They are questions marketers have been asking for generations: how to reach target audiences in the most effective and efficient way? Once you’ve reached your desired audience, having established the right channels, how do you engage in a way that is meaningful, both for the client and for commercial success?
iResearch Services conducted an independent survey of 500 CMOs/-1 professionals from the UK and USA to answer these questions from marketer’s own experiences, bringing together their insights on content, best practice, budgets, and ROI.
What’s on marketer’s minds?
The survey asked experienced marketing professionals about their chosen marketing programs:
- What activity and channels best engage their audiences?
- The percentage of budget allocated to each area of marketing spend.
- Successful strategic marketing techniques to research and reach their target audience.
- The types of content that engage target audiences most effectively.
iResearch identified the top performing channels in each case and asked survey respondents to choose from the following marketing activities:
- Content marketing
- Direct marketing
- Database marketing
- Social media marketing
- Product marketing
The results are in… opinion-based content provides best engagement
The marketers surveyed agree that content marketing delivers the highest levels of audience engagement compared to other forms of marketing. Search engine marketing was not too far behind. Content marketing also receives the biggest budget allocation (23%) compared to only 10% spent on product marketing and social media marketing, respectively.
One third (34%) of marketers stated opinion-based content provides the best engagement and almost three quarters (71%) believe thought leadership provides the best results for sentiment and relationship building. Practical content also features prominently, at 29%.
Content engagement is changing – but are marketer’s mindsets?
The research shows that the way in which people are consuming content is changing, with more CMOs utilizing content marketing (23%) as opposed to investing in event marketing (11%), as live events move online during the Covid-19 pandemic and business development methods evolve to the virtual space. Surprisingly, particularly in times of squeezed marketing budgets and a marked move to issues- and content-based marketing in recent years, two thirds (66%) of marketers still believe advertising is an effective element of a marketing strategy.
Who tops the budget leader board?
Content marketing gets the lion’s share of the marketing spend at 23% and remains an area of marketing investment on the increase. This is in stark contrast to 12% for SEM and 10% for social media marketing, with direct marketing still a relatively popular choice at 16%.
Thought leadership: creating content that resonates
61% of marketers believes that issues-led content that shows an understanding of the audience’s business or industry challenges receives higher engagement. Marketers have highlighted the need to create content which is relatable and addresses issues-led matters frequently; after all, the challenges businesses face are changing daily. Successful organizations will position themselves as industry leaders by sharing their expertise with their community and beyond, as part of a data-driven thought leadership strategy, which will not only ensure they can effectively communicate with their target audience, but that will strengthen their sales pipeline.
The fact that more than half of marketers believe that content marketing delivers the highest levels of audience engagement compared to other forms of marketing is important; but we know the way audiences consume content is continuously changing. This makes it more important for CMOs to review, test and adjust their strategies frequently to ensure they are still driving value and achieving results through their content marketing activity.
Five top tips for creating thought leadership content
- Understand your audience
Creating thought leadership and educational content helps businesses to differentiate by demonstrating understanding and areas of expertise, but it also provides the opportunity to target specific audience segments directly, build engagement and foster a sense of community. The initial questions CMOs need to ask should relate to the client’s wants and needs, not those of the business. Who am I creating this content for? What do they want to hear? Addressing these at the outset informs the content strategy and leads to meaningful and successful customer communications and conversations. Otherwise, you will put potential customers off by forcing them to listen to your product or business messages; or get lost as you try to shout above the noise.
2. Focus on challenges and opportunities, not product
Don’t out the same old sales pitch out there. You shouldn’t be talking about your own products and services at all – instead, demonstrate depth of knowledge and understanding around your clients’ and potential clients’ industries, wants and needs. Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience: what challenges are they facing? How can you help address and navigate those challenges? What stands out to you? Try to see these differently and present them in an innovative and engaging way that stands out from the crowd. More than 6 in 10 marketers believe that issues-led content will receive higher engagement, so get to grips with those issues, look at them from a fresh angle and offer help or solutions accordingly. Ensure your approach and ways of presenting your findings and opinion reflect the voice of your brand and business.
3. Drive your programs with data
Data-driven content demonstrates not just your opinion, but that your thinking has substance and reflects industry knowledge and experience. It should resonate with your audience, so they feel like others share the same issues and challenges. Your data and insight could shed new light on potential opportunities for your clients and target audiences and highlight practical actions that they can take to overcome obstacles. Primary research is the most popular way CMOs research their target audiences to generate insights for thought leadership and content marketing programs (20%), closely followed by secondary research (17%).
4. Get in front of your audience through carefully targeted placement
Is your thought leadership content most visible on your website? Should it be sent in a phased email marketing campaign to prospects? Are you looking to place your key insights with a highly ranked, authoritative publication, proven to be read and trusted by your target market? Defining your audience in step one and matching the channels to the stage of their journey informs the best content placement and channels, highlighting additional opportunities to engage across the marketing and communications mix.
5. Measure everything
Thought leadership content, particularly when addressing B2B audiences, has the best engagement impact, but there are multiple ways this content can be used at different stages of the audience’s journey. It’s vital to measure how the content is performing at each stage and act on the findings of this analysis for any subsequent or related marketing activity. Measure impact, your share of voice and sentiment wherever possible. Ensure alignment with your wider business voice to ensure consistent, clear communication, as well as measuring commercial success metrics and drivers.
About the author: Yogesh Shah
Yogesh Shah is CEO of thought leadership, brand and research agency, iResearch Services. He is on a mission to help brands realize their full potential via thought leadership. Yogesh is an active member of CASRO, MRS, ESOMAR and MRSI and holds an MBA in International Business & Marketing with a specialization in Research and Data Analytics. He is a member of the Forbes Business Development Council and regularly speaks about thought leadership, marketing, and sales strategies for success