Unused content in B2B digital marketing will soon be a $50bn problem for the industry and for CMOs keen to prove ROI. 

We’ve all read the stats and heard the breathy proclamations about how content marketing is growing at an extraordinary rate, how content marketing is changing how we do business and how content marketing will solve all of our engagement woes.

But what about the things that aren’t being said?

For all the paeans being written to content marketing, particularly in a B2B context, very little is being done to address the scandal of unused content and wastage.

How bad is the unused content problem?

Content wastage (content that is created but then never used by marketers or salespeople) is an inconvenient and ever-present problem for content marketers.

Estimates of the scale of the problem vary: SiriusDecisions suggest that 60-70% of content produced by B2B companies goes unused, while Corporate Visions suggest it is even higher (90%).

According to PQ Media’s Global Content Marketing Forecast 2015-19, $145bn was spent on content marketing in 2014 with over $76bn apportioned to B2B content marketing. (Excuse the non-sterling declaration, but putting figures into dollars always makes them look more ‘impressive’!).

If we accept that at least 60% of budget is being wasted on content that is created and then never used or distributed then B2B content marketing has a $50bn problem that is soon going to bite.

What can be done?

Attacking the problem of wasted content in the enterprise requires a multifaceted approach, one that involves revising processes, engaging colleagues and evaluating new technologies.

Step 1) Do a content audit

The first step to understanding why your content remains unused is to understand what content you actually have. 

Open up a spreadsheet and dedicate a row to each piece of content that you’ve created to date.

Your column headings should include ‘URL’, ‘author’, ‘buyer stage’, ‘content topic’, ‘content type’, ‘social shares’, ‘unique visits’, etc.

If you want to accelerate the process, free tools like urlprofiler, SEM Rush or Screaming Frog can give you this information for every URL that you submit.

Once you have completed your content audit you’ll be in a better position to identify underperforming content and work out why it’s not being utilised, by sales or others.

Step 2) Review your content strategy

According to the same SiriusDecisions study cited earlier, the main reason that content goes unused is that content is being created without a clear strategy or purpose. 28% of respondents said their content process was still in “the Dark Ages.” 

A content strategy differs from a content marketing strategy as it is primarily concerned with the processes around content as opposed to the performance of the content itself. 

After doing your content audit, a typical content strategy review process involves: 

  • Strategy – This is where you determine ownership areas and taxonomy, establish content program and production process, create a content sourcing plan and determine brand and voice definition. 
  • Plan – This is where you look to make staffing recommendations, decide on CMS customization, and devise your content metadata and distribution plan.
  • Create – This is all about asset production and the quality assurance procedures that are in place to make sure each piece of content is SEO-optimized and adheres to brand voice.
  • Maintain – This is the stage where you look at the metrics you are using to measure your content marketing, use analytics to determine if it is successful or not, and put in place a process to retire or improve underperforming content.

Step 3) Centralise your content in a single repository

We all know the curse of siloed content. Often the reason content isn’t used is because it is so distributed around your organisation. Your next step should be to bring all of content into one central place where your digital and sales teams can access the marketing content that is being created.

This can be as simple as the spreadsheet you have used to conduct your content audit, or something a little more advanced.

Modern web content management (WCM) systems offer many advanced features for managing and publishing digital content to websites and for many scenarios a WCM product or system will meet the needs of content publishers. 

However, in situations where digital content needs to be shared between disparate websites, devices, channels, or automatically recommended to salespeople in their CRM environment, a WCM system merely focused on serving HTML pages is often not sufficient.

This approach requires a content repository for storing, managing and serving the digital content.

Step 4) Tag your content with descriptive metadata

Of course, just because you’ve centralised content doesn’t mean that it suddenly makes it easier for busy digital marketers to find. Particularly if there are large volumes of content to wade through. 

Use descriptive metadata to tag your content and make it easily searchable.

Metadata can go well beyond typical tags such as ‘content type’, ‘date created’ and ‘author name’. You should use descriptors such as ‘topic’, ‘theme’. ‘buyer stage’ and so on, to map that content to your various buyer journeys and personas.

This makes it easier for your sales team to delve in and find the appropriate content asset to use for their various sales engagements.

Step 5) Automate steps 1-4

While all the above can be done manually, it invariably doesn’t scale when you’re working with hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of content.

Having spent the last few years building a SaaS solution for exactly this situation, it was fantastic to see Kraft Foods inadvertently providing a perfect use testament to automation at Content Marketing World last year.

The team at Kraft track more than 22,000 different attributes of their audience based on their behaviour and engagement with web content by adding descriptive metadata and using that to build profiles of their 100m web visitors.

Mining content consumption data gives them the real-time insight to deliver content that matches audience needs and wants, thus making sure that more (if not, all) of their content is used and has greater coverage across their various audiences.

The result was that Julie Fleischer (Head of Content, Data and Media at Kraft Foods Group) was able to prove that their content marketing yields four times better ROI than its traditional advertising.

Conclusion

Fixing content wastage in your organisation is not something that can be solved overnight, however it is imperative that CMOs address the issue sooner rather than leaving it to be an unspoken elephant in the room.

In many B2B organisations, particularly those that trade on research or have to nurture long deal cycles, content marketing has become part of the cost of doing business. However, content marketing budgets will soon wane if efficiencies and ROI cannot be shown.

One of the best ways to improve ROI is not necessarily to do more content marketing but to make sure the content that you have created is actually used.

You can learn even more about B2B marketing trends at our two day Festival of Marketing event in November. Book your ticket today and head to the B2B stage for help in adapting your marketing strategy and tactics to move beyond generating sales leads.