Key Content Marketing Trends in 2018

Earlier in the year we published an article which highlighted the key trends it believes will shape content marketing in 2018. We suggested that brands would diversify the type of content they produce, and would also invest in developing multidisciplinary content teams. We predicted that GDPR would have a significant impact on the shape of content marketing and that social issues could come to the fore.

I think that in some ways our early predictions have been right, certainly GDPR has been a catalyst for change and we are all aware Mark Zuckerbergs privacy issues producing a seismic change across the social landscape.

With the quieter summer months looming we wondered what the companies who are at the cutting edge of content marketing in the UK thought of the way that the discipline has evolved this year. Overall around 20 companies took part with key executives offering their opinions. Here then is their collective wisdom and what they think will be the key trends for the remainder of 2018.

The importance of authenticity and brand trust

In an era of fake news, consumers are ever more wary of the online content that they read. Brand trust has become so important.

Nick Hajdu, found of Navigate Video believes that “without a doubt, the predominant issue of 2018 is brand trust. As research shows, brands are facing their biggest trust crisis since the global recession of 2008. Consumers now approach brands from the perspective of suspicion and distrust. It’s up to brands to take action to address this.”

Nick argues that the answer is for brands to show their human side more often. For some companies it might mean offering an insight into the lives of their employees. For others it could be about championing social issues such as Lyft and P&G have done in the US.

Nick predicts “in the second half of 2018, brands will become much more human in their marketing strategies. Their attention will move towards giving audiences a better insight into who they are, what they believe in and what they stand for. By telling the stories behind the brand and revealing a sense of personality – all communicated through a content marketing strategy with video at its heart – brands will gradually start winning back audience trust.”

George Theohari, Editorial Director at Speak Media believes that in order to counter fake news brands need to be ever more professional and imaginative in their content creation and distribution.

“We all know that now every brand is a publisher, competition for eyeballs on your content is fierce. At the same time, the past year has made consumers ever more aware of the dangers of fake news,” argues George.

“Brands will be looking to teams with the journalistic skills to deliver authentic, engaging, and – perhaps most importantly – trustworthy content that tells their story. Be it in-house or agency, the ability to harness those skills will be the difference between failure and success.”

Robbie Black, Managing Partner, The Moment thinks that the key for brands is to move away from notions of factory lines of content and instead focus on producing quality content.

“In the rush for brands to become publishers the sheer volume of messages has become more highly prized over the quality and the integrity of the messages themselves. Which in turn has led to a saturation of social media channels with commercial messages thinly dressed up as ‘engaging content’. But the push-back has begun; consumers aren’t as gullible as we would like to think. And so in the future, only well-crafted, relevant, timely messages will gain any sort of cut-through; there’s an art to saying what a brand wants to say in a way that the audience wants to hear it, and that art will only become more valuable, not less.”

Kevin Gibbons, Co-Founder & CEO, BlueGlass thinks that even if they have been creating content for many years companies need to take another look at their output and ask themselves what are they trying to achieve?

“If you are doing it, you have to be doing it for the right reasons,” he argues. “It shouldn’t just be for the purpose of enhancing one channel, it should be about building a real connection with your audience. Understand where your customers are and what their pain points/challenges are… Then you can connect the journey, irrespective of the channel/platform, using content to take visitors from awareness to consideration to conversion.”

Phil Young, Director at TCO believes that choosing the right partner is important as they can endow brands with credibility and authenticity. The company has many active sports clients and is very aware of how smart and brand aware that audience is.

“Action sports have spent the last 40 years developing and maturing, and what we’ve seen is that these sports often don’t inherently have any rules. The only rule is actually authenticity. The sports themselves are by their very nature freestyle and creative. They are platforms for self-expression and creative exploration, not just in how they are performed but how their respective cultures resonate through street style and attitude. So if a brand can ensure authenticity by working with the right partner, they have an opportunity to do something fresh, new and exciting.”

The continuing influence of automation and technology

Another trend is the increased prevalence of automation and technology in content creation and distribution. By harnessing data capture tools companies now have huge amounts of information on which they can base content plans. It is taking this data and using it intelligently to optimise content to suit the target readers which is likely to be key for many companies both this year and in the future.

Andy Edmonds, Group Content Director, Havas is a passionate believer that the future involves a blend of human and automation. “As we continue to make advances in technology and grow our data pools in a GDPR compliant way, smart content marketers will adopt a more insight-led strategic approach to content creation,” he argues.

