Content marketing has played an ever-greater role in business promotion since the turn of the 21st  century. Thanks to mobility and nearly universal internet access on a global scale, companies of all sizes have come to realise that they need to take advantage of content marketing if they are to compete. And the competition is just not at the business-to-customer (B2C) level; it’s also part of the business-to-business (B2B) environment. Here at Connotations, we consider it part of our mission to know the current pulse of content marketing so we can help all customers forge ahead into the future.

With 2016 being a great year for content marketing. We expect nothing different for 2017. In fact, 2017 could be the best year ever for content marketing. In this report, we will focus on what we’ve learned from the past year and how we can apply that knowledge to the coming 12 months. It’s our sincere desire that you find this report helpful for your own content marketing strategies. As always, Connotations is available to help your company produce dynamic, results-driven content for your online presence.

2016 by the Numbers

Companies used content marketing in different ways in 2016. Some focused primarily on written content while others were introduced to video and graphic content such as infographics, for example. But what is most striking is the fact that nearly all forms of content marketing increased for 2016.

The Content Marketing Institute conducts an annual survey to measure the strength of content marketing in the UK. Their 2016 report, entitled Content Marketing in the UK 2016: Benchmark, Budgets, and Trends, gives us a good picture of what marketers were doing in 2016. Here are some of the most important takeaways from the annual study:

  • All content marketing strategies were up on 2015, but the biggest winners were videos and infographics.
  • Social media was used by more companies than ever. YouTube saw the greatest increase.
  • In terms of paid marketing strategies, promoted posts were the big winner for 2016.

For the 2016 survey, the Content Marketing Institute looked at five different methods of marketing through online content. Below are each of those methods, along with the percentage of increase enjoyed in 2016 over the previous years:

  • Illustrations/Photos – 12 percentage points
  • Videos – 10 percentage points
  • Infographics – 10 percentage points
  • YouTube – 13 percentage points
  • Promoted Posts – 30 percentage points.

It’s important to note the difference between percentage points and raw percentage. For example, promoted posts jumped 30 percentage points in 2016. What that means is 34% of marketers used promoted posts in 2015 while 64% used them in 2016. The increase of 30 percentage points equates to a near 100% increase in the total number of marketers using promoted posts.

The Content Marketing Institute survey revealed some interesting information above and beyond just raw statistics. For example, content marketers identified the most important metric for measuring the effectiveness of their efforts as sales. That’s not surprising. The whole point of content marketing is to convert casual visitors into paying customers.

Approximately 61% of the survey respondents went on to say that measuring the effectiveness of content marketing is their most difficult challenge. This makes a lot of sense given the heavy focus on sales. What must be understood is that sales alone are not always an indication of marketing success or failure.

Suppose a company introduces a brand-new service that will be offered at a discount for the first 6 to 8 months in order to attract new business. Effective marketing could result in significant sales of that new service but still generate lower revenues than an existing service sold to fewer customers. The opposite is also true. In other words, sales are fluid enough that they cannot be relied on as the sole predictor of success.

In 2017, the most successful users of content marketing will find other ways to measure the results of marketing efforts. We expect customer loyalty to be an important metric that, when combined with sales and revenue, will provide a clearer picture.

Customer Loyalty Could Make the Difference

The business world has seen a gradual increase in the amount of attention being paid to customer loyalty over the last 16 to 18 months. There are very good reasons for this. Numerous studies done since 2010 have shown that it is more cost-effective to maintain solid customer relationships that lead to brand loyalty that generates sales rather than constantly working to replace unhappy customers with new ones. This is true in both the B2C and B2B environments.

Acorn, a US-based company specialising in brand management, says that companies in 2017 will struggle with brand loyalty if they do not account for the competition. They cite a Deloitte University Press study that suggests loyalty to national brands will steadily erode through 2020 as consumers become disillusioned with large corporations.

The predictions from Acorn and Deloitte University Press are focused on the B2C environment, but there are lessons to be learned within the B2B community as well. Most important is the growing disillusionment with the corporate sector. It should lead to significant opportunities for small businesses in 2017 and beyond.

The corporate culture has done an excellent job of creating affordable goods and services on a global scale that probably would have been impossible otherwise. But there is a tipping point at which large corporations are viewed as impersonal and uncaring. And when such perceptions are entrenched, corporations are then seen as irrelevant. Small businesses are the chosen vehicle to take their place.

We say all that to say this: small businesses are going to have to give more attention to customer loyalty if they expect to be able to effectively compete for an audience that is growing disillusioned with corporatism. That audience will be looking for strong, well-positioned small businesses that can provide the goods and services they were previously getting from large corporations. That means brand loyalty has to be just as important as sales from a marketing standpoint.

