Are Content Marketers Insane or Just Lazy? What the Numbers Say

The numbers are in, and they don’t look good. Joel Klettke gets real about the Content Marketing Institute’s recent findings.

content marketers - scary trends

The numbers are in, and they don’t look good.

The Content Marketing Institute published the results of their annual survey of more than 5,000 marketers involved in content marketing, offering an inside look into how thousands of people responsible for making content work for businesses are going about that job.

While there are many encouraging metrics, the study also makes it abundantly clear that content marketers as a whole have some serious problems.

We’re talking big, hairy issues that they’ve had for years.

Let’s take a peek into the data behind the mad, mad world of B2B content marketing and see just how crazy things really are.

1. Most marketers are flying by the seat of their pants.

Despite the fact that 83 percent of marketers claim to have a strategy that guides their efforts, a mere 35 percent have actually taken the time to write it down.  Fourteen percent have no strategy at all, and another 3 percent simply aren’t sure they have a strategy, which means they probably don’t.

Worse, a full 51 percent admit that their strategy, whether documented or not, is only “somewhat” followed, while 6 percent say they either rarely follow it or “aren’t sure.”

It makes a difference: 62 percent of those who scored themselves as “Effective” or “Very Effective” in their content marketing efforts followed their strategies very closely.

The conclusion we can draw is that most marketers are running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to pacify the content monster, with the majority not even sticking to the strategies they claim to have.

Documenting your strategy shouldn’t be optional.

If a strategy isn’t written down, it’s not really a strategy. It’s a wishlist; a flimsy daydream that likely hasn’t been thought through. And if you don’t follow your strategy, whether verbal or written, it’s worthless.

Not only that, but writing down your strategy…

Encourages collaboration and forces you to confront reality.

You’ll quickly see where there are gaps in understanding you need to fill, holes in your logic and things that need to be better fleshed out in a way you can’t possibly retain when your strategy is purely verbal.

Documenting means pulling together your team and discussing what you’re creating, surveying the different stakeholders involved—from management to marketing and beyond.

Creates accountability.

When something is written down, it’s easier to assign ownership. Without a plan of attack, putting someone in charge of your content means much less because there’s nothing tangible to own.

Gives you benchmarks and a reference point.

How on earth are you supposed to measure how well your strategy is working if you don’t have written benchmarks, goals and objectives?

And further, how are you supposed to look back and evaluate whether or not you took the right course of action, had the right personas or executed well on your plan?

Documentation is a critical reference point that makes it possible to look back, evaluate and track performance.

Makes it easier to get buy-in and share with others.

A “Verbal” strategy lives in the heads of the few people who carry it with them. When you hire someone new, you’ll need to sit down and talk about the strategy as you remember it—and you’re bound to miss items.

Moreover, they’re bound to either forget what you said or interpret it their own way. A document reduces ambiguity and makes it drastically easier for everyone to share in the same vision.

It makes a difference, and the numbers prove it!

Take a look at the slide below. It should really hammer home the point that those who document are more likely to succeed.


2. organizations readily admit their efforts aren’t effective.

Of more than 5,000 marketers, way less than half said their efforts were being rewarded. A mere 8 percent said they were “very effective,” while 30 percent scored themselves a 4/5 of the effectiveness scale. The majority of the remainder (42 percent) scored themselves neutrally.

Here’s a harrowing stat: The average amount of marketing budget being put toward content marketing is 28 percent.

that means Over a quarter of business’ budgets are going toward activities that marketers admit aren’t effective.

That doesn’t mean content marketing itself is ineffective, but it does point to some serious issues with marketers.

The most obvious problem is the lack of documentation. Sixty percent of respondents who said they documented their strategies rated highly in effectiveness; that number plummets to 32 percent for those whose strategies are only verbal.

Those who documented their strategies were also less likely to have trouble measuring their effectiveness, producing engaging content or sticking to a consistent schedule.

It would appear most marketers are either too busy or too lazy to take the time to write down their strategy (or they’re insane enough not to care), and it’s costing them in tangible ways.

3. Hardly Anyone is successfully tracking performance.

A mere 21 percent (less than 1 in 4) of marketers consider themselves successful at tracking the ROI of their content marketing programs. Thirty-three percent rated themselves as neutral, which isn’t encouraging, but not nearly as scary as the fact that 31 percent think they’re awful at it and 15 percent don’t even bother to try.

an activity that’s given an average of 28 percent of the marketing budget is rarely being measured well.

Granted, firmly measuring the ROI of content is challenging. Buyer journeys are flexible and vary greatly; many marketers aren’t even sure which metrics matter.

