What Is B2B Content Marketing in 2016?

Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get all manner of responses on what defines B2B content marketing in 2016, so we’ve compiled best practices and strategies to help you plan your program.

What is B2B Content Marketing in 2016

“The Times They Are a-Changin.”
— Bob Dylan

Once again we, as marketers, find ourselves in a time of flux. A few years back, you needed a website to get business. Then you needed SEO. Then you needed to be on Facebook. Then you needed to blog. Now it’s 2016. And everyone’s blogging. And anyone who reads my stuff (and few of you there are—most of it’s thousands of words you can probably get from a million other places on the web), knows my take on where blogging is at—short form is dead—and Google (with the help of some SEO “experts”) pulled the trigger. Read more on my thoughts on that—and how to get your content shared—here.

So we’re back and things are changing again, and we’re going to take a look at what B2B content marketing in 2016 looks like, and how you should be spending your time.

First, let’s take a look at what the existing definition for content marketing looks like.

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

That’s pretty much the industry’s definition of content marketing from the Content Marketing Institute. But what does that actually mean? And what does it mean specifically for those of us looking to win in content marketing in 2016?

If you’ve been searching for the answer, you’re not alone. According to Copyblogger, the focus on content marketing has never been greater, but knowing what actually works? That’s a different story—especially in 2016.

“Only amateurs use short copy.”
—David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising

We’ve reached an event horizon where brands have “turned traditional business into media publishing companies.” To be most effective, we marketers have to evolve.

Content Marketing is Providing Relevant Value

Instead of focusing simply on defining content marketing, let’s get right to the heart of what your audience cares about: value. Without value, all the other defining features (production, distribution) sail out the window faster than you can say “Content Shock”.

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If you’re a content marketer, you already know the lingo. You’re here because it’s the effectiveness of your content marketing this year that’s in question, not whether or not you need to use it. And if you don’t know a lot about content marketing, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. You’re going to know more than most by the time you’re done reading this.

Content marketing is effective when your audience perceives value in every aspect of your product or service—including marketing. Josh Steimle from Forbes says value is “what changes [the] definition from one that could describe almost any form of advertising or marketing. You can tell if a piece of content is the sort that could be part of a content marketing campaign if people seek it out, if people want to consume it, rather than avoiding it.”

Value builds trust, loyalty, intrigue, and a bunch of other warm feelings that people tend to enjoy—but more importantly—need, to engage you.

The need to build and sustain these qualities has never been greater. That’s because the part where businesses sell services has been greatly diminished. Marketo reports that 60 percent to 90 percent of buyers will guide themselves through your sales funnel before you ever get a chance to talk to them.

Building trust with your audience is just like any other human relationship; we seek commonalities, similar beliefs and opinions, and a sense of connection in an otherwise very disconnected social climate. This is where effective content marketing shines.

A Short History of Content Marketing

Learning to transition from what content worked in the past to what’s working in 2016 means going back a little further. The more we can answer ‘why’ we do what we do, the more effective the ‘what’ will be.

Let’s start where everyone who talks about the history of content marketing starts: the first recent (and relevant) form of content marketing dates back to 1895, when John Deere published the first custom publication. It was called The Furrow, and it taught farmers how to make more money using John Deere products. Michelin then published the Michelin Guide in 1900, providing drivers with maintenance tips and travel features.

Providing value to the consumer is at the heart of content marketing; it’s been that way long before it was called content marketing.

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In 1904, Jell-O introduced its free cookbook; Hasbro partnered with Marvel to create G.I. Joe comic books in 1982; and in 2004 Microsoft launched the first major corporate blog; but something happened in 2014 that’s of great significance today: the mobile tipping point.

Smartphones have changed the way people interact with each other, as well as the way they interact with products and services. 2016 is arguably the best time to be a consumer; the bounty of information, research, and opinions is literally boundless. But empowering individuals to make informative choices has resulted in marginalized content on tiny five-inch smartphone screens.

