By Kathy Hanbury published May 24, 2011

The Future of Content Marketing: 4 Tips to Help You Prepare

My daughter showed me a video about skin cancer on YouTube called “Dear 16-year-old me”.  It’s a great example of content that humanizes a difficult subject and effectively engages a target audience. At the very least, my 17-year old was watching it, sharing it, and talking about it along with a million or so other people.

When I asked my daughter how she thought people would respond if the company just posted an article about melanoma on its website, I thought she’d say something like, “Nobody would read it”. Instead, her answer surprised me. She said, “Nobody goes to websites.”

People are using the web very differently than they were just a few years ago

Increasingly, people are getting their information outside of company websites. As we’re busy preparing to create great content for our websites, the world is moving at an alarming rate away from using the web in the “traditional” way. The model we’re used to thinking about has web users searching for information that’s relevant to them, and Google acting as a filter to display only the most useful content. But web use is moving away from “search and find” toward an “ask and receive” model. And, increasingly, people are asking other people, not companies, for information.

Here are some quick facts, from ‘Socialnomics’ updated “Social Media Revolution 2010” video (oh, and incidentally, I can’t count the number of times that I’ve watched their videos, but I visited their site for the first time today):

  • Over 50 percent of the world’s population is under 30 years old.
  • Facebook tops Google for weekly traffic in the U.S.
  • YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world.
  • iPhone applications hit 1 billion within 9 months.
  • Generations Y and Z consider email passé, and some universities have stopped distributing email accounts; instead, they’re distributing eReaders, iPads, and tablets to students.
  • 25 percent of search results for the world’s top 20 largest brands are linked to user-generated content.
  • 78 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations; only 14 percent trust advertisements.

There are more crazy statistics just like these coming out all the time (just think of iPad sales!), but you get the picture.

So, are websites dying?

Not in the foreseeable future. Corporate websites will remain important for a number of reasons:

  • It’s the best place to house your content. Only having your content on websites that you don’t own is like building a house on rented property.
  • While websites are becoming less impactful in the early stages of the buying cycle, they are an increasingly important tool for retaining and servicing existing customers.
  • It’s the one place where you can provide a complete view of who you are, what you do, and what you stand for, which is critical.

What does this mean for content marketers?

If you’re marketing to a younger generation (or intend to market to them when they grow up a bit), you need to design your content experiences accordingly. Think of your website as a home, and your content as the family that lives there. Send your content into the world to socialize, meet people, have conversations, and express opinions, but always make sure it invites new and old friends back home where you can really get to know them and help them. Don’t expect your content to make many friends if you only let it out to announce an open house or a big party you’re throwing in the hopes of becoming popular.

4 content marketing tips to prepare you for 2015. Or… maybe 2012

Have a strong social media strategy to support your content
Address the needs of prospective and repeat customers through:

  • Encouraging user reviews and other user-generated content on and off your website.
  • Directly addressing concerns about your products, services, or company on and off your website.
  • Actively engaging in mutually relevant conversations on your website and wherever your customers hang out online. Encourage feedback and acknowledge their participation whenever possible.

Plan your content marketing initiative over multiple online delivery channels
Web, social media, mobile, tablets, and e-readers. Identify which channels your audience uses for specific types of information, and give them what they need, where they need it, in a way that suits their chosen device. Remember that people prefer content on their mobiles and tablets that is not only useful, but usable and interactive as well. For instance, you could re-imagine your marketing content as an app or provide a flow of content through different channels. A content flow provides the specific content that your customers need at a specific time, formatted for the device that is most useful to them. For instance, I will go to the  Epicurious website to find a recipe and then send a shopping list for that recipe to my mobile to view  when I’m at the grocery store.

Provide content on your website that is truly useful to existing customers
Don’t stop marketing just because you made the sale. Prospective customers will come to your website to see how well you’ll take care of them after they buy. For example, did you address customer complaints quickly and resolve problems to their satisfaction? Then shout it out so your site visitors see how responsive you are. Do you have great support policies or material? Do you offer discounts or deals for returning customers? Make sure this information is apparent to your prospective customers. If you look like a “love ‘em and leave ‘em” company they may end up choosing a company that demonstrates more commitment.

Adopt an agile approach to your content marketing
The online landscape is changing at an incredible pace and you need to be prepared to change with it. A well-thought-out content initiative that takes a year and a half to execute is not really well thought out. Evaluate your content marketing strategy frequently and stay alert for new opportunities.

In what other ways is the online world changing? And how can we adapt our content marketing to keep up with the changes? Or, better still, to capitalize on them?

Author: Kathy Hanbury

Kathy Hanbury is Founder and Principal at E3 Content Strategy, a consulting firm that integrates content strategy with customer experience. Kathy helps companies identify the opportunities that arise by providing truly great content. Then, she shapes their content and content processes to help them get there. You can find Kathy on Twitter @KathyHanbury.

Other posts by Kathy Hanbury

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  • Debbie

    Great, insightful post Kathy! You brought up a lot of relevant points to think about that will surely impact what we do.

  • Belinda

    That’s some great food for thought Kathy. As a gen x-er (and feeling pretty technologically able) it’s easy to lose touch with how the next gen are finding, consuming and sharing content. The important first step is keeping abreast of how different groups are doing just that! Thanks.  

