The first part of my series on content marketing trends covered some of the biggest trends that I've noticed shaping the industry and discussed how they're influencing companies. I mentioned that these articles won't be your typical trends lists -- I want to help you really prepare for these changes and stay ahead of the curve. As you're looking ahead to the end of this year and planning for the start of 2017, here are a few more of the most meaningful content marketing trends you should pay attention to:
7. Your content execution plan will be more important than your general content strategy.
A strategy is only as good as your ability to execute it. It doesn't matter how wonderful or beautifully designed it is if you don't have a plan to actually do the work you've spent all this time talking about. Unfortunately, this is a trend I've started to see a lot more: Companies pay a firm or a consultant to develop a strategy, and while it looks great, it's not always an executable document.
Execution is the hardest part of effective content marketing, so you have to make sure that your strategy is set up for execution from the beginning. That means identifying the action steps within your document, not just talking about high-level, big-picture ideas. Who is going to be responsible for executing each piece of your strategy? What resources will you need to make sure that happens?
Think through these questions while you're strategizing to make sure you're able to execute your work. You can check out the guide my team put together that covers the elements you need to execute your content marketing strategy for additional resources.
8. Quality is subjective, so algorithms will be dictated by distribution and engagement rates.
Everyone has different opinions on what great content -- and bad content -- looks like, and that subjectivity leaves a lot of room for error on the part of content marketers. I predict we'll see more publications begin to rely on more objective algorithms, similar to Facebook, to determine which content will get more attention on their sites.
We'll start to see a shift away from marketers' focus on headlines and getting the most people to click on and quickly look at a piece of content. Instead, they'll need to concentrate on true engagement and distribution.
Publications will focus more on data on finish rates, time on site, readability, and how readers actually engage with a piece of content. Those will be factors that marketers should pay attention to in order to increase engagement and improve distribution.
Creating content that people will engage with (by reading all the way through, sharing, reacting, etc.), publishing it in the right places so the right readers find it (not just publishing to Inc. or Forbes because they're popular sites, but looking for the right ones for your exact audience), and leveraging it after publication through social media and your other marketing channels will be critical.
The better you are at creating compelling content and publishing it in the right place, the greater the chance your audience will read through it, take action, and look for more -- which means new publication algorithms will reward you.
9. Companies investing in video content marketing will realize they can't run before they can walk.
Take a look at any marketing trends post that's been published over the past two years, and I guarantee you'll find something about video. It's been on the rise for a while, and I won't deny that it's valuable. I'm a big fan of video -- you can check out our website and see that we've integrated video into a lot of our own content. But we haven't jumped to immediately investing everything we've got in video just because it's on the rise.
You've got to walk before you can run, especially when it comes to something like video content, which can take substantially more resources to execute well. Consistent, high-quality written content, coming from you, lays the foundation. This will help you develop the structure of your strategy because written content is the core of a successful one. Then, as you're learning to walk and bringing in the right people (and partnering with the right companies) to understand what works, you can start integrating video and interactive content over time.
Stop getting excited about the newest, trendiest strategy when you have yet to figure out how to consistently create engaging written content. I promise there will always be a new platform or tactic out there -- but something that won't change is your (and your audience's) need for consistent written content coming from your company.
10. Everybody and their grandmother will rethink their belief that they can do content marketing.
With one online publication after another laying off their editorial teams, we're seeing a rise in content marketing consultants popping up all over, claiming that their writing ability and experience positions them to execute your content marketing. In reality, it takes skills in strategizing, writing, editing, distributing, and leveraging content to execute successfully, and very rarely can a consultant or a small shop deliver enough to differentiate your content.
Don't get me wrong: These journalists-turned-consultants are talented, and their storytelling abilities are valuable to good content marketing. But that doesn't mean they're going to be your entire solution.
Sure, unicorns exist, and you might find someone who can truly do it all. But those cases will be few and far between, and if you've found that person, chances are that someone else has, too. And we've all seen how easy it is for someone's services to be watered down as she takes on more clients.
So be careful when you're looking into hiring these consultants, and remember that if you're taking this route (as opposed to hiring a full team), keeping this expert's focus specifically on what she's best at can help.
11. Companies will fit into one of three tiers within a performance pyramid.
Millions of posts are published every day, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate yourself online. At the same time, you've got a lot of people exiting the publication world and starting firms that create content for companies, which just adds to the noise. Therefore, we're seeing what I like to call a pyramid of content quality and distribution abilities:
At the bottom of this pyramid are companies that either still haven't gotten the memo or are half-assing their efforts. Maybe they're not investing in content or investing so little that their teams aren't able to produce or distribute anything to differentiate themselves.
The middle is the largest part of the pyramid. It's made up of companies that are practicing content marketing, knowing it's valuable. They're creating content pretty consistently and have started seeing some ROI, but they haven't mastered it just yet.
Those at the top of the pyramid are the big winners who really stand out. They're the ones who have nailed down a strategy, and they know how to execute it in a way that sets them apart from the competitors in their space.
And they got to the top by consistently creating content that's engaging and truly different and distributing it to a number of relevant sites, not just their blog or the most well-known publication they can think of. For the bulk of companies in the middle, it's going to take high-quality content and a diverse portfolio of sites to earn a place at the top.
12. Personalization will be vital, but remember to target first at scale.
Personalization is extremely hard to scale in certain areas of content marketing. The bigger your audience grows, the more people with specific needs you and your content have to speak to -- and personalizing everything becomes pretty challenging.
Sure, you can find plenty of email and content tools to help you better tailor your messaging and sort of mask personalization. But this trend of forcing so much personalization has led marketers to hypertarget so far that they've forgotten the original goal of targeting a persona: measuring results and diving further into personalization.
It's much easier to start wide at scale and narrow down as you go than to do the opposite. Personalizing your content and your audience's experience is important, but remember your process for scaling. Do what you can to set yourself up for success in the long run.
Content marketing is always changing. If you want to stay in the game, you've got to know how these trends will influence the industry. These are the most meaningful trends I've noticed as I continue using content marketing and travel around the country speaking to and connecting with other experts. What other trends in content marketing have you seen? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.