In 2016, businesses are competing with what Mark Schaeffer calls, “content shock” or “the emerging marketing epoch defined when exponentially increasing volumes of content intersect our limited human capacity to consume it.”

This phenomenon is what’s happening across nearly every industry. What’s fascinating about content shock is that content marketing is—ironically—the only thing that could possibly rise up over this insurmountable cloud of content.

In essence, your job is to rise above the noise and drive into the winners’ circle using ethical strategies, deep data mining, smart analysis, creative edge and, above all else, a truly authentic, supremely human voice and style that allow readers to connect with your brand on a subconscious level. And then—you’re not even done yet. You’ve got to win at distribution.

The truth is that marketing to sell a product is not your primary objective. And as luck would have it, “content marketing is actually pretty darn good at selling products.”

Let’s Dig a Little Deeper in the Why of Content Marketing?

Content marketing is “second only to Internet advertising in accelerated growth…and now accounts for more than 20% of marketing budgets,” according to the Content Marketing Association. In addition to building relationships with people, content marketing helps businesses increase sales, generate traffic, retain customers, build brands, answer questions, and sustain engagement for longer periods of time. What’s more, content marketing is highly adaptive and easy to integrate across multi-channels, which can double or triple its effectiveness.

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Most importantly, according to Jay Baer, content marketing is “an information annuity that can’t be replicated elsewhere.” Once you produce the content, it’s there forever.

All this means nothing without a community—especially in 2016. Jay Bear believes that “Content without community, without approachability, without humanization and kinship is ineffective. Just as content that is focused on selling, rather than helping, is doomed to fail.”

To remedy this, you’re going to have to build a winning content strategy.

Developing a Strategy

According to a report by CMI, “more than 80 percent of B2B marketers say they have a content marketing strategy” but only a third have documented the plan. This is an interesting stat, particularly because that same research shows that marketers with a documented strategy “are more effective in all areas of content marketing.

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With this in mind, let’s take the extra step and document the strategy. Every strategy/plan will be a little different, but Mark Schaefer’s blog breaks down the basic sections into 6 easy steps:

  1. Business Objectives
  2. Brand Objectives
  3. Content Inventory and Audit
  4. Competitors
  5. Content Gaps
  6. Content Calendar

Strapped for time? Learn how you can create a content marketing strategy in 8 hours or less.

Your business objectives are the goals you wish to accomplish as you develop a content strategy. They should be clear, specific, and actionable—what good is a goal if you can’t achieve it? More importantly, your goals will set the foundation for the other sections to follow, keeping you and your team on the same page as you move forward in your strategy. 

Some examples of clear objectives may be:

  • Educate consumers about the difference between your product and the competition.
  • Become a recognized thought leader in your market.
  • Increase the time spent on your company’s website by developing interactive content.
  • Improve conversion rates by supplying content at every stage of the buyer’s journey.

Jay Baer makes a great point in his article about the objectives of your strategy: “The goal isn’t to be good at content marketing. The goal is to be good at business because of content marketing.”

If you can outline your objectives into action items on a list, not only will your content be manageable and easier to create, but your business in general will also benefit from your efforts.

Brand objectives are different from business objectives because these questions (and answers) aren’t about the company; they’re about your audience. How do you want people to feel about your business? What effect do you wish to have on your audience? What effect are you actually having? How can you close the gap?

Just like your business objectives, these questions should be clear, specific and actionable. Brand objectives are answered with tactics that work to achieve your business objectives. For example, working with industry influencers to promote greater visibility on social media, is a great tactic to employ if your business objective is to move traffic from social media to your company website. 

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However you define your brand objectives, make sure it’s coming from a place of data-driven analysis, not strictly from “your gut,” personal opinion or agenda. This can be hard to do when you work closely on a project. For example, you may think you know how a certain piece of content makes your readers feel, but unless you ask them, unless you test it, how on earth could you possibly know? Avoid making assumptions at this stage; it will save you time and resources further down the road. The more honest you can be when mapping your objectives, the more likely the content will be effective within your target audience.

