In late 2016, a Content Marketing Institute survey took stock of the adoption of content marketing among manufacturers.

Content marketing wasn’t new then, but by no means had B2B manufacturers adopted it en masse.

“The old wisdom says highly technical buyers are immune to content marketing messages,” I wrote in this summary of that survey. Which wasn’t necessarily true. Technical buyers aren’t immune to online messaging, they just have a keen sense of smell.

And the problem at the time was that there was too little information of any value online once they sniffed out the rot.

Now, technical buyers still have sharp noses. And most online marketing is still useless.

What’s changed is that over the last three-plus years, internal marketing teams and agency partners each have improved at developing sound strategy and creating compelling content targeted to technical buyers. New CMI survey data published late last year shows more manufacturers are buying in as a result.

Use the key takeaways provided below to help plot your next moves.

(Credit to IEEE Global Spec, who publishes these reports in partnership with CMI.)

Measuring maturity then and now

The way manufacturers perceived the maturity of their content marketing programs in 2016 compared to now is noteworthy.

In 2016, less than 20% of respondents characterized their programs as mature or sophisticated. According to the new data, 24% believe their programs are mature while 5% scored their programs as sophisticated.

Content marketing programs were in an adolescent stage for 37% of respondents in 2017; 28% stated their programs were young. Today, 39% say their programs are adolescent and 26% say they’re young.

While 14% of respondents claimed their programs were in their infancy in 2016, only 6% made that claim this year.

Key takeaway: Manufacturers are methodically advancing their content marketing programs. As fewer manufacturers report programs in an infant stage, expect the effectiveness of rudimentary tactics like SEO blog posts and monthly email newsletters to decrease in the face of greater adoption of similar or more advanced tactics.

Content marketing program maturity also relates to the stages of a buyer’s journey for which content is created. The 2019 study reports:

  • Half of the content manufacturers create is aimed at generating initial awareness among top-of-funnel buyers
  • 21% of content is mid-stage and 15% is late-stage
  • 10% of content is geared toward buyers after the sale to drive brand loyalty

Another key takeaway: Companies executing content marketing programs must pay close attention to how their audiences evolve over time. The goal of such a program is to grow awareness among your audience by becoming a thought leader. If you succeed, consider how your content mix must change to continually feed a finite audience’s hunger for useful information.

HINT: We’ve veered away from creating top-of-funnel content for some of our longer-term clients. There’s a severely diminished return on persistent production of 101-level content among an audience that already knows who you are and what you do.

Insourcing vs. outsourcing? It’s a mixed bag

Not knowing whether to outsource content marketing remains common among many manufacturers, especially small- and medium-sized ones.

Even progressive companies who buy into the theoretical virtues of content marketing confront this conundrum. Should we hire internal staff to do it? Is there enough marketing to warrant those hires? Is a third-party agency better suited to develop and execute content marketing for us? Should we rely on a mixture of in-house staff and outsourced providers?

Consider this 2019 survey data:

  • 29% of respondents stated they have no content marketing staff
  • 28% stated they have a single full-time employee dedicated to content marketing
  • 34% reported having between two and five full-time content marketing staff
  • 9% of respondents have six or more full-time content marketing staff (these are probably larger companies that expect to do content marketing on a large enough scale to warrant employing large full-time teams)

Now, consider that two-thirds 64% of respondents reported outsourcing at least one content marketing activity, with content creation being 87% of that outsourced work. That’s despite concerns over whether agencies are truly up to the task of crafting high-quality content.

The data show that many manufacturers trust third-party agencies with understanding complex concepts and creating highly technical content that reaches sophisticated buyers. We believe small- and medium-sized manufacturers make up the bulk of those clients for the reasons described here.

Key takeaway: Upon deciding to outsource at least some content marketing, small- and medium-sized manufacturers should be prudent in their choice. The right agency understands how to apply limited resources for the best effect and recognizes burden-sharing opportunities that make the best use of personnel.

Content marketing spending still trends upward

An analysis of manufacturers’ stated content marketing spending goals should provide some clarity for those still wondering whether such an investment will pay off.

Spoiler: it likely will.

In 2016, 36% of respondents said they planned to increase their content marketing budget while 48% of respondents said they would keep their spending steady.

It flipped last year, with 43% stating they would boost their spend and 38% choosing to keep theirs the same.

Are manufacturers coming around to the idea that marketing is an investment and not merely an expense? It sure looks that way, and the timing couldn’t be better for this apparent collective change of mind.

Key takeaway: More companies plan to spend more money on content marketing, proving its overall value and signaling greater potential difficulty ahead for those who have yet to implement programs of their own. As progressive manufacturers’ marketing programs become more mature, those without programs will need to work even harder to earn their audiences’ attention.

Okay, so now what?

Like you, we try to make decisions based on good data. And there’s a ton more of it in CMI’s report—here’s the link again.

But data is far from the only factor you should consider. If what you’ve read above makes sense but you want to talk through your unique circumstances, we should talk.

If you want to do some more prep work first, consider using our free industrial marketing audit scorecard.