Statistics unlock the secrets of great content marketing

February 9, 2016 | 7 min read

Like any marketing guy, I do love a good statistic. Due to the glut of stats out there, filtering out the genuine insights from the self-serving hyperbole is tricky, but worth it. A good stat asks a question, challenges convention and it offers value. For example:

Joe Birkedale is managing director at Catalyst.

"87 per cent of UK marketers regularly produce newsletters, yet only 54 per cent say they are effective."

“88 per cent expect to produce more content than last year, but only 37 per cent have a content strategy, and just 34 per cent believe their content marketing is effective.”

These are statistics that raise questions on what really matters: effectiveness and ROI. Essentially, how well we are using our time, energy and marketing resources. Here are some more belters:

"Inbound marketing is now a priority for 75 per cent of marketers, who see proving ROI as their biggest challenge."

And yet:

“49 per cent do not apply any ROI measurement to their output.”

It seems that the explosion of content marketing has not led to rocketing quality or effectiveness, as the numbers also show. Why?

Output over outcome

Just as there are a lot of questionable stats out there, bad content is all around us. Over the past week, dozens of blogs, videos, podcasts and tweets have landed in my inbox and newsfeeds that are wholly underwhelming. No personality, no acumen, no nugget of content gold that I would happily surrender my details for to get the next hit. Banal, boring, nonsensical garbage. I am sick of it. And I'm not alone. All these pieces were amplified through corporate social media and not one had a like or comment or retweet. In the stampede to justification, the forget-the-quality-feel-the-volume mindset remains strong.


Research is a prerequisite component of content marketing. It is essential. The more you can discover about your business, your market, your customers and the problems that keep them awake at night, the better. What their media consumption is; who they go to for advice; all of this invaluable background can inform your strategy and your commercial goals. Armed with your strategy, you can now concentrate on what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.

Pull, don’t push

Quality content is issues (or pains) driven. It resonates with the problems facing prospects. It’s a soft-sell, positioning a business as experts in understanding the issues/pains/challenges prospects may face; the ‘pull’ approach. Adopt a self-serving promotional ‘push’ to content and your only hope is to catch someone thinking about your brand at the exact moment you target them. Like looking for a needle in a pile of needles.

After all, a great deal of awareness in content marketing is driven by SEO. If you show up offering your wisdom on a problem a prospect is actively looking to address, your hit rate grows exponentially. If you get too promotional too early, you are guilty of disruptive communication, considerably narrowing your prospect potential and, frankly, turning most people off.

For your content delivery strategy to be effective, you need to consider the purpose of each piece of content in the process of turning prospects into customers. You need the funnel.

The funnel of love

The essence of the pull strategy is best explained by the marketing funnel. Many marketers were brought up by the funnel; the ideal that awareness follows consideration follows decision. Get the prospects flowing into the top and gold-plated leads flow out the bottom. A good system, but one that needs reinvention for modern content purposes. And that's the problem. Using old thinking with modern techniques is like handing a chimp an iPhone.

Any effective strategy would mean that awareness activity should be issues-led. Getting prospects on the hook is arguably the greatest challenge marketers face. Once there, the next step is to secure some personal details by offering killer insight or advice and guidance through a white paper, or executive briefing.

This is another opportunity lost by many marketers, who believe this is the moment to shout about the essential benefits of their products and services. All this serves are the egos of clients, or the bottom lines of unscrupulous agencies. Research shows effective ‘gatekeeper’ content should still follow the issues, not promote the business.

Automated for the people

The latest marketing technology can offer real value in the pursuit of lead generation. Rather than spamming contacts with content that might of interest, platforms such as Hubspot can monitor individual prospect’s media consumption and send them nuggets of content gold that will definitely be interested. Despite seeming counter-intuitive, an automated process can offer unrivalled personalisation to take prospects down the funnel, turning them into salivating leads.


If proving ROI is the greatest challenge for marketers, why do almost half of them not measure it when evaluating marketing activity? Strange. Probably explains why three-quarters do not believe their content marketing efforts are effective.

There has never been more data available to analyse activity. And businesses that check their marketing analytics more than three times a week are 20 per cent more likely to see a greater ROI. So why wouldn’t you?

Measurement, like research and strategy, should be an essential part of thinking from the outset. As much as analytics and data can identify the performance of individual content assets, linking measurement to commercial goals means marketing delivers against the bottom line: true ROI.

Effective marketing makes business sense

So here's what the stats have told us. Effective content marketing has a strategy. Effective content marketing does its research. Effective content marketing knits together issues-driven communication that gets the right message to the right person in the right way at the right time. And measures its effectiveness. It follows the logical steps of discover > deliver > measure.

Without research-based strategy, content becomes rudderless. Without personality and empathy, it becomes disruptive white noise. However, when done properly, the stats suggest that content marketing can deliver triple the ROI of your marketing spend.

Joe Birkedale is managing director at Catalyst


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