Truth, Lies and Content: Insights on Content Marketing

The ANA’s bellwether report uncovers opportunities and areas for growth. Here’s what you need to know.
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The Association of National Advertisers recently issued its landscape study on the content marketing arena, based on 126 responses from U.S. and Canadian marketers. The report highlights five important trends that bear considering for marketers broadly, more encouraging than not, but all shine a light on opportunities for improvement.

Here’s a snapshot of each trend, with implications from the Manifest team:

1. Commitment

The number of marketers with a strong commitment to content marketing has doubled over the past two years, from 26 percent to 52 percent. This suggests that content efforts have moved from the periphery to the mainstream.

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For marketers who remain uncommitted, re-examine your beliefs and efforts to get with the trend. As commitment grows, scalability and stability become requirements. People, processes and platforms should be in place to allow this growth to occur without risk or downtime. What suffices for a pilot will not pass muster for a multiyear commitment to a core competency. 

2. Budgets

Content marketing budgets have increased by 73 percent from two years ago, and they are predicted to increase by 42 percent over the next two — not too shabby over a four-year period. When asked about their commitment to content marketing, 52 percent of respondents said they currently have a strong commitment. That is double the commitment from two years prior (26 percent). Commitment is expected to be even higher two years from now.

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You may assume that the budget increases are built on a track record of business performance. More to come on that in a minute. We believe that content’s scope of work is expanding. New areas of the customer journey are being informed and inspired by content efforts — maybe because other disciplines or techniques have not worked well. 

3. Content Strategy

Only 35 percent of respondents have a clearly documented content strategy. Fifty-two percent do not, and 13 percent are unsure.

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Survey respondents who have a clearly documented content strategy were twice as likely to report a positive outlook on the future of content marketing than those operating without a strategy.

This is an obvious area for improvement. It’s extraordinary that in a budget growth environment, content strategy is absent for the most part. In fact, this finding is the same as reported by the ANA in 2015, when “content marketing” was voted the word of the year. Content strategy is still a young discipline, not well understood, and frankly the number of expert practitioners is small. Content strategy talent should be nurtured and retained at all costs. Perhaps this is a place where external partners can accelerate improvements.

4. Measurement

Despite increasing their commitment to content marketing spending, 59 percent of survey respondents reported a lack of actionable insights derived from current tracking methods in determining the effectiveness of content marketing activity. 

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Respondents were asked: “What aspects of content marketing do you find the most frustrating?” Representative responses were:

  • Proving the ROI
  • Better at attribution and explaining ROI
  • Tracking, measurement
  • Metrics across owned and paid channels ... comparing apples to apples across publishers 
  • Providing metrics that cut across platforms and publishers 

The absence of content strategy and the paucity of measurement really create the perfect storm that could lead to a sharp reversal for content performance and future investment. The best practice in this area is to establish an outcome-based measurement framework that forces you to define your business objectives and marketing goals, and the strategies that you will use to achieve each objective, with a measurement plan against each one. If you can’t measure it, then ask yourself why you would do it.

5. Internal and External

Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of content marketing services are handled internally. The percentage outsourced — 37 percent — is relatively stable. Marketers are driving the process in most areas of content marketing and are primarily responsible for strategy, technology, and measurement and analytics. 

Agencies have significant responsibility for development and production and distribution. However, collaborative efforts between marketers and agencies are still key. All respondents report relying on at least one agency partner to assist with content marketing functions. Advertising agencies were most consistently used across activities, with other agency types being called on depending on the task. 

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What’s interesting about this finding is that external agencies are under-deployed in the area of strategy and analytics. Perhaps increased outsourcing can create a speedy solution to the strategy and measurement gaps that exist.

The ANA and its partner, The Content Council, have done well to create this timely report. It should feed into marketers’ roadmaps for development as they assess their positions in these important areas.

The journey to establish a high-performing content operation is not a quick one, but with a thought-through approach, content efforts will be moving to the center of the marketing arena, meeting audiences’ needs and building brands and businesses.

Read full report here.  

If you’d like to learn more about how Manifest helps clients create high-performing content, please email david.brown@manifest.com.

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