Content Marketing: 2017 vs. 2018. Lessons Learned and the Challenges Ahead

Good content is described as one that stands out from all the crowd or is useful to the reader (it’s about this subtle difference between “help” and “hype” which is so meticulously dissected and analyzed in the book “Youtility” by Jay Baer).

It’s not so easy to achieve the first thing today. Here’s why:

  1. Virtually everyone now is creating content, and
  2. We have less and less time these days to consume it.

Fine, perhaps in 2005 it was enough to write a good piece, publish it on your blog, then on your Facebook page, and… just let the good word spread on its own, while the blog remained competitive. Today—not anymore. Around 2 million posts are being published online every single day. This is why it’s worth to stay abreast of any changes taking place in the industry and carefully watch how it grows.

Some time ago, Nowy Marketing, a major industry Polish news portal, asked me—along with some other content marketing experts—to list and briefly describe the most important events of 2017 and try to foresee what challenges we’ll be forced to face this year. I decided to share my thoughts with you. I’m also extremely interested to hear or read your views:

The Greatest Achievement of 2017

The trend for content marketing encouraged PR professionals to become interested in this topic. This is why, in the end, they naturally started to measure more than just AVEs. In fact, PR agencies began to recruit content specialists and open up entire content marketing departments. Top-down recommendations such as those introduced by AMEC and CIPR in the Western markets weren’t able to attain as much as transformation and trends that followed did. “Adapt or die”: Luckily, PR has chosen the right path. 

The Biggest Failure of 2017

Treating content as advertising. Many brands still see and treat content marketing as a form of advertising. Meanwhile, content that works is one that is diversified and created continuously for a long time—just like the media have been doing for years now (it’s not without reason that giants such as GE, Intel, or RedBull have former journalists running their content platforms). Otherwise, the investment we are making is simply not going to pay back. Remember that “the story should always be more important than you” (While Colson).

The Most Important Change of 2017

Much has been said long before 2017 about it, but I think it wasn’t until last year—this is at least what numerous research studies indicate—that companies focusing their efforts on content marketing finally began to treat it strategically. And strategy is where their success stories will come from:

Source: Content Marketing Institute, MarketingProfs

The numbers aren’t striking yet, but at least there’s some change visible. 91% B2B marketers admitted that they’d been committed to content marketing (annual report by Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs), while 37% have a documented content marketing strategy, compared to 32% in 2016. And the best of all, however, is that in this year’s study, organizations could no longer tick “Unsure” in the question concerning the existence of a documented content marketing strategy. This year, they could only choose from different options for saying “Yes” or “No,” with one of the “Nos” implying that this situation will change in the next 12 months.

And what’s interesting, we’ve also been experiencing a growing sense that the content we produce is more “mature” and sophisticated.

The Most Important Event of 2017

The series of Content Espresso meetups that I started in August 2017. I also wood three superb experts in their fields to join the project: Magdalena Urbaniak from Brand24, Gosia Walendziewska from Sotrender, and Ania Mościcka from Whites agency. I think of it as a success on both personal and professional level, as never before have we had in our backyard such an initiative that would tackle the issue of content marketing and allow practitioners to meet in an intimate circle to discuss a given topic. Today, we have already organized four meetups that were joined by five amazing special quests (Ania Iller from Allegro, Andrzej Gruszka from Elefante, Kamil Rutkowski and Ania Gumkowska from, Emilia Klimek from ING Bank Śląski). We’ve also created a fan page where we’re sharing some guidebook-style content on how to create great content and our own Brand Journal to document each meeting. And we are hungry for more.

The Most Interesting trends of 2017

Influencer marketing. Coca-Cola’s Kate Santore described it best when she emphasized that brands have already lost the monopoly for telling their own stories: We must embrace the idea that we are no longer the only narrator of our story. Our fans and the content they produce are chapters to our story as well.”

