The birth of Prince George, the horse meat scandal, Miley Cyrus - 2013 will be remembered for many things. It may also go down in history as the year content marketing truly arrived. Over the last 12 months, we've seen the production, distribution and discussion of content become the go-to method for businesses that want to grow brand awareness, encourage customer loyalty and establish leadership.
Content marketing has enjoyed a rapid rise and its continued growth looks unstoppable. B2B companies are investing more money in it, spending more time on it, and recruiting more people to do it for them - every digital marketing survey conducted in the last year has told us so.
This explosion in B2B content marketing has allowed many companies to engage, educate, and entertain prospective buyers - as well as generate sales leads - like never before. However, it has also had some less desirable effects. One is the sheer volume of content now being produced, and the inevitable decline in quality this has brought about. There are now so many pieces of content in circulation that clarity is often lost, marketing messages become diluted and consumers are left confused, disengaged and disinterested.
With the phrase 'content is king' already reduced to a meaningless mantra, experts have taken to speaking about the 'content avalanche' - an unprecedentedly large volume of (largely mediocre) content marketing materials, hitting the internet from every angle and overwhelming all but those with the very best content.
At AG, we're of the opinion that the content avalanche is already here - the huge increase in content marketing activity seen this year is testament to that. For that reason, we believe 2014 will be declared the first year AA (After the Avalanche). Here, we look at six content marketing trends that are set to dominate the next 12 months.
All marketers and advertisers, not just those at John Lewis, understand the power of a good story. This is nothing new, but many companies will strive to inject a greater storytelling element into their content marketing efforts in 2014. They'll adopt a 'story first' mindset, recognising that a compelling brand story is the best way to engage readers/viewers, inspire them to take action and ensure people can relate to products and services.
We can also expect to see a renaissance in long-form content in 2014. For many years, it's been claimed that the internet has severely reduced attention spans and people can now only process information in bite-size chunks. The arrival of the Tweet, with its 140-character limit, cemented that view. As a result, digital marketing efforts have typically relied on feeding consumers easily digestible information frequently, in the form of blog posts or short video clips. But it now seems that dismissing long-form content was a bit premature.
Driven by the increased adoption of tablets and smartphones, longer articles and other forms of media that require the user to invest a little time are making a comeback. Studies have suggested it may have been the experience of using a PC, rather than the web itself, that prevented users from engaging with longer forms. It seems many tablet and smartphone users are happy to spend time with in-depth articles and lengthy videos. A 2012 study by Pew Research found that 73% of adults who consume news on their tablets read in-depth articles at least sometimes, while 19% do so daily.
The renewed emphasis on storytelling will continue to drive the resurgence of long-form. In journalism, keen observers have noted that many digital readers are now willing to engage with substantial, immersive content experiences. Consider the recent activities of the New York Times, which decided the best way to combat the content avalanche was to write about a real avalanche. Its Snow Fall project, which turned reporter John Branch's account of a deadly Washington state avalanche into an expansive multimedia experience in December 2012, was hailed as a great success and brought thousands of new readers to the newspaper's website.
Exclusivity and Personalisation
In 2014, companies will aim to stand out from the crowd by making their content more exclusive. Giving a select audience access to assets and experiences that are not widely available will add value and make their content more desirable. It should also make it easier for brands to personalise content for their readers/viewers where possible.
Many newspapers have introduced paywalls, with The Sun becoming the latest national daily to charge readers for digital content when its new online version was launched in August. Although paywalls have had limited success so far, their existence proves that web users have an appetite for customised experiences and are willing to pay for online content they deem valuable. Of course, B2B firms won't charge a fee for their content, but they can convince consumers to give up other things of value - their contact details or information about their business - in return for exclusive content experiences that are tailored to their interests.
From Marketing to Publishing
In his new book, influential writer and founder of the Content Marketing Institute Joe Pulizzi proclaims that "publishing is the new marketing". He argues that marketing teams need to act more like publishers in order to cut through all the internet noise and tell stories that really resonate with consumers. The idea is not particularly new, but 2014 should be the year when the message finally hits home.
Again, the emphasis on storytelling will help to drive this trend. In effect, companies need to think of themselves as B2B publishing houses. This means not only creating great content that emotionally connects with consumers on a regular basis, but treating content as an asset that produces a return on investment. To make sure this happens, companies need content expertise. Whether they partner with a content marketing agency or recruit a team internally, the important thing is that they find people with the right skills to tell their stories.
Marketing experts have been talking about the potential of video content for a long time now. It's been estimated that videos in search results have a 41% higher click-through rate than plain text results. And research published by comScore last year showed that websites containing videos typically hold a viewer's attention for at least two minutes longer than sites without video content. The length of time visitors spend on-site is one of the factors used by search engines to determine relevancy, so a good video strategy can significantly improve page rankings.
Of course, many companies are already producing videos (and using social media to extend their reach), but could 2014 be the year video finally breaks through and becomes a mainstream tactic? Almost certainly, as more brands now understand that visual content is a highly effective way to engage consumers. There is also a growing realisation that producing great videos needn't be expensive. As the marketing buzz surrounding infographics continues to fade, many companies will turn their attention to video.