At this point it’s old news to say that content marketing just keeps growing in influence. But it’s true this year, just like it was last year and the year before that. While a year or two ago, some businesses were still holding out, most have realized by now that content is an important part of any marketing plan. In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute:
- 88% of B2B organizations use content marketing
- 76% plan to produce more in 2016
- Content marketing gets an average of 28% of the marketing budget
- And 51% say they expect that amount to increase in the coming year
While most businesses have started to at least dabble in creating content to drive new leads and sales, many are still struggling to figure out what that investment should look like. If you’re trying to figure out where best to spend your content marketing budget in 2016, here are some of the main trends shaping the content marketing industry this year.
1. Long-Form Content
It seems distant now, but there was a point in time when marketers were singing the praises of short content. People were convinced that busy people simply would not take the time to read anything long. The popularity of social media seemed ample evidence of the preference for keeping things short and fast.
Perhaps because people do get their fix for short content on social media, plenty of evidence in the past few years has shown that when it comes to written content, people will take the time to read long form. In fact, it typically performs better on many websites than shorter pieces.
And then, there’s Google. The deciding factor for many content marketers is how their content will influence their website’s SEO. Studies by SEO professionals have shown that long form tends to rule in the search engines for a large number of competitive keywords. So think about lengthening your blog posts (think more like 1,500-2,500 words rather than 500), and setting aside budgeting for other valuable long-form types of content like whitepapers, guides, and ebooks.
Always keep in mind that length isn’t necessarily an arbiter of quality. If you choose to make the investment in long form, make sure you deliver both.
2. Content Personalization
Content personalization has been on the scene for a while, particularly in its most common form – including a recipient’s name in the emails you send. As content management technology gets more and more sophisticated, marketers are able to take their personalization much further.
Technology can track user behavior on your website and tie individual actions back to subscribers and customers when relevant. When you have that much information on individual customers, you can deliver up content that’s specific to their user persona and their point in the buyer’s journey.
That’s powerful. Marketers who use content marketing technology that allows them to align the content they provide with specific personas typically see a 60% increase in how effective their content is at meeting their goals. Content personalization works, which means many businesses will either continue to refine their personalization efforts in 2016, or start to dip their toes in and try it for the first time this year.
3. Data, Data, Data
Effective content marketing relies on good data. You can’t know how well your content is working if you don’t track its success as you go. Like most industries, marketing has therefore seen an uptick in how much decision-making relies on collecting and analyzing all available data.
Businesses that effectively practice data-driven content marketing see big results – nearly five times as much revenue from their marketing efforts, according to one study.
Data-driven marketing can play out in a number of ways. Content personalization relies completely on data. By collecting data on how visitors and customers interact with your website and content, you gain a picture of which of your personas they match, what types of content they respond best to, and can provide them with the right content accordingly.
Data should also shape your larger marketing efforts. Even if you don’t have the technology to provide sophisticated content personalization, you do have access to Google Analytics and other tools to help you measure how well your larger audience responds to your content. You should always be analyzing what’s working and tweaking your content plan based on what types of content and subjects perform best with your audience.
4. Interactive Content
Engagement is one of those words marketers throw around with great regularity. It’s a term that manages to be vague, while also serving as a holy grail of sorts in the world of content marketing. We don’t want people passively hearing about our brand. That may have seemed like enough in the era of outbound, but now we want them to actively interact with us, show us there’s a real connection there.
So much of how we gauge and measure our marketing efforts is based on trying to demonstrate this idea of engagement. That’s why interactive content has become an especially attractive form of content to consider. It requires prospects to perform a more active form of engaging during the process of consuming it than other forms of content.
And it works. 93% of marketers have said they consider interactive content to be more effective at educating consumers than passive content.
From quizzes to games to interactive white papers, interactive content can take on many forms. Many of the content forms your team creates now could probably be tweaked to become interactive with a little creativity and the right technology.
A side benefit of interactive content is that it can often help with #3 – how your audience interacts with your content can provide valuable data on who they are, what they’re interested in, and how they think. You can use that when you’re refining your personas or determining what content to create in months to come.
5. Content Shock
In 2014, Mark Schaefer identified a problem that many content marketers were grappling with. Even those of us who fervently believe in how effective content marketing can be and are quick to proselytize to businesses that haven’t yet taken the plunge were starting to see that the recommendation should come with a caveat. For business getting into the game late, making a splash with content marketing gets harder and harder every day as markets grow more competitive and businesses (especially small and medium sized ones) have to do more and more to get anything from the content they produce.
Schaefer termed this idea content shock and it inspired a flurry of think pieces, rebuttals, and social media conversations in the marketing world. Content marketing does work, but it’s hard and requires playing the long game – and the more competitive it becomes, the less you can skimp.
Many of the trends we’ve covered so far in this piece are developing in response to content shock and demonstrate how important it is to make a significant investment in content marketing for it to pay off.
- Long-form content takes longer to write and costs more if you’re hiring a freelance content writer to help.
- Interactive content will usually require the work of several members of your team with different skills and the cost of the technology required to make your content interactive.
- Data and content personalization both require the right technology to pull off, technology that can seem prohibitively expensive to smaller businesses.
No one likes to hear that doing content marketing well will mean spending more, but it wouldn’t be honest for professionals in the industry to suggest otherwise at this point. That can sound dispiriting, but it’s a business truth that’s long been true for most things a business bothers to invest in. Doing something well will always pay off more than trying to skimp.
It’s important to note that the takeaway from Schaefer’s argument isn’t that content shock means content marketing isn’t worth trying. If you want your business to be relevant and visible online, it’s pretty much a requirement at this point. Instead, it means businesses have to be careful to be strategic. Make content promotion a significant part of your marketing plan. Pay attention to how your content is performing so you can optimize your content strategy as you go. Use personas to make sure the content you create is targeted to the people you most want to reach.
In short, commit. Give your content marketing efforts the time, energy, and budget they require. That was important in 2015 and it’s even more important in 2016 as ever more businesses enter the content marketing landscape to vie for the attention of your audience. You can still reach the right people; you just can’t expect it to be easy.