A lot of very, very smart people are weighing in on where they think the future of content marketing is going, so I’ve rounded up my three favorite predictions for 2016. After seeing what the experts had to say and adding my own insights, a broad picture began to emerge: blogging and content marketing in 2016 is going to be all about making human connections with your readers, providing truly useful information, and building trust instead of numbers.
- Seth Godin: “Human beings connecting with other human beings.”
If you’re not familiar with Seth’s blogging style, go take a look—he posts every single day, and his posts are rarely more than 300 words long. It’s so radically different from what other marketers are doing that it’s almost hard to define his writing as a blog post—no images, zero clickbait titles, not even section headers. There isn’t a listicle to be seen. But Seth continues to grow a huge audience of fans who enthusiastically seek him and his work out, all while he ignores the ‘common sense’ rules of blogging. The reason, according to comments made in an interview with Joe Lazauskas for Contently, is that “…being trusted is the single most urgent way to build a business. You don’t get trusted if you’re constantly measuring and tweaking and manipulating so that someone will buy from you.”
The best way to see a ROI with your content marketing is not to tweak and commodify some formula to beat Google and churn out more blog posts that get more clicks, but to connect enthusiastic creators with interested consumers, and create something useful. As Seth tells us, “The challenge that we have when we industrialize content is we are asking people who don’t care to work their way through a bunch of checklists to make a number go up, as opposed to being human beings connecting with other human beings…What we find is that the more people care, ironically, the better they do compared to the industrialized systems of folks who don’t care and are just doing it for the money.”
- David Dylan Thomas: “Tools Are Cheap, Time Is Expensive”
In the first of a 7 part series called “Lessons from the Future of Content”, content strategist David Dylan Thomas shares the story of completing two different film projects, in the year 2000 and 2013:
“16 years ago, I shot a feature film. It took three years to complete, cost over $10,000, and only made it into two film festivals, one of which I had to pay to get into.
Three years ago, I shot a web series. It took two years to complete, cost me nothing, and was distributed on two global platforms.”
Phones have good enough cameras now and enough editing features to shoot all of the photos for an entire blog. Digital drawing tablets and editing software are cheap enough that high school and college-aged artists can create their own feature-length comic books and graphic novels, and build up an audience of thousands on Tumblr without the gatekeeper of a publisher. There is almost no barrier to entry for creating content anymore—which floods the market with noise. Everyone is creating, but not all of it is any good. That means that simply striving to be the first, biggest, and loudest creator won’t work anymore.
As David writes, “So why aren’t we all filmmakers now? Well, remember the one thing that didn’t really change in the two scenarios? Both films took 2–3 years to create. Why? They weren’t my day job.”… “That is the challenge of the modern filmmaker. Not so much how to raise capital to produce the film itself, but how to raise capital to pay for the time to create it.”
Not only is time more valuable than ever to creators, it’s more valuable to their audiences. Audiences now expect content creators and marketers to value and respect their time. Ads on YouTube videos show a countdown to the second when you can skip ahead to the content. Every article published on Medium gets a read time estimate generated and displayed at the top. No one is going to spend their time reading your content if you don’t offer something tangibly valuable to them in return—a solution to their problem, a new concept to learn, or at least a good laugh.
- Danny Iny of Mirasee Marketing: “It’s not about being more ‘epic’, it’s about being different in a meaningful way.”
In his Business Reimagined podcast, Danny Iny talks about the skyscraper method, wherein “If you want to rank for a certain keyword, you search that keyword, find the best piece of content about it, and basically write something better. Let’s say you find a list of 77 tips. Then you write a list of 177 tips. That strategy works, but it becomes unsustainable after a certain amount of time. It’s like you have a forest of trees, and they all want to grow to the top where they get the sun. They all grow together, so no tree gets an advantage but they all have to work very hard to get very tall.”
“Epic” is one of those words that infatuated marketers in 2015. But epic isn’t a useful content writing goal, because it suggests that you should strive for a huge scope—and that the results live in the realm of fate instead of deliberate crafting. You may as well say, “I write all of my blog posts to be legendary, and I’ll have enough followers once I just manage to pull the magic sword from the stone and defeat the army of Trojans singlehandedly.” It’s not magic, it’s marketing.
According to Danny, “…Epic only goes so far. The way you’re going to stand out by 2016 is not by being any more epic, but by being different in a meaningful way. If I search for a term and I find the ten top articles on the subject, the idea is not to write an even better one, it’s to read those ten and say, “Where would I still get stuck as a beginner searching for this? What is still not covered? What is a perspective that is not addressed?”
Content Marketing in 2016
You’ll waste your time trying to catch lightning in a bottle if you think the only valuable content is epic, huge, viral content. Being useful gets shares. Being authentic gets likes. Covering an angle that everyone else is ignoring is how you build a loyal audience, instead of a massive fleeting one. The future of content marketing is moving towards ever more value, more authentic connections, and the reintroduction of the human element.