Next, it’s time to review your existing content. If you don’t have any, it’s time to create some (tips on that to follow). Most businesses will inherently begin their content journeys with some content already in tow. This might include things like case studies, research papers, old blogs, how-to videos, interviews, and even re-purposed website copy. The goal isn’t to leap from the gate with oodles of content to add to the noise. Instead, focus on your content mix—what’s working and what doesn’t? Take inventory of the content you have and separate the stuff that’s worth repurposing from the stuff that’s just noise.

If you’re not sure what’s working and what isn’t, try looking at these four types of content marketing metrics. Measuring the results of your content, whether in terms of lead generation, sales or social reach, is essential to the success of your entire endeavor. Your content should help you achieve your business objectives, if it isn’t doing that, then it’s not doing its job.

At the very minimum, you should be able to gain insight from consumption metrics, which are basic interactions we count all the time, things like page views, downloads, and time spent on page. Most CRM platforms will have the tools you need to start tracking this metric right away. As you develop your strategy, you can dig a little deeper, with metrics like Sharing (likes and shares on social media) and Lead Generation (blog and email subscriptions). You need to be able to quantify your results before you can successfully review and audit your content. 

According to Hootsuite, this step is also the ideal time to review your team’s strengths and weaknesses. If you lack a videographer, you might not want to focus on that media in excess. Likewise, if you’ve got a shop full of amazing copywriters, you might want to work on improving your weekly newsletter.

Once you’ve reviewed your existing content, it’s time to look at your competitors. When dealing with the competition, Marketgizmo says, “Until you understand what your customers value, you won’t know where to start when you begin to analyze the competition.” On average, B2B buyers interact with eight pieces of content before making a purchase decision. Are you creating content in areas where these buyers can find it? Be your competitor’s customer to find out.

Competitive analysis is very important reconnaissance work. It’s rare to find a product so unique that it doesn’t require any analysis. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, someone is trying to solve the same problem you are. Or they’re trying to solve a related problem, the solving of which will also solve your problem.

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To gather competitive data, you’ll want to do things like sign up for newsletters and blogs, follow social media channels, research and review competitor websites, analytics and ads, and possibly make purchases to experience the entire customer journey from beginning to end.

For marketers and businesses just taking flight, this is a helpful tactic that also illustrates what generally works in your shared market space. But don’t overestimate the power of imitation. Will it flatter your competition? Yes. Will it guarantee a win for your strategy? Not necessarily.

You’re a unique individual. Your company is unique, and so should be your content.

Filling in the content gaps is your next task. This is where the data you’ve gathered on your audience and competition, your internal metrics, and your company/brand objectives collide to produce content.

According to this Demand Gen report, 61 percent of respondents said they selected vendors who delivered diverse content that affirmed each stage of the buying process.

Does your content cover stages like awareness, investigation, evaluation, decision, and loyalty? If not, these are gaps that you should pay attention to. For example, the content you create for a newsletter will likely interact with a previous customer or someone nearing the tip of your sales funnel. That’s because if they’ve gone ahead and given you their email address, they must be pretty sure they like your product and your brand. Conversely, if you’ve written content that’s being promoted via a Facebook Ad campaign, chances are the people who see your content may not know anything about your brand, so it makes sense that the content respects this lack of familiarity. With this same example, the newsletter addresses loyalty, and it makes sense that you might offer discounts or special features. The content seen on Facebook addresses awareness and investigation and, therefore, should aim to educate, intrigue and excite a reader.

This step is also a good place to reflect on your buyer personas—the various semi-fictional identities ascribed by your company to your audience. The more accurate the persona, the more equipped you’ll be at mapping content and filling gaps.

