How to be ready for content marketing in 2017
Need a leg up on creating your content marketing strategy? We’ve got a checklist for that.
What’s coming next in content marketing? If 2016 was any indication, 2017 is going to see continued acceleration in content marketing, as companies further internalize the importance of self-driven knowledge to their customers and prospects. Most of the changes we’ll see are already visible if you look, from an even greater focus on the customer, to the explosion in live video, to non-fiction storytelling.
In general, it’s all about adapting to your audience. You’ve probably heard that you should be acting like a media company that provides a product or service, rather than a product or service that also creates media; this year you should be concentrating on using media to guide your users along their journey from first finding out they have a problem to finally solving it with you. That is, after all, the buyer’s journey is what content is about.
To make it through 2017 without getting swamped, you’re going to have to be prepared; here’s what to expect.
1) The content marketing industry settles in
Content marketing is definitely not going away, and will instead become the platform of choice for solving a broad range of fundamental marketing problems, from ad blockers to difficulty getting organic traction on social to a general skepticism that has seized most audiences.
“An August study of the 50 fastest-growing B2B companies by Mattermark and Drift revealed that 80 percent of companies maintain a blog or other form of online publication,” Komarketing Associates reports. “More than half of these organizations use CTAs to direct online users to their products or services.”
All of those CTAs mean a need for a great deal of quality content, which has led to 75% of companies planning to increase of significantly increase their investment in the coming year, according to Convince and Convert. “There were 19,156 content marketing jobs available on LinkedIn in the fall of 2016. To put this in perspective, that’s 2.8 times the number of jobs in product marketing, 5.5 times the number of brand marketing job openings, and 9.4 times the demand generation jobs listed on LinkedIn.”
Experts say that trends are leaning hard towards “generalists” — full brained marketers who look at the whole stack, from content planning to SEO to qualification to sales. “The top skills many companies complain their teams lack are content creation and content marketing leadership — the skills that form the cornerstone of content marketing.”
2) Customer focused marketing
Perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s getting harder to find talent; content marketing is no longer about spinning articles and hoping for the best. Content is serious business.
In fact, Komarketing Associates reports that “According to the ‘2016 B2B Buyer’s Survey’ conducted by Demand Gen Report, 69 percent of B2B buyers say the most influential aspect of a company’s website is content that speaks directly to their needs. … When thinking about content development, marketers need to focus on adding content to their sites that speaks directly to buyers’ pain points. This can be done through targeted blog post development, industry news articles, webinars, product videos, and more.”
This kind of targeting can be crucial. According to Convince and Convert, 40% of existing B2B business comes from existing customers, but only 2% of budgets are directed at retention. With acquiring a new customer costing 5 times retention of an existing customer, that’s a huge amount of money leaving the table.
Keeping all of this in mind, expect 2017 to bring advances in personalization. “In 2017, I’m expecting to see more use of services and APIs to integrate social media with CRM, Marketing Automation and social media prospecting and retargeting ad platforms,” says Richard Sunley, Analyst at Social Media Today. “For example, we use Clearbit to understand and interact with our B2B audiences on social media.”
Mark Ensign, the Big Cheese at LoudMouse, is even more specific. “If you are having an event, rather than blasting out emails to 10,000 people on a list, get clear on the 50 people you want at the event and send them engraved invitations. A personal email. A phone call. Something that makes them feel loved. It’s more work. But it works more.”
In general, expect a trend toward catering to a specific audience with specific needs and specific profiles in their customer journey — rather than shotgunning content and hoping for the best. This will only continue as Big Data yields better insight, but expect even more emphasis as the Internet of Things starts sending torrents of information we never knew we could use to predict what customers are interested in.
Specifically, you must create content that focuses on “micromoments” — those moments when the user turns to an intent such as locating a specific product or inquiring about a price. You already know these moments are happening; map your content to them to try and capture the user in the moment. This is the essence of using content in the buyer’s journey.
3) Video continues its dominance
You can’t possibly have failed to see video’s rise in the last year or so, particularly with the advent of live streaming platforms such as Twitter’s Periscope (and now Twitter itself), and then Facebook Live. But it’s not just live video that’s making a splash.
Why? Because video gets a different quality of time and attention than print: you control the pace of information release, and the longer the user stays with you, the more it demonstrates the effectiveness of your content. It’s a time commitment, and the relationship to buying is showing up in the research.
“Studies have found that those who view videos are 1.81 times more likely to buy than those who don’t — even having ‘video’ in the subject line of your emails has been shown massively improve open rates,” Lilach Bullock says.
