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These are the most meaningful trends I’ve noticed as I continue using content marketing and travel around the country speaking to and connecting with other experts.
The game of content marketing is changing, and you’re about to see a ton of trends lists published soon. Big surprise, right? This industry has done anything but sit still. That’s what gives it staying power and gives content marketers fuel for basic trends articles — but this isn’t your typical trends article.
To be an industry all-star, you’ve got to know how to spot these changes and act accordingly. I’ve noticed a lot of little pivots that mean big changes are to come and wanted to dive deeper than a lot of your standard surface-level trends pieces to help you actually prepare for what’s around the corner.
I’ve outlined a few trends below, and to help as much as possible, I’ve gotten pretty specific on what they mean for us next year. Take a look at the first installment of my content trends series, and start putting together your strategy for 2017:
1. More departments will apply content marketing strategies.
Content marketing has changed a lot over the past few years, and many companies have seen great success with it. Within those companies, other departments have caught wind of those successes and are doing all they can to apply similar content strategies to accomplish their own goals instead of simply accomplishing marketing goals.
And it makes perfect sense: The backbone of content marketing is engaging an audience consistently so its members are naturally attracted to your brand. That idea can benefit more than your marketing team, and companies are realizing that content isn’t limited to one department anymore.
By using a variety of tools to track ROI, including an analytics template to measure content’s performance, marketing teams will know what’s working and what’s not — and they can share the secrets with other departments.
For those companies with marketing teams that have figured out content and easily demonstrated its ROI, the first department to copy that strategy will be recruiting. Hiring solid talent is just as important as generating leads, and similar content tactics can be used to attract and nurture both.
The next area will be that which focuses on external communication with investors or shareholders. Because it can be applied across your whole company, it’s important to invest in content marketing and make sure you set it up to scale the right way.
2. Humanizing your content marketing campaigns will be vital.
Traditionally, personal branding and thought leadership might have existed in the PR realm. But because companies are realizing how valuable these practices are to generating leads, creating opportunity, and communicating with various target audiences, they’re beginning to fall under marketing’s jurisdiction.
We’re seeing more teams add these personal, humanized elements to their content campaigns to differentiate themselves and help audiences feel more connected to their brands. We’re also seeing this practice scaled beyond just one or two thought leaders to include three or four employees involved in thought leadership. This will only continue to grow, allowing companies to scale their content and humanize their brand so people feel more deeply connected to it.
3. Rely on the community you’ve built to act as brand amplifiers.
Part of being a content marketing leader is building and nurturing your own community of followers. My team at Influence & Co. focused on building a quality list about a year or two ago, and after a pretty big investment in our own content, we now have more than 30,000 engaged participants. And the value of having so many little content amplifiers is priceless. Not only are you able to stay top of mind more easily through regular content, but that community then helps you share that message with others who aren’t in your network yet.
I’ve seen this happen in a variety of ways across different types of companies, from Inc.’s impressive Inc. 500 community to Forbes Councils. But I really noticed this big trend trigger when I was involved with this year’s EY Entrepreneur of the Year program.
EY wants to support the entrepreneurs and business leaders who would potentially hire them — or who would have influence in their companies’ decisions to hire them. It’s only natural they’d want to form a community around its participants and winners, similar to what Inc. has done with the Inc. 500.
EY’s awards program has been around for a long time, but recently, it has really stepped on the gas to build a solid community. Content marketing will be at the core of these communities, and brands like EY will realize that keeping this community engaged throughout the year will require consistent content that keeps them engaged. I see many other brands forming similar communities — or at least sponsoring similar programs to develop a stronger partnership with them.
4. Influencer marketing will bridge the gap between PR and content marketing.
Joe Pulizzi really hit the nail on the head when he wrote in his recent trends list that “influencer marketing has always been a ‘thing,’ but in the last six months … wow … this topic has vaulted into the top five” trends to pay attention to.
Part of the reason it has become such a hot topic is that companies are beginning to realize that influencer marketing is the bridge between their traditional PR efforts and content marketing.
