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Top Content Marketing Strategies for 2016

Ian Blair

Are you the sort of person who sets ambitious resolutions each New Year’s Eve? Did you take a look at a flailing content marketing strategy and decide this was the year to retool your tactics and revamp your vision? If so, now’s probably a good time to evaluate your progress; after all, content marketing isn’t the sort of thing that pays off overnight.

The Content Marketing Institute, along with Marketing Profs, released their 2016 B2C Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report  and it’s packed with insight about the state of the industry. Take a look at some of these statistics and see how your organization compares.

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Content Marketing: Does It Work?

The report found that 76 percent of B2C marketers used content marketing; of those that do:

?39 percent are still in the early stages.

?37 percent believe their content marketing process is “mature” or “sophisticated.”

?38 percent believe their content marketing strategy is effective. 

?24 percent say their content marketing strategy isn’t effective. 

?43 percent have defined what a successful content marketing strategy looks like in their organization. 

?56 percent do not have a documented content marketing strategy.

Studying the report, it becomes clear that the most successful content marketers have clearly defined objectives, a documented content marketing strategy, an editorial mission statement, and regular (even daily) meetings to assess, discuss, and recalibrate their tactics as needed.

Despite the mixed results on the overall effectiveness of content marketing, 77 percent are still planning to increase their content creation in 2016.

What Content Marketing Tactics Are Used the Most?

You can learn a lot about what works and how to apply it to your business by studying what others content marketers are doing. Again, back to the CMI Benchmarks report, here’s where content marketers are focusing their efforts:

  1. Non-blog social media content – 90%
  2. Images, graphics, photos – 87%
  3. Newsletters – 83%
  4. Videos – 82%
  5. Web content – 81%
  6. Blogs – 77%
  7. In person events – 73%
  8. Infographics – 62%
  9. Mobile apps – 43%
  10. Webinars and webcasts – 40%

However, when it comes to tactics they find most effective, the numbers shift—in some cases, quite a bit:

  1. E-newsletters & In-person events (67%)
  2. Images/photos and non-blog social content (66%)
  3. Infographics (63%)
  4. Mobile apps and videos (59%)
  5. Web content (55%)
  6. Blogs (53%)

Now let’s look at how content marketers are using social media and what is—and isn’t—effective.

Platform                         

% Who Use It                              

% Who Think It’s Effective

Facebook

94%

66%

Twitter

82%

50%

YouTube

77%

53%

LinkedIn

76%

39%

Google+

72%

22%

Instagram

62%

42%

Pinterest

61%

39%

Finally, the report examined paid ads and again, the results might surprise you:

Paid Ad Type                         

% Who Use It                      

% Who Think It’s Effective

Promoted Posts

76%

61%

Search Engine Marketing

76%

64%

Paid Social Ads

74%

59%

Print Promotion

69%

46%

Banner Ads

65%

39%

Native Advertising

46%

46%

Content Discovery Tools

21%

N/A

What’s Wrong With Your Content Marketing Strategy?

Looking at the statistics above, two things stand out:

  1. More than half of all organizations (56 percent, to be exact) don’t have a documented content marketing strategy.
  2. Content marketers are putting an awful lot of effort into tactics even they recognize aren’t particularly effective.

Let’s look at the first problem, a lack of strategy. As Neil Patel explains on the Kissmetrics blog, lack of strategy is the number one reason content marketing might not be working for you. And before we go any further, it’s important to define what “strategy” really means.

As Graham Kenny, managing director of a strategic planning consultancy, writes in the Harvard Business Review, “A list of goals is not a strategy.” Broadly speaking, a content marketing strategy is a statement of your business needs, your customers’ needs, and a roadmap for how to use content to address them. Goals, on the other hand, are the yardsticks that measure your progress toward implementing your strategy.

Back to Neil Patel, who offers some do’s and don’ts for developing a strategy (we’re paraphrasing here):

?Define your KPIs and track them.

?Be flexible; your strategy should change if it’s not meeting your needs.

?Don’t conflate publishing content with a content marketing strategy.

What does a content marketing strategy look like? Try this example:

The XYZ App offers an innovative approach to monitoring health biometrics, providing nutritional information and healthy recipes, and tracking fitness goals for pregnant women and new mothers. We want to position our app as a progressive alternative to ABC App and increase our revenue and market share over the next 12 months. We will do this by giving our customers medically appropriate, unique, and engaging holistic health, fitness, and nutritional information that emphasizes sustainability.

Once you get your framework in place, you can move on to setting goals and developing a content plan with effective tactics to achieve them.

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Matching Tactics to Content Marketing Goals

For the XYZ App, goals that would support the content marketing strategy might be:

➤Grow social media audience by XX% within 1 month (brand awareness).

➤Increase traffic to app website by XX% within 3 months (brand awareness, positioning).

➤Increase downloads by XX% within 6 months (market share).

➤Decrease churn by XX% within 6 months (engagement, retention).

➤Increase upsells to premium/subscriber version by XX% within 6 months (revenue).

You’ll notice that each of these goals, other than the first, meet the SMART criteria, which is the most effective framework:

SMART-Goals

Image courtesy of Minute Movement

With SMART goals in place, you can begin to consider the tactics that will get you there. For example, the first goal, growing your social audience, supports the overarching objective of increasing brand awareness. Your plan, therefore, should be to find social media tactics that will deliver viral content, audience engagement, and, ultimately, audience growth. Let’s break that down:

Viral contentTrending topics, infographics, videos, listicles, quizzes, shocking research, heartwarming stories.

Audience engagement: Polls and surveys, social media contests, issue advocacy.

Audience growth: Influencer campaigns, guest posting, cross promotion, paid social ads.

