As a digital marketing analyst at Altimeter, I’ve been
tracking the ever-changing world of content marketing since 2013,
but this is the first year where the changes have been truly
When I fielded the survey for my latest research report
“The 2018 State of Digital Content,” I expected to find
small technological advances in the way we create, deliver, and
marketing, but not much else. Instead, I found a fundamental
shift in the entire practice of content marketing.
Companies are now using content to do more than create
awareness or brand health. They’re using it to directly drive
revenue, become more cost-efficient and personalize the
customer experience. Which is to say, they’re using content
marketing to do far more than marketing.
Here are five key findings from the
survey that highlight this shift. We deployed the survey in
August 2018, with 400 respondents across North America, Europe
(France, UK and Germany) and China, from companies with at least
Content Trend #1: Most Companies Can Prove the Business Impact of
Despite the popularity of content marketing as a practice,
companies have traditionally had a hard time proving its positive
financial impact, relying instead on softer metrics such as brand
awareness and brand health. However, in our survey, 81% of
companies agreed or somewhat agreed they were able to directly tie
revenue generated by content.
Furthermore, when we asked companies about their top challenges,
only 9% said they had difficulty proving the impact of content.
These findings raise the bar on expectations of all content
marketing teams, because they now have to prove definitive impact
on revenue, and can’t afford to continue focusing on brand
awareness and health. The good news is we’re coming up with
better ways to measure the impact of content, and better tools to
do it with.
Content Trend #2: Interactions Are Better Performance Metrics than
first conducted the survey in 2016, reach (37%) and engagement
(36%) were the most popular ways to measure the performance of
content. In 2018, while engagement (defined as clicks, comments, or
shares) is still favored as the top metric (30%), reach (12%) is
far less popular. Instead, companies are using more
financially-focused metrics such as efficiency (23%) and
conversions (23%) to measure the success of their content
Engagement is the #1 most popular way to measure the performance
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This is another sign of the higher expectations of content, and
the ways companies are deploying it to save money, generate leads
or drive people closer to purchase, rather than simply using it as
a way to distribute brand messages at scale.
Content Trend #3: Product-Focused Content Outperforms Thought
In news that will be disturbing to a lot of marketing and
communications professionals, our survey found that product-focused
content (29%) outperformed all other types of content, including
thought leadership or subject matter expertise (25%), brand-focused
content (18%), or company-focused content (17%) designed to promote
transparency and loyalty.
This is notable because it would indicate that customers prefer
the one type of content that is least likely to be produced by a PR
or content marketing team. However, the results did change when we
split the findings by industry. Thought leadership performed better
for service industries such as healthcare, finance and technology,
whereas retailers and manufacturers found product-focused content
to be the best. This implies that companies with physical goods
should prioritize content about their products, while companies
that sell services can win by providing helpful content that
establishes them as an industry authority.
These results should force every content marketing team to
evaluate its strategy and ask itself if it’s truly serving the
customer’s needs with content, or if it’s serving the needs/or
bias of a single department.
Content Trend #4: Short-Form Video Is the Best Performing Content
It’s no surprise that video is a highly engaging format for
content, but our report showed that it was the best performing
content (in terms of engagement) across every industry and every
geography. In particular, short-form video, which is less than two
minutes, was the top performer, followed closely by static images.
It emphasizes the point that investing in visuals is a solid bet
for content in 2019, given how ubiquitous it has become on social
media channels and mobile.
A new study by @altimetergroup found that short-form video is
the best performing #content format
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5. Data and Technical Expertise Are Preferred Over Creative Skills
Despite the high-scoring engagement of video and visuals, we
were surprised to find that creative skills, such as video editing
(16%) and graphic design (22%), were at the bottom of the list of
desired talents. Instead, data analysis (41%), project management
(39%) and marketing automation expertise (37%) were the most
sought-after skills for new hires in 2019. Could this signal the
wholesale replacement of Mad Men with “Math Men”?
Data analysis is the #1 most desired skill for new content team
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Part of the explanation could be the overabundance of creative,
relative to the specialized roles of data analyst and marketing
software operator, which drives demand for the latter.
Additionally, large companies are more likely to have agency
partners to which they can outsource creative work while focusing
on the technical processes in-house. Regardless, it shows the shift
of content marketing from being a practice that was similar to
advertising and PR (highly creative, no direct revenue
attribution), to a practice that’s commercially focused, and
increasingly sophisticated with its use of data for