By Steven Van Belleghem published October 21, 2012

Content Marketing Research: 5 Ways You Should Adapt for 2013

content marketing research, adapt for 2013In the next few weeks, companies will be working on their marketing plans for 2013 and, for many of them, content marketing will play a part in those plans. If you are involved in planning those content marketing efforts, you will likely need to consider a few important changes in online consumer behavior.

Research agency InSites Consulting, data and sampling partner SSI, and translation agency No Problem! recently conducted a global consumer survey to better understand the consumer. Based on this research, we were able to draw five key conclusions that content marketers should take into account as they start to plan for 2013.

1. Pinterest offers more potential for content marketers than Instagram 

A lot of content managers are not sure whether they should invest time and resources in these two photo-sharing sites. Considering the growth potential of both sites, image-based content is certainly worth at least a look.

Consider these study findings:

  • About one-quarter of the online population knows about both sites, though their adoption rates are still very low: 3 percent use Pinterest and 4 percent use Instagram.
  • Half of Pinterest users log on daily, as opposed to just 31 percent of Instagram users.
  • 60 percent of Pinterest users intend to use the site more often in the future, whereas for Instagram users this is “only” 40 percent.

In addition, our survey found that Pinterest probably holds the bigger promise for brands. For example, 41 percent of Pinterest users are currently sharing brand-related content on the site, compared to 35 percent of Instagram users. Both sites do well in this regard, but just as with the overall stats, Pinterest scored better than Instagram. 

2. There is only a small window of opportunity for your content to engage an audience 

Our study found that an average consumer is linked to 11 brands on social media and follows seven brands in an active way. In general, people engage with an average of five brands. So in order to reach consumers on social media, the challenge is to be one of the 11 brands the average consumer follows. And when you want to have an engaging relationship, you need to be one of the five brands your consumers choose to interact with. Knowing there are a large number of strong brands out there (including the usual suspects: Coca Cola, Apple, Disney…) there is only a small window of opportunity for other companies out there to get that coveted audience. Of course, relevant content is the key to grabbing this opportunity. The smartest way to make sure your content is relevant, is to involve the target audience in the content creation process. Ask people what they want, and ask what would add value in their lives.

3. Social advertising is necessary for increasing reach 

As I mentioned above, consumers are cutting back on the number of brands they interact with on social media. And as a brand, you are not only competing with other brands for the attention of the consumer, you are also competing with the consumer’s friends. On a Facebook timeline, consumers like to see updates from their friends. Of course, they appreciate a few updates from brands they love; however, once the amount of branded content becomes larger than the content of real friends, consumers don’t like it anymore. This makes it a difficult battle. Brands should consider promoting their story in order to improve their odds of getting the greatest share possible of that attention.

To be heard, your brand needs to buy attention span. Certainly when the online reach is still rather limited, it really helps to promote your content. I think it is important to advertise with your content — and not with a direct promotion. By promoting your content, you increase the reach with relevant people, whereas with a direct promotion (such as an ad or offer), you will likely only attract “bounty hunters,” who will be less valuable to your brand in the long run.

4. Fans are not seen as a credible source 

Other internet users consider brand fans to be unreliable. In our study, we asked consumers the following question: “In your opinion, how reliable is the information posted on social media by each of the following persons?” “People we know personally” received the highest score by far. In other words: The most important “influencers” are those closest to us, regardless of the number of followers they have. This means that instead of “influencers,” we should be looking at “influence,” and that is something everyone can have.

content marketing research, chart

What really struck me was the extremely low influence of “brand fans” (“politicians” was the only category to do worse). Information presented by staff, or even the company CEO, is seen as more reliable than information coming from a fan. Remarkable, isn’t it? An “ordinary” customer and his feedback and conversations, therefore, have more influence than feedback from a brand fan.

In general, this may be because consumers view brand fans as biased, so their recommendations may have a limited impact. This implies that our content should reach out to the average consumer, as well — not just those that have identified themselves as fans.