  • Kaila Hope Strong

    Very good insight Kathy! I was surprised to hear that your daughter said that people don’t go to websites anymore, but once I thought more about it….it makes sense. There’s so much to see on the internet and if you aren’t in a constant “search to find mode” you’re simply in an “entertain me” type of mentality. I know that much of my personal/off work time isn’t consumed with searching and finding, it’s in entertain me mode. Getting at the core of how or where your users are entertained can help to transform your brands message. 

    • Kathy Hanbury

      Hi Kaila,
      You’re absolutely right about the entertainment angle. But it goes beyond that, as well. Young users who are looking for information, rather than entertainment, still avoid corporate websites. Instead, they post questions on FB or Twitter, ask around on industry-specific social networking sites, use Google to search for user-generated content, or look things up on Wikipedia, or YouTube, or…? In the decision-making stages especially, they are looking for peer feedback and comments, and they’re engaging in online conversations. This represents tremendous opportunities for companies to provide both informative and entertaining content.

  • Gil Pizano

    Great article Kathy! So true. When it really comes down to it. The medium doesn’t matter what so ever. Whether it’s TV, snail mail, email, websites, Twitter, or Facebook, it comes down the basics. What I mean by that is that as people, we (regardless of generation) will gravitate towards information that we can control and access when we want. It can be a “search mode” or an “entertain me” mode (as mentioned by Kaila in her comment), it can even be in “bored out of my mind so what can I do to kill time” mode. People want to do things with their time and when it comes to the internet, marketers need to remain aware of those basics. It doesn’t matter how pretty an organization’s website is.
    Probably the most important aspect (and opportunity) for marketers is knowing that people (again regardless of generation) will always gravitate towards “interacting with other people”. It may be different means of interaction that seperates the generations, but it will always be a preference for it. That’s why so many people enjoy using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.  They can interact with like minded people, or sound off on something they enjoy or more commonly on something they do not enjoy.
    This is a huge opportunity for people who understand the basics of human nature and your article points this out.  Thank you for taking the time to right such a good and thought provoking article Kathy!

    • Kathy Hanbury

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! And yes — you’ve articulated a key point: It’s always about the natural inclination for people to interact with other people. The way in which we do that online will always be impacted by current technology and trends, which is a moving target.

  • Laura Lear

    I think your article is right on, Kathy.  We are actively crafting content that aligns with what we believe our central business value is – telling a great business story on big screens nationwide.  I’ve found that it gets harder to create new content that isn’t repetitive when dealing with such a specific theme, so I think your premise of encouraging user-generated content and being out in the social world beyond your website are key.  This frees you up from having to create gobs of whitepapers/ebooks/etc. as it allows you to have more topical conversations (rather than one way monologues) in the “online rooms” where people are congregating.  It still requires concentrated and thoughtful time spent out in these rooms, so may require re-thinking your organizational structure and hiring accordingly…. Something to think about as 2012 budget planning approaches!

    • Kathy Hanbury

      Excellent point, Laura. It does require a different mental model and skill-set that may require a shift in resourcing. And I love the “topical conversations” vs monologues description. It’s perfect!

  • Gjohnson

    Could you cite the sourses of your statistics?

    • Kathy Hanbury

      Hi – Just click on the link to Socialnomic’s Social Media Revolution 2010 video above the bullet list of stats, and they have all of the sources listed to these stats and many more. 

  • Scott Maxwell

    Kathy, great post.  You describe the same world that I see emerging:  build a content engine that houses your content on sites that you control and then distribute it to locations where your target readers like to hang out and find it.  We made one slight adjustment to this principal for videos, where we put the original videos on YouTube.

    I would add that putting your best posts in a weekly e-mail newsletter and making it available for subscription is another great vehicle.  It may change in the future, but right now many people like to receive content via e-mail.  You can see our example on our content site aimed at helping emerging growth technology company managers grow their businesses:

    • Kathy Hanbury

      Good point, Scott. The reason that I didn’t mention e-mail newsletters in this article is that the focus is on young consumers. That demographic does not choose e-mail as a primary communication tool. They often view e-mail as slow and cumbersome, and choose to curate their own content through social media sites and apps like Flipboard. But for many of us, e-mail newsletters are still a preferred delivery method. As always, finding the best delivery method is based on knowing your audience.

      • Scott Maxwell


  • Christian Rose

    j’aime le beau visage de Kathy.
    merci Kathy.

  • Christian Rose

    j’aime le beau visage de Kathy.
    merci Kathy.

  • Kim Virrueta

    Kathy, LOVE this post! Thank you for such thought-provoking content that can be applied across a myriad of businesses and industries. I can clearly see how well this new way of serving content and marketing can apply to my own clients; plastic surgeons who depend upon the endorsement of prior patients to be able to build trust with potential new patients. Some doctors just don’t understand the HOW of social media (an easy hurdle to overcome)…but others don’t understand the WHY – and that’s where your article comes into play. Thanks again! Great job and I look forward to reading more from you.

  • Joshua @ Surf City Media Group

    This is some very useful information that totally makes sense. The web is changing and getting and being social is more and more important now and in the foreseeable future.

    Thanks for the great content,

  • Rajesh Kumar

    Your post is infomative and interesting.

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