It’s January 26th, and you might still be waking up early every single day to hit the gym and feeling like it’s never going to stick.
And jamming out a 500-word blog post every morning before you start to drown in reports, calls, and emails (don’t forget endless time lost scrolling through Twitter and Facebook feeds). Forget about it. While some resolutions were doomed from the beginning; others could be more attainable than you think.
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re less worried about your waistline and more concerned with the bottom line. You’re a content marketer, tasked with making some real things happen this year. Maybe this is the year you finally get the budget you’ve been asking for. Or perhaps you get that added resource you need to create all the content you’ve dreamt of.
Regardless, there’s a good chance that you’re looking at the recent glut of content, pressure to deliver better and more accurate ROI, and the challenge of getting your content seen, and thought, “ugh.”
With that in mind, I pulled together the following 12 content marketing resolutions to help you wrap your head around your programs in 2016.
1. Prove ROI and/or Attribution
Content marketers have historically had a tough job explaining the value and quantitative truth of content marketing ROI.
Forbes makes the following case: “The complexity of interaction and engagement with the content, combined with numerous factors related to time and other influences, can seem like results would be impossible to measure.”
Fortunately, with the right tools, this challenging calculation can be clarified for both content marketers and decision-makers everywhere.
Knowing if the content was read, if it generated new leads, or increased site traffic are viable metrics that should be used for calculating a quantitative ROI. Tools like Google Analytics can help sort through these numbers; additionally, some email marketing services provide useful analytics tools to track click-to-open rates.
Of course, there are also qualitative factors to consider, like viral-ability and the permanency of content on the web. This means the quality of the content may give it longevity, which adds value to the content.
For example, we created a long-form post in the second quarter of last year for a client. It was focused on a newly identified buyer persona, and written with their needs in mind. Having never ranked on Google for anything (except their name), most searches in their space yielded one million+ search results. By creating content for a specific persona, making sure that it was long-form quality content, and getting it shared in the right groups and channels, that post maintains first page results almost a year later.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, the most effective marketers are MORE challenged with measuring content effectiveness (53 percent) than they are with producing creative content (49 percent). So, if you’re not getting the data you need to prove ROI, you should be spending less time on the creative stuff and more time crunching numbers.
2. Work More Closely with the Sales Team
Content marketers and sales teams are a winning combination in 2016.
Patrick Welch explains it this way: “By tracking and sharing how top sales performers use, engage with, share, and annotate content, and at what frequency, other members of the sales team can learn how to incorporate the most helpful content to make them more successful. In turn, the content marketing team can learn what content translates into sales.”
Content marketers should keep in mind that, while sales reps have traditionally played a huge role throughout the buying process, that role is diminishing, and it’s not just the creative aspects that should command their attention.
Business Wire reports that even in complex B2B systems, sales rep involvement starts at the beginning of the sales process two-thirds of the time.
Haven’t we all been hearing that the sales role has all but been eliminated in B2B? Depending on who you talk to, 80-something percent of the work has been done before a buyer even talks to a sales person.
Seems like there’s a difference in opinion. Here are a few recent facts that are publicly available that you should strongly consider:
- 74% of B2B buyers conduct at least half their research before talking to a sales person (that still leaves a lot of work to be done);
- Five and half people are involved in the buying process;
- 74% of buyers choose the first sales rep that adds value and insight FIRST
Information like this will influence the way content is presented, but only if both teams work together and communicate. You have to create the right content pre-sales, but you also have to support the sales team DURING the process (we call this sales enablement—challenge sales team members in particular value this).
Making sure the sales team is free to manage sales in collaboration with effective content marketing will ensure everyone is working at peak potential.
3. Budget for Content Marketing Spend
The average total budget spent on B2C content marketing last year was 32 percent, an increase of 7 percent from the year before. Aside from realizing the reach of content marketing, the permanency of the product makes for a longer-lasting message.
eMarketer makes a great point about the durability of content marketing: “…Marketers have evolved in their approach and strategies—they are looking at the long game and realizing that, although waiting 18 to 24 months for results is not ideal, it is the new reality.”
In other words, a budget focused on content marketing today could be the solution to greater sales tomorrow. And it’s no secret. According to that same article, “76 percent of B2B marketers in North America said they expect to create more content in 2016 than they did in 2015.”
So be patient, and know that good things come to those who wait.
4. Technology (Working with It—Or Around It)
Not all companies are as tech savvy as they would like to be, and things are only getting more tech-heavy in 2016.
According to Forbes, “A variety of other trends have led to an increased number of sensors embedded in many technologies and devices that we use personally and professionally. They become smarter as they gather more data on our daily patterns. Gartner predicts that these sensors, which tend to work in silos today, will increasingly work in concert, leading to even greater insights about our daily patterns.”
On the one hand, having this collection of personal data could be a game-changer for content marketers. On the other hand, making sense of all this noise will be a challenge.
Said Forbes, “By 2020, 25 billion devices will be generating data about almost every topic imaginable. This is equal parts opportunity and challenge. There will be a plethora of data, but making sense of it will be the trick.”