Yet, targeting fans is still ideal for kick-starting your content and getting it to spread to other consumers. The quality of the content will determine to what extent the second layer (after the fans) will share it as well. This concept of “layer sharing” is becoming more and more important as a content KPI. Further, brand fans can be “used” by companies in different ways.

For example, I still see a number of aspects where a fan represents an added value for a brand:

  • A fan is quick to share content: By sharing brand content, the brand’s reach expands. Once “ordinary” consumers also start sharing that content, its impact increases significantly.
  • A fan is usually also of financial importance to a company: It’s wonderful to have a place (e.g., Facebook) where you can strengthen the relationship you’ve built with your fans on an ongoing basis. This makes them more likely to stay and, therefore, more likely to keep buying.
  • Fans are clamoring to be involved in co-creation projects: Non-fans may consider them to be unreliable, but they are often intimately familiar with the company’s range of products and services. By using their knowledge and fandom to improve existing products and services, companies can make the most of excellent content opportunities.

5. Consumers want to be involved in the creation of content

Consumers are clear: They want to collaborate with brands they like. In our study, 80 percent of consumers stated they would love to be involved in co-creation projects of brands they like. And specifically, most consumers reported that they prefer to take part in improving existing products.

Yet, many brands often overlook this opportunity in their content marketing plans. Our B2B study, “The 4 Cs of the Conversation Company,” showed that less than 1 out of 5 companies are actually involving their consumers in their marketing planning. To take advantage of this, select a small group of relevant consumers and involve them in product improvement, development, or broader strategic questions. The use of key consumers as consultants should be part and parcel of a conversation strategy.

If you would like to see more results of this global consumer survey, take a look at our free research report.      

Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with 100 content marketing examples.

Author: Steven Van Belleghem

Steven Van Belleghem is the author of The Conversation Manager and The Conversation Company. Next to that, he's a Professor at the Vlerick Management School and Managing Partner of InSites Consulting. His passion is helping clients in making strategic marketing decisions. Together with his team, he’s helping companies get a grip on the current consumers through branding, advertising and conversations. You can follow Steven on Twitter @StevenV Be.

Other posts by Steven Van Belleghem

  • NenadSenic

    Interesting points Steven, however social advertising bothers me. It plays to what Facebook wants, but to me that’s return to push strategy rather than running away from it. What do you think? Cheers, N.

  • Jef McClimans

    Thanks for the tips! Our website is moving into a new direction and we are planning our first marketing strategies ever! this will be a good guide for the coming meetings. I was just reading this post at Duo Consulting, they predict that “In 2013, expect more user-friendly analytics platforms that won’t require heavy training or experience to understand and manipulate”. http://blog.duoconsulting.com/2012/10/18/2013-marketing-technology-trends-online-predictions/
    As a “data guy” this is very exciting to me. Do you have any thoughts or insight on this prediction? Thanks, -Jef

  • http://twitter.com/StevenVBe Steven Van Belleghem

    Thanks for the reply’s and the comments.

    @Jef I
    do belief that removing the ‘barriers’ for people to interact with your brand
    is very important to create engagement. Today, there are more and more really
    user friendly tools that the ‘olympic minimum’ is increasing every day, so I do
    agree with that prediction of Duo Consulting.

    @nenad
    you are right, it’s a strange conclusion that brands would need advertising
    again to be heard on social. The same conclusion as in all advertising forms
    will appear: when advertising is relevant, people don’t mind that much. On TV,
    radio and print, it is very difficult to be relevant for all. I hope that on
    social media, the advertising will be ultra-targeted to increase relevance. So,
    brands that keep on using a push approach without relevant content will not
    create a engaged fanbase. Brands that succeed in targeting their key target
    group with relevant content, will be successful. But, I do belief that brands
    will need some sort of push to reach their objectives.

  • krishna

    Social advertising is much more than facebook.. the marketers need to understand the growing importance of user generated content and involve them in content creation.. this will give an added advantage that they are creating content which the customers really want to read… engagement matters more than just creating content..