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UK companies are heading into 2020 with renewed optimism and plans for greater marketing spend as uncertainty surrounding Brexit subsides and the political environment becomes more stable, the latest quarterly IPA Bellwether Report has found.

During the final three months of 2019, a net balance of +4% of enterprises increased the scope of their marketing budgets, a marked uptick on the -0.5% figure recorded during the previous quarter.

The rate of expansion in Q4 is the strongest for almost two years and suggests that companies are now ready to invest heavily in content, advertising and other marketing endeavours as the new year gets underway.

The report expects the feel-good factor to prevail for some time as its preliminary outlook for the 2020/21 period shows a net balance of +15.7% for companies expecting budgets to grow during the next 12 months or so.

Brexit has cast a shadow over marketing planning since 2016, but that gloom now appears to be lifting as a more resolute outcome approaches with the UK expected to formally leave the EU on 31st January.

A number of the surveyed companies said that they have been motivated to spend more on marketing since the result of the General Election, which saw the Conservatives deliver a landslide victory and a large majority.

IPA director general Paul Bainsfair believes that it will not be “plain sailing” just yet as Brexit has been such an arduous process that marketing leaders and decision-makers are still tentative about future planning.

However, the signs are pointing to greater investment in content marketing and other activities such as PR, sales promotions and events among UK companies this year.

IHS Markit economist Joe Hayes added: “It appears that firms are looking to release the pent-up investment which has been put on hold amid the high degree of political and economic uncertainty which has plagued the UK business climate for well over 12 months now.”

Since the release of the report last week, various leading figures in the marketing industry have reacted to the news of rising budgets for the year ahead.

Future Publishing CRO UK Zack Sullivan believes that the latest report shows there is a “new wave of confidence” and that digital content and marketing is particularly lucrative at the moment.

He also urged brands to be brand safe, transparent and relevant to succeed in 2020.

Peer39 managing director Andrew Morsy says that many companies in the UK used a difficult 2019 to reassess their strategies and are now attempting to drive new business leads and foster brand awareness, which are the main reasons behind the rise in investment.

Meanwhile, M&C Saatchi Performance managing director Libby Robinson recommends a focus on return on investment and performance during the first year of the new decade as this will minimise inefficiencies and support better campaigns across the entire funnel.

The report found that around a quarter of companies observed a growth in budgets in Q4, while 58% saw spending allocation remain unchanged.


Social media management will be high on the list of priorities for SMEs and large companies in 2020 as 75% are expecting to increase investments in marketing across social platforms during the next 12 months, according to a new report from Slickdeals.

The ‘Embracing Social Commerce: Strategies, Successes, and Future Investments among Retailers’ study found that social media is now a prime battleground for engaging with customers and driving sales.

The rise of social and its collective billion-strong audience has also turned online shopping on its head, creating a new dynamic where many brands can drive as much commerce on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms as standard e-commerce websites.

Social commerce was just a fledgling concept five years ago, but it has since evolved into a vast and varied network, allowing brands to publish content and deliver experiences that support the online selling of products and services.

The use of social networks to push e-commerce transactions has become so important that three quarters of brands will be looking to spend more on social media marketing during the first year of the new decade.

Social commerce is widely practiced, with 89% of respondents in the survey saying that they are already utilising it or are expecting to do so within the next two years.

High-quality content should be at the core of customer engagement, but actually getting a meaningful strategy together remains a challenge for companies.

More than four in 10 said that their biggest struggle is developing and enacting a social strategy.

Meanwhile, 38% want to build a reputation centred around trust and loyalty to attract and retain the interest of consumers, which often involves using content to build on emotional bonds established during previous interactions and transactions.

Companies often use the metric ‘attribution’ to measure the value of engagement on social media as this allows them to see who has signed up for a newsletter or made a purchase.

First-click attribution gives full credit to the very first interaction regardless of the journey afterwards, while the inverse is true for last-click attribution.

