As we draw closer to the end of 2013, not a day goes by without someone committing a feverish ‘future of content marketing’ post into the marketing blogosphere.

According to these digital soothsayers, next year we are destined (doomed?) to see more native advertising, more video content, more renewed commitment to ‘story first’ strategies, and so forth.

Sound familiar?

These are all strategies and techniques you could have read about in 2012, 2011 and 2010. The truth is content marketing has been around for over a hundred years, but there are many who would be happy for it to remain in its predictable, boring and samey infancy.

To be quite blunt, content marketing in 2014 needs to grow up.

Here’s how I’d like see content marketing mature over the next year…

1) Content marketing needs to be measured by conversions not engagement

In 2014, we need to move away from measuring our content marketing with soft engagement metrics such as ‘retweets’, ‘shares’, ‘linkbacks’ and ‘Likes’, and start having adult conversations about ROI.

Brands exist to make money and whilst engagement may make your marketing team feel warm and fuzzy inside, it counts for nought if your content marketing cannot be shown to demonstrably ‘move the needle’.

If brands are serious about becoming publishers – they need to adopt a publisher’s commercialism. Publishers and media outlets have lived and died on the strength of their content generating sales, not engagement and it’s time brands followed suit as well.

2) Content marketing needs to be used for customer insight

The narrative of content marketing over this past year has been all about what brands can (or should) tell their audience. Very few are making much of what content tells brands about their audience.

Content analytics is a technological boon for marketers that want to understand their content and more importantly understand the people reading it.

Gaining intelligence from content consumption will become particularly important for those working in customer relationship management, who have realised tracking content consumption habits are much more relevant and revealing of ourselves than merely relying upon inaccurate and historic demographic, transactional or social media data.

3) Content marketing needs to become personalized

We all know that personalisation works, yet brands are still content (ha!) to publish at aggregate, with little appreciation for their audience as individuals and their unique contexts.

As a result, brands that are using unpersonalised content marketing are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the publishers that have gone (and died) before them.

Already we’re seeing a swathe of opinion pieces that are questioning the popular maxim “Content is King”. Hopefully, in 2014, we will recognise that ‘context’ is King, and to do that we have to understand our audience’s tastes and interests (see point 2).

The other offshoot of this is that when content marketing becomes more personalised, the ability to calculate the improvement of lifetime customer value, reduce customer acquisition costs and, perhaps most importantly, measure the monetary value of each customer engaging with each item of content will become much more realisable (see point one).

4) Content needs to be used for retargeting

To be honest, I don’t care how effective retargeting is, it’s creepy.

I don’t want to be reminded of the garish hipster jacket I momentarily considered buying in a moment of madness, and certainly not every time I visit Youtube or read The Mail Online.

Interest Abandonment‘ is our phrase to refer to the phenomenon of brands sending sales messages too early that ultimately end up chasing customers away. Product retargeting doesn’t alleviate the lack of interest, it exacerbates.

Content, however, is great for maintaining interest – especially when a prospect is not ready to buy. Indeed, that’s the raison d’etre of content marketing.

So why aren’t brands using content, useful articles, entertaining videos, etc, which is much less conspicuous than unwanted products to attract folk back to their site?

5) Content needs to be used for pre-targeting

The earlier you have insight on a prospective customer, the earlier you can influence and measure their journey.

Not only does this give you a much better forward visibility of buying behaviour, but allows you influence that journey earlier. This has a massive impact on business value.

In a ZMOT world, companies can often only heavily influence the final 10% of a customer purchase decision; ie when they walk in the store, click on the site, or similar.

But if you can have visibility earlier, by using personalized content talking about the aspirations, lifestyle interests, needs and wants of your target buyer, you can build a process of pre-targeting: predicting the customer journey and therefore helping them solve the problems they need to faster and easier, and obviously whilst buying your product or service.

Content marketing has the potential to utterly revolutionize how we communicate with customers but if we don’t start honestly looking at new ways to put our content to good use,  it won’t be a ‘happy’ new year for your customers or for your CMO.