The content court

The content court: marketers make their case

In Trends by Peter Gearin

The jury may still be out on whether Australian content marketing is making real headway, but the evidence is starting to become compelling.

Research results often serve to raise more questions that they answer. A case in point is the recent report “Content Marketing in Australia: 2017 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends”, a co-production of the US-based Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and the Association of Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA).

The fifth annual report suggests that Australian content marketing is going from strength to strength, with businesses across a range of industries adopting “mature and sophisticated” strategies that are proving to be effective or very effective.

Based on the survey of 119 Australian marketers (of which 65 per cent were exclusively B2B), here are some highlights of the CMI/ADMA research:

  • 82% say they are using content marketing
  • 72% say they are always or frequently creating content for the audience, not the brand
  • 72% say they are always or frequently prioritising content quality over quantity
  • 59% are extremely or very committed to content marketing
  • 59% feel their content marketing is more successful than it was one year ago
  • 49% believe they are clear on what make a successful content marketing program
  • 44% say they have a documented content marketing strategy
  • 25% say they are extremely or very successful with their overall content approach

The results appear to defy another recent piece of research conducted by Hubspot and Survey Monkey, which was a survey of 720 marketers in Asia-Pacific. It showed that seven out of 10 marketers in the region believe their content efforts are “limited, basic and inconsistent”.

So, where does the truth lie?

ADMA CEO Jodie Sangster says there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the Australian results. She says it’s instructive to track changes since the first “benchmarks” research report, particularly in how committed businesses now are towards content marketing and how strategic their approaches seem to have become. She is also heartened to see the growth in content marketing budgets, which suggests businesses are starting to understand its benefits.

“We’ve still got a little way to go in terms of really being successful at content marketing, and being clear what we’re measuring,” Sangster says, “but I think over the course of the next year we’re going to see some of those things continue to improve.”

The research also shows that businesses are using content marketing to build customer relationships, not just grab sales leads. Sangster fears that some companies may have even “swung too far over to the relationship side of things” and need to realise that there are some products and services that need to be “sold”.

“I think we’ll end up somewhere in the middle, which is that content plays a role in engagement and changing behaviour, and making sure that we stay connected with our customers,” she says. “Sitting alongside that are times when there is a sales process that needs to happen as well. We’ll end up with both hopefully working in unison.”

Jodie Sangster

Jodie Sangster

“There’s a much bigger focus on the content strategy and working with organisations to produce that content.”Jodie Sangster

Sangster is aware that the results of her association’s research could be questioned, especially those showing more than four out of five Australian businesses say they are using content marketing and about half of these “know” what effective content marketing looks like.

“The type of people that you’re talking to in the research are marketers who are interested in the subject matter, and so [the results] will probably skew a little bit higher than if you just went out to small business marketers, for example,” she says. “The other thing that’s really important here is ‘what do we mean by content marketing?’”

Sangster says if she asked 10 marketers “What do you consider to be content marketing?” she would get 10 different answers. “There’s no clarity around what fits in the bucket and what fits outside the bucket. That’s probably why we’re seeing a high proportion of people saying, ‘I’m involved in content marketing’. It might be that they think that when they’re creating video that first shows on TV but then is on their social media channel, that this could be regarded as ‘content’.”

The wide business adoption of social media to reach audiences has complicated these issues, especially when it is considered the No.1 “content tactic” used by Australian marketers (82% of those surveyed by CMI/ADMA). Is social media a platform or a channel? Is it possible to compare a 140-character tweet with a 1400-word piece that’s published on LinkedIn, even if both come under the category of “social media content”?

“The majority of organisations would say that content produced to go out through social media is considered content marketing, and that a social media marketer is involved in content marketing,” Sangster says.

What is absolutely certain, she says, is that many more Australian businesses – especially medium to large companies – are using content as part of their marketing strategy when compared with five years ago. “Oh, massively,” she says. “I would say that most companies are involved in some way, shape or form of developing content to engage their customers. There’s been a massive swing towards that, and a massive swing towards this whole idea of being customer-centric. That we’re not just here to try and blog things to our customers; we’re here to make sure that we’re delivering value to them, and that we’re trying to accommodate their needs.”

In the research, 71 per cent of successful marketers said producing “higher quality and more efficient” content was an important factor in the effectiveness of their programs. Sangster sees this as a vital development in the way Australian businesses approach their content activities in the future.

“About three or four years ago, the No.1 challenge in content marketing was, ‘I can’t produce enough content to keep up with the demand’. They were just producing more and more and more. Once you’re creating a high volume of content that isn’t great, and putting that out there into the market, you’re not actually getting any engagement from it.

“About 18 months ago you started seeing companies go, ‘This is just not working for us. We need to do this differently. Let’s produce much less content of higher quality, but that can be split down into subsets of content that we can use’. That seems to be the big trend now. Spend the money on high-quality content that provides value to your customer, but then do it in such a way that out of one high-value piece of content, it actually can create five or six additional pieces of content that can be used for distribution. That provides the efficiency.”

Sangster says this trend has led to greater specialisation within businesses using content marketing successfully. “Content is absolutely not being produced by a junior marketer [any more],” she says. “There’s a much bigger focus on the content strategy and working with organisations to produce that content. Content agencies are producing some of that. Some people get freelancers to help them produce quality content.

“A lot of journalists and publications are now pivoting to provide content services, and can write things or produce videos [for companies]. We’re finding all different ways now to produce content that is of quality, rather than it being just an in-house production.”

Sangster says that producing quality content is not necessarily a natural skill for marketing professionals. “Content requires almost a different way of thinking,” she says. “How do I tell a story to get someone to engage with me so that they will think of me at a later date? It’s a very different discipline. Either we have to retrain our marketers so they can do that or look at bringing in specialist people.”

Sangster says that what has emerged from the CMI/ADMA research is that Australian content marketing efforts are not inferior to anything produced in the US and Europe. Although she admits most local companies have not yet adopted many of the latest marketing automated techniques, the Australian content approach measures up with what is being done globally.

“Looking at the value of content being produced, and how content marketing has been embraced in Australia, I don’t feel that we’re behind,” she says. “The willingness to want to engage in it is every bit as sophisticated, or as committed, as anywhere else.”

References & links

ADMA website

Content Marketing in Australia: 2017 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends research

Asia Pacific Content Marketing Report by Hubspot and Survey Monkey

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