Content Marketing in 2014: Predictions and Plans

In the internet age, everything seems to move fast, and marketing is no exception. Even just the term “content marketing,” which has taken over to describe and shape a certain segment of the marketing world, only came into regular use in the past few years.

In a constantly shifting landscape, with new tools and trends often seeming to come out of nowhere, predictions are tricky business. Nonetheless, Content Marketing Institute found 50 content marketing professionals prepared to make their guesses for the coming year.

My own prediction made the cut, putting me in some pretty fantastic company, here it is:

I think the main trend will be towards more. I don’t mean that in terms of quantity, but rather more formats, posts that pack in more useful information, and an acceptance that content marketing requires more time and effort than some previously realized.

If you think I’ve got it all wrong, tell me what you think in the comments. What’s your prediction for the next year?

I can only offer conjectures for the general state of content marketing in 2014, but I have absolute power over the goals and plans for Austin Copywriter’s content marketing in 2014.

If I publish it where everyone can see it, there’s no going back. So, without further ado:

1) Commit to publishing on this blog with more regularity.

My modest, but realistic goal for this is at least one post a month. I recognize more would be ideal, but as one person balancing my own marketing with client work, understand the importance of making sustainable commitments.

I’ll be the first to tell clients: less content of better quality will always beat out a higher quantity of content that’s sloppy and lazy.

2) Experiment with new content formats and channels.

I’ve already delved a bit into the world of content development that falls outside of my writing comfort zone. Part 1 in my new content marketing for small businesses video series is already out, and the rest of the series will be released in early 2014.

You can also check out my new SlideShare presentation on the Basics of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for Small Businesses.

I aim to do even more with video, SlideShare, and images throughout 2014.

3) Develop and execute a content promotion strategy.

By seeking out more guest posting opportunities and building up relationships on social media, I plan to draw more attention and new subscriptions to the blog.

Like many people, I’ve learned the hard way that just creating good content and putting it out there isn’t enough. You have to develop a larger strategy that includes plans for promotion to get attention in an already overcrowded space.

4) Make regular, genuine contact with readers and others in the content marketing community a higher priority.

Relationships are hugely important in just about every aspect of life. This has only become more obvious to me in my years as a freelancer.

My goal is to build up a larger professional network of contacts that includes: readers of this blog, other marketers in Austin and online, other freelancers in a variety of industries, and small business owners excited about building their businesses with content marketing.

5) Attend local networking events and conferences to build a network and community of professional contacts of various skills and specialties.

Related to #4, I’ve found there’s no real substitute for meeting with other professionals in person, and attending live educational events. I’ve gotten a lot out of these experiences in the past year, and expect 2014 to be no different on that front.

Some of these are continuations of the business plan and content strategy I put together in 2013, but still of tantamount importance to my goals for the business.

What about you? Do you have a plan and strategy for the next year yet? Are there any questions or obstacles getting in the way of putting one together? Let me know, I’ll do my best to help.

How to Hire a Good Freelance Blogger

Blog posts, articles, and random acquaintances are all telling you how much you need to be blogging for your small business. That sounds nice and all, but who has time to write regular blog posts? And if everyone else is doing it, why would anyone bother to read what you write?

When Blogging Isn’t Worth It…

The fact is, all those sources harping on the benefits of small business blogging aren’t wrong, but they’re not always telling the whole story. If you start a blog to start a blog, that’s just dumb. Blogging without a strategy is a huge waste of time and energy.

Even if you do somehow manage to put out posts once a week, getting it done isn’t enough. Unless your blog posts offer valuable information to the people you want to be reaching, and more importantly, actually get read by them, you’re not getting anything back for the work you put into it.

…And When It Is

If you’re going to start a blog for your small business, you want to do it right. Your posts need to be approached with a specific goal in mind. You need to ask yourself:

  • What do I want to get out of the blog?
  • Who do I want my posts to help?
  • What do they need?
  • How will the blog, and each individual post, represent my brand?

