Hello, Southerly Blog readers, and welcome to our first blog of 2016. We’ll continue to blog twice a week on our areas of expertise – which include content and social media marketing and employee engagement and communications (which is just content marketing for internal audiences, in my opinion). If you have any questions or topics that you would like to see us cover or comment on, we’d love to help you out. Please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘blog topic’ in the subject line and let us know what your question or idea is.
As for today’s blog topic, a few people have asked what I predict for ‘the future’ of content marketing. I certainly don’t claim to be an oracle, but from my observations over the course of 2015, these are my main “predictions” (read = best guesses) for content marketing in the UK. And yes, they make for a great topic for our first blog of the year.
My top five content marketing predictions for 2016
1. Many people in the UK will remain unsure of exactly what content marketing is, but will gain some new confidence
A friend and I had a giggle recently when we recalled the late 90s / early 2000s term “new media”. Remember that? When anything to do with the internet was referred to as “new media”?
How things have changed, and how complex modern marketing has become.
I started Southerly in late 2009 after researching content marketing trends and techniques, and we have developed our own content strategy methodology and a strategy template to help guide clients. However, over the six years we’ve been working in this arena, I’ve never had two clients with exactly the same ideas about what content marketing is.
Some think it’s SEO and keyword strategy. Some want help creating a great variety of interesting and varied types of content, and need advice about how and where to publish and distribute it. Others confuse advertising and content marketing and ask us about programmatic display advertising (we don’t do this). Some want to audit and re-purpose their existing marketing materials. Some want to talk about link building and PPC in depth, while others still say they just want better engagement with their content on their owned and earned channels. And then there are those who want all of the above, and more.
People are suspicious about some content marketing techniques, too. I’ve had people tell me (crossly) that they hate “all the spam emails” they get. Are we content marketing folk responsible for those? My answer is always “not if we’re doing it right”. Content marketing emails should be enticing enough to motivate their target audience to opt in to, and be genuinely useful. If you don’t want to receive the email newsletters clogging up your in-box, they are not doing a good enough job of enticing you – please unsubscribe from them.
But I digress. The goals we talk to clients about are vastly different, too. We’ve had clients who have wanted to do everything, from simply increasing traffic to a specific area on their website (a relatively easy task) all the way through to building long-term relationships with their audiences and influence brand perception (a more long-term challenge).
If you are reading this and feeling bad that you’re not really clear on what you want to achieve and measure, don’t worry – you are not alone! Very few people that we’ve met are 100% sure at first what they should be tracking, and the measurement reports are built up slowly over time through trial and error.
Also, the best way to ‘do’ content and social media marketing is through experimentation and then responding to what works and what doesn’t. The clue is in the word ‘social’ – it’s a highly interactive way of working. And, let’s face it, this is not always a comfortable way to work for some companies. It’s taken some getting used to.
So, I think that, generally speaking, in the sea of new jargon and technology out there, some people have been feeling a bit lost. One thing they do seem clear on though is the importance of producing effective content, which brings me to my next point.
2. …Content marketing has gone from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘have to have’
You can’t really opt out of having some kind of content strategy now, and the more focused and measureable it is the better. Why do you need content? Well, because people expect it. Customer – and any other stakeholder – experiences tend to be shaped by content first and foremost. Before making any decision about anything, most of us head to Google or Bing and research the product / service / idea we’re interested in.
This means, quite simply, that you must be producing good quality content that reflects your customers’ needs, wants and search habits and preferably in different formats, across multiple, relevant channels. If you aren’t, your audience might not find you – or they might abandon you for someone who is.
These days, people expect to be able to find a plethora of information to help them inform any decision they make. About anything. They’ll be looking for information as well as subtle signals about your level of expertise and trustworthiness as a brand, and whether your product or service best meets their needs. They’ll get this information from a wealth of sources including blogs, videos, photos, e-newsletters, podcasts and conversations on social channels like Twitter and Facebook. They’ll expect to be able to interact with you, too, if they have a question.