Celebrities, bloggers, or social media influencers managed to do what brands have been struggling to achieve with their marketing campaigns: effectively engage audiences, build mutual trust, encouraged positive perceptions of the brands, and affect the purchasing decisions of their followers. However, this did not come without some serious missteps along the way: in the US, the Federal Trade Commision (FTC) cracked down on sponsored posts, and required all celebs endorsing brands with their image to clearly label such content (vide: The Guardian about the Fyre festival and a piece by Bloomberg Technology). Soon, the loyal customers of brands will become such independent influencers. Less risk, more authenticity, lower costs, but I will talk more about this a little later.

Video. This trend has not slowed down at all. According to HubSpot, 43% of internet users want to watch video materials. Almost 52% of surveyed marketers believe that video content has the best ROI. 48% plan to include YouTube in their strategy and 46% will start using video content on Facebook. As a reminder, check out this chart from the Buffer Social report (2016):

Source: Buffer

Over 80% of marketers said they’d create more video content, while 42% said they’d do more live video. In which of these groups would you put yourself and what did you about it last year?

Personalization and Customer-centricity

There’s so much content on the internet already that communicating with people like this is simply not going to get you anywhere:

Customer centric

Has it ever been effective? No, but some have believed this to be true for a long time. As a matter of fact, ignorance never pays, but today this mistake may cost you more than a while ago. This is why what matters now is interactive and original content and highly targeted campaigns. But, beyond technology, there’s more to it—culture and organization. And according to Forrester’s report, when it comes to this, we can’t expect much to change anytime soon. This is how my favorite industry cartoonist summarizes this situation:

Customer Centric

In the end, the hardest thing about the customer-centric approach is keeping up with the data while at the same time staying focused on people and their needs.

The toughest challenges in 2017

Originality and quality. Stop talking about your brand and start creating content that people will want to read, listen to or watch. Watch the market. Apple is to spend 1 billion US dollars for a streaming platform. PepsiCo launches a content studio in New York. Google is buying original content from both brands and media companies (as Joe Pulizzi has recently revealed) to bridge the content gaps and support its search algorithms. Facebook is investing in original content. What about Amazon? It’s doing the same. Should we call it a coincidence?

Different formats require different skills. Brands that can boast of great success stories in their content marketing endeavors are acting like the best media publishers. Having a team of columnists won’t do anymore. What’s at play here is a much wider competence and strategic actions. For your content team to create more and better, you will need these experts on board: video producers, graphic designers, illustrators, editors, proofreaders, content promotion and distribution experts, campaign managers, planners, enforcers, advertising specialists and media buyers, PR pros, and analysts. And the greatest challenge will be to create a structure for such an interdisciplinary team.

What changes await us in 2018?

More budgets for content marketing. One follows the other—content marketing topped the “to-do” lists in 2018 (studies by NewBase, Content Marketing Institute, Nordics), which is why we are planning to invest a great deal more in it than we have done to date. The question remains, however, how much of these budgets will be allocated to large-scale, well-considered campaigns, and how much to ad hoc projects.

Smart content. Perhaps it won’t come to Poland anytime soon, but in the West, having Alexa share web content with audiences is standard practice now. Beacons and pairing devices increase the possibilities for interacting with content.

Micro-influencer marketing. Some time ago, Forbes estimated that one sponsored social media post by an influencer with a follower base of one million subscribers could cost as much as over 50,000 US dollars. Hiring a micro-influencer will be cheaper, and more authentic (they’re more open and buddy-buddy). Micro-influencers also allow for scaling the reach depending on your budget, generate more engagement, and interact with their followers more often.

Micro influencers
Source: AdWeek

What challenges are we about to face in 2018

More transparency. Nielsen’s latest Global Trust report leaves no doubt as to who we trust. Having an honest and objective message is the best strategy. In the world where everyone is trying to sell something, what your audiences appreciate the most is authenticity and integrity. Especially millennials. Focus on these values to win their trust. This, in turn, will encourage consumers to buy from you, recommend your products or services to their friends and family, and support you should a crisis arise.

Let me know what are your thoughts. Cheers and all the best in #2018!