The study found that 33% of respondents assign to the first click and 34% to the last-click.

Slickdeals’ senior VP Tom Straszewski says: “We see that those who invest more heavily in social commerce tend to look more at first click versus last click attribution, given that a consumer’s first click represents the beginning of their overall engagement with a brand and, thereby, the most meaningful step in the customer journey.”

As the new year begins, Forbes believes that social media has shortened attention spans and expects “snippety visuals” to be among the best forms of content for communication during the coming months.

Social will be an excellent outlet for these shorter, bite-sized forms of content, which can complement longer, editorial blogs and articles on corporate websites.

Forbes says that hitting the “sweet spot” in terms of audience attention will be crucial in 2020 as dynamic customers find new ways to consume content and interact with their favourite brands.


Nine in 10 US companies now leverage digital content marketing to engage audiences, while the majority of brands will use blog content as the primary inbound marketing activity in 2020, according to two separate reports released by eMarketer and HubSpot.

The mantra ‘content is king’ will continue to ring true this year as more companies awaken to the power of blogs, news and articles and the value that excellent storytelling and consistent content creation can bring to a business.

The report by eMarketer found that enterprises both large and small will implement content strategies to one-up their peers and reach wider audiences, with editorial blogs and other forms of written content being a major focus when attempting to attract qualified prospects and then convert them into meaningful leads.

In order to stay ahead of the pack in 2020, Forbes has also recommended using “authentic content” to foster a sense of community and to stay consistently on brand over an extended period of time.

To do this, marketers must first avoid a hard sell and then outline how a particular product or service can have a positive impact on the reader or viewer.

This must be demonstrated via relatable examples that will prompt audiences to engage and then, after a pleasing experience, become a brand advocate by sharing that content.

Storytelling will be a top trend in 2020 as it will allow marketers to deliver relevant messages in an entertaining way.

While written content is crucial, marketers should also use visual content, including videos and infographics, to get their points across and to deliver a more varied and rewarding experience for the consumer.

“Along with the great story-based content – whatever that may be – we will occasionally introduce ways to directly encourage action, with clear trial or purchase mechanics,” Britvic’s head of brand PR Davnet Doran says.

“Evidence of this working, and greater rigour around the results more broadly, will unlock significantly increased budgets over the next five years.”

Content distribution will also be important this year as social media management comes to the fore as a core marketing practice.

Outsourcing to third-party agencies can give brands the edge here as they will have the experience and knowledge required to put content in the right places.

High-quality, thoughtful content will still struggle to move the needle if no-one reads it or engages with it in any way.

Distributing content that involves a robust and regular posting schedule across a variety of platforms could unlock greater success for marketers in 2020.

Forbes does sound a note of caution about using the ever-growing number of platforms to reach customers though as it believes that some may not be the “best fit” and that it is important to “choose wisely”.

This year, brands should look at a platform and ask themselves whether it will work for them, whether it is capable of putting them in touch with target audiences, and whether it represents the brand in the right way – for example, the impersonal Snapchat may not be the best outlet for a health-related company.


Supporting content marketing campaigns with targeted email personalisation will be at the top of the agenda for marketers in 2020 according to a study published on Monday by retail marketing platform Bluecore.

The ‘2020 Retail Trends Report’ found 57% of brands will be aiming to increase the scope and scale of personalisation in 2020 and that this objective will be achieved through owned commerce including web pages, blogs and email.

The latest study counters a recent report by Gartner that suggested one-to-one personalisation will lose its appeal by the mid 2020s due to a range of issues including the inability to deliver adequate return on investment (ROI).

Gartner predicted that 80% of marketers will turn their back on the practice even though the word “personalisation” was named as the word of 2019 by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) following its surge in popularity and usage in marketing and advertising environments.

Gartner’s Jennifer Polk said its prediction about a loss of appeal was due to personalisation currently being directed towards customer experience which is difficult to track the success of and assign a ROI.

