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Adrian Nash
By
September 08, 2021

Content Marketing in 2021

In 1996 Bill Gates, then CEO of Microsoft, published an essay on the company’s website predicting the future importance of internet content. At the time, fewer people were utilizing the internet, and those who were had to contend with speeds that were so slow that they prevented the quick and easy consumption of articles, audio, videos, etc.

However, Gates predicted that once the underlying technology had caught up, that content would be where “…much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”

The name of Gates’ essay? Content is King.

Today, almost 25 years later, we know just how aptly named Gates’ essay was. According to data from 2018, more than 2.5 million terabytes of data are created every day, and this figure is only increasing year-over-year. From a business perspective, content is hugely important for marketers hoping to reach their audiences online: a full 78% of consumers prefer getting to know a company through content rather than traditional advertising. And marketers are aware of how important content is: 78% of companies have at least on content specialist on their marketing team.

Content Marketing for Technical Audiences

Each year at engineering.com, we survey technical marketers to understand what is working for these professionals and what is not. We ask specific questions on how effective particular activities are at generating leads, and common challenges marketers face when carrying out these activities.

A fair portion of our survey is dedicated to understanding the role of content in technical marketers’ strategies. Not to ruin the surprise, but content is hugely important to technical marketers. However, simply knowing this fact isn’t enough. We also want to understand what forms of content marketers are emphasizing, what goals marketers are hoping to achieve with their content initiatives, and what common challenges exist so we all can better address them.

We’ll explore all these issues in this article. Read on to learn more!

Is Content Actually an Effective Tactic? And to What End?

We know that nearly 80% of companies have dedicated content specialists, but how effective are these specialists at helping to generate leads?

Content Objectives

In our survey of technical marketers, we asked respondents to rank a series of activities from most to least effective at generating pipeline. Content marketing was selected as the most effective tactic overall by 24% of respondents (we should note that another 24% of respondents selected Webinars as the most effective tactic, which could also be considered a form of content). With just under half of marketers citing content of some kind as their most effective marketing tactic, it’s safe to say that content is working to help generate leads.

This is excellent news too, because 33% of respondents also said lead generation was their primary objective with their content marketing program. The second most common objective with content was to create brand awareness (27%), and then audience education (16%).

Knowing that such a large number of marketers hope to generate leads with their content, and just under half of all respondents cited content as their most effective means of generating marketing pipeline, it’s safe to say that content marketing is in fact an effective tool for technical marketers.

What Forms of Content are Marketers Spending Budget On?

“Content” is a large umbrella term which covers all different types of activities. For example, when we asked marketers to rank their most effective marketing tactics, we offered “content marketing” and “webinars” as two separate options. However, webinars can really be considered a form of content marketing. In our case, we knew webinars made a huge impact in 2020 during the pandemic lockdown measures, so we wanted to isolate how much of an impact this particular form of content had.

However, we wanted to break the term “content marketing” down even further in our survey by asking marketers specifically which forms of content they dedicate the most time, energy, and budget to. Overall, we see that technical marketers have fairly balanced content budgets. Video takes the top spot for budget allocation at 20%, but webinars aren’t far behind at 19%. These two activities occupying the top spot makes sense; both are more technologically involved than the latter options and thus require more funding. High-quality video content and webinars both require video and audio equipment, but they also require more technical know-how in each of their respective formats.Content Budgets

Blogging, case studies, white papers, and e-books also require expertise (especially since technical marketers are writing for highly informed and knowledgeable audiences), but technical marketers likely work alongside engineers and others in STEM professions already. While most marketing teams already have some form of video and webinar production in place, many are now seeking to improve their ability to create more of these forms of content. Higher quality webinars and videos requires more financial and technical resources, which is likely why we see more budget being allocated to these specific forms of content.

It should also be noted that the higher budget allocation for these activities is justified according to statistics. 87% of marketers say that video has helped drive increased traffic to their sites, and 80% of marketers who are already using video say that this form of content has directly led to increased sales.

Blogging, case studies, and other written publications are all grouped closely together in terms of budget spend. These activities are foundational to any good content marketing initiative; consumers want informative content from companies they trust, and these forms of content deliver this. Offering different forms of written content on a range of subjects also helps move prospects through the marketing funnel. By allocating resources evenly to all three forms of written content, marketers can target top, middle, and bottom of funnel prospects with equal effort.

However, marketers have likely been pumping written content out for years at this point (if you’re one of the ones who hasn’t, then it’s time to get onboard), and thus require less budgetary focus. More time, energy, and budget is required when first setting up a team or honing ones skill in a particular activity, which may partially explain why written content gets less budgetary emphasis than video and webinars.

Common Challenges with Content Marketing

Content marketing has been consistently cited as one of the most effective marketing tactics for technical marketers since we first launched our survey in 2014. However, despite being such a major focus for content marketers, content continues to pose a challenge at the same time.

Just as we asked marketers to rank their most effective tactics, we also asked them to rank what they expect to be their top challenges in the coming year. Since 2014, content creation has occupied one of, if not the top spot for challenges in the coming year. As can be seen from the chart here, 44% of marketers in 2021 selected content creation as their most pressing challenge in the coming year.

Challenges

What is it about content marketing that makes it so challenging? Well, it’s difficult to produce in a timely manner; a high-functioning content engine will produce blogs, articles, videos, and audio at regular intervals (ideally weekly, but at least biweekly or even monthly). This isn’t an easy task, but marketers have had 8 years to figure this out, yet each year content is cited as a top challenge by more and more respondents.

We speculate that content creation is particularly difficult for technical marketers because of the high levels of technical knowledge that are required to create said content. It’s far easier, in our estimation, for the average writer to draft an article entitled “10 tips on how to properly cook a steak” than it is to write an article entitled “10 tips on how to properly assemble a jet engine.”

Engineering is an entire field of knowledge unto itself, with numerous highly trained disciplines within it! This makes it far more difficult for a team made up strictly of marketers to create content for this type of audience. Instead, quality content for technical audiences needs input from subject matter experts, and these aren’t always easy to come by.

For guidance on how you can better collaborate with engineers on content marketing, check out our free e-book which you can download here.

Content is King with No Usurper in Sight

Content is still the king of digital marketing in 2021. Technical marketers consistently rank it as one of, if not the most effective marketing tactic and they are achieving the results (namely lead generation) they set out to with content. However, context is queen; the importance of serving up the right form of content at the right stage of the buyer's journey is second only to the importance of content itself.

Since we first began surveying marketers in 2014, content marketing has consistently been listed as one of the most popular and effective means of marketing to an audience of engineers, scientists, and other technically-minded individuals. There are challenges, of course, and these don’t appear to be going away; although 2021 saw a slight decline year-over-year in terms of how many marketers cited content creation as a challenge, this was a marginal decrease. High quality and consistent content creation isn’t easy, but as we’ve seen from the data, it is incredibly rewarding.

For more information on how marketers responded to our content-related, and other survey questions, please click here to access a free downloadable version of our 2021 Marketing to Engineers Survey Results. Tell us what you think in the comments below, or reach out to me directly via email at anash@engineering.com.

 

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