“Ensuring that every piece of content they create, across all channels, ladders up to answering customer questions. Using a blend of human, AI and automation to deliver personalised customer experiences across the whole purchase funnel.”

Edmonds also believe that brands will continue to invest in enhanced content technology stacks. “Brands will take a deeper look at their technology stacks in order to plan, optimise and deliver personalised content across their entire business at scale. We’ll see an increase in the uptake of Creative Management Platforms (CMPs) and, with that, a drive towards more relevant and personalised, insight-driven dynamically optimised creative. We’ll also see brands and businesses invest in technology which enables greater cross-business connectivity, content utilisation and less content waste.”

Edmonds’s views are echoed by Liz Hatherley, Head of Strategy, SevenC3 who reports that the company is seeing more and more briefs where technology and performance sit side by side with strategy and creativity.

Hatherley argues that “this is exactly the future-facing approach we believe smart content marketing needs to succeed for 2018 and beyond.”

“It’s all about blending technology and creativity in truly integrated ways – for example, developing automated lead nurture campaigns, where the content and user journey are planned and created in hyper-close synchronisation. Precision marketing like this means that audiences receive content we know they’re genuinely interested in, based around their own behaviours; a win-win for brands, agencies and audiences alike.”

“The (very positive) domino effect of using more martech and automation tools is that – to achieve cut through – agency creativity will become prized more highly again. Ideas will become bolder as our creative resource is unlocked, thanks to tech and tools picking up a lot of the ‘planning and distribution’ heavy-lifting. We have a great opportunity now to embrace technology as a gateway to bigger, braver creative ideas.”

Sarah Lewthwaite, MD and SVP EMEA of Movio highlights the way that technology can be used to help brands target consumers. ‘”One of the emerging trends for 2018 is using consumer data and insight to predict a customer’s specific content needs. What content is best suited to a person at any given moment? When are they most likely to engage?  Which communication channel will be most effective to engage them? What factors will influence their decision to consume?

Achieving a successful marketing campaign is no longer about being the biggest, brightest or loudest brand on these channels, but instead, being the most relevant. Channels of communication are becoming increasingly saturated, so using data to understand behavioural patterns, and create informed, targeted and relevant content marketing campaigns, will help marketers  to improve engagement.”

Amy Eckersley, Strategic PR Director, The Marketing Pod, is another exec who is predicting that key technologies, in particular Artificial Intelligence, will have a profound impact on content marketing as the year continues.

“AI is no longer a futuristic concept but is being used today by smart content marketers to drive up engagement rates. Using machine learning to understand more about customers and prospects to personalise and tailor content will soon be common practice – but even simple email marketing tools that determine what subject lines, headers and calls to action get the best response rates are all helping to create informed and successful content strategies.

There are however people who urge caution when attempting to work out how to implement AI with company strategy. Kim Willis, Strategy Director, Cedar Communications, advises execs to take things slowly.

“Avoid the time-sink of media hype around AI. Sure, it’s happening, and it’s important. But for this year at least, the best strategy is to just watch and learn.”

Rather Willis suggests “Getting the basics right — commissioning the right content on the right channel at the right time, and being forensic in measuring the impact of every piece of content on their customers.”

“Meanwhile, for the brands who are already content pros, we’ll see smarter, data-driven content planning, mixing passion-led mass market content franchises with micro personalisation and targeting to earn the increasingly fractured attention of their customers.”

Finally Chris Rayment: Insight Director, Cedar Communications thinks that one of the key innovations that technology will bring to content marketing this year is likely to be around measurement.

“Content marketing is currently sitting at the bottom of Gartner’s digital marketing Hype Cycle (in the ‘trough of disillusionment’) – the discipline has lost its sparkle in the wake of exciting new technologies such as programmatic advertising and reality marketing (AR/VR). But the pattern of Gartner’s Hype Cycle suggests that content marketing will move uphill, out of its trough, into its ‘slope of enlightenment’. As a result, I predict that we’ll see even more attention placed on digital content marketing measurement and evaluation, with a focus on how it impacts business metrics. I believe that this shift will bring with it renewed attention on proving the value of mass-media non-digital channels too.”

The pivot to images and video

A year ago mainstream legacy publishers spoke enthusiastically of the pivot to video and how they were going to invest in developing channels on YouTube, Facebook and other platforms. From a commercial perspective media companies have often found that that they couldn’t monetise video content in quite they way they hoped.