Polk added that personalisation needs to move away from one-on-one marketing to broader targets in order to demonstrate sustainable ROI and results.

Bluecore’s report suggests otherwise, noting that emails specifically can be used to support effective one-on-one communications and be scaled accordingly without the worry of time and resources being directed to an activity that is unsustainable in the long term.

Email is also a preferable outlet for personalisation as marketers believe they can control the message and cost over time.

Meanwhile, individual product recommendations and pop-ups will not be a priority for marketers in 2020 as just 5% believe targeted on-site experiences are a viable use of personalisation.

When asked about the top objectives for the new year and beyond, increasing revenue from email came out on top ahead of driving an uptick in repeat purchases and increasing site traffic.

A separate report released by SEMrush earlier this month also highlighted some of the most important nuances in content marketing as brands ready up for new campaigns in 2020.

First up, long form content is back in vogue and is delivering exceptional returns. Editorial blogs and articles in excess of 1,000 words are driving a 300% increase in traffic and a 200% uptick in shares.

Brands looking to shake up their strategies will also be interested to hear that listicles are the most shareable content format, while guides and how-to articles are also popular.

Long headlines also appeal to audiences as those with 14 or more words deliver a greater share of traffic and shares compared to shorter headlines with between seven and ten words.

The study also found nine in ten companies now have a strategy for content marketing in place and that around four in ten believe their efforts are “good” or better. Finally, tactics that will be deployed next year include upcycling and repurposing content and optimising search engine optimisation (SEO).


Mature B2C content marketing teams are more capable of using articles, blogs and videos to keep customers engaged through an entire cycle or journey, according to a new comprehensive study on marketing practices published by Content Marketing Institute (CMI).

The ‘B2C Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends’ report for 2020 found that marketing teams are enjoying greater success with their campaigns but that the majority of efforts are still focused at the top of the funnel.

CMI believes that brands must attempt to find more of a balance to really transform results next year.

When asked about the most important marketing goals for the previous 12 months, 84% of respondents said ‘creating brand awareness’, making it the most popular overall ahead of ‘educating audiences’ (75%) and ‘building credibility and trust’ (65%).

In contrast, the lower part of the funnel gets short shrift, with just a third of respondents saying that they are using content to support deeper journeys with the aim of building a solid base of subscribers.

A similar number are currently trying to nurture audiences for the longer term.

B2C marketers would be served well by a pivot to more balanced strategies, as CMI found that goals such as building subscribers are often the key to moving performance from merely good to excellent.

Forging deeper relationships can really pay off, and content is a conduit for helping that lofty objective to be achieved.

Despite the lop-sided nature of content output, 75% of B2C marketers believe that their organisations are currently either ‘moderately’, ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ successful, which is encouraging as content continues to play a greater role in the marketing mix.

Perhaps most importantly, campaigns are improving: the majority of respondents said that they are delivering better returns and are ‘somewhat’ or ‘much’ more successful compared to the same time last year.

CMI’s Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose said that the findings are “exciting” and show that particularly in B2C environments, content marketing “is alive and well” and will be a force for good as the new decade rolls in.

He did add a word of caution though: “However, when we look at B2C companies that are in the sophisticated/mature phase of content marketing, one of the biggest reasons they are successful is because their organization provides customers with optimal experiences across the entire engagement journey.”

Heading into 2020, agencies are in a position to take advantage of the content boom as the majority of B2C marketing teams are now outsourcing a single activity or more as they look to expert outside assistance to support different aspects of campaigns.

Creating written and visual content is an ongoing challenge, and 80% of those outsourcing are handing over content creation to agencies.

The desire to outsource is closely linked to B2C marketers’ list of goals for 2020.

Half of respondents said that a focus on content quality and quantity will be a top priority in the new year, which is something that third parties are particularly adept at supporting over time.

The same number have also set their sights on improving the quality and conversion of audiences.


The evolution of Google search results has resulted in a major shift in how users view, navigate and consume content, according to a new study released last week by Nielson Norman Group.

