According to the Content Marketing Institute, 56% of UK marketers expect to increase their CM spend in coming 12 months (11% say ‘significantly’).
Debates rage over the practice - its proper definition, its scalability, whether it is anything new at all.
NB: This is an analysis from Nathan Midgley, content editor of Melt.
But, it is not going away in 2014, and the themes it raises are widely relevant in travel and beyond: quality of creative, measurement, use of data, shape of marketing teams, new advertising formats.
Instead of a list of predictions and trends, we’ve pulled out some of those themes to give CM believers and sceptics alike something to think about going into the new year.
The new spontaneity
One of the most successful branded tweets of the year was a quick, ingenious pivot on an unexpected event: Oreo leapt on a power cut during the Superbowl, and fired out a simple image with the slogan ‘You can still dunk in the dark’. Cue almost 16,000 retweets and 6,000 favourites, plus 20,000 Likes on Facebook.
On the editorial front, Us v Th3m has grown a huge UK audience - and admirers in the US - by creating quirky, interactive content around topical events and issues.
Action point: Do the groundwork that enables spontaneity. Arm your people with go-to templates and techniques, and streamline your workflow. If everything has to be reviewed all the way up the chain, you’ll be slow off the mark.
Only 42% of UK content marketers have a documented strategy, according to the CMI. That implies there’s a great deal of content out there that is at best merely aimless, and at worst an outright waste of money.
Moreover, many of the content strategies that do exist - particularly in the travel space, with its reams of identikit, keyword-heavy destination guides and reviews - are based on outmoded SEO principles.
As the buzz around content continues, expect clients and CEOs to start asking tougher questions. Make 2014 a year of coherent, goal-focused work that fits into a wider game plan.
Action point - eradicate slippery terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘awareness’ from your rationale. Go back to basics - your business objectives, your personas. How will your content specifically address them? How will you prove that it worked?
Publishers become agencies
The trail blazed by Buzzfeed is still hot. Vanity Fair, the New York Times and Time Inc. sites are all experimenting with so-called native advertising, and some publishers (the Onion, Wired) have effectively developed full-service creative agencies. Remember, too, that 2013 was the year Buzzfeed Travel appeared as a distinct channel - although there are no ‘partner’ pieces on it yet, Nevada CVB and Marriott’s Residence Inn brand have run campaigns with Buzzfeed in the past 18 months.
A May 2013 study by IPG Media Lab found consumers looked at native ads 53% more frequently than display ads, and were more likely to share them.
Action point - do you know which publishers offer native advertising programs in your sector? If not, find out. And if there’s one you’d like to work with, send them an enquiry. They should be able to offer you more than traditional ad buy.
The tech end is developing fast
Here’s a snapshot of investment to date in a few key content marketing-related tech companies. The green segments represent funding added in the last 12 months (November 2012-2013), and the second graph removes Hubspot to make the smaller players’ numbers clearer.
There were acquisitions, too. Oracle bought the content marketing platform Compendium in October for an undisclosed sum, and is competing with Salesforce, which picked up email marketing platform ExactTarget in June. Servio was bought by competitor CrowdSource in November.
Action point - watch this space closely. Providers will be competing hard to fix content marketing’s scaling issues, addressing collaboration, workflow, contributor management and analytics. For large brands that have ambitions to become publishers and do a great deal in-house - Thomas Cook, perhaps? - this kind of tech could prove pivotal.
Unilever cut 800 marketing jobs in December, about a year after Procter & Gamble cut 1,000. Meanwhile, Coke is shedding something different: corporate websites and press releases, as it implements a content-heavy, story-focused marketing strategy.
The marketing sector is facing disruption and a tottering economy at the same time - and changes in the search landscape are pulling PR, SEO and creative skillsets closer together. What will the departments of major corporations look like in 12 months? “Very different,” is one answer. “A lot smaller,” is another.
Action point - audit your marketing resource. What skills do you have in-house? Where are you weak? Then look at the organisational map and the layout of the office. Are there key people who should be talking but aren’t?
The buzz about content marketing will drive a wider conversation about quality of creative. Embrace it. Look for opportunities to deploy distinctive appearance and structure - there’s no law that says your articles have to be 500 words and a picture, or that infographics have to be built off vector kits.
In an attention economy used to churn, something that shows character and craftsmanship turns heads - think John Lewis’s hand-drawn Christmas ad, the long-running RSA Animate series or General Electric’s witty, resourceful clips on Vine.
Action point - network with creatives, and work on expanding your pool of content providers. Make sure you aren’t going to the same illustrator, film-maker or writer every time.
‘Small to large’ re-purposing
Re-purposing is a constant refrain in the content marketing space. It’s about making your big ideas go as far as possible by creating renditions of them that will work on multiple channels and for multiple audiences.
This is often done ‘large to small’ - a high-value piece broken down into smaller ones. The disadvantage of that is that it front-loads the cost of the project. In the new year, look out for the reverse: ongoing series that can be aggregated into larger content pieces further down the line. It’s a good way to stretch a monthly retainer budget.
Action point - if it isn’t already there, make sure re-purposing opportunities appear on your content creation checklist. And if you have banks of existing content sitting idle, kick around some ideas to revive it in a new form.
The data piece
Punting out lots of content and seeing what sticks is a high-risk approach. Well-resourced businesses will turn to big data houses - like travel specialist Sojern, which just scooped $10m for a hiring spree - to identify not just the right people to target, but the right time to target them.
In the longer term, deep insights into intent and location in the sales journey will unleash content marketing’s lead nurturing potential, particularly in complex, obstacle-heavy purchases. Customers will be retargeted with useful or inspirational content, not just product-focused display units.
Action point - big data doesn’t come cheap. If you’re well-resourced, cost access to it. If not, go back to point two - have a strategy, and make sure everything you produce fits into it. Use analytics to draw conclusions about what is and isn’t working.
Multi-screen, not just mobile
Mobile devices account for nearly 20% of global web traffic, according to StatCounter. Of course you want to optimise your content for them, but the past 12 months have cemented the move from neat screen size categories to a smooth continuum. The largest smartphone - Samsung’s Galaxy Mega, unveiled this year - boasts a 6.3” screen, just 0.7” smaller than some of the new-breed mini tablets.
With wearable devices on the horizon too, it looks increasingly risky to chase category-bound notions of screen size. Those at the forefront of web development are talking about ‘device agnostic’ responsive design, and it’s time you had a handle on those ideas too.
Action points - get onto your in-house developers or your design agency. Do they ‘do’ responsive design? If so, get some basic estimates on timescale and cost - valuable inputs when planning a content project.
The unsung social platforms
Facebook, Twitter and a bit of Google+? Look further. In an interview with Econsultancy, Virgin head of content Bob Fear revealed that the second biggest referrer to the brand’s content was - much to his own surprise - LinkedIn.
Another surprise success for B2B content is Slideshare, dubbed the “Youtube for business”. With 60 million monthly visits and a strong search profile, marketers routinely use it to follow up on conference appearances and repurpose large articles into digestible slides with strong visual identity.
Action point - increase your social frame of reference. Have a dig around on Slideshare to get a feel for how people use it - slideshows have come a long way since the grim days of Powerpoint.
NB: This is an analysis from Nathan Midgley, content editor of Melt.
NB2: Blackboard image via Shutterstock.