Here are some questions from Business2Community (and us) to help develop and refresh your B2B personas:

  • What are their job titles?
  • What is a typical day like for them?
  • What are their biggest challenges?
  • What are their top goals?
  • What is the job they need to get done—that only your solution can do for them?
  • What motivates them?
  • Who are their influencers?
  • What are their buying behaviors?

Finally, it’s time to map out your content marketing strategy over a calendar year. In addition to a yearly plan, we recommend mapping out a monthly calendar for day-to-day content and specific tactics. Lots of sources advocate the use of a content calendars, also called editorial calendars, to help keep pace with your content as things get underway.

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Crafting an effective calendar is both labor intensive and detail oriented. Lucky for us, Convince&Convert has some great tips to help us on our way. First, consolidate all of your editorial calendars into one. Why use lots of tools to do one job? Keep everyone in your team on the same page by leveraging and maintaining one content calendar. Second, focus your calendar on getting more traffic. Another great tip is to give your team plenty of lead-time to create complex content.

Once you’ve got your calendar all tightened up, it’s time to start creating then distributing and analyzing your results. As things get going, use that new data to refine and optimize content scheduled further down the pipeline. Your results will increase exponentially the longer you keep analyzing the data and adjusting your content.

Data Driven Content Marketing

As you might have already guessed, data fuels a robust content marketing strategy. Without data, you might as well be writing with your eyes closed. Marketers and advertisers have used personas and data analysis for decades; what’s new in 2016 is the way in which the data is used.

Businesses have more available data on their customers than ever before; mix that with social media and companies can actually tell an original story about their audiences using basic analytics.

According to the Harvard Business Review, when aggregated data reaches sophisticated and measurable heights, businesses are able to illustrate extremely “compelling visualizations or interactive applications.” In other words, they’ve got data with insights that have likely never been explored, researched, or examined. 

Only recently have businesses begun to appreciate the relevance and unique perspective their data offers. HBR notes that many businesses prefer to keep their data private, while others, like Kickstarter, General Electric, and Jawbone seized the opportunity to share information (also known as content) with their audiences.

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“When you’re sharing fresh, accurate, relevant numbers, you are offering content that gives people real value,” says Alexandra Samuel. “All that information could be fodder for top-notch marketing; instead, it’s treated like a state secret, and used almost exclusively to drive internal decision-making.”

Since value is what defines effective content marketing, it would seem logical to proliferate data as opposed to hiding it. This is a great place to investigate creative content ideas. What does your data say about your niche? Can you tell a meaningful story with it? Will your audience think it’s valuable?

In 2016, data doesn’t just help content marketers adjust their strategic courses; it’s literally the topic of your content.

In addition to being a good time to share your insightful data, 2016 is a big year for investigating the offline space of consumers with as much detail as the online persona. Forbes sums it up like this: “The line between in-store and online shopping is blurring, and this makes for a great opportunity for brands to utilize data innovatively to help fuel their marketing efforts.”

This integrated strategy improves the uniform appearance of the brand across nearly every channel, while also ensuring the brand remains consistent across omni-channel experiences.

According to CMI, with this innovation “marketers are able to piece together this information in hopes of understanding the true context and intent of people’s interactions.”

When one of the most difficult questions to answer is “Who are my customers?,” the prospect of finding out using an integrated data strategy sounds awfully appealing. And in 2016, content marketers are on the cusp of this discovery.

Better Content Creation

Aside from using big-data to push further into the subconscious minds of your audience, there are some basic steps you can implement today to kick-start your content creation.

“If advertising were better,” said Tim Hwang, “it would become known to us as information.” This, according to Celtra, is why “64 percent of marketers said they have devoted more resources to creative production.”

With so much money tied to production—“more than 40 percent of the average advertising budget”—it’s no surprise that marketers are beginning to sweat. What’s more daunting is that “the growth of content creation expenses gets worse as your marketing budget scales.”

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The best way to reign in cost while also building better content is to get SMART about content creation. SMART is an acronym developed by Hootsuite that stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time Based

“Every piece of content you commit to should serve a clear purpose for your marketing efforts,” said Evan LePage.

