2023 has been a tough year in tech, and the results of our first annual survey of content marketing professionals reflect those challenges. From layoffs to budget freezes, to the emergence of generative AI., uncertainty has had an impact on marketers around the world.
But from the 685 responses we gathered, we can also see how the industry is evolving, and the enthusiasm for content that not only communicates and clarifies, but converts.
The definition of “content” itself is always shifting, so marketers have always had to level up and expand their skillsets accordingly. Today, the typical content marketer has — on top of deep technical product knowledge — knowledge of SEO, branding, newsletters, video, podcasting, social media, design, and indeed, AI. They scale operations and manage teams. Contrast that to the marketer of 10 years ago, whose main skill was “blogging.”
This first annual State of Content Marketing Report was created in partnership with our friends at Minuttia. An organic growth acceleration agency, the Minuttia team have been wonderful supporters of Superpath for several years. Managing Director George Chasiotis has hosted webinars on content strategy, topic clusters, content audits, global content programs, content briefs and research.
Minuttia helps SaaS companies with content strategy, creation, SEO, link building and design. You can learn more and book an intro call here.
As we usher in a new era that includes the incorporation of AI into most (if not all) B2B products, the content industry will continue to mature. Our network of content pros here at Superpath will continue building an inspiring and diverse community. And content will remain the single best way B2B companies have to connect with customers, sell products, and build brands.
Here's a peek into the demographics of our report. We asked that only in-house content marketers respond to this survey and that each respondent share their job title. We know from our annual content marketing salary report that job titles are correlated with seniority and we feel confident that this sample accurately reflects the trends we're seeing across B2B SaaS content marketing.
So let’s look back on 2023’s survey while looking forward to what’s to come.
Most respondents here hovered between 7-8 on a scale of 10, which paints a cautiously optimistic picture.
When we talked to content marketers, their responses reflected the spectrum of responses:
"The last 12 months of pressures are forcing a shift towards results-obsessed, original, and rapidly iterative content programs. Gone are the days of copycat SEO content that goes on poorly measured. For this I'm 10/10 excited!" —Ty Magnin, CEO, Animalz
“I’ve never been more excited for the industry, and to be a part of it. Great content marketing has always been both art and science. Rapid evolutions in AI and the continued democratization of media will continue to challenge and improve the industry with new ways of creating and distributing engaging content.” —Marjorie Jooste, Content Marketing Manager, Splunk
“I'm excited about the stuff that people are going to pull off. We're coming to the era of actual content (SEO content is slowly getting pushed back by Google, and has been for several years), so most of the players in our industry are going to have a hard time pivoting. We've already started pivoting, so we're lucky.” —Vince Moreau, Founder & CEO, Scalecrush
“I think we're witnessing the end of B2B content marketing as we know it.”—Ronnie Higgins, Director of Content, OpenPhone
“I believe that AI content tools will be doing a lot of content folks a favour by accelerating a return to proper investment into that squishy, hard-to-measure, but deeply crucial growth element that is creativity.” —Fio Dossetto, Senior Content strategist at Float.com, founder at contentfolks.substack.com
Here the numbers hover in the 6-8 range out of 10. 153 respondents placed their job security at a 7.
Layoffs.fyi reports that some 330,000 tech workers were laid off in 2022 and Q1 2023 combined. We don't have great data on exactly how many content marketers were affected, but we’ve talked to dozens of folks in Superpath who were laid off sometime in the last 18 months. Not long ago, some of our job board customers were desperate for talented content marketers, willing to pay above-market salaries and competing hard against the many other companies looking for the same talent. As we write this in October 2023, the companies still hiring have their pick of talented folks looking for work.
There was a higher variance in answers here, which makes sense, given varying definitions and ideas of stress, from the stress of starting a new job, to returning to office, to burnout and layoffs. 502 survey respondents rated their stress between 5-8 out of 10.
For this question, respondents were asked to check all that applied, which resulted in a somewhat even distribution of answers. But one factor had over half of respondents worried: driving results.