During the last five years, Google has undergone a sort of transformation from a standard list of pages in SERPs to a more complex overview, with new features such as Snippets and Images enabling users to view a greater diversity of content than before.

A previous study by Nielson Norman Group found that back in 2013, 59% of people using Google just scanned SERPs sequentially, looking at one page and then the next without skipping any results or scanning over other areas of the page.

However, things have changed significantly since then: Google’s raft of updates and UI overhauls have now made sequential viewing the exception and not the rule, with something called ‘pinball pattern’ now the predominant mode of user behaviour.

The pinball pattern sees users gaze across different areas of the page and back again very quickly, which has been driven in part by the raft of new features that Google has implemented in SERPs during the last few years.

Nielson Norman Group noted: “Today’s SERPs often involve not only links, but also images, video, embedded text content, and even interactive features. Any given search can return an assortment of different visual elements.”

Users no longer know what they are going to see when entering a search query, and the fact that humans are visual creatures means that the new elements have had a major impact on how results are consumed.

It also means that webpages that may have got lost further down the page in the past are instead being viewed as they are now placed near visual elements.

The report found that results nearer visuals are more likely to be seen, while those further from them lose visibility in search.

This is good news for brands that are not ranking at the very top of Google search, as in the past, it used to be more of a winner-takes-all environment where the most prominent listing received the most attention – this is not always the case now.

Nielson Norman Group added: “These results are encouraging for site teams. If your site isn’t ranking in the first position, that isn’t ideal. But as long as you’re appearing near the top (within the first 5 results), you may have around a 10-20% chance of getting a click and anywhere from a 40-80% chance of getting a look.”

However, keeping on top of organic SEO is still important as just 2% of users navigate to the second page of search results – the first page is king despite its varying forms.

The study also found that the unpredictability of search stemming from an uptick in the quantity of result types and differing layouts has made it more challenging for users to digest SERPs.

On average, it now takes 5.7 seconds for users to take in what is in front of them before deciding on some sort of action.


Two-thirds of marketers believe that their organisations do not have enough content to support demand-generation activities, while around half rate their overall output as either “fair” or “poor”, a new study by Content Marketing Institute (CMI) has found.

Demand generation is defined as the marketing programs deployed by brands to drive awareness and interest in a suite of products or services, and it is a common tactic in B2B and longer B2C sales cycles.

The broader takeaway from the latest CMI report is that while brands are setting out to be a leader in their respective markets, they often struggle to put themselves ahead of the competition due to a failure to “go beyond good” and strive for great demand-generation output.

Currently, a large portion of demand-generation content creation is focused on the early stage of the buyer’s journey when generation awareness and interest is the primary goal.

Respondents said that 52% of all content was devoted to early-stage activities in 2019, a 5% rise from 2018, and almost double that earmarked for the middle stage of consideration and intent (27%) and the late stage of evaluation and purchase (17%).

The good news is that 77% believe that content is either “extremely” or “very important” to their ongoing demand-generation drive and that the majority say that content marketing is “moderately successful”, though there is obviously room for improvement.

One area where companies could look to refine their approaches to demand generation is by creating greater quantities of content to really move the needle.

A sizeable 63% of respondents said that there is not enough in the pipeline to meet current goals linked to demand generation.

Looking ahead to 2020, 30% of marketers said that a major challenge will be having enough money, time and team members to conduct demand-generation activities effectively, which is a case for outsourcing and agencies.

A few other issues and factors that will be present in marketers’ thinking next year include the need to generate “large quantities of content”, support higher rates of publication and distribution, and having the resources to create high-quality content consistently.

CMI also spoke about the pressures of short-termism at the end of the report – another factor that is holding companies back.

In a previous report, just 6% of respondents said that they are delivering monthly campaigns compared to the 41% who do so on a weekly basis.

