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Content marketing trends in 2014

As social media becomes ever more integral to a brand’s marketing mix and Google cracks down on unnatural link building tactics, so content marketing continued to shake up the digital world in 2013.

With the New Year well underway, I have summarised the ten key content marketing trends you can expect to see evolve over the next twelve months.

Content marketing: the story so far

While 2011 was the year content marketing hit the limelight, it has actually been around since the 19th century in one form or another. When magazines were born, content marketing was created.

Fast forward to 2013 and many a PR, SEO and Social Media Strategist had jumped on the bandwagon in pursuit of making their content stick out amongst the clutter. The days of digital marketing proliferation are fast diminishing as content strategies define the need for an integrated approach across all content channels.

It has become clear that investing more time in strategy, quality content production and promotion brings more sustainable results over the long term. And this has nothing to do with the volume content of produced.

But what is content marketing success?

While you can have all the measurement tools in the world, if you aren’t measuring the right things and taking your learnings forward, you aren’t going to optimise your results. Some of the many factors that determine success are:

–        Consumption: Blog visits, increased social audiences, increased email open rates, more traffic, time spent on your website

–        Sharing: Links, likes, shares, re-tweets etc

–        Leads: Email subscribers, sales enquiries

–        Sales: How many of the consumers I am connecting with are turning into customers and revenue?

There are other very important value factors which I will reference later in this article (see ‘Greater emphasis on ROI’), but using the above measures as a check list for your content marketing KPIs will help to define your content strategy. So here are ten key trends to look out for in 2014:

  1. Clearly defined content marketing strategies

With 60% of businesses now using content marketing as part of their overall marketing activity, many organisations still face the challenge of having a clearly defined strategy that is aligned to their business objectives.

More content-related roles have been created within marketing departments to account for the need to plan more effectively ahead of content creation and distribution. This trend will continue as the need for data-driven planning and working to a predefined strategy, becomes essential to effectively implement complex multi-content, multi-channel, multi-platform campaigns.

In 2014, I believe more organisations will be able to clearly articulate what content marketing is and outline why they are using it in relation to their business objectives.

  1. Real time content marketing

The need for brands to become more reactive has never been more important as pre-planned content themes become saturated. You only have to type ‘Christmas infographics’ into Google to see the challenge content marketing presents for many organisations.

Consumers are overwhelmed with the amount of content presented to them, so the need for real-time content marketing (getting in their first) is essential for brands looking to stand out from the rest. Think about how news desks work and apply this to advertising.

Two great examples of reactive content marketing in recent times include Mini’s horsemeat campaign and Oreo’s Super Bowl Tweet: ‘You Can Still Dunk In The Dark’. 2014 will see more brands master real time content marketing and you will see many more success stories such as these.

  1. Integration of paid, owned and earned:

Many digital marketing teams still work in silos yet the next six to 12 months will see such organisations fall behind those who adopt an integrated approach, with content strategy at the centre of all their marketing communications.

Brands need to start developing content plans that integrate owned, earned and paid media. This integrated approach better serves the consumer who expects to see a seamless and consistent experience from a brand across all channels.

Kevin Gibbons wrote an excellent article back in July, highlighting the need for agencies to consider their working model in relation to integration. This can also be applied to in-house teams.

  1. Mobile defines big brand winners and losers

Mobile has long been in the spotlight in terms of its advancement. However, there is still a way to go, especially when it comes to content. Consider two factors:

  1. Mobile devices are small and people are on the move so content needs to be more concise with clear messages that make an impact and are actionable
  2. Google updates such as Hummingbird show that we are moving to a conversational search methodology, which complements location (mobile) based marketing

With mobile set to overtake desktop usage within the next 2 years, brands that take re-formatting content seriously will develop wider consumer engagement than those who don’t.

  1. Brands will invest more in video

Smaller brands particularly have a great opportunity to capitalise on the development of video platforms. If you consider that YouTube reaches more US adults aged 18-34 than any cable channel, it’s clear media consumption preferences have well and truly changed.

In 2014 you will see brands become braver when implementing viral video campaigns as they try to reach a wider audience. You can expect to see many more examples similar to the classic ‘Will It Blend?’

There is still a great opportunity for brands to create useful product videos such as demos (Retail) and experiential short-films (Travel).