Interestingly, this has always been a sticking point for content marketers: how can their work be judged not just on qualitative metrics, but on quantitative ones too? This is such a common topic that we’ve written several articles about this, including this one on How 6 SaaS Content Teams Track Attribution.
Content has always been a dynamic field, and it’s not uncommon to see content marketers making vertical and lateral moves, as well as go from in-house to freelance, and vice versa.
That being said, the majority of survey respondents fell more into the “passive” job search category, rather than active: most looked at jobs weekly, monthly, or quarterly.
There was a more or less even split among the three answer choices here, with increased content budgets slightly edging out the other categories. However, a majority of respondents said their budgets have stayed the same or decreased.
If you happen to find yourself at a budget disadvantage, you’re not alone. Producing content on a tight budget can actually be a creative constraint. We’ve written a guide on how to do more with less.
The results here mirror the answer about content budgets: about 41% of content teams are growing, but most respondents said team size has stayed the same or decreased.
Team growth is not always a goal for Directors and Heads of Content. Some prefer small team size for greater editorial control; others like to bring on consultants and freelancers for projects that require narrow expertise.
About 42% of respondents said their content orgs are relying more on freelancers this year than last. For the remaining 58%, freelancer dependency has stayed the same or decreased.
Dock’s Eric Doty has scaled content operations as a one-person team with the help of specialist freelancers. As he put it:
“I find, if you have a small team, you either have to have a very good generalist in-house that can handle a bunch of things like SEO, product marketing, product launches, social media, et cetera. It’s hard to find people that can do all those things very well. So it’s easier to outsource to experts for each thing. So, someone to make blog graphics, someone to just help with the podcast. Those are all different people and they all have their unique skillset. They can all do it better than I can. They can do it faster than I can.”
On the other hand, companies that require expert-level knowledge of the products they’re marketing may prefer to keep content in-house.
"Over the past 12 months, our outsourcing has decreased. We’ve pivoted to creating more product-led and thought leadership content in-house vs outsourcing SEO content to freelancers. So far, this change has proven more efficient and effective. We’ve reduced hours spent editing since our product- and industry-heavy pieces are created by those with appropriate expertise on our team." —Noelina Rissman, Content Marketing Manager at Constructor
AI was a major topic of discussion this year, and looks to be going into 2024. Companies have pivoted their strategies around AI, and developers are scrambling to build shippable products that make use of the complex and powerful technology that can both process natural language data and generate content from it.
In our survey, responses varied widely on this topic, from not concerned at all, to moderately concerned (the majority), to highly concerned.
Marjorie Jooste captures the mixed emotions in response to AI’s rapid rise:
"I’d say I’m 'nervous-cited' about AI and its impact on my industry. In the short term, we’ll continue to see more disruption as content creators lose their jobs to AI-generated content. Those who remain will have to anchor our work in the connective power of the human experience — while enhancing our work with AI — to create content that rises above the fray, sparks emotion and connection, and performs."
Nneka Otika, co-founder and content marketer at Influence Alchemy, welcomes the changes AI will bring:
"I’m not overly concerned about AI being a threat to content marketing. Rather, I see AI as a partner that will help many content marketers with content processes, like ideation, research, data analysis, etc. Content marketing is ever evolving and AI is just another evolution step in our field."
"While I foresee AI. taking over TOFU content, it still leaves room for content marketers to excel with MOFU and BOFU content, other forms of content (say original research, white papers, etc.) as well as distribution and strategy. Our work as content marketers goes beyond writing content and AI can play a supporting role in helping us simplify our processes." —Nneka Otika, Co-founder and Content Marketer at Influence Alchemy
While some content marketers have readily embraced AI, and others are a bit more wary, nearly everyone has used it in their workflow recently.