Now that influencers are writers and contributors to major industry publications, we’re seeing a PR trend that’s highlighting the evolution from PR outreach to influencer outreach — with a pitch or full article rather than a standard press release. And this is where it crosses into marketing. This trend is urging PR and content marketing teams to work more closely together, and as a result, companies can be more effective in both areas.
5. Native advertising won’t be completely trusted by readers just yet, but it will start to pass the sniff test.
Quite a few studies have found that readers don’t trust sponsored or native content, and honestly, I don’t blame them. Over the past few years when I’ve seen “sponsored” or some sort of “brand voice” content, I just scroll past. But brands are still investing in these channels, and many of them are producing content that’s actually good.
My prediction is that brands will continue to invest here and improve the quality of their content as a way to increase engagement and close that trust gap. My point about communities plays into this, too: High-quality native ad content on various channels will help form communities and build credibility at the same time.
The more people who start accepting and trusting sponsored content, the stronger that brand’s community will become and the greater the chance that brand will have of tapping into some of that audience to amplify its message. Publications and social networks are still figuring out this area, and editorial teams are getting better at incorporating native into their content streams. As brands continue testing native content, we’ll begin to see more easily what it will take for readers to trust it.
6. Quite a few companies will give up on content marketing for all the wrong reasons.
I predict that quite a few companies will drop out of investing in content marketing — and it will be because they spent too much time and money trying to do “the new cool thing” instead of staying focused on the fundamentals of content. I’ve seen too many content marketing teams jump on board with their cool new Snapchat campaigns without even having a company blog or good content on their own site.
It’s easy to feel like your team needs to start using Snapchat or video marketing or any other new tactic right away, but those stats that pressure you into feeling like you’re the only one not using them are misleading. Companies like Coke or American Express have been in the content marketing game for years; they’ve crawled, walked, and jogged already, so you bet they’re running now to integrate a variety of new tactics and strategies.
Before you run to new tactics (and waste your budget doing so), you have to execute on the fundamentals of content marketing — consistently creating valuable content that engages your audience. I’m not trying to say that a solid Snapchat campaign won’t do that, but you have to nail down the fundamentals before trying out every flashy new tactic. Before giving up on content, just focus on one goal: consistently getting your audience content that they find valuable and engaging.
7. Your content execution plan will be more important than your general content strategy.
A strategy is only as good as your ability to execute it. It doesn’t matter how wonderful or beautifully designed it is if you don’t have a plan to actually do the work you’ve spent all this time talking about. Unfortunately, this is a trend I’ve started to see a lot more: Companies pay a firm or a consultant to develop a strategy, and while it looks great, it’s not always an executable document.
Execution is the hardest part of effective content marketing, so you have to make sure that your strategy is set up for execution from the beginning. That means identifying the action steps within your document, not just talking about high-level, big-picture ideas. Who is going to be responsible for executing each piece of your strategy? What resources will you need to make sure that happens?
Think through these questions while you’re strategizing to make sure you’re able to execute your work. You can check out the guide my team put together that covers the elements you need to execute your content marketing strategy for additional resources.
8. Quality is subjective, so algorithms will be dictated by distribution and engagement rates.
Everyone has different opinions on what great content — and bad content — looks like, and that subjectivity leaves a lot of room for error on the part of content marketers. I predict we’ll see more publications begin to rely on more objective algorithms, similar to Facebook, to determine which content will get more attention on their sites.
We’ll start to see a shift away from marketers’ focus on headlines and getting the most people to click on and quickly look at a piece of content. Instead, they’ll need to concentrate on true engagement and distribution.
Publications will focus more on data on finish rates, time on site, readability, and how readers actually engage with a piece of content. Those will be factors that marketers should pay attention to in order to increase engagement and improve distribution.
Creating content that people will engage with (by reading all the way through, sharing, reacting, etc.), publishing it in the right places so the right readers find it (not just publishing to Inc. or Forbes because they’re popular sites, but looking for the right ones for your exact audience), and leveraging it after publication through social media and your other marketing channels will be critical.
The better you are at creating compelling content and publishing it in the right place, the greater the chance your audience will read through it, take action, and look for more — which means new publication algorithms will reward you.
9. Companies investing in video content marketing will realize they can’t run before they can walk.
Take a look at any marketing trends post that’s been published over the past two years, and I guarantee you’ll find something about video. It’s been on the rise for a while, and I won’t deny that it’s valuable. I’m a big fan of video — you can check out our website and see that we’ve integrated video into a lot of our own content. But we haven’t jumped to immediately investing everything we’ve got in video just because it’s on the rise.
You’ve got to walk before you can run, especially when it comes to something like video content, which can take substantially more resources to execute well. Consistent, high-quality written content, coming from you, lays the foundation. This will help you develop the structure of your strategy because written content is the core of a successful one. Then, as you’re learning to walk and bringing in the right people (and partnering with the right companies) to understand what works, you can start integrating video and interactive content over time.
Stop getting excited about the newest, trendiest strategy when you have yet to figure out how to consistently create engaging written content. I promise there will always be a new platform or tactic out there — but something that won’t change is your (and your audience’s) need for consistent written content coming from your company.
10. Everybody and their grandmother will rethink their belief that they can do content marketing.
With one online publication after another laying off their editorial teams, we’re seeing a rise in content marketing consultants popping up all over, claiming that their writing ability and experience positions them to execute your content marketing. In reality, it takes skills in strategizing, writing, editing, distributing, and leveraging content to execute successfully, and very rarely can a consultant or a small shop deliver enough to differentiate your content.
Don’t get me wrong: These journalists-turned-consultants are talented, and their storytelling abilities are valuable to good content marketing. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to be your entire solution.
Sure, unicorns exist, and you might find someone who can truly do it all. But those cases will be few and far between, and if you’ve found that person, chances are that someone else has, too. And we’ve all seen how easy it is for someone’s services to be watered down as she takes on more clients.
So be careful when you’re looking into hiring these consultants, and remember that if you’re taking this route (as opposed to hiring a full team), keeping this expert’s focus specifically on what she’s best at can help.
11. Companies will fit into one of three tiers within a performance pyramid.
Millions of posts are published every day, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate yourself online. At the same time, you’ve got a lot of people exiting the publication world and starting firms that create content for companies, which just adds to the noise. Therefore, we’re seeing what I like to call a pyramid of content quality and distribution abilities:
At the bottom of this pyramid are companies that either still haven’t gotten the memo or are half-assing their efforts. Maybe they’re not investing in content or investing so little that their teams aren’t able to produce or distribute anything to differentiate themselves.
The middle is the largest part of the pyramid. It’s made up of companies that are practicing content marketing, knowing it’s valuable. They’re creating content pretty consistently and have started seeing some ROI, but they haven’t mastered it just yet.
Those at the top of the pyramid are the big winners who really stand out. They’re the ones who have nailed down a strategy, and they know how to execute it in a way that sets them apart from the competitors in their space.
And they got to the top by consistently creating content that’s engaging and truly different and distributing it to a number of relevant sites, not just their blog or the most well-known publication they can think of. For the bulk of companies in the middle, it’s going to take high-quality content and a diverse portfolio of sites to earn a place at the top.
12. Personalization will be vital, but remember to target first at scale.
Personalization is extremely hard to scale in certain areas of content marketing. The bigger your audience grows, the more people with specific needs you and your content have to speak to — and personalizing everything becomes pretty challenging.
Sure, you can find plenty of email and content tools to help you better tailor your messaging and sort of mask personalization. But this trend of forcing so much personalization has led marketers to hypertarget so far that they’ve forgotten the original goal of targeting a persona: measuring results and diving further into personalization.
It’s much easier to start wide at scale and narrow down as you go than to do the opposite. Personalizing your content and your audience’s experience is important, but remember your process for scaling. Do what you can to set yourself up for success in the long run.
Content marketing is always changing. If you want to stay in the game, you’ve got to know how these trends will influence the industry. These are the most meaningful trends I’ve noticed as I continue using content marketing and travel around the country speaking to and connecting with other experts. What other trends in content marketing have you seen? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.