Every year around this time, "The Future" takes over the blogosphere. "What does the next year hold... ?" is asked for everything from political trends to MLB free agents and the color yellow.
But when content marketing is the focus, I have a potentially shocking proposal: Let's stay focused on the present.
How can we possibly have a conversation about 2014 when so many marketers still struggle to catch up with the trends that characterize the so-called epic year of 2013?
To boil it down, marketing in 2013 has orbited around three things: content, automation, and data. If you don't have those under control yet, you are not alone—but you haven't completed your objectives for 2013, either. Here's my advice: Ignore the hype about what might be next, and concentrate your focus on these three realities now.
1. Serious content marketing requires budget and headcount
You wouldn't consider running a public relations program without dedicating bodies to the initiative. Why would content marketing be any different? According to a recent report from MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute, 86% of the most effective content marketers have someone on staff who oversees the company's content marketing strategy.
The days of asking a few people on your marketing team to work ad hoc content and social media-related tasks into their other daily concerns are gone. That sales professional may be quite the comic, but he's not a trained content marketer. Use someone trained specifically for the job.
Start the year off right and create a content marketing plan that covers copywriting, design, promotion, and measurement. Your "print advertising" slush fund might be a good place to start looking for extra cash.
2. If you're not measuring your effectiveness, you're not measuring up
Savvy content marketers growth hack their way to the top of their industries with tools that provide a scorecard for their content's success at each stage of the sales funnel.
Together, good social data and a marketing automation platform can track your leads from the source to pipeline, and elevate your marketing programs. Show your boss a report that directly links your content to deeper website engagement, increased referral traffic from non-branded keywords, and better quality leads. Then, watch how fast #1 on this list gets resolved.
3. Organic is good, but paid is better
Many marketers dream of creating content that goes viral because it has hit a cultural nerve. In that dream world, the stars align, and so many people share and consume your content that you can't make a dent in your inbox.
I won't argue if you aspire to that kind of magic. We all should. But most of the time, you have to work hard to promote even the most beautiful pieces of content. That's the honest truth.
We all want to believe that organic posts are all we need to spark engagement, but your promotional strategy must include paid placements as well. Relying only on organic strategies to drive results is analogous to hanging out with the same high school group your entire life. To grow, you have to expand beyond your familiar community and break through to those coveted second-degree connections.
Whether you use oldie-but-goodie tools like Google AdWords or newer ones, such as LinkedIn Sponsored Updates, it pays to target specific audiences. Social media has finally reached the place where it offers us the holy grail of advertising. Today, you can place precisely targeted content in the newsfeeds of highly qualified customers and prospects—simply and inexpensively. So, why wouldn't you?
As for the marketing predictions you'll see between now and January 31, I'm quite sure 2014 will be another breakthrough year for the content marketer, but mostly because it follows on the heels of 2013. Doing well in the new year based upon what you started to learn last year is how you'll earn and keep a seat at the revenue table.
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