Content Marketing for Brand Loyalty

Brand loyalty is measured through tools such as customer surveys and customer data analysis. Content marketing can be used in the B2B environment for solidifying loyalty. By combining loyalty measurements with relevant content, companies can position themselves to be highly competitive.

Take this report as an example. The team here at Connotations is just as concerned about the future of our clients’ businesses as they are our own. We are committed to helping each and every one make the most of content marketing in 2017 and beyond. To that end, we believe we have identified what it will take to create actionable content that generates results. This report reflects that. It is designed to enhance how we serve our clients by acting as both a reference point and a resource.

As a reference point, it serves to demonstrate to our clients that we or doing our best to stay on the cutting edge of content marketing. We are constantly looking at trends to see where content marketing is going. We seek to stay ahead of the game so that our clients always get the best content we can produce. That creates loyalty.

As a resource, we understand that some of our clients will take the information found in this report and use it on their own – whether they actually contract work from Connotations are not. That’s fine with us. We want this to be a helpful resource for anyone who needs it.

Through this report, we are building loyalty to our own brand. How? By showing our clients that we care enough to make an effort to know what’s going on in the industry. We are providing relevant information that our clients can actually use for actionable purposes, rather than just stringing together endless words in a blog post for SEO purposes. We believe the information here is the kind of information people want and need. Providing it is one of the ways we are building the Connotations brand.

What You Can Expect for 2017

So, just how will content marketing evolve in 2017? We expect a number of different trends to emerge. For example, plan on the following:

  • Marketing segmentation
  • Greater use of multimedia
  • Increased paid promotion
  • Decreased organic marketing
  • Greater emphasis on mobility.

Marketing Segmentation

Market segmentation in the corporate sense relates to large numbers of small-scale players in a given market as opposed to one or two large corporations having consolidated everything under the brands. Segmentation in the marketing sense is different. It relates to identifying small subgroups within a company’s target audience for the purposes of meeting the needs of those groups.

Brandwatch, another expert branding company, defines market segmentation as “a marketing strategy that involves identifying subgroups…[with] common needs, interests, and desires, meaning separate strategies…that will appeal to each group.”

In simple terms, what Brandwatch is saying is that segmentation within the marketing arena is about identifying subgroups of potential customers and then generating specific content to reach those groups. It is a strategy intended to focus marketing resources for maximum return.

Greater Use of Multimedia

Since the earliest days of print, marketing experts have understood the value of an excellent visual presentation. Perhaps one of the greatest examples of all time is the Coca-Cola logo and colours. The Coca-Cola logo is one of the most recognised in the world; it evokes positive impressions wherever it is seen.

In 2017, content marketers will give greater emphasis on the visual. Leading the charge will be multimedia content. We expect to see greater use of videos, animated GIFs, short video loops, and infographics. We also expect to see companies tying their multimedia content with their social media outlets.

Increased Paid Promotion

The Content Management Institute report showed a 30-percentage point increase in the use of paid promotion in 2016. We expect that to continue in 2017. Why? Because marketers are coming to realise that we are reaching the end of the effectiveness of free content. The internet has become saturated to the point that it is getting harder and harder to generate effective results with generic content. The only way around it is to produce paid posts that are guaranteed to reach the target audience.

Decreased Organic Marketing

Organic marketing has been in decline for several years now. As previously mentioned, the internet has become saturated with content to the point of being overwhelming. Need proof? Just type any phrase into Google and see what happens. You can enter virtually anything and get millions of pages of results.

The upside here is that there is plenty of content available on just about any topic. The downside is that organic search results are losing their effectiveness for marketing purposes. We expect that the most successful marketers in 2017 will give less emphasis to organic search results and greater emphasis on more targeted marketing. The days of organic search results for marketing to new customers are numbered, that’s for sure.

Greater Emphasis on Mobility

You’ve been hearing how much mobility matters over the last couple of years. Well, those messages will only become louder and more aggressive during 2017. With every passing year, it becomes more apparent that people are using their mobile devices as tools for everything.

According to Statista, as many as one-third of the world’s population will own a smartphone in 2017. That amounts to more than 2.6 billion people. Here in the UK, the numbers are equally impressive.

Criteo’s 2016 mobile shopping report shows that some 2.5 million Britons use their mobile devices to shop – every single day. That’s just 5% of the population, but it’s still nothing to ignore. Those 2.5 million are expected to grow significantly over the next 12 to 18 months.