But how long can that last? “The ‘Content Shock’ that Mark Schaefer called out a few years ago is going to happen with video in 2017,” says Jason Miller, Group Manager for Global Content and Social Media Marketing at LinkedIn. “As video grows in importance and live video becomes the norm, marketers are going to have to focus on quality over quantity. Upping the production value of an iPhone video and focusing on smart editing and razor sharp audio will be [a] differentiator.” (Note that there are those who disagree, and feel that “authenticity” will be the true differentiator.)
Still, the trend is likely to continue. “A Firebrand Group study recently discovered that about 85 percent of marketers have seen positive ROI from their video efforts. … It’s also proven to be the most thoroughly consumed piece of content by customers and prospects, according to HubSpot research. Video was followed by social media posts, news articles and research content,” Komarketing says.
The battle looks to be even more fierce in terms of live video. Futurist Joel Comm suggests that “The live video revolution will continue as the battle for minutes viewed will continue across platforms, both existing and new. With Instagram announcing live video functionality, it won’t be long before Snapchat moves to make live broadcasting a primary feature. Facebook Live and Periscope will continue to iterate new features, but we can also watch for new players to enter the broadcast realm. The lines between broadcast television, cable tv, satellite, on-demand and internet video will continue to be blurred as advertising dollars will shift to new forms of live video. Pretty soon all forms of broadcasting will fall under the ‘tv’ umbrella.”
Mark Fidelman, Managing Director, Fanatics Media, expects brands to jump in even more fiercely. “In 2017 you’ll begin to see brands produce their own web TV shows on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook hosted by popular influencers. We’re already developing shows for brands that want to take control of their lead generation and brand awareness directly — and not through expensive advertising campaigns delivered on third party content distributors.”
The This Old Marketing Podcast sees an even more prominent trend: “A significantly greater number of brands will start to underwrite series programming on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Bigger brands, like Starbucks and Marriott, are the most likely candidates to spark the trend, as they are already creating high-quality content through their own content studios. But once we start to hit the tipping point, even smaller companies will recognize the tremendous opportunities involved in distributing their brand content on these popular channels.”
4) The social landscape shifts
If you haven’t already seen the death of organic social reach, don’t worry, you will. The days of “showing a little social love” are, for the most part, over, as platforms curtail distribution even more in the name of “relevance”.
Facebook’s “tweaks” will continue. “In the very near future,” says Michael Stelzner of Social Media Examiner, “information flow will be filtered and measured and censored in the name of ‘reducing clutter’ and revealing ‘only what’s important.’ … The information distribution highway will have toll stations that must be paid for by the those who create content. If you want your content seen, you’ll need to house it inside the companies that control the toll stations. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and more will incentivize content creators to not link to off-site content.” Stelzner is actually quite pessimistic, predicting blogs shutting down due to the elimination of free information flow.
Expect some of this to flow from the “fake news” debacle that was 2016.
“The accelerating mistrust of news sources triggered by the imputed impact of fake news in the US presidential election will not only create new points of friction for paid media distribution and credibility of journalism and journalist-like tactics, but leads to new business model opportunities for Truth as a Service,” says TopRankBlog. “For example there is a significant opportunity for Facebook (or someone) to fuze content curation with a snopes-like editorial service; a new trending topic information portal for articles with ratings filtration (white list validated/non-validated, medium-trustworthy validated/non-validated, low trustworthy validated/non-validated); a corresponding ‘Truth-ometer’ rating model for in-stream content; and an affiliate model of gated higher rated articles from paid sites e.g., at a .50 cents per article fee for access, or a charge for aggregated researched original articles or info-graphic display owned by the host aggregator.”
Many of the pundits are calling 2017 a “make or break” year for Twitter, predicting it will either by acquired (Robert Rose- Chief strategy officer, The Content Advisory), or simply dissolved or broken into parts (Dorie Clark- Author, Stand Out & Reinventing You, Clark Strategic Communications).
5) Emails are still (even more) important
With all of the focus on social, it tends to get left out, but a survey from MarketingSherpa showed that every single age group indicated email as their preferred form of communication. Even the least likely group — those over 65 — still preferred email 68% of the time.
To take advantage of this trend, Mike Templemen recommends marketers focus on “more email newsletters. Most B2B marketers use email newsletters to reach prospects and share information with clients. If you were considering a newsletter, or a different newsletter, 2017 is probably a good time to launch. This is because email open rates are actually going up in certain cases. I know that we’ve been discussing the death of email for the past five years, but it seems we were all premature with our obituaries.”
There are also other great reasons to do email newsletters. As Mike Madden, Sr. Demand Generation Program Manager, Marketo points out, “Email campaigns will begin to predict the content you really want/need.” Look for email to tell you who’s engaged, and what stage of the journey they’ve reached, not just whether or not they are clicking.
