Tale of the tape: Measuring Australian content marketing performance

Tale of the tape: Measuring Australian content marketing performance

In Trends by Peter Gearin

There are promising signs and potential threats in the local version of the latest CMI/MarketingProfs research.

The annual report card on Australian content marketing is in. Like parents waiting to see how their kids have performed in class – whether they were naughty or nice, or just wagged school – Australia’s content industry professionals wait impatiently for the results every year.

Despite content marketing getting some bad press following Isentia’s decision in August to shut its King Content agency, many of them want to know if this is the year the rest of the marketing world sees the light. Is Australian content marketing showing more signs of maturity and does it deserve greater respect from the C-suite?

The 2018 Content Marketing in Australia: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report is the localised version of the mammoth global report produced by the US-based Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs, with assistance from Australia’s Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising. Almost 2200 marketers and executives were surveyed, with Australians making up just 5.4 per cent of the respondents; the local, sixth annual Benchmarks report is based on answers from those brave 120 people.

There are many clear indications that content marketing is firming as an Australian business staple. The headline figure is that 85 per cent of respondents said their organisation used some form of content marketing, which compared with 81 per cent in the 2016 report and 82 per cent last year.

The report threw up other notable usage results:

  • Just 43 per cent described their organisation’s commitment level to content marketing as extremely or very committed (down from 59 per cent in the 2017 report).
  • 79 per cent characterised their organisation’s overall content marketing approach as either moderately very or extremely successful (up from 76 per cent in 2017).
  • 66 per cent reported that their organisation’s overall content marketing success increased by much more or somewhat more compared with a year ago (up from 59 per cent in 2017).

So there were some promising signs. But what strategies worked best?

  • 85 per cent said their organisation was focused on building audiences (up from 69 per cent in 2017). This was a 23 percentage point increase year-on-year.
  • 43 per cent said they had a documented content marketing strategy (about the same as 2017).
  • The three most effective content types were social media posts, case studies and videos.
  • The three most effective formats were email, social media and blogs.
  • The three most effective social media platforms were LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube.

But …

  • 58 per cent said they always or frequently focused on creating content for their audience, not their brand (down from 72 per cent in 2017).
“We need to make sure that we treat the content as more important than the pipes that content flows through – the tweets.”Joe Pulizzi

Accurate measurement of content marketing effectiveness and allocated budgets also continued to be important issues for locals:

  • About the same number of respondents said their organisation had done a “good” to “excellent” job of aligning metrics with content marketing goals as those who said their organisation had done a “fair” or “poor” job.
  • 41 per cent said they didn’t measure content marketing ROI (another 17 per cent said they were “unsure”, which likely means “no”). Main reasons? “We need an easier way to do this”; “We don’t know how to do this.”
  • 77 per cent agreed they could demonstrate, with metrics, how content marketing has increased audience engagement (compared with 80 per cent in 2017); 73 per cent said they could show it increased leads. Fewer said it could be proved to show increased sales or decreased customer acquisition costs.
  • Respondents said their organisations spent an average of 23 per cent of their total marketing budget on content marketing (down from an average of 30 per cent in 2017).
  • Fewer respondents expected their content marketing budget to increase in the next 12 months than last year: (36 per cent versus 47 per cent in 2017).

So, the Benchmarks report card suggested more Australian businesses were using content marketing to build audiences and most were finding success … great! But many didn’t know the best way to do it, were unsure how to measure its effectiveness and were likely spend less on it as a percentage of their marketing budget over the following year … umm, not so great.

What does this all mean?

CMI founder Joe Pulizzi says one figure in the survey stands out to him – the number of respondents who said they wanted to build an audience through content. “This was a pleasant surprise in both the North American research and the Australian research,” Pulizzi says. “But this makes sense. Those companies [that] have a goal to build an audience treat content marketing the right way. They deliver consistently, they focus on the needs of the audience first, product second, [and] they know that content marketing is a marathon and not a sprint.

“While there are many objectives to content marketing, building an audience that begins to know, like and trust us is the best way to create an organisational asset that can be monetised in multiple ways.”

He is also pleased with the increasing numbers who reported that their content marketing efforts were successful. “The fact that 66 per cent of Australian marketers believe they are performing better year over year is amazing,” he says. “Even though we’re still at the very beginning of content marketing as a practice area, it’s important to see signs of success to make sure that marketing leadership sticks with content marketing over a long period of time.

“I like the fact that Australian marketers are focusing on email, but only 48 per cent send out regular email newsletters. Most email is still event-based, and is probably a big reason why we’re seeing better success numbers.”

Pulizzi sees a couple of other warning bells in the research. One is about measurement. “The fact that 59 per cent of marketers don’t measure their content marketing efforts,” he says. “It’s no wonder that we’re only seeing a success rate of 18 per cent. How do we know if we’re successful if we don’t measure what we’re trying to accomplish?”

The other threat he sees is an over-reliance on social media, particularly Facebook. “As social media companies continue to change their algorithms, social media becomes more ‘pay to play’ – if it’s not already that way,” he says. “I’m not sure Australian marketers are prepared for that in their budgeting process.

“It’s [also] concerning that marketers get social media distribution and content marketing strategy confused. Social media distribution is a critical part of a content marketing strategy, but we need to make sure that we treat the content as more important than the pipes that content flows through – the tweets.”

Pulizzi says the results continue to prove that only businesses that take content marketing seriously are likely to make it work in the longer term. “Success doesn’t come from luck or chance,” he says. “You have to deliver amazing content experiences consistently, often for well over a year, to see impact and begin to build an audience. Those enterprises that don’t commit don’t see results, and often end up killing the best parts of what content marketing can deliver in a fairly short time.”

Indeed, he sees a growing divide between those companies that are successful with their content marketing and those that aren’t. “The future will consist of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’,” he says. “Those that commit and focus on building audiences will be successful. They will innovate and launch new revenue streams that will actively monetise those audiences. A large group of others will dabble, not commit, not take it seriously and have to rely increasingly on traditional marketing.

“This is fine. Traditional marketing can still work – it just doesn’t build an asset for the organisation over time. I think what you’ll see is that the most innovative companies in Asia-Pacific have robust content marketing and communication programs.”

Links & references

The Content Marketing in Australia: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report (pdf)

Please share