Now let’s look at the second goal, increasing website traffic with the objective of increasing brand awareness and positioning your product. What are some tactics that might support that goal?

Thought leadership: How-tos, guides, podcasts, webinars, opinion pieces, product reviews, “rants.”

Organic/Paid search: SEO, SEM, website content, app content.

As you can see, as you begin to match tactics to goals, the skeleton of a content plan begins to take shape that you can flesh out into a fully fledged content strategy.

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There’s a Difference Between a Content Strategy and a Content Marketing Strategy?

In a word? Yes. According to Moz, the definition of content strategy is:

“Content strategy concerns itself with the vision—the ins and outs of how and why your content will be created, managed, and eventually archived or updated. It looks at all of the content your customers ever encounter.”

Content strategy has to do with governance and internal guidelines while the content marketing strategy deals with vision and goals.

The Content Marketing Strategy Venn Diagram

Or to look at it another way, once the marketing director has set the content marketing strategy, the content strategist steps in and lays out guidelines for the following:

Content Substance. The core message and type of content the content marketers will create. Defines evergreen assets, microsites, landing pages.

➤Workflow Guidelines. The process of creating, editing, maintaining, archiving content. Content management tool selection.

➤Governance. The decision-making hierarchy for each type of content.

➤Structure. Collaborating with dev team to choose technology for website or app; information architecture, content mapping, UX; metadata, tagging, structured data, deep links.

Your content marketing strategy influences your content strategy which is then carried out by your content marketing efforts.

So What Should I Include in My Content Marketing Strategy for 2016?

Now that we’ve covered all the technical and behind-the-scenes details that go into developing a cohesive content marketing strategy, there are some emerging trends, tactics, and best practices that content marketers should keep in mind for 2016.

Evaluate Site Structure for SEO

Everyone knows (or should know, at least) that site structure is crucial to SEO; however, few content strategists work out structural issues to enhance SEO with their webmaster. The results can be disastrous, especially for sites unwittingly hit by Google penalties.

A good site structure improves the user experience and is easier for web crawlers to index, both of which form the basis of good SEO. Here are some pointers from Neil Patel to improve your site structure for SEO:

?Align your URL structure with your navigation hierarchy.

?Keep the coding simple (CSS or HTML is best); JavaScript and Flash, for example, hinder web crawlers.

?Aim for a shallow navigation structure so that users can reach any page with three clicks or fewer.

?Take a comprehensive approach to internal linking to flesh out your hierarchy.

Don’t forget to familiarize yourself with technical changes in the SEO landscape that require a whole new approach to keywords and organic search (think voice search and mobile search). This is a topic that would take an entire post of its own to cover adequately, but this article by Miguel Salcido for the SEMRush blog is an excellent resource to get started.

Focus on Visual Content

You’re probably not surprised to see that using images and photos are the single most important tactic for optimizing your social media content; Facebook and Snapchat users upload and share some 350 million images a day—each.

Social-Optimization-Tactics

                                Image courtesy of the Content Marketing Institute

And you already know how valuable visual content is for your overall content marketing strategy; the stats speak for themselves:

➤Content with visuals gets 94% more views, yet only a fourth of all marketers have a process in place to create, aggregate, and manage visual assets.

➤Visual content gets 40 times more shares on social media.

➤Over half of all marketers say video is the type of content with the best ROI.

➤Mobile video plays topped 44 percent in 2015, up over 800 percent since 2012.

rise-of-mobile-video-2015

Image courtesy of Ooyala

Consider Episodic Content

So what’s the hottest new visual trend for content marketing in 2016? Episodic content. There’s a lot of psychology that goes into why episodic content outperforms content not published as part of a series, but some of it has to do with anticipation. Our brains are hardwired to anticipation.

 

Anticipation is also a great way to improve your storytelling, which is essential for branding. You can set up your audience to expect follow-up content with a cadence and style that suits your story and your audience. Whether this manifests itself as an editorial series or episodic video content is less important than the fact that you are building this anticipation and suspense in your audience then satisfying it in a positive way.

Develop a Content Promotion Plan

Does this look like your content promotion plan in a nutshell?

  1. Create content.
  2. Publish content.
  3. ?????
  4. ROI!!!

Unfortunately, that’s how too many marketers approach recouping their investment in content marketing, but that’s not going to cut it, especially in 2016. Every marketer needs a documented content promotion and amplification plan and ideally, you should consider every one of these tactics:

?Social Media. Take an analytic eye to every social account you manage and your target audience. Be aggressive in looking at ways to cross-promote your most successful content, keeping in mind that it will need to be tweaked to suit best practices for each different platform.

?Email Newsletters. Every marketer should be focused on building an owned audience by growing an email list. Look for strategic partnerships with organizations you share a target audience with to promote your content on their newsletter and vice versa.

?Go Native. Do the legwork to identify websites and publications that your audience reads and look for those that offer native ad options. Spend money wisely on promoted posts and tweets to get the right eyes on your content. Be sure to follow best practices and link each native campaign to a landing page so you can capture leads and better track your results.

 

To recap, content marketers, if you want a winning content marketing strategy in 2016, make sure you’re winning the fundamentals and then take the next step:

➤Take the time to develop a content marketing strategy and then document it.

➤Establish SMART goals and align your content marketing tactics to achieve them.

➤Don’t neglect your content strategy; attend to the technical details of your website and content development.

➤Go over your SEO tactics with a fresh eye and an understanding of semantic search.

➤Ramp up your investment in visual content.

➤Develop a structured content amplification plan.

Are there any tactics or tips you’re using this year that we haven’t covered here? Share them in the comments and let’s start a conversation!

Ian Blair

BuildFire Co-Founder. I'm a digital marketer by trade and an entrepreneur at heart. I'm here to help businesses go mobile and build apps more efficiently than before.

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