Content marketing is entering a dangerous new phase.
It’s heading into a trough.
You could call it……the dip of disillusionment.
For many the promise hasn’t arrived and the returns haven’t materialized. And the marketing manager is not sure if they should even continue.
The idea at first glance looked good.
The execution was poor. Content was created and shared but nothing of substance showed up. Few leads and little or no sales.
They had bought into the hype but didn’t realize the work and effort needed to make it effective.
The hype cycle
Gartner publishes the “Hype Cycle” every year. It’s a revealing look at their take on the rise of the different technology innovations, the peak of inflated expectations and the trough of disillusionment that often follows.
Their placement of where they see the current state of content marketing is revealing.
But despite this insight from the technocrats and the observers, content marketing is not going away any time soon. But the reality of non performing content has started to sink in as as the attention span of the consumers of content becomes shorter and the noise and competition grows greater.
What does this mean for us as entrepreneurs and marketers?
We are going to have to work not just harder but smarter.4 And we are also going to have to pay attention to trends that maybe you hadn’t noticed or thought didn’t matter.
Graphic source: Gartner
After years of just telling people what to do it has become apparent to me that education and soulless content as I knew it was not enough to change minds. It was time to add stories to the telling. Inspiration was required to be empowered through storytelling.
If you want to be remembered then touching hearts is where it happens. Many content marketers are discovering that storytelling has a power that they have ignored but are struggling to stand out in a sea of brand blandness.
“They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel“. — Carl W. Buehner3
So the art of storytelling and the importance of emotions is being rediscovered and gaining the focus it deserves.
The Hero’s Journey as revealed by Joseph Campbell (and used in movies) is a revelation on the power of myth and storytelling. It is an art form that sits behind the science of what can sometimes be seen as a technology arms race.
If you want to stand out in a noisy digital world then you need to also tell a better story.
#2. User generated content
Content marketing started out as a few blog articles, a Facebook post followed by a tweet. It was a gentle walk in the park. That was enough. But that was then.
Content became militarized and industrialized. Done at scale for the masses.
The monolithic media companies had been poked and stirred and discovered the power of content and publishing. They woke up and smelled the potential and rolled out the big metal.
So competing for attention has never been harder. Creating content on your own is a lonely place and there is another issue. It doesn’t scale.
So you now need the crowd to help you create content.
This includes stakeholders. employee advocates and consumers. Then you need the tools and platforms to create, manage and measure. These include platforms and apps like Shuttlerock.
User generated content is a trend that you will need to consider as part of your content marketing tactics.
#3. Authentic visual content
Traveling is a passion of mine. It is about discovering humanity and nature at the same time. But capturing those experiences doesn’t require the DSLR with 10 lenses and a big bag.
A smartphone is enough.
Who waits to edit and photoshop back in the hotel room? Now we just hit upload and hit the share button. Those real and raw images create more trust. Polished and fake images are seen as less trustworthy by a discerning millennial audience.
Snapchat can’t be polished and maybe that is part of its charm.
So we are going to see a lot more live video and images that taps into this growing need for authentic content.
#4. Quality long form content
One of my first blog posts was 106 words. No visuals and no sub-titles. It was enough then. We all need to feed the content beast that is a global competition for attention so banging out a ton of words, images and videos is still part of the game.
Quantity is still important but as Google has continued to impose its “user experience” and “quality” algorithms as part of its search optimization the standard bar has been raised.
Content marketing is not just about social and shares it is also about search. Quality long form content sits right in that mix.
So long form content is now a key component for serious content marketers. SEO traffic is often 50% of the attention for a blog post. Over half this blog’s traffic comes from organic search.
Posts that are positioned as a resource for an industry work on several levels. Link building and also as an authoritative portal for the niche.
Creating evergreen quality content is a long term content marketing trend that the top publishers understand.