How to Find the Right Blogger

Your time is valuable and running a small business means you’ve got a lot on your plate. If you do want to branch into blogging for your small business, but don’t want to personally take on the time obligation, you need to find a good freelance blogger.

It might be tempting to head to one of those sites that offer a few hundred words for pocket change, but we’ve already established that this isn’t worth doing unless you’re going to do it right.

You want to work with someone that will take the time to get to know your brand (bonus points for prior expertise in your industry), knows how to write for the web, and understands the importance of appealing to your target audience.

A good freelance blogger will insist on:

  • Understanding your small business blogging goals.
  • Learning all about your business and products.
  • Getting a clear picture of your target audience.
  • Learning what kind of questions and issues concern them.
  • Developing a blog strategy focused on providing value to your specific audience (e.g. prospective customers).
  • Discussing some kind of strategy to promote the content and get it in front of the right people (although expect this part to cost more).

Basically, if you just want posts up so you can say you have a blog, go ahead and hire a content mill for $20 posts. If you want a blog that serves as an actual marketing tool, look for a freelance blogger with the chops and online marketing know how to push for everything described above.

5 Key Takeaways for Freelancers from Content Marketing World 2013

freelance content marketingThe whole concept of content marketing is  changing how businesses value and approach many of the skills we freelancers most excel at.  While the Content Marketing World conference is definitely not put together with freelancers top of mind, it provides a good glimpse into what our clients and potential clients are thinking about, the directions they’re moving in and the best ways we can provide the value they’re seeking.

As a freelance writer, the tips I’ve shared below definitely lean towards lessons useful for freelance writers specifically, but many of these can be easily applied to freelancers working in any capacity related to content marketing. The growing importance of images and videos was a hot topic, and the need for well-designed websites has always been a crucial issue in content marketing.

Without further ado, here are 5 key takeaways for freelancers from this year’s Content Marketing World:

1) Marketers consider creating enough good content a big problem.

In advance of the conference, the Content Marketing Institute performed a survey to get a clear idea of what marketers are doing, and what tactics are working for them. 55% of those surveyed ranked producing enough content as one of the largest challenges they face.

Couple that number with the 58% planning to increase their content marketing budget over the next year and we’ve got some ripe conditions for quality freelancers to help fill in the gaps businesses are experiencing.

An important distinction here is that word “good” – marketers are bringing increasingly high standards to what constitutes content worth publishing. As the web becomes ever more saturated with content, we have to be able to bring our A-game to the clients we work with to help them develop the kind of content that helps a business stand apart from the crowd.

2) Content strategy is key for effectiveness.

This was another takeaway from the survey. The businesses that jump into content marketing without a plan get less out of it than those that develop a strategy.

While freelancers are often just one part of the larger content strategy for businesses, this is an important piece of information for us to impress upon any clients that aren’t thinking strategically. If we help them develop awesome content, but it’s not used effectively, we’re not really helping. Not to mention, we risk becoming a line item easy to cut out of their budget if our work doesn’t help them make money.

If we want to add value (as we should), we must urge clients to approach their content marketing with a bigger picture in mind.

3) Help out non-customers, even if you don’t see a direct benefit.

This point was emphasized again and again in different talks and sessions at the conference. Jay Baer, whose talk was one of the most popular there, urged the audience to “make marketing so useful, people would pay for it.”

Obviously, if you’re doing freelance work for pay, you’re already thinking that way :)

One of his other really meaningful points was to always think about how to help people in your audience, even if they’re not your customer. Good content marketing means thinking about offering value first, and making sales later.

Hilton created a Twitter account devoted to proactively giving travelers advice on different cities they visit – even people staying at other hotels. Lowe’s shares useful tips via Vine for people interested in home repair and gardening – including one that shows people how to make their own watering can (a tool Lowe’s sells).

Is it crazy to help your competitors’ customers, or tell people how to make the products you sell? Nope. It’s just good marketing.

4) Many businesses are looking for content that’s as good as journalism.

