November 16, 2015

10 guidelines for your content marketing in 2016 - 2017

Content marketing has been around for years now. Facebook created an urgency for companies to invest in content marketing. Even though content marketing is a hype, most companies invest in content marketing because they ‘have to’. Or because they want to score a ‘big hit’.

In today’s world, there are more content marketing opportunities than ever. In this blog, I‘d like to share my 10 personal guidelines for content marketing in 2016-2017.

The guidelines are created based on my own experience as a content publisher, a host of interviews and visits to companies that invest heavily in content marketing, and lots of desk research.

Please let me know what you think. If your experiences are different, please share them. I’m always open to new insights and ideas. It would be great if we could extend the list to 20 guidelines for content marketing, so please feel free to help me upgrade the content of this document. Thank you very much in advance for your input. 

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Check out my new slide deck to discover the 10 guidelines for content marketing in 2016 - 2017

1. More purpose-driven than ever

Starbucks is setting up a partnership with a former journalist for the Washington post. The goal is to make content about global issues the world needs to address. Starbucks is not just about selling coffee. Starbucks is about connecting people one coffee at a time, one neighborhood at a time. By setting up this partnership they want to push their content marketing to the next level and make it more purpose-driven.  The ambition of SpaceX (Elon Musk’s second company next to Tesla) is to colonize Mars. Their partnership with Nasa is almost like a means to an end. Their content is about their ambition, about their purpose. Since both Starbucks and SpaceX have lofty goals, everyone talks about them and shares them.

The more purpose-driven the content, the better. Nowadays most people understand that content marketing is not about selling, but rather about selling without selling. You’re trying to get people excited about your story. Instead of thinking think about what you’re trying to sell, you should be looking for ways to enthuse people. In the long run, it’s more valuable to excite people with the story of your brand purpose than with a hyped one-shot viral movie.

2. More consumer value driven than ever

A few years ago there was this company that sold swimming pools. During the financial crisis, business was down. The sector as a whole was suffering but there was one company that kept on growing. Their secret? A brilliant marketing strategy: answering consumer questions. The owner of the company listed the 200 most frequently asked questions and answered all of them in blog posts on his site. Because of this strategy, everyone who still had money to buy a pool ended up on this company’s website. It made a huge difference. It kept his company alive.

The first guideline was about the story you want to share as a brand, about what you think is important. This guideline concerns the questions consumers ask themselves.  This part is about being relevant. It focuses on what people think is important.  If you know what consumers are wondering about, all you need to do is answer them and they will find your content. Make a list of all the questions people could possibly have about your sector, your passion, your products, your business, your people. And then answer these questions in blog posts, videos and infographics. Remember to use consumer terminology instead of technical jargon. The popularity of this content will depend on the search behavior of consumers.

In the long run, this content can create a bigger business impact than purpose-driven content as it represents extreme value for consumers.

Invest most of your efforts in this type of content. Being customer-centric implies thinking about content from a consumer point of view. Give them value and it will pay off eventually.

3. More engaging than ever

Almost every week there are new possibilities to engage with people on social media. This is a huge opportunity for companies to connect with their audience. Engaging is about giving attention back to the market. If someone shares your content, if someone asks you a question, they are giving you one of the most valuable things in life: their attention. The best way to leverage that attention is by giving attention back.

If someone tweets something nice, most brands favorite that tweet. It’s a one-second investment. What if you were to change that into something more engaging? Try out the video replies on Twitter and record a 5-second video to thank people in a more engaging way. Let your marketing team and/or general management team spend 10 minutes a week on sending engaging replies to customers. Make 5- to 15-second thank-you movies for fans and see what happens. This is a lot more conversation worthy than a favorite because your movie will win hearts. Winning a heart every day is something I truly believe in.

