The digital marketing ecosystem has gone through quite a few notable transformations since its early boom several years ago. One of the key trends we’re seeing nowadays is a rapid rush towards meaningful, readable content that appeals to the largest portion of digital media users and that is gradually added to some other SEO-oriented activities.
The birth of what is popularly known as content marketing naturally followed the increased social media use among the broadest populations. Considering the fact that most average internet users actively seek relevant information across a great diversity of channels, the content strategies deployed by both small businesses and large enterprises started changing to fit such behavior.
Although the very notion of content marketing may be traced back to the late 19th century when John Deere launched the first readers magazine, it’s application to the digital world may be said to have begun only few years ago. This mostly refers to a variety of e-magazines and blogs the world’s largest corporations started running to engage their users. The strategy afterwards became available to almost any company via blogging platforms and social media networks that are most commonly used digital content marketing channels.
Content marketing now and then
Of course, after the first successful implementations of digital content marketing strategies, things have started changing rapidly. Looking back over the previous twelve months, one may certainly notice an increased focus on this strategy among organizations both large and small. Some surveys suggest that the greatest portion of digital marketers today rely on some form of content marketing, with social media being one of the preferred methods among 93% of them according to a recent research by Content Marketing Institute.
Obviously, content marketing is gaining ground in both B2B and B2C businesses that are readily exploring the opportunities in the space. However, despite the great desire to deliver timely, accurate and engaging information to online media users, many companies still fail at implementing it successfully. This is why they keep changing their strategies, adjusting them to the turbulent digital landscape, and this in turn brings some new trends in the field.
The close of the year 2014, therefore, may be a convenient time to examine what worked best over the previous several months in an attempt to identify where the focus in 2015 will be.
1. More companies will use content marketing to increase brand awareness
Over the last few years, the greatest difficulty companies seem to have had in relation to content marketing was to define it and measure its benefits. Now, after a year of accelerated experimentations with these strategies some actual results appeared to hint where the future focus may be.
A convenient reference for making such predictions is certainly a recent study by Curata that revealed the actual benefits companies most frequently see from content marketing strategies. The stats below are obviously quite convincing and they point to the efficiency of innovative content strategies in the following aspects:
- – in 85% of cases a direct correlation between content marketing and increased brand awareness was found
- – around 75% or respondents saw an increase in customer engagement
- – 70% percent reported increased thought leadership and authority
- – 72% percent stated it enhanced site traffic
Considering these stats, it’s no longer difficult to see why content marketing is gaining on popularity in the related circles. Apart from this, the four key performance benefits also demonstrate the great potential the user-oriented focus can bring. Engaging audience via multiple digital channels and content forms certainly translates into benefits, even if the accurate ROI can hardly be calculated.
Of course, the issue of calculating ROI has always been connected to the content marketing efforts. In fact, the problem of measuring a campaign’s impact even when it is done properly may still be seen as one of the major hurdles that prevent more companies to join the arena. However, even though it may appear difficult to map increased users’ engagement to better sales, such calculations seem to be decreasing in importance.
2. Re-evaluating key performance indicators and calculating ROI
Compared to defining the goal of content marketing, determining the set of metrics that should be used to measure the efficiency of the strategy is certainly a way more challenging task. With such a great number of content distribution channels and social media networks, one cannot apply the same strategy for all and the same goes for KPI.
Defining the KPI, however, is perhaps even more important for a general strategy because otherwise you might miss out on some critical data. Therefore, in the year 2015 one of the key tasks for content marketers would be to reevaluate the ways they monitor and measure their digital efforts’ performance.
Whereas Google Analytics still represents an excellent source for campaign monitoring and performance measurement, one needs to know exactly where to look at in order to find the accurate and the most relevant data. Skimming through digits won’t substantially improve your strategy and could only prevent you from seeing what your users actually want from your company/brand. This is why it is getting more and more important to gather real-time, personalized data from all the networks your customers and prospects might be using.
