I’m not a big fan of content marketing prediction posts.
It’s not that they aren’t informative or intelligently written; it’s just that instead of data-driven analysis of upcoming trends, predictions usually amount to that author’s wishlist, stocked full of noble aspirations for marketers around the world.
There are things we already know, based on survey data from the Content Marketing Institute:
- Content marketing budgets will keep on growing (59 percent of B2C and 55 percent of B2B marketers will increase spending in 2015).
- More businesses will hop on-board and make even more noise (about 69 percent of B2C and 70 percent of B2B marketers create more content now than they did a year ago).
- Google’s Hummingbird algorithm seems to favor longer content, so that’s what we’ll see more of.
- Apple made a wristwatch and somehow Google Glass isn’t totally dead yet, so wearables are (eventually) on their way in—we think.
And so on.
I’m no soothsayer. I think you deserve better than a laundry list of clichés like “mobile content will be big” and “content will become more HUMAN!” (whatever that means).
So I’ve got something different for you.
Almost exactly a year ago, I took content marketing to task with a list of five grievances that I saw as inhibiting the ability of content marketers everywhere that needed to change in 2014.
My five points last year were as follows:
- Ownership and documentation of content marketing strategy is abysmal and needs to be addressed.
- Content is being treated like a commodity and outsourced to the lowest bidder; results come as promised.
- Content marketers need to measure the success of their content in conversions (direct and assisted) instead of traffic.
- Rel=publisher is the next big thing in markup. (Hey, can’t get ’em all right.)
- Amplification, or content distribution, needs to become a more prominent focus; marketers need to get past the “creation” stage to be effective.
On that post’s one-year anniversary, I’d like to outline four more ways I think content marketing and those responsible for it need to change as we head into the new year.
Strap yourselves in, gang. It might get sassy.
1. lack of Documentation Is Still A big problem
I’m making this my number one “must change” again because not only is this one of the most obvious ways we can improve content marketing, it’s also a proven change-maker that’s as easy to implement as writing things down.
I went on a bit of a tear on this topic in my “Are Content Marketers Insane, or Just Lazy?” post, but here’s a summary:
A mere 27 percent of B2C and 35 percent of B2B businesses actually document their strategy.
In both B2B and B2C businesses, those who had a documented strategy were more effective than their undocumented peers at virtually EVERY aspect of content marketing, including ROI tracking, measuring content effectiveness, diversification in tactics, overcoming the challenges of producing engaging content and planning for the future.
And maybe most telling, the number of B2C and B2B marketers who rate themselves as “effective” with their content marketing nearly doubles (or in the case of B2C, more than doubles) when a documented strategy is present.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is not rocket science. As I wrote last year:
“Let’s start treating content marketing like a complex, hands-on process that demands critical thought instead of an ad hoc, seat-of-your-pants, fingers-crossed game of horseshoes.”
If you’re not writing down your strategy and if you’re not operating with written assets like style guides, creative briefs, persona sheets, benchmarks and regular reporting, you are not getting the ROI you should be.
No sane person would entrust more than 25 percent of their budget to an undocumented process. You shouldn’t either.
2. design deserves more respect (And budget)
It seems like the focus of content creation has focused heavily on written content, with much of the effort going into finding talented writers and (if you’re smarter than the average bear) securing a killer editor to bring consistency and enforce quality.
These are things that should absolutely continue.
But one of the greatest missed opportunities in content is pairing it with exceptional design. Most of us already know that blog posts or written assets with images tend retain readers longer and get more shares. Perhaps you’ve also heard the stat that 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text.
What’s overlooked here is that it’s not about an image simply retaining a viewer’s attention—it’s about evoking the kind of emotional response that creates longtime, recurring content consumers and differentiates your content from the thousands of others all publishing similar work. It goes beyond blog posts—image-heavy emails are preferred by 65 percent of receivers.
Visual design and layout can be used to communicate and reinforce the same values, ideas and personalities you try so hard to convey in your text while simultaneously establish credibility. This is particularly true when the author of the content is a mystery and you’re trying to get an audience to make a connection with a brand/corporate entity instead of an individual charismatic personality or kingpin. It’s all part of creating a memorable experience and giving the audience something to latch onto beyond your prose or information.
Perhaps also heard that 80 percent of people remember things they see or do, while only 20 percent remember what they’ve read. Anything you can do to be more memorable is worth the investment.
Your ideas and message must be excellent, but given that everyone’s trying to amp up on the volume and quality front, that’s no longer enough to be remarkable. Now, your content needs to be dressed to impressed.
Here are just a few examples of content assets that used custom design well:
TopTenReviews’ DIY Home Security Piece:
In short, it’s time we were more conscious of the impact of design on an asset’s performance and start investing in it accordingly.
As I was writing this piece, Storyform launched—one of the first and most interesting new platforms for making more eloquent design accessible. I’d like to see more innovation in this space, and more collaboration between content teams and designers.