#5. Live streaming video
We are now seeing the rise of “live video casting” that is moving from niche to mainstream
Meerkat was the most visible startup in the space in 2014 . Periscope followed close behind and Twitter bought them. Now we are seeing the fast growth and uptake of “Facebook Live”. YouTube and Tumblr are also starting to play at live streaming video.
Live streaming video is also emerging as in built features in video marketing platforms such as Twentythree.net
#6. Native content
As the adoption of ad blocking software reduces the effectiveness of banner ads then brands are trying to reach their audience in other ways. This leading to the rising trend of blog posts and articles that are sponsored.
The old is now new.
We knew it in the past as the old school “advertorial”. Part of the reason the use of Native branded content has been embraced is the necessity for digital publishers to monetise their websites.
Forbes has been one of the pioneers in this space (it started with this under the moniker “Brandvoice”). It is reported by AdAge that 30% of Forbes advertising revenue now comes from native advertising.
One of its latest iterations is “Special Features” that gives advertisers access to the same content creation tools as the Forbes editorial staff. Dell is one of the first to use this. It allows the publishing of posts, videos, infographics, interactive elements and photo galleries on the Forbes website.
One of the challenges with native advertising is scaling it. And we can see how Forbes is confronting that be allowing access to its content creation backend.
It will be interesting to see how this trend spills over from the big players into the small niche publishers and bloggers.
For some other in depth insights on native advertising there is a recent study released by King Content that is worth checking out.
Online influencers are a new species.
They have emerged from the primordial digital mist because social media happened. At first they were not noticed even though they were in plain sight.
The sub-species includes:
- Youtube influencers
- Instagram Influencers
- Twitter influencers
- Podcast influencers
And now the Snapchat influencer is even in the mix.
But they all have a few things in common. Great content, distribution and credibility. And some are even entertaining.
Companies that haven’t built their online audience want access to their viewers, readers and networks.
#8. Expiring content
Almost everyone has this problem. Procrastination. It is very human. Marketers and door to door salesman have understood this for decades. Expiring content is part of the solution today.
What was perceived as a fad has become a serious trend and it comes down to a metric that is always in decline. Engagement. A noisy digital world with an ever growing explosion of content means everyone is competing for engagement.
Expiring content creates scarcity.
Also called “FOMO”. If you don’t leap onto Snapchat today you will miss that video or photo from friends and followers. Snapchat has this type of content corralled and cornered at this point in time.
But it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Facebook has failed in the past to compete with its Slingshot app. But its new feature within its Messenger app (which now has nearly 1 billion users) might get more traction.
#9. Optimized content
Many content marketers have a blind spot.
They know how to get traffic. They also know how to create engaging content. But they often overlook optimizing. Because it’s not just about the traffic that turns up to engage with your content but what you do with it.
The switched on and savvy content marketers are now paying more focus on optimizing their content to capture leads and sales. The attention is shifting from fluffy and vanity metrics to using data for testing content for conversion. Part of that optimization journey is A/B split testing.
The ROI elephant never left the room. He just became visible.
#10. Distribution channels for content are changing
Earlier this year I added some new sharing buttons to my site. I checked into my analytics the other day and something stood out. Twitter shares were 135, LinkedIn shares 31 and Facebook was 13. But there seemed to be an anomaly.
The WhatsApp’s metric stood at 75.
That’s worth paying attention to. Don’t assume that your content distribution channels are static. Keep an eye on your data and the digital marketing trends and make sure that you are testing the emerging social networks and messaging apps.
Some others to watch are Flipboard, Medium and even SMS for getting your content in front of a new audience. It’s about removing friction and making your content move.
#11. Content marketing automation
Automation was first seen as an anathema on the new and emerging social web.
But marketers soon came to realize that their content, efforts and effectiveness didn’t scale very well without it. This is now being woven into influencer marketing and native content marketing tools. Marketing automation tools are moving from a “nice to have” to being essential and they do not have to be expensive.
