Content marketing is going through a transition, and all signs are pointing to a dramatic industry shift as marketers look for ways to effectively leverage content. You would be hard-pressed to find a brand marketer or publisher who is not implementing or planning to implement content marketing initiatives.
This is thanks, in large part, to all of the hype around the need for relevant content in today’s oversaturated media landscape, but it is also rooted in necessity.
That said, while most marketers are aware of the need to invest in content marketing, many are still struggling to fully capitalize on the movement. Only 38% of B2B marketers thought their organizations were effective with content marketing, according to the Content Marketing Institute. So what is stopping marketers from being effective?
In our discussions with top brands and publishers, the top three barriers that marketers regularly cite are producing content consistently, creating engaging content, and measuring content effectiveness.
In addition, recent declines in organic search visibility and social reach has added distribution to the challenges. Acquiring an audience on social simply does not provide the same value as just a few short years ago. Organic social distribution not only served as a cost-effective way to reach fans, but also provided a way of testing content on audiences and improving it before investing in paid media. This does not just impact brands; even publishers that are looking to get in front of their audiences will need to address this shift.
The recent pay-to-play trend is serving as a filter for less-than-worthy content and is applying a “market dynamics” effect to the ecosystem. Viral content will inevitably find its way to organic distribution and continue to thrive. However, content is being used in many different processes today–lead generation, lead nurturing, brand personalization, sales, etc.–for which virality and sharability are not the most important KPIs. Marketers can no longer afford to invest in producing content in mass quantity. The focus should be quality content that is measured by its effectiveness in achieving specific business goals.
To truly gauge content effectiveness and meet business goals, marketers need to better understand what content will resonate with various, and often niche, audiences across different platforms like Facebook, Google, Reddit, Twitter, Yahoo, etc. Thinking of content through the lens of the distribution channels and their specific targeting parameters can serve as a first step for improving content creation and measurement.
Every content piece (article, video, image) can be tested on narrowly defined specific audiences (i.e. people who are interested in Game of Throne’s character Tyrion). With extremely targeted audiences even a small budget can go a long way to effectively determine the effectiveness of a specific content piece. Results from these carefully conducted experiments can help marketers properly scale the creation and distribution of effective content.
Emerging Use Cases
Forward-thinking content marketers are already creating new use cases that take the changing distribution and consumption patterns into account and push far beyond traditional top-of-the-funnel use cases.
• Publishers take control of paid distribution: Top publishers are now using paid distribution to meet business goals. The power of controlled experiments on highly specific audiences serves to push forward newsletter subscriptions, paid subscriptions, and increase ad revenue. Being able to prove the value and effectiveness of branded content through improved audience engagement, extension, and conversion is the next step for publishers.
• Consumer brands betting on content: Quickly realizing the opportunity presented by shifting media consumption patterns, 90% of B2C marketers are already leveraging content marketing. Leading brands like Red Bull are reshaping the way brands approach content marketing–turning buzzwords like “native content” and “brand publishing” into shining examples of brands as publishers. The most successful consumer brands in the next chapter of content marketing will be the ones who can produce effective content that is personalized for niche audiences.
• Enterprise B2B expands reach via third-party content: For companies already investing in public relations campaigns, amplifying the reach of top-tier coverage generated is a natural extension for content marketing. Companies can tap the value of paid distribution to drive more interest, while increasing awareness and validating company/product claims. Taking a measured approach and understanding how audiences match different influential publications can improve overall ROI of both content marketing campaigns and the existing PR investment.
• Rallying conversion with new content initiatives: Understanding that content sometimes works better than direct reponse ads in many top digital channels like Facebook, retailers are starting to focus on paid content placements to reach qualified audiences. However, it is a tough–and extremely quick–sale. Facebook-savvy retail marketers understand that they only have one chance to hook consumers before they go right back to Facebook. In mobile, the consumer engagement window is also much smaller than desktop, and “asks”/calls-to-action must be integrated within the flow of content. Driving those audiences to landing pages where people can more quickly convert (whether that means signing up for an email distribution list or buying a brand new accent rug or trendy workout gear) collapses the sales funnel and prevents conversion bleed. A key component, however, is targeting micro audiences so the content fully engages buyers and can drive action.
Qualifying Content Marketing Success
Counting likes and shares to prove content marketing success is not enough. Marketers need to be prepared to leverage the lessons learned from success and failures to effectively scale and better target content marketing initiatives as they grow and expand initial campaigns. The next phase of content marketing will focus on quality over quantity–identifying, reaching, and engaging qualified audiences that drive higher conversion and ROI.