3. The Ecosystem is inefficient (and fixing it is EASY!)
One of the biggest complaints among content marketers is the cost of producing content—and rightfully so. Whether your costs are incurred by frequency (the need to constantly create) or quality (the need to hire exceptional creatives) or promotion (or all three), content marketing comes with a price tag and the need to carefully manage expenses.
Which is why I find it so baffling that content marketers continue to operate with glaring inefficiencies.
The following are areas that could stand to be improved in the coming year:
- Repurposing should be a core tenant of every strategy.
The easiest way to save a fortune on content is to take a “cornerstone asset” approach that empowers you to invest far LESS money into the ideation and creation phases of content production: Conduct ideation and identify a topic with a lot of utility for your audience—something big enough to warrant the creation of a permanent asset like an eBook, whitepaper or significant piece of “remarketable” content. Then, ideate on that idea: What smaller assets could you create from the large asset? Some examples:
- Stats create tweets, infographics, slideshare presentations, compelling images
- Instructional sections become standalone blog posts or a series
- Those blog posts can be repackaged for specific audiences; turned into guest posts
- Host a webinar or record a video
- Field opinions on the topic/interview subject matter experts
- Roll into email campaigns
Do all the research, carefully documenting your facts, conclusions and sources to make them easy to call upon later.
Then, produce your great, big asset, and use the smaller assets you produce after the fact to funnel the audience back into a lead-capture situation.
- Documentation drastically cuts waste, so use it.
I already went to town on documentation earlier, but the key point here is that having standardized documents like creative briefs, style guides and persona sheets makes on-boarding new team members infinitely faster and makes your strategy less abstract, meaning fewer revisions and less time wasted trying to correct course after you’ve gone astray.
- Remarketing is smarter than starting fresh every time.
Once you’ve invested in producing and promoting content, don’t take an “on to the next one” approach. What was relevant three months ago should still be relevant today, and marketers could get more mileage out of their budgets by treating old content like it’s new again. There’s virtually zero chance everyone your content applies to saw it during your first promotional run, and so while promotional strategies are critical, REpromotional strategies are a missing piece that could be a huge money-saver for busy brands.
- Content is not “anybody’s” job.
I bristle at the notion that anyone can and should be a content producer. It’s a lovely idea, but it’s as horrible in practice as the idea that everyone should be a stand-up comedian because we can all tell jokes. Both marketing firms and organizations need to be giving responsibility for content to those equipped to handle it instead of those conveniently available. Case in point: Editors. If your team does not have an editor, whether outsourced or in house—why not? I can’t think of a single role more useful in streamlining the production process and cutting out other inefficiencies like revisions and poor creation talent. We are coming to a point in content marketing where those who have an aptitude and training should be those who own the responsibility for the process, and those who merely fell into it on account of it being the “next big thing” should kindly vacate and let others get work done.
4. Diversification is sorely needed
Marketers’ love affair with blogging is easy to understand: they’re easy to launch and relatively easy to sell to clients. For digital marketing firms still getting their feet wet with the whole “produce awesome things” concept, they’re a safe launching point.
But our blog addiction is stifling us. In “Dear Small Businesses: There is Life Beyond the Blog,” I went out of my way to highlight the other content formats available to businesses—many without exorbitant costs or the need to incur development costs.
- Video. There is an enormous opportunity to capitalize on visual content that is often missed because the barrier to entry is mistakenly seen as buying an entire film studio’s worth of equipment. If you need a primer, here’s Phil Nottingham to save your day with one of the best videos on the topic I’ve found anywhere:
- Permanent assets. Things like guides, whitepapers and eBooks can be marketed over and over again, but require more budget and planning than a blog post. The irony is that blog posts have fees of their own in the form of frequency—someone needs to be constantly investing in producing and promoting that content on a more frequent basis.
- Segmented email lists. Instead of sending EVERY drip campaign to EVERY user, can we get hyper-specific and tailor what’s received based on the actions taken by the individual customer?
- Bite-sized content. We all know the holy power of the long-form article, but we’re missing the boat on the idea that sometimes, shorter is better—especially when you have transactional contexts and the user is on a mission to get in, get out and get on with their lives.
There’s also a need for content applicable to specific contexts beyond information gathering—take Charmin’s “Sit or Squat” app for example (helping users find nearby public toilets, which they can then rate).
In his post on Moz, “Developing Innovative Content: What You Need to Know,” Richard Baxter slams home the idea that the next generation of winners in content marketing are going to need to diversify, mix things up and do things differently instead of relying on the tried-and-tested “best practices” the industry clings to like a life raft.
Like design, innovation is a competitive advantage, and for a practice that is supposedly so creative, there’s a marked lack of creativity in approaches and very little risk taking.
2015 stands to be a polarizing year
I’ll close with a pseudo-prediction: I think that 2015 is going to be a year where heavy lines are drawn between those who are really excelling (and have a reputation for it) and those who are just playing “me too” with online content.
The road map to success is clearly marked: documentation, process, design and diversification are the pillars I think more content marketers ought to be building upon, and I think this year will be one where those who take a more serious, business-like approach to content will pull far ahead of the pack.
We’ve got the next 365 days to find out if I’m right.