Forrester thinks Content Marketing Isn’t Working – They’re Half Right

Over at Forrester Research, Vice President Laura Ramos recently talked to Advertising Age (“Marketers Still Struggling to Get Results from Content Marketing“) about what she perceives as a general lack of return from the investment so many companies are making in content marketing.

content marketingIt’s a fair characterization to say that the state of today’s content marketing in B2B circles is a mixed bag. More specifically, there’s a great deal of bad content out there (especially on social media), and many companies who haven’t quite figured out yet how to best leverage the content they have.

Even then, the data from Forrester’s own study seem to indicate that the results from content marketing aren’t quite as downbeat as the Ad Age article would suggest (though I accept that bad news makes for more compelling reading.) For example, in answer to the question “During the past 12 months, how effectively have your content marketing efforts delivered business value?”

• 51% responded “somewhat effectively”
• 14% responded “very effectively”

That means just shy of two-thirds of survey respondents felt that content marketing is delivering business value. And more still, I would guess, probably feel that their content campaigns are “working” (generating response, engagement, sales leads) but perhaps aren’t yet convinced of bottom line value. That hardly seems consistent with the characterization of marketers “struggling” to get results. And that contrary view is reinforced, as Ad Age notes, by a separate survey showing that 75% of B2B marketers plan to increase their content marketing in 2014. It’s hard to imagine that such a clear majority of marketers would be increasing spend in an area where they weren’t seeing clear value.

But though I quibble with the general sentiment, Ms. Ramos’ insights about where marketers can improve their return from content marketing are mainly on point. In particular, she notes that “… 80% of the companies were primarily focused on themselves, with information on products and features but little in regard to the issues their customers might be facing.”

In a nutshell, this is where so many content marketing initiatives fall short. The most engaging, most successful content succeeds because it purports to address a specific need or challenge or issue on the part of the reader. Sure, product-oriented content can play a role late in the sales cycle, when prospects genuinely want to know more about your solution, but in all other cases, and for the majority of the lead lifecycle, prospects don’t want to be sold. They simply want information of value.

Companies pay lip service to this reality, but then in practice pump out content that is mostly product collateral in sheep’s clothing. This type of “let us convince you how great our product is” content is a legacy of old-school, sales-driven marketing. Today’s B2B buyer doesn’t want to be told which product to buy. He or she simply wants information on how to solve a problem. Effective marketing content provides that information absent any overt product pitch, but succeeds because it captures the interest of prospects looking to solve the very problem that a marketer’s product or solution can address, prospects who can be then nurtured along the sales cycle.

A further, common problem with marketing content is that it attempts to address too broad an audience. Companies leading the way in content marketing have long determined that for content to be compelling (and therefore, effective) it first needs to be relevant. These companies map their marketing content by selling stage and buying personas, and then develop content that speaks to specific roles at specific stages in the buying cycle. Companies who are less effective focus more on pumping out generic content without regard to the more parochial concerns of different roles within their target audience.

In her interview, Ms. Ramos also identifies staffing as one of the underlying issues behind the (alleged) lack of content marketing success. She says companies could improve their return by hiring journalists, people more attuned to creating content that is (her words) “provocative, intriguing, and informational.”

I agree that the roles most traditionally saddled with content creation – product marketers – aren’t always the best writers or attuned to the type of content that works best, especially for demand generation. And I also think many B2B companies, particularly in the technology space, could do with fewer technicians and more liberal arts majors. But ultimately, content will be more effective when its creation, management, and curation becomes a more dedicated role, regardless of educational or professional background. For example, more and more forward-thinking companies are creating “Chief Content Officer” roles, elevating content to boardroom status. It’s that increased focus, and the acknowledgement of content’s key role in today’s B2B buying cycle, that ultimately will make more companies realize true business value from content marketing.


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