Nevertheless many content marketing executives are still adamant that video and still images are the most effective way to engage with consumers, especially on mobile devices.

Ben Wilkinson, Director, Bold Content believes that the traffic is only going one way. “Young People are viewing YouTube more during peak hours than TV. By looking at 2016 and 2017’s stats, we can see that more young people are watching YouTube during prime-time TV hours than television. Due to this, content creators have used the live-streaming boom to tailor their sessions to prime-time to get the most viewers.”

Wilkinson also believes that 360 videos also made their mark during 2017 on YouTube. He thinks that this is “due to the price of technology decreasing and more content creators tapping into the new realm of filmmaking. Take this experiment as proof: Magnfyre.com ran a campaign to test 360 vs. flat video. The same video in 360 got 14,000 views, as opposed to the flat video that got a measly 250. In addition, the 360 video doubled the percentage of people watching the video all the way through compared to the flat video.

Alan Dykes, Head of Digital Marketing, Archant Dialogue believes that video has a key role to play, but that we shouldn’t we writing text off quite yet.

“Like TV killed radio and DVDs/streaming killed cinema, ahem… so lots of people are still saying that video is killing the written word as the most important medium in content marketing. But each has its own place. There is undoubtedly a dark coven of boffins out there in Google Towers working on code that will scan every video on YouTube for useful information (a thankless task) that is pertinent to a simple consumer voice search – with some AI translating the scant results into the robotic voice in your living room. But guess what? Text is easier to search. If you want information to be found via voice, start planning your voice SEO strategy now. With good old text as well as video.”

Dykes does however concede that “video and smoking hot images will rule social media in 2018 in terms of engagement rates. How else do you stop people swiping past your content in their feed? Not just the sort of video that looks like you’ve paid a big production crew to go out and make for your website or a TV spot, but short form, playful and live, including spontaneous video that takes people behind the scenes.”

Amy Eckersley of The Marketing Pod, also stresses the engagement potential of video as being the reason why it will continue to play a huge role in content marketing in 2018 and beyond.

“Videos aren’t new, but they’re still one of the best ways to engage your audience. People are ten times more likely to engage, embed, share and comment on videos than blogs or social posts. They don’t need to be slick – smart phone footage can be edited and used across channels – but with 85% of videos viewed in silent mode, subtitles are a must.”

Finally Robbie Black of The Moment warns that brands need to be careful not to confuse the medium with the message and that it is not about the platforms or technology, what engages consumers is the quality of the content.

“Once upon a time just having a Snapchat geofilter was news in and of itself. Branded Instagram stories were disruptive and engaging because they were new. But new and emergent technologies aren’t enough on their own. The brands (and agencies) that will win will be the ones who can use these channels and features in an original way, and not confuse the medium with the message.”

Lydia Wise, Senior Strategist, Lansons also thinks we could, see shake up in image and video based platforms. “WeChat will eat Facebook for breakfast,” she argues.WeChat is already worth a bomb so unless Instagram Stories gains traction properly, the fallout could get messy for Content Marketers.”

Audio content strategies

Many companies are also working out how to respond to the growth of audio content. Smart speakers, like Amazon’s Echo range, have built upon the concept of voice control developed initially by Apple’s Siri and Google Now. Many brands too are still not entirely sure how to capitalise on the resurgence of the podcast.

Kim Willis of Cedar Communications is adamant that “If brands aren’t thinking about their audio content strategies, they should be. From podcasts to Alexa skills, audio now offers a range of brand engagement opportunities across the spectrum of practical utility to deeper storytelling. The only questions is, which approach is right for your customer.”

Rachel Handley, Head of Content Development at Glass Digital believes that brands really need to work out their audio search strategies. “2018 is the year that brands will start to take voice search seriously. With smart speaker adoption and personal assistant usage showing no signs of slowing, spoken queries can no longer be ignored when it comes to creating content.”

Its is view that also chimes with Lydia Wise of Lansons. She argues that  “Google Duplex will redefine search.  A few years ago, it was all about picture search but looking ahead, content will need voice tags. Basically, we think Google are trying to shift Alexa.”

Shaun Hill, Content Marketing Director, iProspect thinks that brands who don’t try and engage with podcasts could be missing out on a very valuable and effective platform.

