It’s time to start looking forward to the end of the year by taking stock of what worked well in 2016 and what didn’t. It’s a good time to start to formulate our goals and strategies for 2017. Towards that end, we did a survey of our readers to ask what is keeping you, our audience, up at night.  Some of the results we expected, some of them we did not. Because the sampling size was not on a national scale, these insights should be taken as hints, not gospel, for what is going on with the rest of the world. The one overarching thread that wove in between all of your survey responses spoke to one simple truth: content marketing is still king.

You folks are thinking about content, wondering how to engage with your clients, and excited about new platforms. As we shift into new and ever more sophisticated forms of content marketing, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect on our anxieties in 2016 so that we can enter the new quarter with confidence and a clear purpose in mind.

1. Email content marketing is the top focus in 2017.

 

Out of all of the marketing topics, email content marketing was your biggest stressor. Email continues to feel like the golden ticket, that if you can get it right, it can be a cornerstone of successful content marketing campaign. The biggest focus for anyone focusing on email marketing should be: ROI. You should print out these three letters and 45 size font and post them above your computer monitor if you are touching email content marketing this year. It is absolutely critical that you know exactly how much money your email campaigns are bringing in, and exactly how much you’re spending to create them.

Whether you’re creating your email content in-house or outsourcing, it should be simple to calculate your cost to produce, and therefore the cost per new customer brought in. With all of the analytics available that can give you insight down to the minutia of individual clicks, there’s no reason not to have an incredibly clear understanding of your email content marketing ROI.

One mistake that I see folks making is counting their in-house email operations as “free”, without factoring in the opportunity cost. The opportunity cost is the amount of money that could have been earned by doing other tasks, such as lead generation. If you do not know or cannot figure out your email ROI, the next step on your to do list should be to enlist professional help to get you that answer before you invest another dollar or minute of your time.

2. According to our respondents, video and mobile content had two of the lowest impacts in 2016, but the highest projected impact in 2017.

 

Here’s what I think is going on here. Even though the data for 2016 doesn’t bear out the cost of the effectiveness of creating video and mobile content, folks think that this will change to become a key player in 2017. There could be a few reasons for this. Creating good video and mobile content is specialized, difficult, and niche. Creating decent video requires either a large upfront investment of time and equipment, or expensive outsourced projects. It could be that the folks who jumped onto video in 2016 have climbed over that learning curve hump, and are looking forward to either cranking out their output or creating content of a higher caliber than they were capable of in 2016.

It is also possible, however, that folks’ expectation does not jive with reality. Sometimes we can see this when a shiny new platform comes along, like Facebook Live. The excitement and optimism outweigh the impact of the actual data. It is possible that people who never created any video or mobile content intend to get into it in 2017 in reaction to these changes.

What you need to know about mobile and video content marketing is that they can be highly engaging and excellent scaffolds to an existing content marketing machine. If you already have an audience and a reliable way to funnel that audience into leads, then video can be a gold mine. However, without these existing structures in place, I’m afraid that folks are too optimistic about entering the game at a higher level than they are prepared to do.

Video content marketing is incredibly, incredibly easy to do wrong. Mobile content is the same. They both require expertise and knowledge beforehand, often the kind that you can’t afford to get while your campaign needs to be netting results. If you’re looking forward to jumping in with video and mobile content in 2017, take an honest look around and see if you have the content marketing structures in place to support an ambitious campaign. If you don’t, it’s time to take a step back and build that strong foundation first.

3. 67% of all survey respondents named brand awareness as the most overwhelming challenge, followed by lead generation at 47.4%.

 

Brand awareness is always a challenge for marketers, whether B2B or B2C. It is the cornerstone of marketing, and often times it is why we do what we do. A successful brand awareness campaign requires money, the integration of a solid mix of marketing tactics, and lots of activity to accomplish.

If you don’t have the resources to do this kind of brand awareness campaign, you can start smaller. You can start by ensuring that you stay top-of-mind with your existing happy customers. Something as simple as an automated follow-up email can accomplish this with surprising effectiveness. The key is to make sure that your name comes to mind whenever the client thinks of your offering, which will drive your ROI in referrals and repeat business.

Sometimes I find that my clients neglect more traditional outlets that could be building awareness in favor of more popular and trendy content marketing options. For example, it is not uncommon to see a tech firm trying to figure out Twitter when they could be building quite a bit of awareness through participating in tradeshows and industry associations. You’d be surprised how far a sponsor booth at a local event can take you.

 

4. In terms of content marketing, producing engaging content is the biggest challenge named by 47% of respondents, followed by measuring ROI and effectiveness.

 

Some people are surprised by the advice I give when it comes to producing content that your audience will want to consume and engage with. A very simple answer to producing engaging content is to become a consumer of similar content yourself. You can’t expect to write a good blog post or create a good video if you never read blog posts or watch videos particular to your industry.

Alternatively, if you never consume a certain type of content yourself, that may be an indicator that you should steer clear of the platform for your own content. If you never check Twitter for industry news, it may indicate that your audience won’t be interested in doing so, either. What do I mean? If you work for a tech firm, what do you find yourself scrolling during your lunch break? Do you follow key Twitter feeds to stay up-to-date with developments in tech? Or do you find yourself cruising Wired or even Popular Mechanics? (Be careful here: take care not to substitute your own experience and assume that it is exactly the same as your customers.)

Regardless of what type of content you consume, it is important that you read and watch the content put out by your competitors. Just as a filmmaker must watch many films to hone his craft, a good marketer develops an eye for an engaging piece of content marketing by looking at what other people are doing.


5. Gaps in knowledge and skills of the internal team is also identified as a challenge.

 

If you’ve identified a gap in knowledge or skill within your team, I would say that your first step is to start having discussions that bridge different levels of management. Opening up communication across departments can help ensure that the high-level value proposition and company mission that’s been determined by leadership isn’t being forgotten or diluted throughout the chain of command.

If you need training ideas for internal staff at all levels, a possible simple and cheap solution is to set aside work time for teammates to peruse industry resources, such as industry periodicals or blogs. Once again, consuming the content relevant to your industry cannot only help you create better content, but it can help your team gain a deeper understanding of your market.

The Takeaway

Of all the things that you are worried about, they all revolve around the creation of content. This shows that at least in our corner of the world, content marketing is still king, and content marketing is still the cornerstone to achieving marketing success.

There is no magic bullet for creating a great content marketing strategy and execution.  It’s all about pragmatic and coordinated steps you have to take to building your foundation brick by brick. Taking the time to calculate your ROI can keep you from spinning your wheels and wasting your precious investment dollars. Not succumbing to shiny object syndrome is a big piece of the puzzle, especially in regards to video and mobile content.

Driving brand awareness can often be accomplished through very simple and low-tech means, such as participating in industry trades and associations. And finally, the simple answer to creating engaging content is to produce worthwhile industry content that customers and prospects alike will find of value. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say, nor will a strong foundation.  Getting all the piece parts to your marketing tactics to work together within the overarching plan will pay dividends for years to come.  Remember, ad hoc activities that don’t have metrics, analytics, and coordination will have no return to show for your investment—and that’s not what any of us want in 2017. Happy Planning!

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