4. Micro content rules: it’s a volume game

The biggest privately owned e-commerce store in the world is a Dutch company named Coolblue. Founded 15 years ago, it is still 100% owned by its three founders. It is a profitable company that generates close to half a billion in annual sales. Coolblue are experts in using YouTube as a content channel. Every week they post anywhere between 50 to 100 new videos, all based on the ‘more-consumer-value-driven-than-ever’ principle. All videos feature employees explaining how to insert a SIM card in an iPhone or what the difference is between an iPhone and a Samsung Galaxy. Over the last 12 months, Coolblue racked up 20 million views on this channel. And all content is Dutch spoken, so the total market is something like 22 million people. According to their CEO, “the secret of our YouTube channel is not to achieve this one hit video with millions of views. No, it is a volume game. The more movies, the more views.”

As a content marketer, it is important to maintain a certain content frequency. It is better to create 10 small pieces of content than a single huge piece. Creating these smaller content items makes it possible to maintain a presence on every channel while changing precious little in the way of content. Micro content is about having a certain direction to your story and then fragmenting it into as many small pieces of content as possible.  When posting a message on a blog, you can also make a short accompanying video, crate some visuals, provide expert feedback on the post, etc. This one post suddenly becomes a series of micro content pieces that can be shared via the most suited channel.

5. Question and demand philosophy

Most marketers look for the medium with the biggest reach. For this reason (and others), Facebook is still the most popular medium among marketers even though the value of reach depends on what stage a medium is in. Right now, 1000 followers on Instagram is worth more than 1000 likes on Facebook or 1000 followers on Twitter. It’s all a question of supply and demand. The more branded content there is on a certain channel, the harder it becomes to catch the attention of your audience. Facebook and Twitter are very blurred channels. This doesn’t mean you should stop using them; it just means you need a larger follower base to achieve your goals. Or you need to pay more. Instagram still contains less branded content than Facebook and Twitter, making it easier to grab the attention of your followers on Instagram. Right now, Snapchat is probably the channel with the highest value per follower. Brands are still discovering Snapchat. Companies that start early on a new medium undeniably have a fast mover advantage. It builds up the relationship in an early stage so you attract more followers early on. Once the medium is saturated, you will need less effort (read: money) to achieve your goals. Invest in the channels that will be REALLY hot 3 years from now. Other brands won’t because they only look at absolute reach and ignore relative reach. Thanks to this, you will be one up on those brands in the near future.

6. Create in the moment

80% of your content can be planned upfront. As a marketer, you know what to say weeks and sometimes even months in advance so it’s pretty easy to make a planning based on your own plans. The other 20% of the content should be about what is happening in your customer’s world.  Content marketing requires a certain level of flexibility and creativity to play with what is happening in the world of the consumer. This does not mean you have to jump on everything that’s trending on social media. Instead you should look for elements in your customer’s world that fit with yours. See if you can add value. There’s more to it than making a funny remark about something that happened in the Super Bowl – which is great - but it is about using your knowledge to help consumers. Too many brands use this approach in an opportunistic way. It’s much better to use your creativity to add value in a debate you are knowledgeable in. Imagine you are in the real estate business and the entire country is talking about some changes in real estate law. If so, this is not the time to make jokes; this is when you share your knowledge in a blog post or a video. This proves your expertise to the market and it adds value. While being funny in the moment is fine, adding value in the moment is even better.

The success of Meerkat (a very popular live streaming app) and the arrival of Twitter’s alternative Periscope proves once again that ‘in the moment’ is one of the key trends. With Meerkat and Periscope anyone can live stream an event from anywhere in the world. This will enhance the “it’s happening now” feeling even more in the social world. The content market can jump on this wagon.

7. Use the blurring world in a smart way

Michelle phan is one of the most influential people in the make-up industry. She is a beautiful young woman with a very popular YouTube channel. She has more than 7 million subscribers and her videos have racked up more than 1 billion views. Impressive. Michelle seems like a smart business woman as well. She published a book that sold very well. She also started an offline service. Her fans can subscribe to her Glam bag. If you pay 10$ per month, you receive a small bag with the samples of the make-up Michelle uses in her shows. More than 700,000 people subscribed to her business concept. Michelle is an online superstar who is very savvy about how to present herself in the offline world, once again proving that there is no difference anymore between online and offline.

