Content Marketing Success Reported by 91% of Manufacturers in CMI Report for 2021

by | Research

More than 90% of manufacturing marketers feel like their content marketing is helping them succeed. That’s what respondents to the Content Marketing Institute’s manufacturing-focused report for 2021 indicated. Below, we’ll dive deep into our top 5 takeaways from the report (including that one). But we’ll do more than that.

CMI logo

We’ll share firsthand insights from CMI research director and report author Lisa Murton Beets. The CMI report is a compilation and analysis of survey responses provided in 2020 from manufacturing content marketers. It also sheds helpful light on where content marketing is headed in 2021.

Lisa Murton Beets

Lisa Murton Beets

Lisa says 2020 was definitely a “wonky” year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But she adds, “Most of the marketers surveyed managed to pivot quickly enough to avoid disasters and maintain their marketing efforts.”

Let’s take a closer look.

1. 91% Report that their content marketing is generating some form of success

CMI defines success as “Achieving your organization’s desired/target results.” Based on survey responses, most respondents  — as in 91%! — feel like their content is working successfully for them, with 30% saying they’ve been extremely or very successful with their content marketing efforts and 61% indicating moderate success.

Overall success chart

On a more specific note, when asked what goals content marketing was helping them achieve, nearly 3 out of every 4 respondents pointed to building credibility or trust, a 16% jump from just two years ago. Note the third item from the top in the chart below. 

Goals chart

Lisa suggests the increase may reflect what amounts to a reshuffling of marketing priorities.

“Leads are obviously still important. But years ago, leads would always be near the top, right under brand awareness. But as content marketing has become more entrenched, getting your audience to trust you and look to you as a reliable information source has grown in importance.”

This aligns with our own experience in creating our Digital Twin Manufacturing Marketing strategy, an approach in which your content acts as a “digital twin” of your sales team. Think about it like this: People only do business with you if they know you, like you and trust you. Your content — just like your salespeople — should work to make those things happen.

2. COVID-19 impacts content marketing strategy

No big surprise here. A once-in-a-century pandemic affected — understandably so — the content marketing strategies of manufacturers.

Pandemic impact chart

What’s more intriguing is just where they placed their focus for making changes. 

Changes in pandemic chart

“I think these responses indicate, among other things, that marketers didn’t want to appear tone deaf,” says Lisa. “They reached out to their audiences as caring business partners and in some cases pulled back the reins on overt sales-focused language.”

She also notes that some manufacturing companies were especially effective at using their website and social media to promote how they’re adapting to the pandemic.

“Some were actually changing their assembly lines to produce hand sanitizer or PPE [personal protective equipment]. The stories they put out were heart-warming and even inspiring because they were about the people involved, not just the products.”

In fact, here at Winbound we helped manufacturing clients create content that not only acknowledged the sober realities of COVID-19, but also demonstrated the impressive ways they were shifting production. Here’s a good example: Pivot to High Performance: Tales of How Converters are Making a Difference in the Fight Against COVID-19. 

3. Email newsletters top the list of content used

Regarding the specific types of content manufacturing marketers are using, there were some notable developments compared to last year’s report.

First, as you would expect, in-person events dropped significantly and online events increased.  (Pandemic or not, online events are here to stay. To make the most of them, check out When You’re Given Lemons: 11 Tips for Attending Virtual Trade Shows and Conferences.)

As for the No. 1 content format, last year’s report showed social media clearly on top:

Top 10 Content Types Used

Compare that to this year’s report, which has email newsletters edging out other types:

Content types used in last 12 months

Lisa says this could indicate that more and more marketers understand the value of building a subscriber audience. “It’s no small thing when they trust you enough to give you their email address. And assuming you’re delivering that newsletter consistently, when a subscriber does have an actual need, hopefully you’ll be top of mind.”

She also points to a related stat from Trew Marketing’s 2020 Smart Marketing for Engineers® Research Report, which shows that 65% of engineers say they subscribe to at least three newsletters.

At Winbound, we’re big fans of the regular email newsletter and help most of our clients with creating them.

As for what goes in those newsletters, it really doesn’t take the Herculean effort that some imagine. If you’re already creating content consistently — like blog posts, videos, and case studies — it’s fairly simple to package that up in an email newsletter.

4. Manufacturing marketing teams remain small but the majority also outsource

The majority of respondents (55%) reported that they have a either a small or one-person marketing team. And another 39% said they have no full-time staff devoted to content marketing.

Team size chart

With numbers like those, it’s not surprising that 61% said they outsource at least one content marketing task, with content creation topping the list:

Outsourced activities chart

For those who do outsource, 61% also reported their biggest challenge was “Finding partners with adequate expertise.”

Top 5 challenges chart

That’s an understandable struggle, says Lisa, but she adds that some of the challenge could be alleviated with a more effective onboarding process.

“I know there are lots of agencies and freelancers out there who are great at what they do. If you spend the time to get a consultant up to speed and then pay them for what they’re worth, you’re bettering your chances for getting good results,” Lisa said.

Here at Winbound, we find that the “topic expertise” problem can be surmounted by complementing the strengths of our clients. For example, when it comes to producing content on technical topics, we combine an expert’s insights with specific copywriting strategies.

Ultimately, this helps us create audience-appropriate content that’s readable and compelling — even when it’s on a seemingly complex subject.

5. Some grow wiser with their content marketing, while others are just getting the hang of it

Up 10% from last year’s survey, 39% of respondents consider their content marketing efforts as either sophisticated or mature. “These respondents see content marketing as a business function that’s planned and budgeted for, and also something that’s scalable and adaptable,”  says Lisa.

Marketing maturity level chart

And she adds an important point about those designations: Being sophisticated or mature in content marketing isn’t necessarily tied to how old an organization is, or even how long it’s been doing content marketing.

“You can have older companies who’ve been doing content marketing for many years that are actually stagnating. On the other hand, you can have young companies who start right out of the gate with a robust content marketing plan. It’s not long before they’re at the mature or sophisticated level.”

Her point underscores that effective content marketing isn’t just about one thing. Nor is there one “secret.” But there are smarter ways to go about it, namely taking an approach that integrates content creation with content distribution

In fact CMI’s definition of content marketing says it best: “A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Your next move for the year

No matter how you see your content marketing efforts — masterful, moribund, or somewhere in between — last year presented a great reminder for all of us. 

Content marketing can’t happen in a vacuum. We have to adapt what we say, how we say it, and where we say it to the world around us, even when that world is in upheaval. And the better we can do that, the more able we’ll be to help others when they might need it most.

Learn how to make a Digital Twin of your sales team. Download our complete Digital Twin Manufacturing Marketing Guide!

Digital Twin Manufacturing Marketing Guide


Greg Mischio

Greg Mischio

Greg Mischio has been a content marketing zealot for many moons. He is the Owner and Founder of Winbound, a marketing agency that provides content marketing for small marketing departments with a focus on manufacturing and industrial verticals.

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