The term “content marketing” has become so common in marketing circles that many in the industry may be growing tired of it. For those folks, unfortunately, its prevalence is not likely to diminish any time soon. According to Forrester, “By 2019, marketing leaders will spend more than $103 billion on search marketing, display advertising, social media marketing, and email marketing—more than they will on broadcast and cable television advertising combined. Over the next five years, search will remain the largest share of the digital mix, but social media investment will grow faster than any other digital marketing channel.”
That growth, though, comes with challenges. The greatest one is the ability to cut through the clutter to connect and compel targeted audiences to action. It’s a trend that is likely to continue into 2017, but the lessons of 2016 lend some focus and may provide direction to content marketers who are planning for the new year.
The Year in Review
In the content marketing space, 2016 was a year of more—as in more content. Because of the popularity and prevalence of content marketing, one of the big issues in 2016 was a proliferation of content, which serves to clutter the landscape and create increasing competition for marketers attempting to leverage this tool. Christopher S. Penn, VP of marketing technology with SHIFT Communications, refers to this as “content shock.”
“In the last 2 years, the amount of news stories has increased 36% every year,” says Penn. “By the end of 2016, we expect 88 million stories to be published. No matter how amazing we think our content marketing is, customers are drowning in media.” Others in the field share his perspective. “Content saturation has been a problem for years now, and in 2016, businesses have been held to much higher standards when it comes to the quality of their content,” says Shana Haynie, co-founder and creative director for Splash, a startup marketing agency focused on social media and content marketing growth strategies. Today, she says, “High-quality, value-driven content is the norm. Companies can no longer expect to break through the noise just by publishing decent articles.”
Ken Wincko, SVP of marketing for Cision and PR Newswire, agrees. “As we near the end of 2016, organizations are generally aware of the need to create compelling content,” says Wincko. But, he notes, “Many companies hit a roadblock when they come across one question: ‘How will we get people to read this and drive the growth of our business?’” The need to prove value, others concur, is likely to be a top trend for 2017.
A Look Ahead
Katelyn Holbrook is VP at Version 2.0 Communications, a firm that manages public relations and content programs for companies in a range of industries. Until recently, says Holbrook, content marketing efforts have been primarily focused on what is being created, rather than “who will benefit from the material.” Taking an audience-first approach, she says, will provide a more strategic lens allowing marketers to “better map to corporate objectives, which, in many cases, involves guiding prospects through the buyer journey.”
Holbrook states that “interactive content will reign supreme.” Taking an audience-first approach, she says, means that the content serving them must be more engaging and interactive. “Quizzes and assessments that make a content experience very personal will be big, as will once-static content that can be personalized—such as ebooks that let readers home in on the material that interests them most or infographics that link out to more detailed data,” she says.
Haynie agrees, saying that, “Users experience content in a number of ways, including reading it online, listening to podcasts, watching videos and so on.” But, she adds, “Those avenues are reaching their breaking point. They are no longer novel, and there is such huge competition for eyeballs that content marketers need to be looking for fresh ways for their audience to experience their content. Storytelling needs to evolve into the digital age, taking into account the fact that the world has gone mobile.”
Content marketers and the organizations they work for don’t have unlimited resources to shout over all of the noise, says Penn. “We need a smarter, more refined way to communicate. In 2017, content marketers will need to be going after anything that will get them attention, and artificial intelligence [AI], machine learning, and mixed reality will help them understand what that is. Tools like IBM Watson will help content marketers weed through the piles and piles of existing content to drill down and determine what really matters, then use that information to guide their content marketing strategies moving forward.”
Chris Post, CEO and founder of Post Modern Marketing, also points to increasingly sophisticated tech tools as finding a place in content marketers’ toolboxes in 2017. “My prediction for 2017 and beyond is that the definition of what content marketing is in the first place is going to get much broader. As tech like virtual reality and augmented reality becomes more accepted and widely used, that’s going to give marketers far more opportunities to create pinpoint-targeted content that motivates consumers in very specific ways.”
The pressure will be on CMOs in 2017. Content marketing efforts are going to need to truly deliver, says Nancy A. Shenker, founder and CEO of theONswitch, a marketing agency in the New York City area, and formerly a marketing professional with Citibank, MasterCard, and Reed Exhibitions. Shenker says that content marketing has been a great way to build awareness, but the focus will increasingly shift to ROI.
Content marketers will be aided in their analysis by more sophisticated sales software, predicts Post. “Sales software is going to get much better at using AI-based algorithms to measure how visitors interact with and consume content, and use that data to identify high-quality leads and bring them to your attention,” he says. “Right now, there are marketers and behavior scientists running studies, tracking everything from mouse movement to bounce rates to time spent reading specific articles and then correlating that with the ultimate potential for making a sale. As that data becomes available, the ability to leverage existing content marketing—and the reverse, to better target content—is going to absolutely explode.”
This increasing sophistication may also drive the need for more sophisticated and senior-level marketers, says Shenker. She predicts that the “love affair with Millennials as professional marketers may start to come to an end as companies bring back gray-hairs who have some of the analytical and revenue-generating skills they sorely need.”
In 2017, it will not just be about more—it will be about better.