As content marketers we should also stop distinguishing between the two. A lot of the work a brand does online could have an offline link. Everyone is talking about digital first, but in the content/advertising world, most companies still put offline first. This will change over the next few years. The online channel will prevail and will look for ways to get offline exposure. One of the goals of every content marketer should be to get as much free PR as possible. Good, added value content is very relevant to the offline media. Today’s newspapers are filled with yesterday’s tweets. The same could and should happen with your content a few times a year. Make that a concrete objective.

8. It’s about scenarios

Pieces of content are very often stand-alone pieces of content. Successful content is created through scenarios. Pretend that your content plan is the scenario for a TV show. A never-ending TV show. A successful TV show has suspense and surprises, there are emotions and different characters, and there are happy moments and sad moments. Stories evolve and fade into the background, it’s almost like real life. One of the most fun brainstorms is to write the scenario for your brand. By doing so, you will see that the impact of each small piece of content increases because it leads to something, viz. to the next step in the scenario, a new piece of the puzzle.

Over the last few years, Lego has implemented the extreme version of this philosophy. Lego created real movies and short videos in which Lego toys play a central role. The climax of this concept was the Lego film which was released in 2014. Millions of people went to see a movie consisting of 100% product placement by one single brand. They wrote a scenario for their brand. A company that does really well in this respect is Google. Google takes us along on their journey of Google X. Every week we read about some new idea, invention or failed concept. It’s exciting, it’s new, it’s emotional, sometimes it’s good news and sometimes it’s bad news. We all watch the Google movie, almost on a daily basis.

9. Don’t forget to use your hook

Hubspot was one of the first brands to become successful with content marketing. As their business is selling inbound marketing software, it was pretty smart to show the market how it should be done. Hubspot posts about 5 to 7 blogs a day. They write about how to increase your inbound marketing performance. They are not selling the audience anything, they are showing them tricks within their field of expertise. Good content marketing. Hubspot is also very smart when it comes to using their hook to catch some leads. A lot of content marketing is simply about fantastic bait. You create a beautiful piece of content, people like it and that’s it – they move on to the next beautiful piece of content. Once in a while, it is smart to use your hook. If you create a brilliant piece of content then try to acquire the consumer’s data. For instance, by collecting e-mail addresses you can connect with clients and enhance the relationship. If you keep producing top content, after a while you will have created enough goodwill to ask something back from your followers. If you give 90% of the time, you are allowed to ask 10% of the time. This does not mean that all content should be shared from a platform where you use your hook. Just remember to use your hook on occasion because it’s a smart thing to do.

10. Make it personal

Use real stories and real people in your content marketing. I meet so many marketers who are afraid of making their own people the stars of their content marketing. Traditionally schooled marketers still feel that online content should be created like a 30-second commercial. Expensive, big, takes time, fake, not personal… for online content marketing, the goal is to achieve the exact opposite. “Making it personal” is a crucial aspect. As we all live in a digital world, many clients hardly have any contact with actual people working for the companies they buy from. Using real people in content marketing says to the market that you are a real company with real people. It is also a source of pride for employees. Consumers feel as if they are getting to know you on a more personal level. Use more videos with real people in them instead of animated videos. Use fewer actors and let your staff play the starring role. If you are tweeting from a corporate account then mention the name of the person behind the account. The same goes for Facebook. Blog posts should be written by employees. You are bound to have employees who know their way around a camera so let them shoot the footage. Everyone should be able to choose their own preferred channel for sharing their expertise. Of course, it’s still a good idea to let a content marketer oversee the entire process.

Anything missing?

These are my 10 guidelines for content marketing in 2015 and 2016. Please let me know what you think and which guidelines you would like to add. It would be great if we could come up with 20 guidelines based on your feedback and expertise. I would love that.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for adding your guideline(s) to this blog and deck.