If your content doesn’t serve the content marketing strategy you just outlined, you might want to reconsider using it.

Instead of only being SMART, Search Engine Watch says we need to get intelligent: “In 2016, content marketing practices need to become more intelligent. Content marketers will focus on measurement and on creating content that reaches the target audience precisely.”

From the same article, author Jim Yu explains that experiences will also rule content in 2016. “As much as people like to imagine that they base their choices on concrete facts, emotions and psychology are important parts of making decisions. People remember experiences, not text.”

Data is also inherently linked to better content. According to ScribbleLive, data can “determine who is at the forefront of your industry and which influencers you should connect with” as well as “what kind of content you should be creating, and to better understand which content formats are gaining the most traction with your audience.”

Data can help build personas, and data can also show you what content your audience is engaging in, which subject lines improved open rates. Data is everywhere big and small, and it’s up to you to use whatever data you have available to be better at what you do.

Creative Content

As your content creation gets better, you may find you’re more prepared to stretch yourself creatively. At the beginning of this article, we discussed Mark Schaffer’s “content shock” theory, which predicts that human capacity for information is greatly limited by the extraordinary volume available. The irony of his theory is that it’s likely to be more content, albeit creative content, that’s able to rise up and be heard through the noise.

Creative content “is all about providing people with the type of content they’re craving, something they haven’t seen before,” says Savannah Marie of Business2Community.

There’s no right or wrong way to approach this subject, but there are some essential truths content creators have learned while exploring this side of creation.

For example, creativity isn’t something only creative people posses; it’s inside of everyone. Your job isn’t to copy what other people are doing; your job is to tap into your own creative source. Deanna Lazzaroni says you must first, “know thyself” to work creatively. But what does that mean?

Neil Patel, Lazzaroni explains, knows that he writes better in the early mornings. He also knows that he writes better after activities that boost adrenaline and dopamine—like exercising. Patel has stayed consistent with his writing schedule and has been able to improve the creative flow of his work by knowing when he works best. Try to build your own writing routine around what inspires you. 

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Another great tip to help your content get creative is to read a variety of materials as regularly as possible; this includes other content marketing, fiction, cereal boxes, and more.

“In addition to exposing you to different forms of language, reading others’ work also puts you in position to evaluate writing methods and examine your work more critically,” says Lazzaroni.

Another way to get creative in writing compelling content is to ask people for help. Group help, described by Wade Harman, is a great way to catch the inspiration bug from those around you, or from colleagues in a similar industry: “Learn how to use other people’s ideas and make them your own. That’s where the creativity comes in handy for yourself.”

Empathy is also extremely important when developing creative content. Sometimes when we write about a subject we know particularly well, our content can lack emotional empathy for the reader. Always look for areas in your writing that may pose uncertainty or vagueness. Try to premeditate your reader’s questions and offer answers in your writing. You don’t want to leave them hanging, which may cause them to search elsewhere for answers.

If you need more inspiration, check out Dave Mooring’s list of 75 creative content marketing ideas. Here are a few of his most creative suggestions: 1) interview industry experts, 2) invite guest bloggers to post, 3) relate content to a news event, or 4) recap popular posts of the year.

Finally, use the rule of 24. Wade Harman says that most content writers get what he calls, “content goggles,” something that happens to all writers when they aren’t able to step back from their work and let it marinate. Avoid publishing content on the day of your first draft. Give yourself at least 24 hours to let the content sink in and approach your ideas with fresh eyes and new perspective.

Remember, creativity is not a gift some people have and others don’t. It’s about expressing an opinion or idea in a novel way. In addition to aiding creativity, this type of thought leadership will help build rapport with your audience. The more authentic your opinion—the more honest you are when expressing your beliefs—the more likely readers will connect with your content—which spurs engagement, and leads to sales.

