Joe Pulizzi founded the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) in 2007, originally as Junta42. Most would agree that he was ahead of his time. Pulizzi was on to something that was about to explode as marketers turned away from traditional media to explore online options for communicating with their various audiences.
Today, content marketing is a thriving industry showing no signs of slowing. However, Pulizzi--widely considered a leading expert on content marketing--notes that while "almost 90% of marketers are using some sort of content marketing approach, according to our latest content marketing research, just 38% of those marketers are effective."
THE YEAR IN REVIEW
The market is certainly becoming inundated with content. This means, by default, content marketers are increasingly being challenged to stand out and generate the results they seek. Despite new adopters of content marketing, the concept is far from new. In fact, brands (such as Jell-O) have been using content marketing methods for decades, using recipes and cookbooks as a means to connect with consumers and, ultimately, encourage sales of their products.
Tammy Mangan (director of marketing for Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox, an intellectual property law firm in Washington, D.C.) adds, "long before words like ‘ecommerce' and ‘econtent' entered the lexicon, law firms and other professional services firms were diligently turning out white papers and other forms of content to sell themselves in the marketplace." She notes, in professions such as law, which once prohibited the use of paid advertising, the use of content to demonstrate expertise and raise awareness became an important marketing strategy.
The use of content has changed, though, and the digital environment has driven that change. For instance, says Mangan, "It is rare that a law firm would produce [a] voluminous report, but instead favor 500 to 1,500 words on a hot topic or a 2-minute video about a change in the law or impending legislation." The concept of "content" has extended far beyond the written word to include both video and audio, with companies such as YouTube standing out as a pop culture example of how rampant the creation and the consumption of content both have become.
According to a report by MarketingProfs and the CMI, 76% of B2B marketers use video as a content marketing tactics, 69% use illustrations/photos, 65% use online presentations, and 62% use infographics. Social media content other than blogs tops the list at 92%, but social media posts are increasingly being illustrated with graphics, photo images, and video. The ability to offer information in a variety of formats provides the flexibility to meet audience needs.
Today's content marketers also benefit from the ability to analyze the impact of their content through the use of analytics and Big Data. Mangan says, "Legal marketers, like many others, are turning our focus to harnessing Big Data-analytics-and turning it into ‘smart data' to effectively reach our numerous constituencies in truly useful and timely ways."
Those two words-"useful" and "timely"-generally sum up the requirements that marketers will face as they move into 2015 and into an increasingly competitive content environment. The critical differences between successful and not-so-successful content marketers, says Pulizzi, are that "effective content marketers documented their content marketing strategy, and they followed it closely." Moving forward, he says, "These are the two most significant areas that marketers can improve upon to see overall effectiveness go up."
A LOOK AHEAD
Hana Abaza agrees with Pulizzi. Abaza is director of marketing at Uberflip, a content marketing automation software firm. "The overarching theme in 2015 is a drive towards becoming more effective and finding tools that help measure performance and track ROI," says Abaza. "A key initiative that content marketers will focus on moving forward is figuring out how to track their performance."
Strategy needs to drive data collection, and the analysis of that data needs to lead to adjustments in strategy, tactics, and content to generate real results. That focus could help cut down on the content clutter that consumers are facing. Unfortunately, it's unlikely that the majority of content creators will take this approach.
Rick Ramos, founder of Rick Ramos Consulting and the author of Content Marketing: Insider's Secret to Online Sales & Lead Generation, says, "I think with the saturation of content that has happened in some markets, people will finally turn to proper tracking tools to see what's working for them. Figuring out what your particular audience responds to is vital."
Pulizzi feels there will be a shift from continuing to create new content in 2015 to strategically considering how to best deploy existing content. "We are expecting a bigger move into paid content promotion in 2015," he says. "So many brands are creating loads of content that is going ignored. I believe, in many cases, some brands will pull back on creation and put more dollars behind the content they are currently creating or their core content for key audiences." Another Pulizzi prediction is, "I believe we will start seeing a large M&A [mergers and acquisitions] movement within enterprises, where many large companies will start to buy niche media companies where there is a gap in content and/or audience."
For now, as content marketers look ahead to the new year, the best place to focus their content marketing-related energy may be on reviewing-or developing-a clear strategy aligned with desired business outcomes, outlining a path for success in 2015. Importantly, that path must be designed to cut through what promises to be an increasing amount of clutter in many forms, across multiple channels.