Those on the more enthusiastic end of AI adoption and are starting to reconfigure their strategy and processes around it. Take Bhavik Sarkehedi:
“I have embraced AI technology over the last year, integrating it into my content creation process to elevate both productivity and content quality. I find tools like Grammarly and Frase.io invaluable for editing and initial content research, respectively. Observed a significant streamline in workflow due to AI implementation, allowing me more time for strategic planning and creative conceptualization. I also utilize ChatGPT for generating initial drafts and ideas on various topics, especially in digital marketing and SEO realms.” —Bhavik Sarkhedi, Digital Marketer, BrainerHub Solutions
With a proliferation of AI tools — from text generators to search engine optimizers to speech modifiers to video editors to translators, transcribers, project managers and more — AI is poised to take care of the grunt work of production. It’s tempting to rehaul every task into an AI-assisted one, but survey respondents were split on the issue, perhaps due to the nascent status of many AI tools.
“I've tried to use [AI] at pretty much every point in the process. From coming up with ideas to what can it write. I'll emphasize the word ‘try’ because I've experimented with it for everything, and then for the most part come to the conclusion that it's not that helpful *yet* for creation…It’s helpful for the repurposing-remixing step where there’s a lot of manual effort. For our podcast in particular, we already have an episode transcript. So if I give it the whole transcript and say, ‘Can you summarize this into five really poignant takeaways or examples?’ Then I can put that into an email.” —Eric Doty
Reflecting the overall market, SaaS companies are bullish on AI, with a majority of marketers reporting positive attitudes towards its use within their organizations.
AI can be a cause for concern for content managers when it comes to issues like quality control, plagiarism, and duplicate content (which Google de-ranks).
We received answers across the spectrum on this topic, with the highest numbers of marketers hovering between 6-7 out of 10: slightly higher than moderate concern.
Ronnie Higgins vividly captures his concerns about AI-generated content:
“Our over reliance on SEO tools has clogged the internet with a "grey goo" of useless copycat content and the proliferation of generative AI is only going to exasperate this problem.”
Content marketers are no strangers to experimentation, whether with new types of content or new tools. Many of our respondents are using AI in more than one way in their current workflows:
AI isn’t free, but it’s not that expensive yet, either. Newer AI tools have stayed relatively cheap in their first few iterations, some even offering heavy discounts to early adopters. More established companies that have added AI capabilities have not raised prices yet because of limited functionality. Both may start to increase prices in the future relative to the costs and value added.
So far, content marketers are keeping their AI costs relatively low, with only a few paying more than $500 monthly for AI services.
Bhavik Sarkhedi on the costs of implementing AI: “I do have an associated cost with these tools, but the investment is justified given the time saved and the enhancement in content quality. I see the expenditure on AI not as a financial burden, but a worthy investment that has significantly positively impacted my content marketing strategies.”
Search traffic and rankings remain integral to content strategies worldwide. The quantifiable success of SEO makes it appealing to leadership, and a strong SEO presence aids in product awareness and familiarity.
About three-quarters of survey respondents consider SEO to be of equal or more importance this year as it was last.
However, changes are coming to Google and other search engines, from AI search assistance, to updated content guidelines, to crackdowns on AI-generated articles, which leaves a lot of marketers questioning how to adjust in response.
Many survey respondents checked multiple boxes here, reaffirming the priority role SEO plays in content strategy as a whole.
Many companies are starting to change the way they think about and use SEO to grow their business, to adapt to the changes brought on by AI.
As Patrick Herbert, Director of SEO agency Singularity Digital, puts it:
“No one knows how to get Bard or Bing to include you in answers yet. The overwhelming response is still - write helpful content and you (probably) need to rank on Page 1 to get included.”
2023 saw the beginning of the AI era in content, and the content landscape will continue to shift in response to its development. Content leaders experimenting with AI will refine their workflows and tooling, while monitoring the effects of AI on SEO.
While we can’t predict the long-term impact of AI, we continue to be hopeful about the opportunities it presents to marketers, such as:
As we head into 2024, learning how to work with AI, instead of in fear of or against it, will be an asset to all content marketers going forward.
Thanks to everyone who participated in this year’s report!