What’s Now, What’s Next in Content Marketing

Another September, another Content Marketing World in Cleveland. Thousands of marketers from 60 countries converged on the city, ready to immerse themselves in keynote speeches and breakout sessions, statistics and insights, trends and topics driving the future of content marketing. And with an average of 65 different sessions offered each of the two primary conference days, some may ask, “Isn’t this content overload? What is the most meaningful information for my brand/business/client? Most importantly, what ‘best practices’ are realistic in today’s real-world business environment?”

To help cut through the content clutter, my colleague, creative director Mike Lawrence, and I took a divide-and-conquer approach to attending this year’s CMW event, sharing our key takeaways in three categories: what’s now, what’s next and what’s not.

What’s Now? Empathetic Content. Leaving your customers with all the feels.
By definition, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. In the context of marketing, it is about putting your audience’s needs before your own, understanding their pain points and humanizing your buyer’s journey to build a deeper customer relationship beyond the product and services you sell.

According to a recent Forrester Research survey of global technology purchasing decision-makers, 70% said the information they receive from vendors is more focused on style than substance, and 59% said much of the information is useless—clearly room for improvement in building that emotional connection to the customer.

An empathetic content approach creates trust, and trust builds loyalty. Look for opportunities for your subject matter experts to be the credible vehicle to build trust with your customers. We continue to counsel our clients on how to establish and strengthen thought-leadership programs focused on propping up and promoting key SMEs as that credible voice. Develop content for them to deliver through bylined articles, contributed blogs, speaking engagements and social channels. By sharing market and industry insights, peer case studies, ROI content that shows cost benefit or trends/forecast content to help predict future needs, you’re demonstrating you know what it’s like to walk in the customers’ shoes; you feel their pain and understand the challenges they face.

Through a consistent empathetic approach, your SMEs (and your brand) become a trusted, go-to resource, helping the customer succeed even before they are ready to purchase.

What’s Next? Voice-Activated Content. OK, Google? When is the right time to infuse voice into my content strategy?
Chances are, you’ve asked Google, Alexa, Siri or another voice assistant a question in the last 24 hours, ranging from the weather forecast to a sports score, help with a recipe or a random celebrity fact to end a friendly debate at home (Yes, Jennifer Lopez is 50 years old. #goals).

Smart speakers (e.g., Google Home Mini, Amazon Echo) are one of the fastest-adopted consumer technologies ever. As Jay Baer, renowned content strategist, shared in his CMW presentation, “Mouth Moves: How to Conquer the New Frontier of Voice Content, Alexa and Smart Speakers,” in the last year, 14 million American adults bought their first smart speaker. That averages to more than 38,000 new adopters every day. And by 2025, it’s estimated 75% of American households will have a smart speaker.

So why the fast adoption? Smart speakers are efficient and allow us to multitask, using them while we are doing household chores, cooking, entertaining, working out and watching TV. Once you own one, it becomes part of your every day. This technology, and the frequency with which it’s used by consumers, is opening up a whole new opportunity for audience interaction and brands to deliver content consumers need when they need it.

As with any content strategy, the first step for voice is to identify your target audience. Whom do you want to reach and why? Baer suggests looking at voice content as a customer engagement vehicle, not for customer acquisition, similar to email and social media campaigns. Next, think about the type of content you’ll offer and why the audience will use it. For voice, you’ll need to plan conversational paths, meaning if the audience asks “X,” what will the brand say back? And even though we’re focused on voice-activated content, it’s important that you don’t forget about visuals. Many of the new generation smart speakers have screens, so visual storytelling isn’t abandoned here either.

Voice is still in its early stages as a content vehicle, but with the fast adoption rate of smart speakers, it’s not going away. Marketers who are thinking of how voice can be incorporated into their content strategy now will be poised to move quickly when the time is right and capitalize on the opportunity to be the leader in voice-activated content in their industry.

What’s Not? 18-Month Minimum Content Campaigns. Try getting the C-Suite to slow down to sell in that idea.
Be faster, nimbler and more flexible, quicker to adapt on a global scale, proactively respond to shifts in market conditions. Better yet, anticipate those shifts and react before they happen. Today’s business climate is one that often moves at the speed of light, so it caught me by surprise when one presentation suggested a minimum of 18 months for campaigns.

While the theory behind the idea is to build loyalty with customers through a “content forever” approach, not a one-time engagement, our experience with brands has shown a need to plan and execute campaigns in six- to nine-month increments. This allows opportunities to measure and refine to ensure KPIs are met and the program is delivering the intended ROI.

Overall, CMW 2019 was another reminder that the art of storytelling is not dead. Our brains are programmed for stories, and stories make our brains want to buy. So no matter which form our content takes, strive to tell stories that are relatable (understand your audience), novel (showing or telling something new), fluent (make it easy to get engrossed) and embrace tension (the gap between what is and what will be). That’s a recipe for content strategy that extends beyond what’s now and into what’s next.

For more insights from Content Marketing World, check out the point of view from Mike Lawrence.