Remember as you experiment with new formats that some of the things you try will work incredibly well and enable you to connect with your audience and develop a better relationship with them. Some of them will be unloved and ignored. The only way to find out is to give it a go and be ready to adapt and learn from every mistake.
3. Re-purposing content will become a priority
These are two universal content marketing truths that more or less everyone agrees with: 1) Less is more – better to do fewer pieces of high quality, genuinely useful content than churn out lots of stuff no one is interested in and 2) re-use everything in multiple formats. Why? Well, see my second “prediction” above, for starters. But also because different people like to consume their information in different ways – and if you’ve already done the hard work of creating the content, why not make use of the quick win to re-purpose it?
Blogs can be turned into video scripts and re-created as podcasts. The salient points can be pulled out and re-published as a slideshare, a downloadable checklist or an e-book, and you can tell people about it all via your social media channels – and so on and so forth. And all of this content will help your SEO and allow your audience to choose the delivery method that best suits them. Some people prefer to read, others find it easier to be shown via video. Some love to catch up on the latest trends by listening to podcasts on their daily commute, while others prefer the more ‘matter of fact’ feel of a slideshare presentation.
Don’t worry about being repetitive – each format will highlight different angles of the same content. You may even be surprised by what you learn for yourself from looking at the same thing from a few different angles. And one format may whet your audience’s appetite to review the others.
So, what are you waiting for? Start re-purposing your content now.
4. A distribution strategy is a must
Organic reach is dead! Well, not really. Not quite, anyway. But it is not what it used to be, as we’ll discuss in our next blog on Thursday. As I said in my second prediction, content marketing is not a nice to have anymore. Everyone’s doing it now, and because of this, the e-newsletter haters aren’t entirely wrong. We’re reaching a bit of a saturation point. In 2016, content marketers must recognise the importance of using both earned and paid media as on-ramps to their own media properties.
We all need to get more savvy and also – a bit of a theme here – more experimental. We need to try sponsored posts on our most successful social channels, see if native advertising and content curation tools might work for us, do some research and check if there are any new tools or services out there that could help us extend the reach of our content and get it in front of the right people.
Needless to say, we’ll also have to make sure our content is the best it possibly can be before we distribute it, so it stands out from the crowd. We need to know who we’re producing content for, where they are likely to be and what’s going to be of the most interest to them. Basically, we need to start by making sure we have something truly valuable to distribute first.
5. Measurement and ROI will take a big step forward
People are finally getting their heads around content marketing KPIs and data. They may not know exactly what they want to measure but more they understand the value of using data to determine content effectiveness, and are becoming focused on finding out what’s working so that they can do more of it.
The wonderful thing about digital content is that it makes internal arguments about who’s right or wrong completely redundant. And you don’t need any fancy technology, either. Or not at first, anyway – Google Analytics should be fine to make a start with. Does your marketing team disagree with each other about whether your blogs should be long or short? Don’t waste your breath arguing. Post five of each and see which perform better. One person thinks Twitter is your most useful channel versus the other who’s a LinkedIn evangelist? No need for debate. Just measure and see which is the biggest referrer, and for which kinds of posts.
The fact is, you needn’t guess. All you need is a weekly or monthly report (depending on what kind of business you are in and to what extent you use your website to generate direct sales) and to track what’s happening. Is your traffic and bounce rate increasing or decreasing? What could be the cause? Where do your referrals come from? What pathways is your audience taking through your site? Is your content leading to extra footfall in the right parts of your website? Is it prompting buying or ‘following’ behaviours (depending on whether your goals are sales or brand perception related)? Is it inspiring comments on your posts, or people to communicate directly with you? Are your hopes being realised… or not?
Your audience will vote with its feet, so to speak. It will be obvious which pieces of content are useful and have been popular and which haven’t. And, if you keep monitoring this, over time you’ll spot trends and themes in this information that will help you better understand – and, more importantly, better serve – your audience. And this, in my opinion, is the whole point of content marketing – to learn how to better serve your audience.
I’ll leave you with that as my final thought. The best of luck with all your content and social media marketing efforts in 2016. We wish you every success in learning how to best serve your audience with valuable content.