Amid a growing wave of channels and approaches, it’s abundantly clear that consumers are up to their ears in content. And as the volume of content tossed their way continues to swell, its ability to grab their attention continues to shrink. According to research conducted by content strategy firm Buzzumo, companies that haven’t changed their basic approach to content over the past three years are 50% less effective in reaching their audiences and meeting their business objectives.
But numbers tell only part of the story. Like all things digital, content strategies are becoming more complex and nuanced as new and more advanced technologies take hold.
“The content space continues to evolve. There are new developments and emerging dynamics that are important to focus on,” observed Martha Mathers, managing vice president and senior research leader at Gartner. “It’s more critical than ever to understand what consumers are looking for and what information and delivery method is most helpful to them.”
Added Randy Frisch, co-founder, president, and CMO of Uberflip: “There are a lot of businesses missing a lot of opportunities because people continue to follow the same path, and they view content marketing too narrowly.”
Success, he said, requires more than dazzling content and powerful delivery mechanisms.
“There is too much of a mentality: ‘If we create it, they will see it,’” he told CMO.com. “Businesses must understand [customers] at a deeper level, identify what people desire, and understand how to package content and deliver [it] in a way that delivers maximum value.”
Engaging A New Era
Marketing leaders understand that the bottom line when it comes to content is, literally, the bottom line. How content performs—whether it’s in the form of an e-brochure, white paper, video, social media campaign, e-book, or something else—is at the center of any initiative. But reaching “Go” and collecting $200 can prove nettlesome. Amid growing waves of content, shrinking attention spans, and expanded delivery channels, it’s easy to see why marketing dollars circle the drain—and sometimes go down.
“People are becoming a lot more selective about what content they consume,” said Loni Stark, senior director of strategy and product marketing at Adobe. (CMO.com is owned by Adobe.)
Buzzumo’s “Content Trends Report 2018” identified several important trends. Among them: Content creation is increasing but engagement is dropping; content saturation is making it increasingly difficult to stand out; and social referral traffic is on the decline.
The net result is a highly fractured and rapidly changing content consumption framework. There’s a growing focus on video, particularly among the 18-to-35 age group, and several other trends are changing content consumption. These include growing adoption of digital assistants and home speakers, people cutting the cord on cable and satellite TV, and shifting social media usage. Yet, at the same time, it’s unwise to neglect search engines, websites, newsletters, and social media, all of which continue to play a key role in distributing content.
A key to success in this environment, Mathers said, is to truly understand customers and allow them to use the devices and formats of their choice, and to access content in discreet pieces or blocks as they see fit. It also means not being perceived as too pushy or creepy.
“When customers perceive that a company knows too much about them, they tend to become nervous,” she told CMO.com.
The emotional side of the equation cannot be overlooked either, Frisch added. It’s something backed up by a November research report from Uberflip. “It’s important to identify the things that really matter,” he said.
For example, the company’s research found that marketers achieve double the conversion rate when they add a background image to a CTA that appears beside content, and personalized recommendations ratchet up the odds of a person viewing content by 60%.
Among the key questions: What maximizes the odds of connecting to an audience, and what will create real value for them? How can I deliver content in the way people desire and at the time and place they desire?
“Too often, content creators drop the ball,” Frisch said. “They think that because they have created something eye-catching or compelling, people will see it and act on it. In reality, it has to be an extension of an overall brand and customer experience.”
Yet it’s also vital to address practical elements, such as how content is structured, where it lives, how it gets to an audience, and how it leads an audience through the product discovery process. For example, Uberflip found that putting content in multiple locations rather than a single place can increase views by a factor of eight. This means, for example, that a blog post, after experiencing a decline in viewership at a website, might be reposted elsewhere, such as LinkedIn.
“In many cases, companies expend a great deal of money and resources creating new content when existing content still has value,” Frisch said.
A best practice approach involves contextualizing and personalizing content to match personas, strategically placing content in multiple locations, segmenting it in a way that makes it highly discoverable, creating attention-getting CTAs, and using analytics coupled with machine learning to better understand behavior. Uberflip also found that simple navigation helps drive clicks and views.
“When consumers can easily find what they are looking for, they are far more receptive to learning more and buying a product,” Mathers explained.
In some cases, breaking down content into more discreet and modular components is wise. It’s also valuable to consider the use of A-B testing and analytics to determine what works and what doesn’t work—and then make quick adjustments. Finally, consider testing or deploying emerging technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) as delivery mediums for content. While these technologies aren’t yet in the mainstream, they may add to the value proposition now or in the near future. They may also showcase products in a way that isn’t possible on a 2D computer screen or a smartphone.
VR and AR also can cut down on distraction. “Augmented reality, at least at the moment, is such an incredibly immersive experience that it’s very difficult to try to multitask through it,” Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives at The Washington Post, told CMO.com.
Making Content King
The end goal is to establish a more structured yet flexible content framework, Stark said. It’s important to identify high-value data assets and allow them to guide a content strategy, she added. This happens when marketers and others match personalization with appropriate personas, identify methods to share content with different groups, and allow potential buyers to control their journeys but receive a consistent and compelling experience across devices, browsers, apps, and tools.
“You really have to think about what people want, what they can tolerate, and how you can strip out what’s distracting or unnecessary,” Stark explained.
Positive results typically come down to optimizing the experience and visual aesthetics to match the technology—moving beyond the idea that publishing content at a high-profile location ensures that people will see it and use it—and using data and analytics to personalize an experience in a similar way to content providers such as Netflix and Spotify, Uberflip’s Frisch said. This requires the right data with the right combination of artificial intelligence and human analysis.
“AI holds the key to helping brands better connect with consumers by using the data they have about their customers to personalize the customer experience and make it more relevant,” Stark said. “By automating the delivery of personalized content, marketers can work both smarter and faster.”