Don’t get too caught up in the details just yet. Stay informed about these developing technologies and make the most of this data as it becomes available.
5. Education/Staying on Top of What’s Working in Content (and What’s Not)
Education is going to be a popular buzzword in content marketing circles this year. Aside from keeping up with new technologies and industry trends, education is a great way to interact with consumers and encourage sales.
Some companies see education as a means to content creation in and of itself. Intuit Labs is a great example of education-based content that rewards engagement. The collaboration platform actually asks entrepreneurs to help solve product challenges and awards cash prizes to winners. This user-generated content provides great transparency into the business and teaches users more about the brand and the products/services being offered.
What’s more, according to MarketingProfs, B2C marketers can learn a lot from the work they’re already doing by documenting their content marketing strategies.
According to the site, “Over the years, our research has consistently shown that marketers who have a documented content marketing strategy are more effective than those who have a verbal-only strategy or no strategy at all.”
Make an effort to engage with education—both personally and in your content marketing—and document your marketing strategy so you can apply it in the future.
6. Finding an Alternative to End-All-Be-All Marketing Automation
Sound counter-intuitive? I know. But the reality that we’re seeing is that content marketing automation is powerful—so powerful that in many cases marketers aren’t able to maximize all of the benefits and features. They end up overpaying for things they don’t use, and feel like they are drowning in functions, technology, data and reports.
Tech Crunch thinks the future of marketing automation will look something like this:
“Over the next three years, we’ll see a new generation materialize. I predict that the prevailing marketing platform of 2018 will be predictive-first, will deliver full-circle recommendations, and will embrace open platforms.”
To this end, we’re starting to see clients fall back to simpler days, leveraging tools like MailChimp, Hootsuite and Google Analytics to give them just enough data to make sound decisions, and have real conversations with their prospects.
2016 may be the year that you reconsider the one-size-fits-all solution for your email communications, social media, website as well as other automated systems you currently use. Look for alternatives that speak to your audience specifically with platforms that give you the usable control to segment, analyze, and predict behavior.
7. Quality Content Vs. Quantity Content
While it should go without saying, quality content reigns supreme in 2016. Google’s ever-advancing algorithms have changed yet again and now focus on quality indicators that should be considered as you develop content.
Forbes reports: “When you create and publish content that is unique, valuable, and targeted to your audience, Google’s algorithm recognizes that content as high-quality — and bumps it up higher on the list of results to make it easier for searchers to find.”
One of the most significant changes found in the nearly 200 ranking factors Google uses is Dwell Time, or how long a user spends reading an article or interacting with content.
According to Search Engine Journal, “Dwell time most definitely impacts SEO…by going deeper within the content, it’s evident there is something of value on the site for that particular user. As this happens, SEO improves.”
One of the ways you can deliver deeper content on page (improving rankings), is by consolidating 3 short blog posts into 1 long-form piece of content. This can help you consolidate and connect ideas, while directly improving ranking with the same amount of effort.
Better content also means more time spent interacting and healthier SEO; and better SEO means more eyes on your quality content.
8. Content Creation Vs. Distribution
While creating the right amount and right type of content is critical, it’s certainly not the only important piece of the puzzle. Content distribution is a mix of social media, influencers, groups, thought leaders, blogs, mobile apps, white papers, and more; leveraging these is extremely important if you hope to ensure your content stands the best chance of reaching your target audience.
Likewise, your target audience may affect which channel of distribution to use.
For example, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are currently the most popular platforms used by B2C content marketers. Over the last few years, your content creation efforts have been focused on spending more time on blogs, newsletters, and online presentations, creating more and more content.
Think about it though. If YOU’RE creating more content, doesn’t it go to show that most content marketers will be? We saw this in a short span of only 4 months. When looking at how a blog post we’d written was ranking, we looked at how many competitive posts were showing up. Initially, there were 4 Million. 4 months later, there were almost 12 Million. In 4 months. What happens in 6? Or a year? Distribution of your content is now more important than ever.
MarketingProfs point out the following: “Over the last year, the use of promoted posts, social ads, and search engine marketing (SEM) overtook print/other offline promotion as the paid method that B2C marketers use most frequently to distribute content.”
Think about these changes as you move forward with your content strategy this year. Do you have enough distribution? Do your distribution channels work for your audience?
9. Understanding the Buyer Journey
To build effective content marketing, you must consider the behavioral changes that accompany users as they become increasingly educated, distracted, and—mobile.
A roundup of SEO experts by Momentology offers a better idea of what “mobile first” will mean in 2016: “The search space will continue to narrow in focus in 2016, as mobile-first browsing habits will siphon traffic from search engines towards mobile apps – specifically YouTube, Facebook, and news apps.”
To make up for this, content creators should be focusing on self-branded channels, and find new ways to develop provocative, attention-grabbing content on dominant platforms like Facebook and YouTube.
If your primary focus is long-format articles posted to the company blog, you should think about this aspect of the buyer’s journey, and consider her needs and mobile motivations moving forward.
