First things first: Huge fan of Joe Pulizzi at the Content Marketing Institute. And if you've ever had to do a market analysis on your own, then you know how much fun it is to type "The End" and then paint a big cross hair on your back with a "Kick Me" Post-It right in the middle.

But I think what we have in CMI's new annual Marketing Benchmark study is "a failure to communicate." Cool Hand Luke aside, the new report raises as many questions (for me) as it purportedly answers.

First, the report says that the most common types of "content marketing" are: articles (79%), social media (74%), blogs (65%), e-newsletters (63%), and case studies (58%). 

Let's ponder this a moment. First, "article" must refer to technical, trend, or "how to" articles, but not "case studies." Okay. I get that. I guess. Those of us in the trenches know that case studies are better at supporting targeted sales, while "technical" articles are better at converting the masses and directing them toward the opening of your sales funnel, so you might assume that a company will have to develop more content for larger groups (potential customers) than small groups of existing customers. And here's why:

To a customer that knows your products, a story about a similar company (or competitor) using the same approach makes them feel better about pulling the trigger. But to the faceless masses of potential customers doing research about new products and services, they want to know specifically how a technology, process or application will make them "look good" I mean, be more productive, profitable and efficient. The fact that an ACME made a bundle going with your products is irrelevant.

So, a smart company realizes that the more valuable the article (analytical, insightful, useful...the stories that are a bear to write) the greater the customer appeal. But the simple truth is: If your company doesn't generate a 100M a year, you probably don't have the staff to churn out analytical content on every Tuesday. Wednesday, now that's a better day. Downhill. But still, weekly genius is tough to come by.

Ergo, I think we can assume the CMI respondents were from medium to large companies with deep pockets and army's of paid consultants.

Next: social media is more used than blogs? Really? When did a blog stop being social media?

Okay, the authors must be saying that social media refers to the big boys (FaceSpace, LinkedNing, YouTubeBadoo, etc.). But the problem here is saying companies put more into developing content for social media than blogs. The vast majority of B2B companies use blogs to generate content that they push (and spin, Google hates self plagiarism too) out to the social network sites. Not the other way around.

If you do a lot of professional video, you can make this argument because video, illustrators, talented artists, etc., cost big bucks. But if your SMM is like 90% of your competitors, then the message is text and photos. And what makes more sense? Writing 1 insightful post to your blog and spinning it 6 different ways to the big SM guys? Or writing 6 incredibly insightful pieces -- one for each social media outlet-- and paying for exclusivity?

Hmm. Unless you have a room full of typewriters, a pack of talented monkeys (No slam to the sales department there. They still can't type.), and a group of Lemurs refilling the monkey's beer buster helmets with RedBull, you're probably using your blog to help feed the social media marketing beast and not the other way around.

So, again: How does social media content outrank blog development? Yeah, I don't know either.

Here are some more things that make you wonder what's in CMI's fudge: Compared to 2010, the 2011 survey indicates more use of blogs (27% increase), white papers (19%), and videos (27%) in the B2B marketing arsenal. What's more, companies are relying less on print to get their message across (42% in 2010 vs. 31% in 2011 for print magazines, as well as a 5% drop between the two years for print newsletters).

Where to start? First, trends are pointless without some idea of how much mass is behind the trend. For example: If my Christmas party had 300% more people than last year, but last year, it was just me, Jennifer, Sophia, Andy, Daniel, and our pet hamster -- who does a hell of a Michael Buble imitation by the way -- 300% isn't quite as impressive.

But my favorite 'insight' is the drop off in print magazine content. Most trade publications are making their nut these days through digital sales, not growth in print advertising. So, is a print magazine that makes 60% of its revenue from newsletters, virtual conferences, digital editions, etc., still a print magazine? If Reed/Elsevier doesn't cut down a single tree to make $7B a year, does anyone really care? What's really important is how a media outlet drives qualified customers to your company's website or its telephone number. Most media buys are combo purchases these days anyway. So, the death of print is either greatly exaggerated, or at least, barely worth a bottle of Jameson at the wake.

Some other interesting 'nuggets':

  • Of the five industries covered by the report, manufacturing/processing ranks the lowest in implementation at 83%. That's a solid 'B' even without a grading curve. And they're the worst? Maybe manufacturing needs to rework the U.S. educational system.
  • Web traffic is the most widely used success metric (58%). I'm guessing the other 42% are incoming phone calls because the pigeon union went on strike last month and my car has never looked cleaner.
  • Biggest content challenges include "producing engaging content" and "budget to produce content." Really?!? Inconceivable! Management has always been SSSOO supportive of marketing. And maintenance too! And the need for smart phones that come preloaded with Angry Birds.
  • 40% of marketers consider themselves to be more effective in content marketing than their competitors. Wow, 60% of marketers are self-deprecating and honest? NOW THERE'S AN INSIGHT! :) Joe, Can we get the list of the other 60%, please? With sugar on top?
  • Every social media channel is seeing increased adoption, often by 15-20%. Tis an easy thing to build a Facebook company page. But it's a bear to get management, engineers, production, etc., to check your site every day unless you have something special to say. Every day.
  • Brand awareness and customer acquisition are at the top of content marketing goals. Okay, that's too easy to make fun of.
  • 60% of survey respondents indicate they will increase spending on content marketing in 2012. That must be because the other 40% are kicking their butt! Again, Joe: HBC promises to put you on our Christmas list if you'll only give us that list of the magical 60%!!

All kidding aside, if you've ever had to do market analysis, you know it's as much fun as a root canal in an inversion chair. It can take years to get enough data to be meaningful. But, dear reader, remember to be careful what you read, especially when it comes to allocating money for the Art of Marketing.

Either way: Joe, you still da' man.