As we begin the new year, the predictions, assumptions and insights have trickled their way into the mainstream with everyone in the digital industry speculating on what will be big in 2014.
While the fundamentals of good content will never change, many of the tactics, channels, and even the way people consume content will continue to evolve. So it makes sense to look at some of the key trends on the horizon for 2014 that are likely to directly affect your online content marketing initiatives, from strategic planning right down to how you execute and distribute your content.
But before we explore how you stay on top of (and leverage) upcoming trends, let’s take a quick look back at a few of the headlines from 2013:
- Ninety-two percent of marketers are now using content marketing.
- Fifty-eight percent of B2B marketers and 60 percent of B2C marketers are planning to increase their content budgets in the coming months.
- Documenting your content marketing strategy has a major impact on your success.
So what exactly do you need to know moving forward? Here’s a breakdown of the big trends:
1. Marketing team makeup
Traditional marketing roles are constantly being redefined, and one of the key roles marketing teams should be adding is a director of content. This phrase can be somewhat deceiving, as it requires that your entire marketing team (and organization, for that matter) has bought into content marketing. But for organizations where this is the case, you will need to designate someone whose sole responsibility is to drive your online content strategy forward and measure its impact on the overarching business goals.
The director of content’s role includes helping to shape and define the organization’s content marketing strategy, putting in place everything your business needs to execute. The person who fills this role must have:
- Strong writing and communication skills
- A good eye for visual content (even if they aren’t a designer)
- A keen analytical mind (and the ability to really dig into data to find meaning and relevance)
- An understanding of conversion optimization (i.e., they are able to distinguish between content that is written to be shared versus content written to generate leads)
- The ability to think like a journalist, stay on top of current trends, and move quickly (more on this below)
According to Forbes, the need for a director of content will not only become more apparent in 2014, but companies will be investing more time and budget toward content as a whole. This comes on the heels of a report released by HubSpot, which clearly shows that companies that define marketing and sales roles in relation to their online content marketing efforts have much lower acquisition cost than those that do not.
Bottom line: If you don’t clearly define organizational roles within the context of a well-thought-out online content marketing strategy, it’s going to cost you. Start with your marketing team and then expand to include your sales team. Define team members’ relationship to the content you’re putting out and what their role will be in creating, distributing, and following up on the results.
2. Responsive design will be a “must have”
Forget about a mobile strategy — in 2014 content marketers will need an “everything” strategy that encompasses multiple channels at once. According to an IDC study, by 2017, 87 percent of internet device sales will be made up of smartphones and tablets. That’s only three years away — and without a strategy in place to address the content consumption needs of your audience, you might as well be creating content in a silo with little hope of making it engaging and shareable.
But keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily mean you need a native app. In fact, I would argue that you don’t need an app at all. The key takeaway here is to create a responsive experience for your audience. In one fell swoop, your content should instantly be accessible and easy to navigate on any device — if it is, chances are that content will perform more successfully for your business.
For example, according to eConsultancy, brands such as Lovehoney, State Farm, and Bench all saw conversion rate increases of 56 percent or higher as a result of a newly implemented responsive design strategy. At Uberflip, we also saw an increase in conversions and other key engagement metrics when we moved from our old blog (which wasn’t responsive) to a responsive content hub.
Bottom line: Creating a responsive design experience for your content channels (and all of your online properties) should be baked into your content planning processes. Every time a new asset, page, blog, or anything else is rolled out, design for and test it for every screen size. While this may involve a larger initial investment in terms of budget — and time — you’ll be setting your content up for maximum consumption and discoverability moving forward.
3. Link earning will (eventually) trump link building
Thanks to our friends at Google, the Hummingbird update means that search is beginning to shift, taking conversational language and context into account when ranking pages and providing results. Among other things, this means that synonyms will be part of the equation when delivering search results, hopefully putting badly written, keyword-overloaded content to bed. (For more about SEO, link building and contextual search, here’s a great article featuring Rand Fishkin, who emphasizes the need for content marketers to stand out from the crowd — especially in the current search landscape. Smart marketers who focus on creating something new, something substantial will win out in the end.)
Bottom line: Every now and then, content marketers will need to invest in time-consuming, non-scalable pieces of “big content,” as they have the potential to outperform 100 smaller pieces of content you may have created with the same amount of time and budget. This might include comprehensive resources or guides, long-form or in-depth articles, or perhaps even a tool or app that also acts as a free resource for your audience.
4. Curation and custom content streams will take the spotlight
The ability to curate the best content from multiple sources, creating highly targeted custom content streams, will be easier than ever. Through the introduction of Twitter’s Custom Timelines, LinkedIn’s Showcase Pages, and other tools that help you organize and target content, marketers will be able to create content for highly targeted segments of their audience.
This is an exciting shift in direction and has the potential to be a win-win scenario for brands and their customers. Rather than forcing your audience to sift through mounds of content — or sending them to a single resource — brands can cherry-pick important content pieces that tell a story, helping people find what they need (and steer clear of what they don’t).
Bottom line: Start to think about how your content fits together. We often create content about the same topic (or that appeals to the same persona) in various formats like blog posts, videos, and eBooks. These can easily be packaged together for a more informative and enriching experience. Here’s a great example of Carson Daly using Twitter’s custom timeline feature and another custom content stream built around a campaign targeted to HubSpot users.
5. Move over marketers — brand journalists are taking the reins
Nothing speaks more to the blurring lines between content and journalism than the recent news that Yahoo has struck a deal with journalism icon Katie Couric as part of its growing content strategy. Moving forward, it wouldn’t be surprising to see content marketing roles lead by individuals with backgrounds in journalism, writing and storytelling, and information design.
One of the skills mentioned above when we spoke about hiring a director of content was the ability to “think like a journalist” — but where do we start? How can we create stories that everyone is itching to read?
One company that has done an exceptional job when it comes to branded content and storytelling is Coca-Cola. The company recently revealed its checklist for making sure every story is compelling and share-worthy:
- Does it answer the “Why Should I Care” test?
- Does it surprise you?
- Does it have universal appeal?
- Does it generate interest?
- Is it new — something you haven’t seen before?
- Is it different from what your competition is offering?
- Is your content being measured systemically?
Note the last point about systemic measurement — something that most content marketers ignore. Through its “Expression of Interest” score (used to rank pieces based on popularity), Coca-Cola was able to identify that the No. 1 search term on its site was “Coca-Cola cake.” As a result, the company implemented a food filter and “cake” became the No. 1 category.
Bottom line: Starting today, you will need to start thinking like a journalist and achieve the results of a marketer. This boils down to understanding what compels people to act. Dig into your metrics, talk to your customers, ask members of your sales team about the most popular non-product-related questions they’re getting. When you know what your audience cares about, creating stories that resonate with them will become much easier.
If there’s one thing marketers know, it’s that this is a fast-moving industry, so staying on top of the rapid changes is crucial. The trends above might just be a sampling of what’s to come, but preparing for and adapting to them could make the difference between your brand succeeding and falling behind.
Overall, it’s clear that content marketing should no longer be considered an “additional” part of your marketing strategy — it’s an essential part of building brand awareness and loyalty, generating leads, and acquiring customers. Here’s to another great year!
To see more of the trends poised to impact content marketing this year, download CMI’s eBook, “50 Content Marketing Predictions for 2014.”