Though the battle to convince the rest of the C-suite about content's value has been won, you still have a long way to go to make sure your content efforts are successful. In fact, there's increasing anxiety within the industry that competition for eyeballs is making content marketing tougher.
This competition comes from various places—more content to sift through, more distractions as mobile device use increases, shortened attention spans—but its impact is now obvious. In a single year, the percentage of B2B marketers who say their content marketing is effective dropped from 38% to 30%. And only 37% were extremely or very satisfied with the content being produced, according to a recent survey by Visually. Nearly 19% were not very or extremely unsatisfied.
So as you head into 2016, here are four investments to stay ahead of the competition by scaling your content efforts, optimizing them, and measuring your success.
1. Invest in personalization
You've already got marketing automation tools in place. They may help you feel like everything is scaling nicely. However, it's worth asking whether the tools really are.
Automating around a persona is nice, but if you're able to have a one-on-one conversation with customers and prospects, you'll be able to do so much more. Creating a personalized experience will give you better access to prospects, will help you offer the right solutions, and will make your brand a lot stronger.
If there's any doubt personalization works, take a look at the rise of account-based marketing. Defined loosely as coordinating personalized marketing and sales efforts to drive engagement within a narrowly targeted set of accounts, ABM uses direct outreach and personalized nurturing to develop real relationships with prospects. And it's totally blowing up.
Should you go full ABM and revamp the structure of your sales and marketing teams? Not necessarily, but you can try to define narrower segments and do the extra work to cater to them. You can invest in events, meetups, and other outreach that puts you face to face with key customers. And you can look into predictive analytics or personalization tools that make it easier to know when the personal touch is likely to make an impact (or at least to help you do a better job of faking it).
2. Invest in emerging paid channels
Advertising platforms are becoming decentralized.
Though you once had Adwords and a handful of media networks to choose from, the number of niche platforms is multiplying. I'll go out on a limb and predict consolidation in 2017, but in 2016, your team is going to have to do some legwork to move beyond your go-to channels. Native advertising platforms are one place to start, but more publishers are offering direct opportunities to reach their audiences.
Moreover, new social networks are popping up, existing social networks are refining their offerings, and retargeting is getting more, well, targeted.
Though those developments may create a sense of chaos and uncertainty, they're actually creating opportunities for your team. Until someone figures out how to provide a more unified solution, you can take advantage of pricing inefficiencies on some of these smaller platforms. You may also discover hidden niches where your target market is ready and willing to be engaged. All you have to do is put in a little legwork to find them.
3. Invest in process
In terms of shiny new initiatives, process is never going to win a beauty contest. But bigger content marketing budgets in 2016 mean you're going to be creating more content, and that any inefficiencies in your current process are going to be magnified.
Take these three steps to make sure your team is as productive as it can be.
- Check your alignment. Whether you use an internal team, freelancers, agency, or content creation services, bringing all the stakeholders together to talk about what's working can pay big dividends. You might also consider an anonymous survey whether you think things might be contentious. The goal should be to assess the existing process, identify pain points, and make improvements going forward.
- Look at output vs. cost. This can be especially useful when analyzing the efficacy of different creative teams (internal vs. agency, for example). Is there a discrepancy in the cost or quality when you use different methods to create content?
- Consider productivity tools. From simple spreadsheets to comprehensive enterprise solutions, myriad tools can help you make your process more transparent and more efficient. Investing in one can make implementing good process across an entire organization simple.
4. Hire dedicated marketing analysts
Too many brands are judging themselves by metrics like how many Twitter followers they have, site visits, or time on page. Though engagement matters, marketing leaders should now have a realistic expectation of understanding the ROI of their content marketing campaigns on a more granular level.
At the same time, new channels, new advertisers, and sophisticated CRMs mean there are a lot more customer touchpoints and a lot more data to deal with. This glut of data can lead to some downright messy attribution problems. For example, who should get credit for a customer who came to your site through SEO, signed up for a newsletter, clicked on a retargeting ad, then responded to an outbound sales call?
Perhaps an even better question is what tool should you be using to answer such questions? And how do you pick the right tool? How do you make sure it's implemented right? How do you stay on top of emerging tools, and how on Earth are you supposed to know what you don't know?
The answer is easy: Hire someone responsible for figuring it all out. The marketing teams with the strongest analytical muscles are going to be able to do all the things on this list well. They're going to know what's working. They're going to be able to segment and personalize, and they're going to be able to integrate their tools and personnel to make a unified effort.
Your focus in 2016 should be to develop a more mature content marketing program.