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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.

Andrew Davies

Published 22 November, 2013 by Andrew Davies

Andrew Davies is co-founder and Director of idio and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

13 more posts from this author

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Nick Stamoulis

The more content you put out there the more touch points you create with your audience. Potential customers aren't relying on sales reps for information anymore, they are looking at your blog, your site, your social profiles, customer reviews and more. When you have a lot of content for them to read and review you can build some kind of rapport even without the sales rep getting involved.

almost 3 years ago

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Dave Bovenschulte

I've been in digital content twenty years now and started using "context is King" about five years ago. Clients still struggle to truly "get it".

almost 3 years ago

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'TC' Teresa Clark

Andrew,
What a great article this is! Really enjoyed reading it and I completely agree that our content needs to be used for customer insight as well as making it personalized. Here is a little something that I do to create content that does just that!
I create content material that comes from the people who understand the most about why someone buys, the consumer. Customers are a vital resource when producing content material to help improve your business’s success. Not only will they tell stories about their experience with you, they may also have unique antidotes which will help boost the morale and performance of your organization.

Thanks again for this article,

'TC' Teresa Clark

almost 3 years ago

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Jeff Ogden

I hope you are right that content marketing grows up, Andrew. In fact, content marketing evangelist Joe Pulizzi said on Marketing Made Simple TV "Content marketing has been around for over 100 years, but it is still in its infancy, so it is not too late to start." You can watch Joe at http://bit.ly/1axWnXT

I also agree with you that content needs to become more personalized. In fact, companies need to gather deep buyer insights in order to personalize content, but most companies know zip about real buyer personas. We suggest they visit http://findnewcustomers.com/buyer-personas/ to learn more.

Keep up the great articles, Andrew.

Jeff Ogden, Creator and Host
Marketing Made Simple TV
http://www.marketingmadesimple.tv

almost 3 years ago

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Apri

What a great content is !!!! I agree with Andrew that content marketing is growing. I also agree that Content marketing needs to become personalized and Content marketing needs to be used for customer insight. Customers are an important source when generating content material to help enhance your business’s boom.

almost 3 years ago

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TheWritersSocial

With millions of pages online and the never ending stream of information we see a turn on content marketing to content curation.

More and more information hubs or curated sites are popping up all over so people can get the news and information they want about certain topics all in one place. We think the future of content marketing is not so much what type of content you create but what type content you bring together for your readers.

Extremely interesting article, we will definitely share it with our readers and members on our website.

Thank you

almost 3 years ago

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Camping Sites

Hi

We totally agree, its not just about chucking content out their any more, its about creating content that firstly excites the reader into wanting to read more, but then actually turns that reader into a customer, as at the end of the day, you don't get paid of traffic and links but sales. traffic is just a vanity status.

I would rather have 1 person read an article and convert rather than than 1,000 people read and share it and no sales.

almost 3 years ago

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Dave Pitchford

Good points, Andrew. As you say, none of this is new, and the required ways of thinking have been with print editors since Caxton. Pursuant to which..."If brands are serious about becoming publishers..." ...they should employ journalists/writers, as publishers do. Journos already have a visceral understanding of all of these points, if not the detail, and there are plenty looking for a job. Digital marketers, I'm not so sure... Just a thought.

almost 3 years ago

Andrew Davies

Andrew Davies, Director at Idio

Agreed Dave. And many we know are doing exactly that - employing journalists. Especially journalists who have 'new media' experience. But leading publishers and brands are not just employing content creators (in whatever guise), but they are also using clever technology to ensure the content experience is informed by data on the audience and individual level, and that the huge amount of interaction data that popular content creates is used for more than giving the journalist a pat on the back, or the ad sales chap more traffic to boast about. That's why their needs to be a blend of content chops and digital/data chops in this mix.

almost 3 years ago

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Bruce Madden

Great post Andrew.
I have spent over 20 years in the content business in Australia - both online and offline (print) media. My observation is, not unlike the preceding years of the Y2K bug scramble to find retired DOS code writers, the digital content marketing phenomenon will see ever more brands searching for the old school skills of those with ink in their veins.
"Brand journalism" is oxymoronic. But "Contextualised Content" is a tried and true concept that has worked for generations, only nowadays the delivery mechanisms are digitised, immediate and owned by multiple 'publishers' in a fragmented marketplace.

almost 3 years ago

Chris Norton

Chris Norton, Managing Director at Prohibition

Nice article: Content just needs to be written for real people and be different and interesting. No more of this clogging up the Web with digital clutter. People want something interesting or amusing - ask Buzzfeed. :-)

almost 3 years ago

Andrew Davies

Andrew Davies, Director at Idio

@ Bruce Madden - I'd love to hear your definition of Contextualised Content. Would you mind sharing?

almost 3 years ago

Andrew Davies

Andrew Davies, Director at Idio

@ Chris - I think "interesting and amusing" works great for Buzzfeed ;)

I'm not sure how the head of marketing at (for example) JP Morgan would react to that pitch though?

almost 3 years ago

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Jonathan Rose, Product Evangelist at Idio

@TheWriterSocial - You're absolutely right that something needs to be done to help the consumer navigate the 'content marketing deluge' we are now finding ourselves in.

Both curation - and, subsequently, personalisation - are smart moves by brands that want to make their customers' lives easier.

almost 3 years ago

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Jonathan Rose

TC,

Really interesting point about getting customers to generate content that is more likely to be read by other customers.

It's a great strategy but I'd be interested to know what you advise to enable brands/clients to do that at scale?

almost 3 years ago

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Alan King

There is already quite a lot of content retargeting being done.

50% of all retargeting is done in Facebook at the moment. For the most part that's the ASU ads (the ones that look like classifieds) but it's now possible to target directly into the newsfeed with a post that looks like any other. Thats crucial for impact on mobile devices.

If you categorise a Twitter card as content; their acquisition of Mopub will allow them to do the same thing but across the broader mobile web.

almost 3 years ago

Andrew Davies

Andrew Davies, Director at Idio

Alan - yes indeed. Have you seen ResonanceHQ? There site seems to be down at the moment so I won't link there, but they seem to be doing this in an interesting way across an ad network. Not just sending the same message to all, but retargeting with content defined along a funnel based on previous interactions.

almost 3 years ago

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Andrew Healey

Interesting post, Andrew. "Context is king:" I haven't heard that one before, but I like it. As a business, if you can produce relevant content at the right time, in the right place, the battle is almost won.

almost 3 years ago

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Tania

Agree. Your content can speak for your brand.

almost 3 years ago

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