“Podcasts are growing by the week and Google recently announced it would be returning podcasts in the search results. This is significant for brands because podcasts are mostly created by individuals or stations with authority in a specific subject. But why couldn’t a brand such as Sony produce a film podcast? Well, branded podcasts are already in existence. Take Rapha, a cycling clothing brand with headquarters in London and Portland which produces a wonderfully put together 30-minute show aimed at cycling enthusiasts. Sephora also uses influential female founders, creators and thought leaders to talk through funny everyday stories that can be accessed for free via iTunes. This isn’t necessarily the right approach for every brand but it is certainly a format to consider.”

Reaction to GDPR

For many companies the first part of 2018 was dominated by preparing for GDPR. The rest of 2018 will see the dust start to settle and we will soon see how the legislation has impacted on content marketers. One of the key elements of GDPR is the way that it has empowered consumers, and this is something which could have a profound impact on the way that customers interact with both brands and the social platforms they use.

Alan Dykes of Archant Dialogue stresses that “consumer empowerment in digital communications is not just a trend, it’s a fact for 2018. From purged email databases to the individual’s right to gain access, amend or to forget personal data, consumers now have a highly publicised and transparent right to say no if you are not offering, or currently giving them, something useful. Opt-out rights existed before, but people have become hugely aware of them in 2018 thanks to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the GDPR juggernaut. It’s too early to tell if Social Media is going to have the same reckoning as marketing databases, but falling trust and falling reach will force both the platforms and marketers to re-evaluate how they treat users/followers.”

Kim Willis of Cedar Communications thinks that one by product of the legislation will be a coming together of content creators and paid content specialists ensuring that the quality content which brands create is seen by consumers.

“As shake ups in email GDPR, Google growth and social media algorithms reduce the organic power of owned and earned media, we’ll see content creators and paid media specialists working more closely together than ever to align content to audiences and media environments, and to ensure that engaging stories actually have the opportunity to be seen.”

It is a view that Chris Rayment of Cedar Communications concurs with. He thinks that content will become ever more important to brands as they seek to rebuild customer lists.

“GDPR will decimate advertiser databases. As a response to GDPR, expect the quality of all advertiser content marketing efforts to improve further and for that content marketing (supported by paid media) to be used by more advertisers to drive marketing permissions. Essentially, content marketing will help to rebuild advertiser databases.”

Dan Linstead, Editorial Director, Branded Content, Immediate Media stresses that brands must now not take the loyalty of customers for granted, The fact that they have chosen to maintain communications post-GDPR needs to be recognised and rewarded by brands.

“The 25th May GDPR implementation marks a watershed for content – for the first time (in theory) everyone receiving a content email from a brand or organisation actively wants to receive that communication. Email lists will be dramatically smaller, but of much higher quality. So for the rest of 2018, and into the future, the pressure is on to reward the loyalty of those who have opted in with better, more relevant content.”

Linstead thinks that this is especially important given that, in his opinion, brands need to get back to focusing on owned media channels.

“Maintaining email lists is doubly important given the historic over-reliance on Facebook to garner an audience. Now that the Facebook algorithm is serving posts to perhaps 0.5% of followers, brands and publishers are rapidly refocusing on owned channels – with email at the fore. So expect to see much greater sophistication around email marketing, with customers given greater control over the nature and timing of e-shots, and premium online content reserved for this who have opted-in.

“In short, the content industry is waking up to something publishers have long known – long-term,” he concludes. “A subscriber is worth far more than a one-off buyer. GDPR signals the start of brands getting serious about their own content subscribers.”

Christopher Baldwin, Head of Marketing for Northern Europe at Selligent Marketing Cloud also thinks that we are going to see a resurgence in email powered by kinetic email design

“Everyone is talking about kinetic email design but for this you need kinetic content. The launch of the iPhone has meant that email clients have stepped up HTML5 and CSS3 support. Content can be made Kinetic by encompassing interactive and dynamic elements to encourage engagement. From user driven carousels containing navigation buttons, collapsible menus, sliders and rotational banners – the possibilities are endless for content creators. Our client ASDA uses kinetic email design and enjoys CTRs 20% above the industry average and unrivalled engagement.”

Finally Lydia Wise of Lansons thinks that consumer empowerment and the recognition of the value of their data could usher in some interesting developments.

“The fallout of Cambridge Analytica means that we can only really ‘listen’ to Twitter. So we predict that more individuals will learn how to comoditise their data (which is already a thing).”

