5 Big Ways Content Marketing Will Change in 2016

By Joe Lazauskas January 5th, 2016

I’ve always loved predictions. Growing up, there wasn’t anything better than the last 15 minutes of Inside the NFL when they predicted the winner of each game, Chris Collinsworth cackling like a Brooks Brothers fortune teller and boasting about his dominance over the other talking heads.

I wrote an NFL picks column in college, but now that I cover content marketing for a living, there aren’t any weekly matchups to break down. Even though I may have bizarre dreams in which Red Bull and GE go head to head in the Content Marketing Bowl with their CMOs’ jobs on the line, that’s not actually going to happen in real life.

But you know what? It’s the beginning of the year, which provides a wonderfully arbitrary excuse to speculate what will happen in the year ahead. A few weeks ago, we published a Pu Pu platter of 21 content marketing predictions from 21 incredibly smart people around our office. Today, it’s time for the entree.

Here’s a short video breakdown of the five sweeping trends that will change the content marketing industry in 2016, followed by a written version for those who want to see a truly glorious GIF of corgis that somehow relates to compliance.

1. Way more editorial/media folks will take content marketing jobs.

I think that marketing execs are going to realize a rather obvious point this year: You can’t just tell a career marketer to “do content” and expect to compete in a Hunger Games-esque media arena. That’s not a knock against marketers; it’s just that writing, editing, videography, and content strategy are specialized skills. Asking a marketer to jump into that role is like asking an accountant to fight the world champ. I mean, yes, that worked out all right in Creed, but last time I checked (Saturday), Sly Stallone isn’t available for content marketing training.

In 2016, I see a lot more brands hiring full-time editorial employees, tempting talented media staffers with the chance to double their salaries. And with many digital publishers suddenly squeezed for money amidst traffic and venture capital stagnation, expect a lot of folks to jump at that opportunity. Even BuzzFeed isn’t hiring anymore! Run for your lives! (And into the inviting arms of this guy.)

2. Media budgets will start to flood into content marketing operations, leading to much higher returns on content programs.

The dirty little secret of the modern media world is that major publishers buy a ton of traffic from Facebook and other platforms. The New York Times does it. BuzzFeed does it—a lot. Between January 2013 and the start of 2014, BuzzFeed spent nearly $1 million a month buying Facebook traffic.

Publishers drive a lot of this traffic toward native advertising, but it’s a smart strategy nonetheless. As we’ve found, if you create good content and understand targeting, you can get a lot of high-quality traffic from Facebook and generate ridiculous returns for your business.

Right now, many marketing operations are stuck in an awkward stage. They’re spending a good amount to create content but have almost no budget in place to attract readers. It’s the equivalent of throwing a lavish party but only telling the old dude behind the counter at the deli about it.

As more media folks bring their publishing secrets to the brand world, they’ll start investing their marketing budgets in content promotion. Then, they’ll show their crazy results to the media buyers at happy hour, and the serious distribution dollars—and ROI—will finally start to flow.

3. People will begin to question traditional “content strategy.”

Here’s how a lot of brands approach content strategy: They spend anywhere from $50,000 to $1 million for an agency to put together a plan that will tell them exactly what their audience will want—today, tomorrow, next month, next year, forever! There are fancy pie charts, an editorial calendar, a big chart of SEO keywords. It’s an opulent remix of the process brands have historically gone through to launch big ad campaigns.

Do you know who would never do something like this? Actual publishers. Smart publishers know that content strategy is an educated guess. In reality, testing your assumptions is usually the best plan. You research, create content you think your audience will like, test some distribution channels, and then adjust your outlook for the next round of publishing. You spend your budget getting actual results and evaluating your assumptions, not on a fancy plan. And you get better over time.

Instead of content strategy, we’ll begin to talk about “content methodology,” the process of continuously creating, distributing, and optimizing content for the next round of publishing.

4. Marketing won’t be the only department investing in content.

By this point, it’s pretty obvious that content is good for a lot more than just marketing. It’s the secret weapon of sales enablement, provides a huge boost to company culture, and helps massively with recruiting.

Slowly but surely, brands like Marriott and Chase (both of which—full disclosure—are Contently clients) are starting to build centralized content studios or newsrooms that serve all parts of the business. This approach is probably the easiest way to maximize the value of your content operation, one that a lot of brands will start to embrace this year.

5. Content marketing technology adoption will boom.

I own quite a few shares in Contently, so I’m a little biased here. But as brands invest more in content marketing and get more departments involved, they’re going to need a central technology platform to make sure their content operation doesn’t turn into this:

(The dog on the right is compliance. You’re the dog in the middle.)

As content marketing has matured, so has the technology that supports it. Forbes‘s recent “Publish or Perish” CMO report makes a compelling case for why content marketing technology is a smart investment once you’re producing a significant amount of content since it can help companies save upwards of 65 percent.

Like with email in the early 2000s and social in the early 2010s, we’re now entering the era where brands start investing seriously in content marketing technology. It also makes dealing with all the other trends on this list a lot easier.

And if I’m wrong? Well, then at least I can go back to making football picks. It’s pretty warm in Vegas right now, right?

Image by Romolo Tavani
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