Marketers are struggling with digital transformation — and have yet to fully embrace a shift from pure product marketing and interrupt advertising to an editorial focus on building audience.

That's a key finding of research released today by Skyword and Researchscape International, which found the majority of enterprise marketers have yet to take all of the steps necessary to set their departments up for success. 

Boston-based Skyword, a content marketing software and services company, partnered with Norwell, Mass.-based Researchscape to determine how businesses have adapted their marketing operations as result of the declining effectiveness of interruptive advertising.

The State of Marketing

"We wanted to determine if marketers were truly transforming their operations," Skyword CMO Patricia Travaline told CMSWire.

Based on responses from 190 enterprise marketers in B2B and B2C organizations, Skyword concluded that marketers are laying the foundation for digital transformation, but still have a long way to go. Specifically, the research found:

  • Only 38 percent have reorganized their teams in the past year
  • Few have invested in publishing-centric roles like storyteller (6 percent) and evangelist (4 percent)
  • Top marketing roles remain traditional, with titles such as advertising manager (59 percent) and marketing operations manager (58 percent) still the norm

skyword study changes in past year

Paradigm Shift

In an era when you can't read a marketing blog without stumbling on some discussion of why content is king, it's somewhat surprising.

However, Travaline noted that there are "lots of big risks involved" in digital transformation — and that it takes time to embed a storytelling mindset into an organization, foster visibility across teams, and build an organizational structure that supports fluid communication.

"From a marketing standpoint, it takes a lot to have that mindset shift — to acknowledge that everything we've been doing the past 10, 20 or 30 years isn’t working and then make the decision to focus on creating experiences that draw customers in," she said.

As McKinsey & Co. reported in a story on sales and marketing transformation last year, "At least as much investment is needed in organizational culture and health as in the intricacies of what will change on the ground."

For the C-suite, "it’s about shifting mind-sets and developing new leadership and change-management skills." For managers, it's about "coaching, product knowledge and problem solving."

'Customer-Centric Storytelling'

Real transformation in the digital age requires a shift from product-centric messages and interruptive advertising to a mindset where customer-centric storytelling is embedded within the organization’s genetic code and culture, Skyword concluded.

And that depends on mastery of six distinct but interrelated core components that span organization, technology, skillsets and marketing objectives.

In the past year:

  1. Organizational Structure: 26 percent of those who reorganized their teams in the past year reported being "extremely successful" at marketing compared to 9 percent of those that did not reorganize their teams.
  2. Technology: 58 percent of companies invested in new technology, including social media monitoring and measurement, design, analytics and content marketing software.
  3. Teams and Skill Sets: While traditional roles are still the most common, organizations are starting to embrace editorial-focused roles, such as content marketer (28 percent) and editorial manager (33 percent).
  4. Content Marketing: 40 percent of marketing teams expanded content marketing investments. Video is the most common type of content being produced (49 percent) followed by blogs (45 percent). Stand-alone, long form content pieces such as e-books (17 percent) and white papers (18 percent) received significantly smaller investment.
  5. Communicating Brand Story: More than half of the employees within the enterprise (54 percent) are rated as extremely successful at communicating the brand story, with the executive team (65 percent) and the marketing team (73 percent) leading the charge.
  6. Taking the Brand Story Global: Few respondents have a global content marketing strategy in place, but 39 percent of marketers plan to implement one in the next two years. Only 23 percent produce content in five or more languages.

Skyword telling brand story

The Battle for Attention

To be fair, Skyword has a vested interest in reminding marketers about both the imperative — and challenge — of creating quality content. The Skyword Platform helps companies produce, optimize and promote content. The company also creates content through a community of freelance writers and videographers, an editorial team, and program managers.

But Skyword isn’t the only company that's beating the drum for high quality content. As marketing consultant and author Mark Schaefer explained on a Dell corporate blog, "To fight through information density, marketing-related content is going to have to be scintillating."

That's not an easy goal to achieve.

According to the 2016 content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 55 percent of B2B marketers said that their organizations don't have a clear understanding of what an effective or successful content marketing program looks like. In addition, only 30 percent of respondents rated their content marketing efforts as effective, down from 38 percent in the 2015 survey and 42 percent in 2014.

Gartner's July 2015 Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing report showed content marketing had passed the “peak of inflated expectations” and was sliding toward the “trough of disillusionment.” Plenty of people are "still fumbling awkwardly to adapt to the age of brand publishing," Gartner VP Jake Sorofman wrote.

And in early 2015, research by TrackMaven found the volume of content produced per brand increased by 78 percent in 2013 and 2014, but the engagement produced by the content decreased by 60 percent. 

Skyword's concludes that the industry is "at a stage where marketers are discussing what to do and how to change, but many remain hesitant to fully dive in." It continued:

"For brands to break through to new audiences, marketers have to ensure that storytelling is embedded into the culture of their organizations … To really make an impact, marketers need to make the audience the champion of the brand story, and build on that story over time and across multiple channels."

How does your brand plan to do that?

Title image by Aleksander Debowski