By Emma Siemasko
If you feel as if 2015 was the year digital content marketing exploded, you’re not alone. A rising trend over the last few years, 2015 was the year everyone — brands and the industry at large — really began to latch onto digital content marketing campaigns, not as a trend, but as a real marketing shift. Ten years ago, online marketing was completely dominated by spammy SEO tactics. People wrote for search engines, not for people.
But those days are over. Now, there’s a demand for high quality content, and it’s on us to create assets and resources in order to create a real connection and foster an ongoing relationship between brand and audience. As content marketing continues to grow and change, we find ourselves reflecting on what we saw and learned in 2015 so we can stay ahead of the curve. Here are the top trends we took notice of this past year:
1. Focus shifted to more meaningful content
Marketers began to shift their focus to creating better content that gets more meaningful engagement. In the past, marketers published content with the goal of generating a lot of clicks and impressions, but didn’t necessarily consider its lasting value. This year, marketers began to see the significance in developing ongoing relationships through content that’s actually informative and engaging, or entertaining in a meaningful way to their audience.
Whereas a few years ago, a B2B software company might’ve tried to engage their audience just by writing blog posts a few times a week about their product, in 2015, this company is likely to write and share useful articles that can help their audience achieve success in their daily work.
Brands used to focus on quantity when it came to producing content, but in 2015 we saw a large shift towards high quality pieces in the form of longform assets. Rather than producing tons of 300 word blog posts, brands began to publish valuable articles that reached over 2,000 words.
According to a survey conducted by Orbit Media, this year’s typical blog post clocked in at 900 words, which is 10% longer than the average post in 2014. In the past year, brands began to see that instructive, longform articles engaged their audiences and brought substantial ROI.
2. Interactive content began to emerge
In 2015, content marketers began looking beyond the blog post. Rather than focusing on just creating articles, brands began to think carefully about how to better engage their audiences, and many experimented with interactivity. This interactive content came in the form of quizzes, calculators, polls, surveys, and many other creative assets.
While 2015 was the year many saw the benefit of content marketing, those who had already been doing it — large brands such as General Electric and RedBull— raised the bar even higher through interactive content. This past year, GE launched World in Motion, which is a new home for all their articles, videos, graphics, and Instagram photos. They even partnered with Panoply, The Slate Group’s podcast network, to create a fictional science-fiction podcast series.
In fact, according to research conducted by Demand Metric in 2015, 91% of buyers agree or strongly agree that they prefer more interactive/visual content that can be accessed on demand, up from 88% the previous year. In 2016, content marketers are likely to incorporate even more interactive content into their strategies .
3. The rise of content distribution came to the forefront
Just as marketers realized that there’s more to content marketing than blog posts, they also began to see that content marketing is about a lot more than creating content. In order to be effective, marketers need to do substantial research on their audience, generate worthwhile topics, come up with a process, and figure out how to effectively promote their assets.
This year, marketers began talking more about effective promotion tactics, and new services began to emerge to help content marketers connect with influencers, brand advocates, and promoters.
Distribution channels including native ads, content discovery, and social media continued to mature and expand in 2015. Instagram, for example, opened its platform to ads while others have partnered, with multiple other channels in order to offer content distribution at scale.
The past year saw brands struggling to get their content in front of the right people, which suggests the coming year will bring further discussions on content promotion, as well as personalization. In order to successfully reach consumers at scale, marketers will need to utilize data, as well.
4. Brands adopted a data first approach
Though it’s difficult to know exactly how many new blog posts, landing pages, eBooks, and other content assets are published each day, it’s safe to say that it’s a lot. Now that content marketing has become commonplace, brands are creating more content than ever, but struggling to get it in front of the right audience. In this landscape, data analysis can not only help, it’s a must.
By using distribution channels, marketers can get a lot of data on specific metrics. By looking at the right metrics and data points, marketers can see what content is working and what’s not. Because of this, ongoing content strategies can actually be informed by performance data that shows marketers what their audience is truly engaged with.
5. Content marketing continues to grow as an industry
Brands are taking content marketing more seriously, and almost everyone is participating. According to Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends Report, 88% of marketers used content marketing in 2015.
Additionally, brands are now hiring for content marketing specific roles (such as content marketing managers) to spearhead their initiatives. In 2015, content marketing was no longer a single initiative for a marketer to take on, but a specialized process that required expert attention.
According to MarketingLand, the number of job listings on Indeed.com containing “content marketing” or “content strategy” grew by about 350% between 2011 and 2015, suggesting that the job market continues to demand top content marketing talent.
Content marketing continues to grow, even when questions remain about the future of advertising. In 2015, content marketers wondered whether content would be immune to changes in online advertising, or whether it could save advertising through native ads.
It’s hard to say how content marketing will fit into the future of advertising, but the future appears bright. Content marketing is growing in it’s own right, not just as a side initiative to make better ads. Some, such as the team at Skyword, have even proposed that content marketing could ameliorate issues with ad blocking.,
As we watched new trends emerge over the past year, it became clear that content marketing is here to stay. 2015 was a big year for content marketing, and 2016 may be even bigger. By focusing on the production of high quality content and the latest trends, marketers can look forward to a future where content shines bright.
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