This increased complexity of tracking and interpreting users’ behavior from so many resources may well result in bringing a growing number of SaaS and automated tool providers to the game. Once they start creating astonishing amounts of content, companies are likely to try to seek out more software packages that could potentially help them do better calculations about their efforts. Of course, this may not be the best practice, but more on that later.
3. The focus will be on impact and not on reach
Although one of the primary ideas behind content marketing is to use multiple channels to deliver a message and thus increase the potential reach, this may not necessarily be the proof of its performance. Instead, what we’re seeing at the end of 2014 is a growing shift towards making an impact and engaging the audience via all means available.
In the ideal world of digital marketing the sales funnel would begin with a customer’s discovery of a brand, continue with their engagement and evaluation of your product or service, and finally end in a purchase. Better yet, after the basic path is completed the consumers would engage in brand evangelism that would direct their contacts to it.
In reality, this is not usually the case and marketers often see some notable discrepancies between the reach and the final action taking. Therefore it becomes more and more important whom you target and how you do this, instead of simply following the rules of continuous blogging. This article makes an excellent point about following the basic content principles but retaining the focus on its promotion. You cannot expect your audience would simply find your content; rather, you should work on getting it in front of them, which is again an important strategy.
4. Real-time data evaluation over automation
The advent of technology has brought about a large set of tools marketers can use to redefine their outreach strategies. One of the most valuable ones, however, is real-time data monitoring and evaluation, which can hardly be done via an automated software.
As noted by HubSpot’s Matt Burke, the emergence of marketing automation gives people an impression that most activities could be simply done via a particular scheme. However, this is yet another myth about the trend and those who heavily rely on automation are likely to fail.
“Too many companies skimp on these details and think they can let their automation do all the work””not exactly the best way of accomplishing your goals. Marketing automation works as a supplement to your sales strategy, allowing you to strategize the path ahead. It’s not meant as something you can set and forget.”
Therefore, instead of expecting a piece of software to tell them all the most relevant facts, marketers should rely on real-time data analytics that is by far the best way of getting insight into what may work best. The marketers’ task is then to identify the patterns in consumers’ behavior and make themselves available at any point. This is when people would start relying on a brand and seeing it as a credible source of information.
5. Distribution channels expansion and mobile marketing
One of the critical issues in content marketing is not actually creating enough content, but rather knowing when and where to post it to achieve the right impact. Posting a story on your blog, for example, may not be as efficient for gathering leads as real-time tweeting could be. This is especially important since the number of digital channels people actively use increases, which is what also represents a critical factor of the efficiency of content marketing strategies.
In relation to the increased need to redefine content distribution channels, VP content at Hubspot, Joe Chernov notes:
“The ‘distribution’ slice of the content marketing pie will grow in 2014. As brands begin to create a surfeit of content, the meritocracy (if one even exists) will shift from the ‘best’ content to the smartest distribution. Solutions designed to increase content reach will rise in popularity.”
Obviously, the smartest way to engage the audience depends on both content itself and the form of distribution it takes, which is partly in line with the idea of increasing engagement rather than just reach. Furthermore, another important factor that is certainly relevant for finding the right distribution channels is also the increase in mobile search that would in many ways define efficiency of content marketing in 2015.
In the realm of mobile web, it is strikingly important to pack the information in short, viewable, and shareable content, instead of distributing lengthy articles and white papers only. This may translate into a greater focus on visuals and creating content that may communicate a message in a far more impactful form than text. Also, this changes the strategy for designing website and planning email marketing campaigns, as most surveys now report mobile users’ increased engagement with online content.
Content marketing is probably one of the most efficient techniques of reaching your target audience, and justifiably so. If there is a single thing that defines this strategy as a method better than anything else in the digital world, it is the fact it heavily focuses on users’ behavior. Therefore, even though many companies are still struggling to put these techniques to work, content marketing will quite certainly remain a focus in 2015, at least for those that realize the importance of their target audience’s feedback.