The focus on the near term can be damaging as it prevents enterprises from looking to the long term and the need to develop and overhaul infrastructure and scale efforts to deliver the excellent campaigns needed to achieve success.

CMI noted: “Most demand-generation strategies are simply demand-identification programs. Marketing teams exert tremendous effort to optimize content experiences for search terms and questions, and to be ever more different, persuasive, and faster for anyone who has raised their hand to say, ‘I’m interested.’”

CMI concluded by urging marketers to pivot from “good” to “great” and from short-termism to long-term strategy with a particular focus on the skills and infrastructure needed to support content marketing.


Personalisation and bespoke digital experiences will be a major trend in 2020, but a new study by Oracle and Forrester Consulting has found that just one in 10 brands are effectively leveraging a “wide variety” of data assets to deliver the content that customers want across channels.

The ‘Getting Customer Data Management Right’ study, which is based on the opinions and insights of more than 300 marketing and ad pros based in Europe and North America, is the latest research this year to find that data is still posing a number of challenges for modern companies.

Brands recognise that centralising customer data so that it can be used to support marketing is now a critical activity and no longer just a nice-to-have, primarily due to shifting consumer expectations and the need to cut through the noise to reach and engage on a regular basis.

Three quarters of professionals said that improving the experience for customers is a crucial goal for them when attempting to make use of data, and more than two-thirds want to create unified profiles that enable simple targeting across a variety of devices and channels.

There are huge rewards for brands capable of doing this successfully as those adopting a customer data platform (CDP) generally see a 250% spike in the lifetime value of a customer while also driving revenue growth and higher profit margins.

Brands are making progress: 64% said that they have embraced CDPs during the last 12 months in order to eliminate data silos and bring assets together to create a “single source of truth”, which is crucial for better understanding the desires, needs and wants of customers.

CDPs can improve the efficiency of content marketing as they allow data to be deployed easily for a specific function and increase the effectiveness of campaigns run on channels such as blog pages, websites, social media and mobile.

All the benefits of data centralisation appear to be widely known then, but actually being able to achieve this objective is proving to be much more challenging.

Only 11% of brands are currently using the wide range of data types available to deliver consistent, personalised experiences that lead to a spike in customer lifetime value, despite 71% admitting that unified customer profiles are intrinsically linked to effective personalisation.

Issues remain, but brands are eager to improve as 69% of respondents said that spend on CDP initiatives will increase during the next two years. 

“A solid data foundation is the most fundamental ingredient to success in today’s Experience Economy, where consumers expect relevant, timely and consistent experiences,” Oracle CX executive Rob Tarkoff said.

The new report also found that established enterprises are 3.3 times more likely to invest more in martech in 2020 compared to start-ups and emerging companies.

Oracle concluded by urging marketers to work closely with business tech employees as a more mature data and analytics approach can pay dividends in the form of richer consumer insights and higher-quality and integrated data processes, both of which will help marketing and other departments and divisions.


Excellent content can not only drive awareness, reach and sales but can also create environments where consumers are more open and receptive to advertising, a new study by Integral Ad Science has found.

The latest research dispels the myth that ads are inherently annoying and linked to poor digital experiences.

On the contrary, 91% of the UK consumers surveyed said that ads placed next to high-quality content are actually important to them and are fundamental to pleasurable browsing online.

The good news for brands is that the right ads served up next to engaging content leads to 65% of consumers interacting with these ads in a meaningful way, which can have a hugely positive impact on traffic and ROI.

Premium-quality ad placements are not just a preference for UK consumers either, as 90% of people in France said that they want to see ads next to content, while 83% in the US and 82% in Japan said the same.

However, an important aspect of this premium experience appears to personalisation and tailoring.

87% of UK consumers believe that bespoke ad usage is crucial, and this figure leapt to 93% for those in France.

It was not quite as important for US consumers (80%).

The findings suggest that the rise of ad blockers stemmed from consumers’ frustration at ads not being targeted to them specifically rather than being a blight on the internet experience.

