Content marketing continues to evolve as part of the overall marketing mix. In fact, for many marketers, it has risen to the tactical forefront particularly given digital advertising issues like "banner blindness," low click-through rates, viewability and fraud concerns, not to mention the rise of ad blocking. On the other hand, terrific content not only attracts clicks, but also drives genuine engagement as demonstrated by time spent and enthusiastic commenting and sharing.

The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) practices what it preaches by providing a slew of content on its namesake topic to educate marketers. CMI also undertakes insightful research, including its annual B2C and B2B benchmarking studies. This year's B2B Content Marketing 2017: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends--North America report, based on 1,102 respondents, found that 89% of B2B marketers already use content marketing, with half of the holdouts saying they plan to within the next year. It's B2C companion report found that that 86% of B2C marketers are already using content marketing and, of the 14% non-users, 51% said they plan to launch a content marketing effort within 12 months.

So it certainly appears that, regardless of your industry or consumer-base, you should be giving content marketing a serious look as you plan your marketing strategy. And, if you are already on board and seeking ways to maximize your investment, CMI's research offers a slew of useful insights, regardless of your current content marketing commitment.

In the B2B space, CMI found that B2B marketers (with quite-comparable results for the B2C space) are "extremely" or "very committed" to content marketing (63%) and almost as many (62%) report that they are "much more" or "somewhat more" successful with content marketing than they were a year ago. However, only 22% say they are "extremely" or "very" successful with their overall approach. Survey responses show that marketers continue to work on perfecting their content marketing strategy to get the most out of it.

The number one factor contributing to B2B and B2C marketers' increased success over last year, according to CMI, was content creation, specifically improving content quality and efficiency in creating it. For both groups, an improved strategy was cited as the second most important factor. So if you are struggling with content creation and strategy, you are not alone.

The Report offers insights to help, including highlighting the preferred content types of respondents. Social Media tops the list (3%), blogs ranked second (80%) and email newsletters came in third (77%). Other popular choices include in-person events, ebooks and white papers, video, and infographics.

Per the research, successful content marketing strategies prioritize the delivery of quality content over the quantity of content produced. They also note how content impacts the overall experience a person has with their organization and focus on creating content for their audience, rather than their brand.

Okay now let's move past the data to some key takeaways, based upon the best practices from top-performing marketers:

  1. Make content marketing a focal element of your marketing strategy. Content can't be a one-off or ad hoc proposition; it must be central to your strategy so that it supports larger objectives and delivers value.
  2. Prioritize consistent creation of quality content. As a central part of a larger strategy, editorial style, subject matter, tone, voice and frequency should be developed to ensure that the content engages and delivers value.
  3. Know what success looks like and measure it. From building site traffic, to building an audience and generating qualified sales leads, there are tangible benefits to content marketing. Your goals should be clear and measurement metrics established and regularly evaluated.
  4. Focus on content that will appeal to your audiences and create differentiated content. Understanding your audience is paramount in business and in content. If you start with the customer's needs and interests, you will create products, services, and content that matches the distinct value you provide and that helps set you apart as a trusted ally with whom they will want to do business.

It is wonderful to learn from CMI's research that so many marketers are putting content front and center in their marketing efforts and that strategies and measurement are maturing. Without a doubt, quality content offers a direct path to the hearts and minds of readers who--as they develop a relationship with your content (and your brand)--are likely to do more than click and read. Odds are, they will be customers who you can count on as much as they count on you.

Published on: Nov 22, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.