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Why content marketers are choosing the wrong solutions

Why content marketers are choosing the wrong solutions Rebecca Lieb

Here's a scenario: It's lunchtime. Today it's your job to make lunch for the family. You decide to make sandwiches. In the kitchen, rummaging through cabinets, you realize you're fresh out of bread, so you make a run to the store.

Once there, what do you buy? Bread? Or bananas?

If you responded "bananas," you may well be a content marketer.

Recently I have been busily crunching data for a new research report on the content marketing software landscape (the full report will be available in late April/early May from Altimeter Group at no cost). We're sifting through piles of survey data about marketers' content marketing pain points, their budgets, how they make buying decisions, and how these wants and needs correspond to the existing offerings from a highly varied, complex, and rapidly changing vendor landscape.

Surveys often reveal surprises, and this time is no exception. We broke content marketing solutions into a total of nine categories and asked content marketers two key questions:

  • What types of content marketing software solutions do you most urgently need?
  • What software solutions do you plan to invest in over the next 12 months?

Overwhelmingly, their answers fall into the realm of complete disconnect (i.e., buying bananas when you know you need bread).

I'm not going to give away all our research findings (besides, we're still working on the report), but when the data started coming back, we learned that overwhelmingly, content marketers intend to spend money this year on tools that help them to create more content. "Feeding the beast" is no longer a term reserved for journalists and newsrooms; it's a very real problem facing organizations that are working hard to create content for a proliferating number of channels, primarily in owned and earned (social media) channels.

But ask these same marketers what they actually need in terms of content marketing software solutions, and you'll get a very different answer. They are saying that they need tools to help them find and target the right audience for all the content they're so frantically trying to create.

There are clearly many reasons for this disconnect, but the most glaringly obvious one is a focus on tactics over strategy (i.e., on cart-before-the-horse content marketing coming before content strategy). The overwhelming majority of the content marketers we surveyed say their organization lacks a formal, documented content strategy -- a statistic borne out by similar studies. For example, according to the Content Marketing Institute half of B2B marketers don't have a formal strategy).

If there's a clarion call for a documented content strategy, it's spending money on bananas when what you really need is bread (or, in this case, content creation instead of finding the appropriate audience for what's created).

It's hard to think of a more apt metaphor for why organizations require content strategy than this disconnect between need and pain on the one hand, and budget allocation on the other.

Bear in mind it's not an either/or proposition. Strategy is also planning against goals and determining what tools and workflows are required for an efficient and effective content marketing program. I'm by no means debunking the need for creation tools. Anyone creating content for digital channels needs them.

But they also require distribution, targeting, optimization, metrics, and mechanisms to ensure legal and compliance guidelines are honored. These various categories of content software have barely been taken into account, much less assessed and budgeted for, by organizations that have nevertheless plunged wholeheartedly into creation tactics.

Our forthcoming research will, hopefully, help marketers to recognize these problems and make more rational, informed decisions based on real needs and pain points. I'm looking forward to sharing it soon.

Rebecca Lieb is an analyst, digital advertising/media, for Altimeter Group.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. Follow Rebecca Lieb at @lieblink and Altimeter Group at @altimetergroup.

Rebecca Lieb has published more research on content marketing than anyone else in the field.  As a strategic adviser, her clients range from start-up to non-profits to Fortune 100 brands and regulated industries. She's worked with brands...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Justin Belmont

2014, April 23

You do a great job of pointing out a very common problem with content marketers. There is something to be said for the importance of having a specific strategy. Prose Media constantly works on our strategy, because we definitely have an ultimate goal. If you have a goal - something you want to reach - then a strategy for attaining it naturally follows. Nice job!

Commenter: Andrew Boer

2014, April 22

Yeah, I hear ya. The customers want bread.
But they tell me to buy bread the right way costs like a half a million bucks. There is way more to it than we thought. So we just hired our very first bread strategist and she is getting up to speed. Hell, to be honest we didn't even know there was such a thing as a bread strategist (I swear they used to be called bakers and worked in bakeries, but I guess we have them in house and the whole place smells like bread.)
Yeah, Red Bull is really good at bread, but they got in early before everyone knew about bread. Now everyone wants bread. And everyone sells bread. You know, I am actually beginning to hate bread.

As for the bananas, I can explain that.

We have a culture of doing small experimental tests. We learned this in marketing class at business school, and although this doesn't work so well with bread, we can afford to test bananas. Our customer haven't actually asked for bananas, but each banana costs only $5000 a month, which happily falls under our discretionary grocery budget.

So maybe everyone will learn to like bananas?

Commenter: Michael Gerard

2014, April 22

Nice post Rebecca! No doubt that feeding the content beast is on the top of everyone's mind. In fact, as an indicator of this trend, our Feed the Beast ebook has gained new steam with this movement.
( http://bit.ly/16l9Ulg )

What's especially interesting, is that if we look at technology adoption by customers of our own content marketing solution, we see 2 main types of content marketers: 1) Those that use the creation and curation part of our software for 100% focus on creating content; and 2) The more mature marketers that also take advantage of the ideation, promotion and analytics parts of the platform. That is, in support of your statement, only a select number of marketers are executing content marketing in a more strategic and comprehensive manner today. This will certainly shift in the coming 12 to 18 months. I look forward to seeing the full results of your study!