Delivery of content and distribution to multiple channels including email and social networks is complex and fragmented. The answer is often not more people but better mousetraps.
Automated email marketing funnels deliver the prospect to content such as a video sales page, an evergreen webinar or a free ebook. They can be targeted and tagged to be delivered to the the most relevant prospect.
Using semi automated technology to crowd-source visual content is also becoming adapted by forward thinking content marketers.
#12. Interactive content
With declining attention and engagement on websites and blogs the content marketer needs better tactics, tools and standout content in the toolbox. One of these is interactive content.
Early exponents of this tactic was Hubspot with its website grader which was used by over 4 million websites after being introduced in 2006. I remember going back to this site many times after starting my blog to see if it was improving. In 2011 was replaced with the Marketing Grader tool.
One of the top trends and biggest uses of interactive content are competitions and social contests which are often run and marketed on Facebook.
Though it is now an obvious trend it still needs to be mentioned. Some of the key areas to watch as mobile continues to become an essential extension of humanity and the tool for receiving and consuming content are:
- Internal company advocates and external fans creating and sharing content about a brand using visual content marketing apps
- Mobile as a primary device for accessing augmented reality
- The rise of apps to deliver content that is easy to find and access
Streaming video is the hot trend but the use of pre-recorded video is now essential. But it is now being taken from the video hosts and played from within the social networks. Video used to sit just on YouTube and on websites.
Now we are seeing it being played on the platform without ever leaving. This is happening on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and the list goes on.
Fast emerging video marketing technology platforms are starting to replace multiple tools (from editing to landing pages and calls to action) that had made video content marketing complex and clunky.
Expect to see video content marketing continue to be used much more widely due to better ease of use.
Podcasting is a powerful type of content to engage with your audience. Its domination by a walled garden called iTunes is also a barrier to making content move and hard to discover. Those constraints were barriers to leaping into the space for many content marketers and potential publishers.
Podcasting is building some serious content marketing momentum.
Augmented and virtual reality content
Augmented and virtual reality is often a fantasy world that has been beyond the reach of most content marketing and brands. The cost, the timelines and resources required have made it prohibitive.
But the stunning success of the Pokemon Go mobile app that is an intersection of virtual reality, mobile and social is an insight into where augmented reality sits in the content marketing pantheon.
It’s real, interactive and augmented content. Expect to see content marketers take a lot more notice.
We have seen the rise of sponsored native content and now we are about to see the emergence of “sponsored locations” according to the CEO of Niantic (the development studio behind Pokemon Go). This will aim to drive real foot traffic to retail stores. And this will be in addition to the the monetisation of the game with the in app purchases of power-ups and extra Poke balls.
McDonald’s Japan is about to be the first major brand to sponsor locations and host “gyms” (or battle locations) at 3,000 of its stores across the country.
The rise of artificial intelligence
We have assumed for a long time that humans had a monopoly on content creation but artificial intelligence to augment humans collating and creating content is the next frontier. This could be marketing content and also educational content.
Platforms like IBM’s Watson are helping sift through big data, solving problems and creating content at scale. To put some perspective on this, Woodside Energy (a large mining company) needed to capture the IP of its engineers and its decades of experience of designing, building and managing complex infrastructure. Using artificial intelligence technology they have now created 28,000 by 100 page documents that are used to transfer the expertise of their senior engineers to new graduates.
Also expect this AI technology to start creeping into content marketing over the next decade.
Over to you?
So are you still disillusioned?
Maybe it’s time to pay closer attention to converting traffic and engagement from your content into leads and sales. Or you might need better tools to scale your efforts.
It could be that you should be crafting a better story.
About the author: Jeff Bullas
Jeff is an entrepreneur, blogger, author, marketer and speaker and works with personal brands and business to optimize online personal and company brands with emerging technologies, content, social media technologies and digital marketing. He has spent most of his career involved with information technologies, telecommunications and the web.