In short, content marketers wanting to capture the mobile audience will have to focus on the kinds of content that mobile users want. That means more social media, more video content, and more written content that is concise, clear, and relevant. Mobile users don’t want fluff.

5 Things Your Company Should Be Focusing On

Whether your company is primarily B2C or B2B, how you use content marketing in 2017 will determine how well your business does. Therefore, you cannot afford to approach the next 12 months without a solid marketing strategy. You and your team need to sit down and figure out what you want to accomplish in terms of marketing, and then develop strategies to reach your goals.

From our perspective, there are five things your company should be focusing on for marketing in 2017:

  1. Establishing Your Authority

Your authority as a service provider is second only to a positive customer experience for building brand loyalty. The whole point of developing a brand is to create a positive image in the minds of customers, an image they will always associate with your company when they need the products or services your company sells. And yet, one of the best ways to destroy a brand is to fail to establish your company as an authority in your chosen sector.

Working on establishing your authority will provide the basis for future marketing efforts. The reasoning is simple: your other marketing efforts will be more effective if the customers exposed to them already trust your company and your brand. We suggest using various kinds of content – like case studies and press releases, for example – to establish and maintain your authority as an industry expert.

  1. Expanding Content Value

Earlier we discussed the fact that consumers are becoming disillusioned with corporatism and large corporate brands. Small businesses can fall victim to the same disillusionment if the focus of their content is too narrow. For example, consider the company that insists all blog posts relate only to the products they sell. Insisting that content never goes beyond such a narrow scope gives the impression that the company cares about nothing but sales.

Suppose we have a company that specialises in steel-toe work boots for the construction industry. If every blog post is restricted to steel-toe work boots and the specific brands the company carries, blog content will have a very limited appeal. But if that company embraces the fact that construction workers also need gloves, safety glasses and other equipment, they can expand the value of their content without turning customers away.

The company can talk about gloves and safety glasses without damaging their own sales because they do not sell those other products. At the same time, they are speaking to customers who need what they sell in a way that relates to them without always suggesting they buy new boots.

  1. Making Better Use of White Papers

Few things are as valuable as white papers for making your case to new customers. A white paper addresses a specific question or need by explaining it, describing how it affects the reader, and offering a solid solution. We believe that white papers could very well achieve the best possible content marketing results in 2017. By the way, case studies and press releases can be incredibly powerful for marketing when combined with white papers.

  1. Redefining Your SEO Goals

Search engine optimisation (SEO) has taken on a life of its own since the turn of the 21st century. For 2017, the most successful companies that get the most out of content marketing will re-evaluate their SEO goals based on the kinds of things discussed in this report. For example, the best content for 2017 will rely less on keyword density and more on establishing authority.

We also expect to start seeing SEO redefined in terms of targeting local markets rather than relying on organic search engine results. So content will need to be focused locally as well. Remember that the small business makes its bread and butter from the local market first.

  1. Eliminating Generic Fluff

One of the reasons consumers are growing disillusioned with the corporate environment is a belief that corporations do not address their specific needs. That belief is rooted in the reality that corporations have to be as generic as possible in order to appeal to the widest possible audience. The result, from a content marketing standpoint, is generic fluff.

In 2017, successful marketing will require getting rid of the generic fluff in favour of speaking to customers where they are. Hand-in-hand with that is changing the language we use to reach customers. Those who actually buy the goods and services being sold are not industry insiders. Therefore, they do not speak or think like industry insiders think and speak. Successful content will speak the language that customers understand.

In Summary

We expect 2017 to be a banner year for content marketing. If the statistics continue their upward trajectory, companies will be engaging in all sorts of content marketing at levels never before seen. It’s up to companies like Connotations to measure the pulse of marketing in order to deliver the kind of content clients are looking for. We are certainly committed to that.

The success of your business over the next 12 months could hinge on the way you use content. We encourage you to use the information found in this report to make your own business stronger and more agile for 2017. If you need help producing dynamic and actionable content for your website, social media presence or printed marketing campaign, don’t hesitate to contact us at Connotations. We are the content creation specialists your company needs.

Sources:

  1. Content Marketing Institute – http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/2016_UK_Research_FINAL.pdf
  2. Acorn – http://www.acorninfluence.com/infographic-5-ways-to-boost-your-brand-loyalty-2017/
  3. Brandwatch – https://www.brandwatch.com/blog/intelligent-market-segmentation/
  4. Satista – https://www.statista.com/topics/840/smartphones/
  5. Criteo – http://www.criteo.com/media/4698/criteo-report-measuring-the-pleasure-in-uk-mobile-shopping-in-2016.pdf
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