One thing they do seem to know is what they hope content marketing will do for them. When asked to rank success metrics between 1 and 5, where 5 was “Very Important,” the top four responses were:

  • Brand awareness: 84%
  • Lead generation: 83%
  • Engagement: 81%
  • Sales: 75%

And here are the top four metrics that marketers are using to assess their content marketing success:

  • Website traffic: 63%
  • Sales lead quality: 49%
  • Higher conversion rates: 48%
  • Sales: 43%

It becomes pretty clear that website traffic is being used to assess the slippery goal of awareness, when what it often means is attention. A content piece with mass appeal might generate loads of traffic, but that doesn’t mean that traffic leaves aware of how a business can help solve their need—or even the business itself.

The other metrics—sales lead quality, conversion rates and sales—all seem to be hard and fast metrics that are pretty clear-cut to objectively measure. Marketers are either lacking in the technical skills involved in lead attribution (like using Google Analytics custom variables and assisted conversion functions), or they’re just not tracking the numbers immediately available to them.

4. Dedicated Teams Aren’t Doing their Jobs right.

Despite the fact that just 35 percent of marketers have a documented strategy and 38 percent of them considered their efforts effective, 47 percent of organizations claimed to have a dedicated content marketing group.

For a dedicated team, that’s some seriously bad execution.

It certainly puts the other statistics in a different light, and brings up some questions:

Do marketing teams not know how to execute properly?

That conclusion seems suspect, given that just 32 percent of companies said finding trained professionals was a persistent challenge, and only 34 percent said gaps in knowledge and skills of their internal team were hampering performance.

Either there’s a hoard of very talented people doing very bad jobs, or these stats are a bit too generous.

Are they too busy to execute properly?

It’s feasible to imagine that even “dedicated” teams might have responsibilities demanding their attention that make them less likely to do simple things like document strategies and measure performance.

More likely is that they’re preoccupied with the production stage of content, as evidenced by the fact that 50 percent of respondents called “Producing Content Consistently”  an important and persistent issue, making it a bigger challenge on average than knowledge gaps, tech problems, lack of budget or even buy-in from higher-ups.

And here’s the thing…

5. Everyone’s going to do more of it anyway!

Here’s why I question the sanity of content marketers: Despite all of the challenges in measurement, attribution, strategy and more, marketers are still focused on creating more content and giving these unproven, unmeasured efforts even more of their budgets.

Compared with one year ago, 70 percent of marketers are producing more content—27 percent of which are producing “Significantly More.” In fact, 42 percent churn out content either daily (16 percent) or multiple times per week (26 percent).

Perhaps what’s more baffling is that 55 percent of respondents said they planned to increase spending, with nearly 10 percent planning a “significant” bump.

I can only pray that budget will be going into time spent writing strategy down and improving measurement, but I have the sneaking suspicion it’ll be put toward producing even more content for the world to roll around in.

As a CEO, would you be allocating more of your spending to an initiative that’s poorly documented and badly measured? And yet, here we are.

There is, thankfully, a silver lining.

Marketers swear they’re working on these problems, and that means they’re aware of them.

Within the next 12 months…
  • 86% plan to gain a better understanding of what content is effective, and what isn’t.
  • 84% plan to get to know their audience better.
  • 82% plan to improve measuring content ROI.

And that gives me hope—though not much, because these same problems were just as prevalent last year. How do I know? Because I wrote about them on this blog based on last years’ results!

we need to slay the content marketing unicorn.

I firmly believe that what’s gotten us into this predicament is a whole lot of hype and an extreme oversimplification of what content marketing actually entails.

Every major blog and publication in digital circles is talking about content marketing, sharing its benefits, preaching its importance. And yet, there’s scant little in the way of advice for tactical execution or practical application.

We’ve been told content is king, and businesses have rushed to worship without bringing along their brains. In the rush to produce, we’ve forgotten to measure; in the hurry to create, we’ve forgotten our audiences and the essential basics of promotion.

Documentation isn’t sexy, so it is ignored. Strategy is reduced to “Produce things people want to consume,” a children’s storybook version of what real marketing actually means.

It’s time to brush away the fairy dust and begin to look at content marketing as a science that warrants a detailed and meticulous process.

It is not enough to start a blog and post on a whim, hire a great writer and flood LinkedIn with industry-related pieces or put together an eBook because you think that’s what your audience wants.

There are millions of dollars at stake and fragile customer relationships worth nurturing. It’s time marketers got real about that, because these kinds of stats ought to leave most of us embarrassed.

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