Moreover, creativity doesn’t always mean entertainment. While some companies like LEGO have done a fantastic job of using entertainment to engage users on multi-channel campaigns, creative content can also be informative, poignant, provocative, or abstract.

This year, content will undoubtedly be focused on creativity. To rise about the noise, it’s essential that your content approach topics with a fresh perspective and authentic voice. Once you find your creative rhythm, focus on delivering your creative content on different media.

How to Leverage Different Content Media Types (Video, Images, Infographics)

In 2016, video content will see massive growth. One way this year will be different than the past is in the use of live streaming apps like Meerkat and Periscope. These apps allow your audience to catch a glimpse of behind-the-scenes action, special events, and impromptu interviews in real time. And because they integrate so well with the top social media channels like Twitter and Facebook, they’re fast and easy to share.

Personalized video is another huge trend your content should focus on this year. According to Cisco, 80 percent of all Internet traffic will be streaming video content by 2019—up from 64 percent in 2014. And in a recent report by Demand Metric, 74 percent of B2B marketers said that video was the highest converting media.

According to the Huffington Post, “Personalization has swept through email marketing, social media, content marketing, and most recently web-based content thanks to the introduction of RTP (real-time personalization) technologies. In 2016 we’ll see this continue with the rise of personalized video, a new concept that enables marketers to customize the actual video content with information unique to each individual viewer for a truly tailored content experience.”

Video content is shifting from a lean-back attitude to a lean-forward mantra. This means an audience can now do a lot more with video than just click on a button to make a purchase. Things like surveys, questionnaires, gamification, data collection, and a host of other useful marketing tools will now be accessible in interactive video content.

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The only downside to such great technologies is that they’re still very expensive. According to Therese Bruno-Cavallaro, 33 percent of marketers currently don’t have the budget to support robust video content. Another 30 percent don’t even have the skills and expertise to execute the production.

Don’t let this deter you; images can be equally powerful in 2016. In this article, Neil Patel showcases the power of images in our online activity. According to Patel, “Content with images gets 94% more views than content sans images. It doesn’t matter what industry, topic, niche, or specialty, images matter.”

Great! But what kind of images should you be using in 2016 and how many? Patel has some great answers. He recommends one image for every 350 words and defining a style for your images. Pay attention to composition, color filters, and contrast; these characteristics should relate and appear cohesive in all your images across all channels.

Patel also suggests branding all your images so, if they get shared, people will see your logo and know you’re the source of the image.

Infographics are another huge contender for attention in 2016. Visual storytelling can be very effective at communicating complex ideas. What’s more, “65% of the general population are visual learners,” so producing visually stimulating content is a great way to be relevant in 2016.

Content Distribution

Mark Schaefer argues that it’s the most difficult time to be a marketer in all of history. He says distribution has become exponentially more difficult as a result of, “fragmented channels, shifting rules from social, mobile and digital advertising, changes in the SEO best practices, and radical change in the skills needed to keep pace.” This is important, especially as everyone is now creating and filling the ‘net with content. How you get that content shared and read is just as—if not more—important than just producing great content.

According to CMI’s annual Benchmark Report, the leading social media distribution channels for B2B marketers in 2016 are LinkedIn (94 percent), Twitter (87 percent), and Facebook (84 percent). Paid advertising for content distribution is most popular among Search Engine Marketing (66 percent), traditional online Banner Ads (55 percent) and promoted posts (52 percent).

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But this is what everyone is already doing. Your goal is to break out of the noise cloud and get noticed. To improve your distribution efforts in 2016, Heidi Cohen suggests a few helpful tips to stay organized and optimize your efforts.

“In 2016, the major content distribution effort is done at one time and the rest is scheduled when appropriate,” said Cohen. “Add metadata to each piece of content to help you re-promote it when appropriate.”

Cohen also suggests that you distribute content across owned, social media, and third party media, as well support free content distribution with advertising when and if applicable.