6) Niche campaigns become more common
You may have noticed a movement away from broad sweeps towards more specific messages, and that is borne out by expert opinions when it comes to niche communications.
“Rather than writing a blog post about ‘how to attract customers online,’ you’re better off writing about ‘how to attract returning customers through Facebook Ads,’” says Convince and Convert. “Scratching the surface of an over-discussed topic won’t help you stand out. Why should people read your post instead of thousands of others? Serve a niche audience, and go deep into the rabbit hole.”
“I think folks will begin to realize we are achieving Peak Content and the value to benefit ratio associated with Organic media is diminishing,” Ari Lightman, Professor, Carnegie Mellon University says. “Much like we are seeing the commoditization of everything, content strategies are ceasing to become a competitive advantage if everyone is doing the same things. So folks will cut back from spreading themselves too thin and focus on hyper targeted niche campaigns that can provide a higher success ratio. Hopefully this will reduce redundancy and clutter and help marketers focus on differentiating around their ability to use data effectively to engage with audiences.“
7) Non-fiction storytelling comes to the fore
There’s a reason that humans respond well to storytelling; our lives are essentially based on it. Humans are a pattern-seeking species.
“In 2017, we’re going to see more emphasis on ‘social storytelling’ to help better engage audiences on social platforms,” Social Media Today says. “Given this, it would be beneficial for brands to start investigating and putting into action steps to add more storytelling elements into their social marketing plans — more immediate, multi-scene narratives that help better connect users to their brand story and purpose, which really works to enhance the ‘social’ element.”
But you need to be careful of the stories you tell, says Park Howell, Founder, Business of Story. “More brands will realize that it’s not what they make, but what they make happen for their customers that’s at the heart of their story. You’ll see lots of awkward attempts at storytelling across all channels, especially in live video, but business leaders and communicators will start finding their pace by early 2018. So ask yourself this: ‘What do you do better than anyone else, and who cares?’ This is your first step to crafting and telling a compelling brand story that sells.”
At its heart, storytelling is about developing an emotional connection with your audience, and that involves trust — which can itself be complicated. “Trust in a digital environment where every step we take is a studied one and where everything can be controlled, altered and manipulated presents both a challenge and an opportunity,” says Social Media Today. “The challenge lies in understanding the myriad ways through which trust is experienced and formed. The opportunity lies in establishing connections with our audience that have lasting value because they appeal to the core identity of who we are and what we consider to be important. Neither of these can be undertaken lightly, nor can it be said to be easy but it is how companies, brands and individuals will now differentiate themselves from the crowd, form networks of contacts that give them influence and establish their dominance in a crowded marketplace.”
Still, in an age where live video is becoming not just common but expected, great production values are not necessarily what’s expected. Sometimes, in fact, they’re a hindrance. “2017 will be the year when we find out what happens when brands stop being polished and start being real,” says Convince and Convert.
8) Content presentation matters
When it comes to presentation, most importantly, you must make sure that your content is appropriate for mobile in 2017; as Google ramps up its Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) program, sites that don’t load well or have full interstitials are going to feel it.
But it will take more than just a good mobile site to be noticed in 2017. With all of the noise, there will, of course, be attempts to break out using new or innovative types of content. According to Convince and Convert, “Currently, 53 percent of businesses have used some form of interactive content, and 45 percent claim it can be highly effective.“
Of course the term “interactive content” is pretty vague, and can refer to anything from a clickable infographic to a mobile app.
Augmented Reality (AR) will also likely make a return in 2017 after the Pokemon Go explosion this year, but don’t expect it to become truly mainstream for a bit longer. The real challenge will be making it both useful and usable. Snapchat filters have essentially been using it for quite some time, but until businesses find something more useful than putting a beard on a four year old, it’s still going to be finding its way.
9) The importance of strategy
Having a documented strategy is nothing new, of course — except that for many, it still is. You’ll need to pay attention to how you are going to win — and how you know you are winning.
According to Convince and Convert, 89% of marketers say they’re using some form of content marketing, but only 19% think they’re doing it successfully. Compared to last year, 62% said they’re more successful, but only 41% say they know what that actually means. While 41% say they’re very committed to content marketing, only 37% actually have a documented strategy.
As time goes on and we move into this world in which marketing generalists get more specific about customer-focused content and authentic storytelling through channels in which they have less control over organic distribution, playing things fast and loose will become more and more difficult, forcing even the most dedicated to, as Ann Handley, CEO of MarketingProfs somewhat colorfully puts it, slow down and be more deliberate.
So if you haven’t documented your strategy for 2017, now’s the time.
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