User-generated content in the form of video is still an under-utilised tactic with which brands can develop valuable assets.

As the cost of producing high quality video becomes less and its impact potentially greater, you will see many more brands adopt this channel.

  1. Social media becomes more complicated

The new social media platforms of today are growing at an incredible rate and with apps such as Vine growing 403% between Q1 and Q3 this year alone. Those that capitalise on this phenomenon will be better placed to reach wider online audiences.

In recent years many more social media platforms have come to market making the landscape for advertisers much more complex. The intricacies of how consumers interact across platforms and which content strategies brands should employ has become increasingly challenging.

The potential reach for brands means they have had to adapt, serving up content in different formats while offering a consistent experience. Big brands will master how to integrate the consumer social media experience as many more will expand their social media footprint as they compete to reach new audiences that were previously untapped.

With that in mind, measuring social media will surely become more challenging. However brands must not lose sight of social being another channel within the marketing mix.

  1. Content hits the boardroom

Content marketing will continue to establish itself in the boardroom and senior stakeholders will act to re-organise their businesses, putting greater emphasis on clearly defined content strategies that unpin integrated delivery. Roles such as ‘Content Director’ or ‘Chief Content Officer’ will become more and more visible as the value content and its function is given more prominence.

With content playing a central role in driving sales and marketing success, accountability will become an evolving discussion in which key stakeholders will look for the tangible benefits of content marketing. Boardrooms will invest more in documented content strategies that are underpinned by:

–        People: creative ideas with integrated teams, collaborating to drive engagement across all content channels

–        Process: creating a seamless content experience which is relevant and timely is becoming more challenging than ever

–        Technology: tracking, measurement and ROI

  1. Increased automation

Like all marketing disciplines, automation is always a valuable way to make activity less labour intensive. That said fully automating content marketing activity just isn’t possible for any brand looking to optimise. Content quality will fall well short of the mark if they automate too much.

Larger brands may have the budget to experiment more with automation but those that attempt too much will soon see a recurring theme of less consumer engagement.  You can have all the automation in the world but it ultimately relies on the content. 2014 will see strong growth for the automation software market that supports content marketing.

Cross channel automation across search, social, paid and email will enable brands to better influence the buying cycle as long as their content is generated with segmentation and insight in mind.

  1. Greater emphasis on ROI

As technology advances and the visibility of content marketing in the boardroom increases, brands will put a greater emphasis on tracking, measurement and ROI. The constant promotion of ROI numbers within the content marketing community often doesn’t tell the real story. There are many important factors to consider when you are trying to communicate ROI in relation to content marketing. As this article by the CMI highlights:

“We need to stop solely talking about abstract monetary or numerical values and instead focus on two fundamental ways to clearly measure the value of a content marketing effort:

1)    In terms of its ability to provide long-term monetary worth, or

2)    In terms of its ability to provide long-term importance, relevance, and usefulness.”

The challenge for content marketers in 2014 is to be able to successfully communicate the true value of their activity based on the above values.

  1. Content promotion / outreach becomes even more challenging

One of the main selling points of content marketing is that you are essentially investing a lot less in paid advertising and attracting inbound engagement via quality creative. Given the increase in the amount of content marketing activity, paid promotion is becoming much more prominent as brands compete for coverage. While scaling up content production is a relatively straight forward task, increasing your outreach potential isn’t as straight forward.

More expertise, time and effort is required to enable better content performance. An outreach strategy should always be devised in line with creative. Many agencies and brands are still focusing on the creative first and outreach second. Who is your creative targeted at and why will it engage them? Start with this question and it may make you re-think your creative idea for the better.

In addition to manual and PR-led outreach, paid promotion will continue to develop and you can expect to see new and innovative ways to micro-target consumer groups.

Final thoughts

Much of what we know from 2013 will continue to evolve in 2014. While technology moves at an alarming rate, the speed with which organisations adapt their businesses to capitalise on marketing opportunities via new channels and platforms isn’t so quick. What is clear is that the brands with well-planned creative content production and promotion will win over disorganised content production with no clear strategy. Remember the Hare and Tortoise!

In addition, those that continue to invest in utilising new channels and platforms will widen their marketing potential.

Chad Harwood – Jones is Founder and Managing Director of London-based content marketing agency WooContent. You can contact him via LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter.