Well there’s a nice welcome into the new year for us – content marketing is hot stuff for ’17. And, encouragingly, the industry views it with more importance, it seems, than other marketing trends. Despite this, there are too many businesses that know full well what they need to do, but still lack a proper strategy for doing it.
Industry expert Smart Insights recently released the results of its Digital Marketing Megatrends 2017 research, in which over 2,300 marketers worldwide were asked to “select one marketing activity that you think will give your business (or client) the biggest incremental uplift in leads and sales in 2017.”
Incidentally, my colleague quite rightly pointed out that the word ‘digital’ does not appear in that sentence. This is perhaps a sign of the times or a slight oversight, but the responses were nevertheless overwhelmingly of a digital ilk.
This list is a canvassing of opinion on what will have the biggest influence in 2017
The top-rated technique was content marketing, favoured by 20.3% of respondents. This was closely followed by big data (which includes the use of market and customer insights, and predictive analytics), which was stated as the most effective technique by 20.2% of respondents.
There’s a fair margin between these two and the rest of the pack. Number three on the list is marketing automation, favoured by 10.3% of marketers, a good 10-point drop. Other notables on the list include mobile marketing (9.2%), social media marketing (8.8%), SEO (4.1%) and online PR (3.3%).
This list is a canvassing of opinion on what will have the biggest influence in 2017. In that sense, the dominance of content marketing shouldn’t be seen as coming at the expense of other techniques, but it is nevertheless interesting that the industry still puts the most weight behind our beloved content and the data that guides its strategy.
Content marketing has actually topped this list for the last three years running. And, even with new trends on the up, a solid and documented content strategy is still likely to be one of the most effective marketing techniques.
Indeed, according to research by Smart Insights and Hubspot, more than 40% of businesses now employ a documented, strategic approach to content marketing. That, coupled with the fact that big data ranks equally as highly as content, suggests businesses are aware of their potential for adding to the online content fog without really targeting their wares to their audiences, and are changing their ways.
A documented content strategy is still likely to be one of the most effective marketing techniques
Documenting your strategy based on customer insights is absolutely crucial. A lot of this change in attitude is down to better content personalisation and an enhanced overall customer experience. These aren’t achievable without a good plan that everyone in your content team can get on board with, working towards an agreed outcome and ensuring your content is reaching the desired audiences.
The undocumented strategy
Despite the fact that brands are wising up to the benefits of a fully documented strategy, around six out of ten aren’t achieving what they could with their content marketing. That’s quite a hefty chunk of businesses that are being left behind while content marketing as a practice matures considerably. They’re either not creating content, or creating it without reason.
Recently, the Content Marketing Institute outlined why some businesses do not have a documented strategy, and the problems that lie therein.
First of all, the CMI has found that brands that write down their content goals, share them widely amongst key teams and consistently review how their performance is stacking against those goals are significantly more successful with their content marketing than those who don’t. No matter how big your content team – whether you’re a one-man-band or a whole department – without writing down your strategy, you don’t know your metrics, and therefore have no tangible gauge on what success looks like.
Many brands simply haven’t finished creating their strategy. This is often down to an understandable eagerness to do something, anything – a blog, a podcast, a newsletter – with scant thought to why they’re doing it or what they want to achieve. By not prioritising the strategy there’s no way to stand out. Your story won’t be heard – it’s just content, being spread into the ether never to be consumed or acted upon.
They’re either not creating content, or creating it without reason
Meanwhile some brands say their teams are too disparate or cannot agree on a strategy as their needs are too different. If this is the case, the coherence of the customer’s or client’s overall experience will similarly falter. Someone with a strategic overview needs to control the strategy to ensure the needs of all departments are considered and included in the overall direction of the content plan.
Build your audience in 2017
The fact that content has retained its top spot in the mix seems down to the fact that a large contingent of savvy companies recognise that 2017 is about building more engaged, loyal audiences – using content strategically, with an attitude of constant refinement to create an ever more personalised experience.
This is, perhaps, reflected in the fact that the humble email newsletter will enjoy a resurgence this year, as multiple sources, including the CMI, Smart Insights and Pure360, have recently said. Not only is email amenable to marketing automation that can save time on building audiences, but behavioural insight can be easily gathered and fed back to create more personalised content, turning the content of the email newsletter into one part of a properly tailored experience, and not just another nice-to-have bit of marketing fodder.
Equally, the fact that content marketing is top of the bunch also reflects that there is still work to be done for the remaining 60% of brands that perhaps aren’t using it correctly. While the savvy brands make headway, others are getting stuck on the wayside. Sure, they’re producing content, but they fail to place it, and in 2017 that could widen the margin between themselves and the top brass.
There is a quite a gap between how the industry views content marketing versus other marketing techniques. This is encouraging, but it also highlights the gap that those that haven’t quite got it right have still to close.