Don’t think that your readers are going to consume long-form content on their devices? Buzzfeed gets more than 50% of its traffic from mobile—including posts that are thousands of words long.
You have a few options for getting long-form content consumed and shared through mobile channels:
- Make sure that your content is responsive. Nothing is more irritating than scrolling through a made-for-desktop blog that runs 2,000 words or more;
- Break up your content with headlines, subheads and images;
- Make longs list-type posts that allow your users to make mental notes about where they paused reading, and pick it up on another screen.
10. Understand What Questions to Ask of Your Buyers
Speaking of motivations, in order to appeal to a potential buyer, you as the content marketer must first understand what it is this person wants. How could you possibly sell anything to anyone if you don’t know what your target audience needs? Why is it so hard to understand the buyer?
An Inc. article reveals that there’s a smart way to begin asking better questions: “The standard customer service questions inquiring about how to improve service are often met with pat answers [like], ‘Everything’s fine.’ This does not give you insight and may lead to the false sense that your business is safe. By digging for actual examples of delight and frustration you can better determine the real standards you are being measured against and then you can develop a strategy to meet those.”
While this example is focused on customer service, the author’s principle applies to content marketers as well. If you’re brainstorming new content, make sure you have an insightful question in mind while you develop content ideas. Do these ideas articulate an answer that satisfies the question? Or does the question need some fine-tuning?
How do you then know what questions to ask?
Talk to your sales team. Every product, service and company have different triggers, needs and results that connect the buyer to it. And don’t focus just on “what was it that brought you to XYZ company” type questions.
Ask deep questions. I particularly like to challenge my clients about the business leading up to right before they realized they had a problem. What problems were they struggling with? What was the market like. What were the financial conditions?
Sometimes these are uncomfortable. People don’t like airing what they see as dirty laundry. But the reality is that this is where the magic is—and often where the beginnings of the problems that you solve—happen.
11. Build the Right Content Marketing Team
If there’s one step you can take today, it’s this: start building a solid team and communicating with these individuals regularly. Did you know that 61 percent of the most effective content marketers meet daily or weekly with their teams? This could mean in person or virtually, but the results are similar.
Likewise, managing a team of marketers with varied strengths in other areas of distribution or research could prove useful if your budget is tight and you can’t afford more employees. Knowing when to outsource content marketing to an agency, and when to bring it in-house, is an important part of building a cohesive team and business, especially if you’re a startup, or a more traditionally market-driven company with little experience, history or success with content marketing.
According to Tech.co, “Many large companies may pour millions into hiring full-time content marketing managers to develop and manage their content strategy…but if you are working on your own startup, one possible solution is to outsource your content marketing.”
When does it make sense to outsource? We’ve seen the following scenarios work with our clients:
- Filling expertise gaps. You might be great at strategy. Or tactical. Or social. Or events. Or PR. But not all of them. You need someone who can do great work—quickly—because this just isn’t your wheel house. Maybe you want an interactive infographic but you don’t know how to do interactive or an infographic. This is a good time to outsource.
- Timing. You just don’t have enough time to create all the content you need to “keep up with the Joneses.” You need a solid team of experts that can create the content you need to reach your goals, and don’t want to have to spend all your time managing them—because you’ve got your own work to do.
- You’re more tactical and less strategic. Your company doesn’t know who to write for, how to write, what to write about or when to write. Or how this will impact sales, marketing or anything else.
One way to make sure that your internal and outsourced teams are successful is to make an effort to communicate regularly with your team members and know when to be there for companies that could use your expertise. Avoid overloading the work and outsource when appropriate.
12. Re-Establish Your Role in Product or Service Development
A lot of traditional technology companies have lost the essence of what marketing is truly all about. According to the American Marketing Association, “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
If you look at how tech companies are using marketing, it’s mainly in the communicating the offerings. And this is huge breakdown, worthy of a 3,000 word post all of its own. I promise to keep it short.
Let’s look at the word “offerings.” Many people look at that and think “offer.” Well there’s a distinct difference here. An offer is a one-off event. “I’ll offer you 10% off the full price of our new SAAS platform for the first 3 months,” is an offer. Conversely, an offering is more in line with the actual product or service you’re providing. And this is where the breakdown happens.
We’re forgetting that a critical piece of marketing’s role is to provide insight into the market’s needs in regards to product and service development. There’s so much focus on disruption, and customers not knowing what they want, that we can sometimes forget to listen, and provide them with what they’re asking for. And marketing can play a critical role here.
Make an effort this year to actively contribute to the product or service development for your company.
Getting Started in 2016 on the Right Foot
While statistically there’s a good chance that you won’t be keeping many of those personal resolutions (spending more time with family, losing weight, quitting smoking), I’m hoping that you take a look at this list of content marketing resolutions, and try to keep at least one or two. If you only make headway on a few, you’ll be far ahead of your peers in 2016.
What new years resolutions have YOU made this year?
If you need help getting a jump on your 2016 content marketing strategy, or are looking to develop long-form content, contact us today.