And don’t forget some of these basic distribution tricks this year as you move forward. Focus on things like audience time zones, and repost content multiple times so people get more than one opportunity to see it. Additionally, you should A/B test your distribution on social media and email campaigns.

Also, get your team involved. With social media in particular, encourage your employees and team members to like and share content on their personal accounts.

And above all else, use the data you collected in your strategic planning phase, draw from customer personas, and make educated predictions about when and where to reach your target audience.

Influencer Marketing

One of the biggest trends in 2016 will be influencer marketing. Forbes reported late last year that, “The growth of influencer marketing will be huge in the years ahead, and with barriers like ad blockers interrupting traditional advertising, marketing budgets in 2016 will see a shift toward earned media — especially earned media through influencer marketing.”

Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Marketer says, “As consumers become increasingly numb to formal marketing messages and advertising, their trust in information from peers, social network connections and industry experts has increased.”

Eighty-four percent of B2B buyers start the purchasing process with a referral, so getting involved with key influencers is a great way to get a piece of the action. 

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Who are the industry influencers? Forbes wrote this nifty equation to help us figure it out:

Influence = Audience Reach (# of Followers) x Brand Affinity (Expertise and Credibility) x Strength of Relationship with Followers

Influencers don’t have to have as many followers as you might think; what they do have to have is a tight relationship with their audience, and acknowledged expertise in their fields or industries.

Inc. says, “Influencers not only amplify your brand reach on social, they add an element of authenticity to your brand.”

Imagine hearing about a great new product from the company trying to sell it to you. Now, imagine hearing about the same product from one of the food bloggers you follow on Instagram. See (feel) the difference? The later is more appealing for several reasons: 1) If the food blogger likes the product, you probably will too, 2) You already have an established relationship with the food blogger, and 3) You can learn more about the product from the food blogger without lifting a finger.

Getting in good with influencers takes time and patience, as well as a customized marketing plan aimed at capturing influencer attention. A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t going to work here.

Steve Rayson, director of BuzzSumo, outlines a great plan to get influencers’ attention: “Find well shared content that is highly relevant to your area. Analyze who shared this content and filter those with high retweet rates (on average how many times their tweets are retweeted) but relatively few followers. Develop relationships by answering questions they ask on Twitter, sharing their content, commenting on their blogs, attending their webinars and meeting them in person if you can; and above all, ask how you can help them.”

In addition to your regular content marketing objectives, focus on a separate plan exclusively for targeting influencers. Just like other campaigns, track your results and adjust your outreach tactics to achieve better results. Build these relationships to last, and they will take you far in 2016 and beyond.

Social Media Marketing

Social media is one the most important distribution channels you have at your disposal, and unlike email marketing and advertising, it’s totally free. So how do we maximize our content efforts in 2016 on social media?

First, let’s take a look at how your social sharing capabilities are working on mobile. According to RazorSocial, as much as 28 percent of the traffic to your website is from mobile devices. This means your website’s sharing icons should be prominently displayed on mobile. RazorSocial recommends plugins like Digg Digg and Flare to optimize your social sharing.

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Are social media icons part of your email branding? They should be! It’s a good idea to keep the icons in the same place in every email. Test them often to make sure they work.

Also, Click to Tweet is a fast and easy way to encourage content shares on Twitter. Pull a great quote from your content and embed the application in your post or email. Readers just click on the text, and it populates a Tweet automatically. Ryan Hanley reports that he increased his shares on Twitter by over 30 percent by including Click to Tweet in his content.

Be aware of your social strengths and weaknesses. Neil Patel discovered that, when he limited the number of social media channels on his share toolbar, he was actually able to increase shares on his best performing channels.

Melwater offers solid advice for improving basic social sharing tactics. Try making your posts more ‘skimmable,’ as well as sharing consumer-generated content to encourage community engagement.

And Mark Schaffer leaves us with a good reminder to always shorten URLs if they become too cumbersome in Tweets or posts.

