Content marketers love benchmarks. Late President Theodore Roosevelt warned that “comparison is the thief of joy,” but he was an indomitable larger-than-life persona who resided in a class by himself. The rest of us aren’t always sure we’re doing a good job, especially in a discipline that has only recently become more measurable. Comparison as way of establishing an accurate baseline for our content marketing efforts is the only way to understand what’s working, where we can improve, and how to justify a bigger budget next year.
To that end, we invited marketers to take our interactive content marketing maturity assessment, produced with the Aberdeen Group, and see how they stacked up against their peers. We asked 111 marketers to report on their practices around content strategy and purpose, content planning, content creation, promotion, and measurement. Each answer was correlated to one of five maturity levels:
- Beginning — Organizations that are still new to content marketing, and have not yet made it a priority. This is reflected in overall content output and quality, as well as time given to planning and limited resource allocation.
- Emerging — This group has figured out that content marketing deserves a dedicated staff and might even have some budget for content creation, but is still competing with other marketing priorities for resources.
- Variable — This group feels confident about the increasing sophistication of their content marketing program, but still have some challenges around budgeting, demonstrating ROI, or knowing how to reach the next level.
- Formalized — Efficient, strategic, and proactive content marketers who have made content the cornerstone of marketing and demand generation. They’re very effective, but still struggle to accurately measure the business value of their content.
- Optimal — Best-in-class content gurus who might have a few lessons to teach everyone else. They have a robust content marketing operation driven by a larger marketing strategy and business goals, and understand how to connect content to revenue.
Based on their answers, we also gave each respondent an overall maturity rating along with recommendations for reaching the next level. Although none of the respondents got an Optimal overall score, and just under 20% fit into the Beginning category, with the vast majority falling somewhere in the middle—pretty close to a typical Bell curve distribution.
While 40-45% of respondents consistently placed into the Emerging and Variable categories across all questions, they answered most confidently to questions regarding content planning (26.13% rated as optimal), while creation questions yielded the lowest number of best-in-class answers (7.21%). More than half of marketers fell into the Beginning and Emerging categories in regards to content promotion, suggesting that signal boosting and content promotion still challenge many content creators. Over 70% of the participants rated in the top three maturity levels when it came to understanding the role content marketing should play in their overall strategy, and a little more than half rated equally well in terms of measuring marketing effectiveness and ROI.
Surprisingly, the most evenly split answers were given to a question about which sources the respondent used for generating content, ranging from a single internal resource for the Beginning group to a robust mix of internally and externally created content, as well as curated, user-generated, and influencer-created content for the Optimal group. This tells us not only that there is a true spectrum of content generation approaches, but that there isn’t a clear dominant paradigm that has been adopted by a majority—leaving plenty of room for evolution.
Less surprisingly, we learned that even sophisticated, effective marketers who have mastered most aspects of content marketing are most likely to get stuck at finding meaningful metrics for their work. Demonstrating clear business impact continues to present a challenge, which is a finding we have seen documented in other reports on the content marketing industry.