Personalisation

For many content marketers the journey from broadcasting to many people through to narrowcasting to individual will continue in 2018. Amy Eckersley of The Marketing Pod, stresses that it is because content is becoming smarter

“In the new era of GDPR, it’s even more important to create relevant, interesting content to avoid customers and prospects from hitting the permanent unsubscribe button. An account-based marketing approach will also be increasingly used to create personal, customised content that is relevant to the end user – whether that’s hitting them at the right stage of their customer journey, or producing sector-specific content that resonates in a B2B environment.

Christopher Baldwin of Selligent Marketing Cloud, also thinks that the one to one experience of content is what brands need to be focusing on.

The ONLY way to deliver true delight to today’s entitled consumer is to deliver awesome customer experiences. Consumers now expect personal engagement with brands in return for their data. It’s absolutely possible to do this over email, mobile or website. It’s the digital equivalent of the hotel manager at your favourite hotel greeting you by name as you walk in and showing you to your upgraded suite (nice!).”

Baldwin also advocates companies being cognisant of the key moments in consumers’ lives and interacting with them at this point. “Marketers need to think about their customers’ lives and the moments in which they as a brand can add value.  Create content wrapped around these moments, that can be automated live depending on real-time data and personalised even further.  A key benefit of GDPR is that it will change the way customer data is collected and used by marketers, ultimately resulting in greater and more relevant engagement with consumers. As data shows 1:1 engagement surpasses batch and blast every time.

Quality content

An overarching theme for many of the contributions has been that brands need to move away from creating massive amounts of content to focusing on smaller amounts of higher quality content.

Shaun Hill of iProspect believes that longform will continue to make inroads into content marketing as brands recognise how effective it can be for customer engagement but also for securing search rankings.

“Brands are also moving into the realm of journalism with the way they approach content, often using some of the world’s biggest journalists to produce their content. Increasingly, we are seeing such content being written in long-form, similar to the investigative style pieces you might find in a magazine or newspaper. These longer, well researched, journalist-style pieces are performing incredibly well, however simply producing long-form content for the sake of it will not work. Great long-form content (typically more than 2,000 words) will improve dwell time and bounce rate, resulting in better Google rankings. It is also worth noting that with the rise of voice search, having long-form content will increase the chances of appearing in a featured snippet or answer boxes. Mr. Porter and Amara are two brands that do this fantastically well and have seen outstanding performance as a result.”

Leona Frank, Senior Manager, Content Strategy at Vistaprint, also believes that quality content is the way for brands to go and that we may have sacrificed something by focusing too much on reach.

“Brands need to shift their focus from reach and engagement to quality connections. What’s ultimately more beneficial; creating a gif that’s seen by 10,000 people or surprising and delighting 5 followers and turning them into lifetime brand ambassadors? It may not be a strict ‘either/or’ scenario, but it’s becoming clear that brands who invest into the latter, are the ones winning on social.

“When it comes to increasing audience engagement, quality content trumps the distribution budget. Social networks will continue to give visibility to brands that produce truly engaging content that evokes emotions and meaningful reactions from the audience. Everyone else will likely find that they have to spend more money to reach the same amount of people as they currently do with likely less engagement. While 50/50 was a good ratio to determine how much to invest into content production vs content distribution, brands may find that shifting this ratio in favour of content production allows them to create more personalised, exclusive and relevant content, that ultimately yields better results.”

Finally Brendan Judge, Planning Director, Bridge Studios, News UK, says quality content and advertising is what is going to come to the fore again in 2018.

“I’m not really one for trotting out the usual crystal ball trend cliches, so apologies in advance for eschewing topical buzzwords like “storytelling”, “purpose”, “experiential”, “AI/ machine-learning”,”the year of the voice”, “ad-blocking” “meaningful brands” and of course “privacy”.

“What we most certainly need more of is quite simply good content. Content that has to work. Work for the brand and work for the people who you are trying to reach. Because whatever cliche or buzzword or new tech is of the moment and “now”, one simple fact doesn’t change: there’s only so many hours in a day, and only so many eyes, ears and brains.”

“This is an attention economy, and there is an abundance of stuff out there that is competing for that attention. So whatever label or trend you wish to follow, the pressure to deliver great, effective content is going to be even more intense than ever. That means getting attention, keeping it, and using it to deliver against client and brand objectives.”

“We need to prove that what we do works.”

Ashley Norris, Content Consultant, The CMA

Contributors

 

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