SEO for Content Marketing

According to Kissmetrics, SEO and content marketing go hand-in-hand. And there are ways to optimize your content so that it fits into a balanced SEO strategy:

“The way to apply SEO in a broader way is to channel its specific technical endeavors into content marketing. Conversely, the only way to ensure the success of content marketing is to apply SEO techniques in its implementation.”

The most basic example is the way we use keywords to develop an SEO strategy, and we use those keywords in content marketing to help deliver better SEO. In 2016, the interplay between content and SEO are inescapable. In fact, it’s a good idea to get your SEO team involved as you develop your content marketing strategy.

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When optimizing content to improve SEO, you should be, “optimizing the robots.txt, enhancing metadata, utilizing proper tags, and constructing a strategic sitemap,” Kissmetrics explains.

You should also be optimizing the elements you’re going to be most focused on in 2016: videos and images.

For images, this means assigning a descriptive file name to every image, saving file sizes down, and using Alt Text to briefly describe content using keywords.

For video, adding SEO plugins like Yoast helps search engines index your content. Best use practices for sites like YouTube should also be noted. For example, picking a thumbnail that’s most descriptive of the video content can greatly increase your engagement online. And don’t neglect branding opportunities and a call-to-action when posting video content to places like YouTube or Vimeo.

Proving the ROI of Content Marketing

One of the most challenging tasks a content marketer must face is proving the ROI of distributed content. We know good content when we see it, so why is it so hard to calculate effectiveness?

For starters, most content will continue working well past its publish date—content moves and circulates. So knowing where and when someone interacts with a specific bit of content, and then tying that interaction to a specific point of sale, can be challenging.

Steve Olenski said: “In using online platforms for content marketing, new analytics tools have been developed that help you determine the type of return on investment you are getting for those influential words.”

First, you have to define what it is exactly that the content was intended to do: generate new leads, gain followers, or convert sales. Once you’ve identified this, you can better equip yourself with tools that measure these things specifically.

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Tools like Google Analytics, most CRM software, and social media analytics can help break these areas down more clearly. They can indicate which content performed the best, which subject lines were opened most often, and how long your audience is spending on any given page of your website. These are important tools you should use in your endeavors to calculate ROI.

According to Jeff Bullas, “Revenue attribution is the final mile in the process of making content more accountable.” There are three types of attribution:

  • First-touch Attribution: Where 100 percent of the credit for a closed sale is given to the first content asset the customer interacted with.
  • Last-touch Attribution: Where 100 percent of the credit for a closed sale is given to the last content asset the customer interacted with.
  • Multi-touch Attribution: Where credit for an acquired sale is distributed evenly among all content assets the customer interacted with.

Once you pick a model, and set up your tracking system or CRM, you’ll be in a better position to both track ROI and meet conversion goals on various channels.

Without a doubt, a lot of the data and analysis you dig up will be impossible to attribute. But that doesn’t mean you should toss that data away. Jonsen Carmack says, “…you don’t just need numbers. You need to embed those numbers within meaningful contexts.”

Here are some questions Carmack suggests for building context around your statistical data:

  • How does your content improve sales opportunities?
  • Did a content marketing campaign affect how warm and informed the leads were by the time they made it to sales?
  • Did a content marketing campaign increase the number of leads?
  • Did a content marketing campaign decrease the overall number of leads but increase the number of sales-qualified leads?

So What’s Different About Content Marketing This Year Than Last?

There are really just a handful of takeaways from this ginormous post on content marketing. First, this year you’ll really need to ditch the short 500 word post and focus on creating higher quality, more valuable, long-form content. Second, you’ll need to move beyond just words and expand into interactive and video-based content. Lastly, you’ll have to get engaged with your influencers, and get your content shared so that it doesn’t sit stagnant on your website.

So, what do you think? Did we miss anything in how content marketing is changing this year? Would you add anything? What are you focusing on with your content strategy this year?

To learn how we help our B2B marketing clients develop and expand their content marketing programs, contact us today.