Bill Haggin and Nancy Pardo talked about their successful strategy running a blog for PTC. They made the recommendation to a crowded room of marketers to hire journalists for their blogs. This means:

a) Businesses are placing a value on blogging at a higher level than ever, and

b) They’re willing to pay good writers for journalism-level work.

This doesn’t just apply to writing, David Germano talk about treating your marketing like a media company. Andrew Davis compared content marketing to his previous profession creating kids shows. You have to think like the editors and media professionals whose job it is to entertain and educate an audience.

Having content doesn’t make businesses more competitive, having content that’s more helpful and informative does. We need to be thinking at that level in the work we provide clients.

5) Have personality!

Andrew Davis gave an example of a woman who built a massive following and successful makeup brand out of making short videos that had personality. Lauren Luke’s brief makeup tutorials on YouTube became massively popular. She didn’t spend any money on the videos, just brought a little time and personality to them.

You want people to care about and relate to your brand, which is harder for them to do if it feels like an entity without actual people behind it. Don’t be afraid of humor. Don’t be afraid of using a tone that’s more personal than professional.

If clients tend towards dry industry speak and buzzwords, try to steer them back around to the kind of language their customers actually speak. And don’t ever think any subject’s too dry or dull for some humor, Tim Washer shared some examples of companies that made dull subjects humorous. Who knew router hardware could be so fun?

 

As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that I came across many people who exclaimed “we really need more good writers!” or some variation of that phrase. While I hear many freelance writers concerned about finding good clients, those good clients are out there trying to figure out how to find us too.

The Danger of Going “Too Broad”

I thought I had a pretty good idea of how to communicate my services, when I found myself fumbling recently over the question of my specialty. When you’re talking to people who work in different fields, an elevator pitch that offers a fairly general description of the work you do is usually good enough. But, in a room full of people who do similar work, it becomes important to know how to identify and articulate just where your strengths fit in.

The lesson reminded me of a conversation I had with a professor in college. I was trying to pick out a subject to focus a paper about Absalom, Absalom on and as I kept listing off topics, she kept saying “too broad.” After a fair amount of listing, I finally came up with a focused enough subject for her approval. I ended up writing over 15 pages on one particularly notable scene in the book. She was right, anything more broad would have made for a behemoth of a paper.

I started off freelancing thinking I had to be good at a long list of specialties to make it work, and spent the first few months learning what my professor had taught me years earlier: the importance of having a focus.

You can either be mediocre at a lot of things, or really good at a few.

Having a specialty or niche has a number of benefits:

  • It gives you the room you need to become an expert at something. No one person has the time to be an expert at a long list of skills and subjects, but any one of us can get a lot closer to that title a lot faster by honing in on a particular specialty.
  • It makes it easier to find your target audience. Whether you’re a freelancer or a business, looking for customers and clients from a massive audience is more challenging than being able to focus on a target group. A writer with experience working with oil and gas clients knows who to target, and can make a more persuasive pitch for why she’s the right pick than one casting a wide berth for any client at all.
  • You can become a part of a community. In any field, who you know is important. There’s a wide world of people out there and if you can focus your efforts on making connections with people in a few select industries, you can get more out of the relationships you have.

If you can pinpoint a focus that best fits your skills, you can approach your marketing with much greater efficiency and get more out of the time you spend on the work you do.

Introduction to Content Marketing for Small Businesses: An Austin Copywriter White Paper

introduction to content marketing for small businesses whitepaper

Are you a small business owner interested in learning more about content marketing? If you’ve heard that content marketing is a good way to promote your business and improve your brand reputation, but want to learn more before you get started, this white paper lays out some of the basics.

Content marketing allows your business to attract new customers and develop relationships with current customers by offering something of value to them.

With this white paper, An Introduction to Content Marketing for Small Businesses, you can get a feel for whether or not you’re ready to get started developing and deploying a content strategy for your business.

If you have questions, feedback, or would like some help developing quality content to promote your business, feel free to contact me at kristen@austin-copywriter.com.