By Daniel Hunter

Content marketing professionals in the UK believe they have become less effective at their jobs over the last year, according to new research by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI).

The annual report, Content Marketing in the UK: 2015 Budgets, Benchmarks and Trends, shows a worrying decline in the confidence of content marketing practitioners. Only 42% of marketers questioned said they are effective or very effective at content marketing, down from 48% a year ago.

One of the biggest surprises in the report, which is widely used to define key trends, metrics and goals for the year ahead, is that many marketers are still not working to a documented strategy. Just 36% of marketers have a strategy written down, compared to 42% last year, and one in ten don’t have any form of strategy at all.

However, the importance of strategy cannot be overlooked as the research found those with a documented strategy are 36% more effective in all areas of content marketing. Seven in ten marketers with a written-down strategy said they were effective at content marketing.

The report also found UK marketers target on average four different audiences — with one in ten targeting seven or more — and use an average of eight different tactics to reach these audiences. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most popular tactics to use are online with the vast majority of marketers using social media channels (89%), eNewsletters (88%), blogs (85%) and website articles (82%).

But not all online channels proved so popular. Only 41% of marketers use webinars to target audiences, 33% use digital magazines, 32% use mobile apps, 23% use virtual conferences and 22% use podcasts.

Karen Webber, marketing director at Axonn Media, the report's sponsor, said: “In order to be effective at content marketing, marketers need to get the three pillars of content marketing right: creation, technology and strategy.

“A documented strategy allows them to be effective and accurately measure their success, especially when they are targeting several audiences using numerous tactics at any one time. Also, without a documented strategy and recorded results, it’s much more difficult for marketers to get budget and buy-in.”

Joe Pulizzi, founder of CMI, said: “There are two critical factors that differentiate effective content marketers over the rest of the pack - having a documented content marketing strategy and following it very closely. Those two things make all the difference.

“It’s fascinating to see how UK marketers have shifted their goals for content marketing over the last year to focus more on engagement, leads, and sales. There’s been this big increased emphasis on lead nurturing in particular, with the percentage who cite it as a goal nearly tripling. This tells me that a lot of marketers have taken a closer look at what they want to achieve with content marketing, and I suspect the next step for many will be to fine-tune their strategy around those goals.”

This year’s results show a shift in focus in content marketing, with an emphasis on the goals of sales, lead generation, lead nurturing and engagement. Lead nurturing, in particular, was cited by only 30% of marketers as a key goal in 2014, but in 2015 it will be a focus for 85% of those surveyed. Businesses are less interested in brand awareness and customer loyalty in 2015, and aiming to use content marketing more for ROI and sales.

In terms of measuring results, a worrying one in ten marketers don’t track ROI in any way and only seven per cent think their methods of measurement are very successful. The most popular metrics for measuring content marketing success are website traffic (used by 61% of marketers), higher conversion rates (47%), sales (44%), sales lead quality (41%) and SEO ranking (40%).

Ms Webber added: “As technology and communication channels continue to evolve, the challenge for content marketers is to make sure they are strategic, relevant and effective. It’s a fast-paced industry, but with 64 per cent of marketers stating budgets are going to increase or significantly increase over the next 12 months, it’s a promising time with lots of opportunities.”

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