, 80% of B2B marketers are using at least one method of paid advertising to distribute or promote their content, with search engine marketing topping this at 58%. In addition to being the most used paid method, B2B marketers also consider it the most effective (52%). With all the talk about native advertising in 2014, only 34% of B2B marketers are using it and only 36% consider it to be effective.

Website traffic is the key metric B2B marketers use to assess content marketing success

When asked what metrics their firms use to assess content marketing success, 63% of marketers cited website traffic. In fact, year-over-year, website traffic is the top metric B2B marketers look to, regardless of their company size, level of effectiveness or whether or not they have a documented content strategy.

Tracking B2B content marketing ROI remains a difficult task

When asked to rate their organization’s success at tracking the ROI of their content marketing program, only 21% said they were successful. The low percentage underscores the fact that B2B marketers have a hard time measuring the effectiveness and ultimately the bottom line impact of content marketing.

The annual report from CMI and Marketing Profs allows B2B marketers to check the pulse of content marketing and gain insight into its ongoing growth, maturity and evolution.

Download the report: B2B Content Marketing: 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America

Read more: Ten B2B Content Marketing Best Practices