While premium content and ad environments raise the bar and encourage consumers to interact and engage, the opposite occurs when consumers are faced with ads and experiences that do not live up to their high expectations. 

Almost an identical number (88%) of UK respondents said that ads featured in close proximity to low-quality content trigger a feeling of annoyance, which then leads to a huge drop off in engagement.

Just 22% said that they would engage with an ad in these circumstances.

Low-quality online environments also irritated consumers in other countries, especially in France (92%) and Indonesia (90%).

There are even more downsides, as 55% of UK consumers said that they would view a brand less favourably if it was seen in a sub-par setting, while seven in 10 would boycott a brand entirely.

Consumers also put the blame for lacklustre placements squarely at the feet of brands, as 68% in the UK said that companies are accountable for actions, a figure that went even higher again in France (72%) and Indonesia (86%).

Integral Ad Science’s EME MD Nick Morley said that the latest ‘Ripple Effect’ study had highlighted a “clear link” between how ad quality is perceived and the subsequent response by consumers.

He noted: “As a positive takeaway, there is an opportunity for brands to harness the dual power of tailored ads and high-quality placement to drive greater audience engagement.”

Morley also warned that the “counterpoint” of ads served next to low-quality content can have disastrous consequences for a company as it often results in damage to brand reputations and a potential decline in revenue.

He concluded: “To ensure online ads drive the right reaction, brand suitability must be a top ad placement priority.”


Twice as many manufacturing marketers now have a documented content strategy in place compared to a year ago, but two-thirds believe that their overall efforts are only “moderately successful”, according to a new study released by Content Marketing Institute (CMI).

The ‘Manufacturing Content Marketing 2020: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends’ report found that manufacturers have taken on content wholesale during the last 12 months with a huge increase in adoption rates and attempts to overhaul strategies to improve returns.

The enthusiasm for content marketing is also translating into better campaigns as 65% of respondents said that they would rate their organisation’s efforts as either “somewhat more” or “much more” successful compared to 12 months ago.

In contrast, just 3% said that they had achieved less success.

“With regard to content marketing, manufacturers have arrived,” CMI’s research director Lisa Murton Beets said in a statement. “No longer do we view them as late adopters.”

Overall, manufacturing marketers believe that their content marketing is “moderately successful”, which is a sign that there is still room for improvement across the board.

Currently, only 1% believe that their efforts are “extremely successful”.

However, the use of documented strategies is laying the groundwork for better outcomes, and there has been a notable improvement in this area year-over-year.

In 2018, 21% said that they had a strategy written down, but this jumped to 41% in the latest study, which shows that there is now a greater onus placed on strategic thinking.

Murton Beets added: “We saw a big increase this year in those who are approaching content marketing strategically. In addition, they’re having an easier time accessing subject matter experts and communicating complex content. Overall, manufacturers are reporting healthy levels of content marketing success, which is exciting to see.”

Manufacturing marketers face a range of challenges in 2020, but the most cited unique issue for them at the moment is “overcoming traditional marketing and sales mindset”.

Attempts to blur the lines between these two groups is a challenge for 55% of respondents.

The need to deliver content that can engage audiences across the sales pipeline (53%) and attempts to differentiate products and services from the competition (48%) are also hot topics in the industry.

A previous study by CMI found that outsourcing now plays a major role in content marketing for B2B companies, and the same is true for manufacturers where the expertise of agencies has gone some way to helping them deliver more engaging and higher-quality materials.

Two-thirds of manufacturing marketers are now outsourcing one or more of their activities to third parties, but it is content creation that leads the way by some distance.

87% of respondents said that creation is now outsourced, and the study noted that this may be the reason why manufacturers have been able to communicate more complex topics in 2019.

Perhaps most importantly, improvements in content marketing have helped manufacturers to position themselves as a “credible and trusted resource” for audiences, to value the craft and creativity central to content creation and production, and to serve the needs of customers in a timely manner.