Several years ago, "content is king" became the battle cry of marketers everywhere. Content marketing has come a long way since then, shifting from the occasional on-the-side blog post and social media update to a central tenet of any brand's marketing playbook.
"Content is an integral part of marketing strategies all around," said Matthew Grant, director of content strategy for digital creative and marketing staffing firm Aquent. "[It is becoming] more and more difficult to distinguish content marketing from any other kind of marketing."
With the lines between marketing strategies continually blurring, what does the future of content marketing hold? Experts weighed in on the five biggest upcoming trends for this critical marketing strategy. [4 Content Marketing Secrets Every Small Business Should Know]
The death of the corporate blog
Company blogs were once a novelty marketing tactic, guaranteed to garner attention from industry thought leaders. This is no longer the case, as the number of interactions on a dime-a-dozen corporate blog continues to dwindle.
"Every company has a blog and there is simply too much content for thought leaders or even normal people to keep up with," Grant said. "People pay more attention to what's happening on social networks than paying attention to Google alerts for mentions of their name. For this reason, you'll have a much better chance of getting an @reply to a targeted tweet than you do of getting deep interaction with something you've posted to your corporate blog."
If you started a blog five or six years ago and have maintained it thoughtfully until today, it may still be a valuable marketing tool, especially for SEO purposes. If you are just starting out, Grant recommended writing for an offsite audience that someone else has built, rather than trying to build your own.
Helpful, targeted approaches
As recently as a few years ago, content creation was all about producing informational blog posts, status updates and visual content around a brand's products or services. Today, consumers are looking for richer, more helpful content from the brands they follow.
"The demand [for content] is shifting," said Jim Yu, CEO of content and SEO marketing management firm BrightEdge. "Now the focus is on creating content throughout the consumer lifecycle [and] answering questions people have [about products]. Two years ago, retailers might try to create content on scarf brands. Now they create content on how to wear scarves."
To succeed in the marketing landscape of tomorrow, Yu advised brands to dig deep into what their audience really wants, and where in the sales cycle they're reaching that audience.
"Understand the demand out there," Yu said. "Rather than doing the equivalent of taking selfies, understand what customers care about. [Take a] more thoughtful approach — create content to meet that demand and drive ROI from that."
As Yu noted, helpful, demand-driven content will soar above self-serving marketing messages. A related concept is "conversation marketing," which Ivan Tsarynny, CEO and co-founder of social media advocacy platform PostBeyond, defines as help-based dialogue marketing that feels as if it's between friends.
"Content marketing has a new language that is knowledge- and conversation-based," Tsarynny said. "It has evolved to people helping others, providing them with new insights on what is important to the individuals in the conversation. [Marketers] need to evolve and add value to this form of marketing by stimulating others to start brand advocate conversations."
Tsarynny said that data analytics and gathering systems will help provide the detailed insights marketers need to meet the demands of consumers and move toward these conversational marketing tactics.
Modern brands have already begun to recognize the power of user-generated content (UGC) in marketing efforts. Earlier this year, Mashable reported that millennials trust content created by their peers 50 percent more than content from any other media. While some brands have seamlessly integrated UGC into their marketing strategies with fan photo-sharing, retweeting and highlighting positive customer reviews, others only rarely or never include UGC in their feeds. In the coming years, Dan Kimball, CMO of cloud-based content creation platform Thismoment, believes this balance will shift, bringing UGC front and center.
"User-generated content is now an essential part of establishing brand credibility and developing more personal relationships with customers, employees, partners and prospects," Kimball said. "People are more willing to share their [content] than other personal information. Future content marketing will not be about one individual or internal group, speaking for a brand. Rather the brand stories of the future will be told via a mixture of existing brand content and the views of the customer that use the product or service every day."
In the days before social networks, content creation was the domain of traditional media outlets. These outlets put messages out there, and the public consumed them. Today, everyone is both a potential content creator and consumer, and to be heard above the noise, you need to give your audience something they're truly interested in. Bill Sussman, CEO of shopper social media company Collective Bias, said the key to achieving this lies at the intersection of storytelling (as opposed to story selling) and social media.
"This [confluence] means two things — engaging audiences with original, personal content and reaching them through the channels [where] they are already spending most of their time," Sussman told Business News Daily. "When disseminating content, brands need to employ an omnichannel approach. Brands can no longer rely on one hero channel to share content. Marketers who embrace cross-channel social storytelling will be poised to stand out in the increasingly crowded sea of content."