At the beginning of January, I attended a conference in Austin for small digital agency owners. Though many of the messages that came out of the conferences were things I’ve heard a million times before, there was something invigorating about starting the year with all these great mantras fresh in my mind.
So I’m paying it forward with a New Year’s list for you — 15 things to watch, remember, and focus on regarding your content and brand communications in 2015. I’ve organized them into themes. Some of these are new developments and trends, but a lot of them will be good reminders. I hope they will be as helpful for you as my own January reboot was for me.
How Things Change
Keep your eye on these major shifts in marketing. They’re changing everything.
1. Social media marketing just became harder.
You’ve probably heard Facebook has changed its newsfeed to give lower priority to business posts that are promotional in nature. The social network made the decision based on member feedback saying the experience was too cluttered with ads and commercial content. We’ve long warned that people will tune out if you don’t deliver relevant content — and it’s happened, to the point where Facebook has to change its approach to improve the social network’s experience. And, there’s speculation that Twitter is about to follow suit.
So if Facebook is part of your marketing mix, it’s more vital than ever to develop a strategy for posting valuable, engaging, relevant content that’s non-promotional. If you still want to post promotional content, you’ll need to investigate paid Facebook advertising to get impressions. The good news is a less cluttered newsfeed will make your targeted ads more visible.
2. If you’re not mobile-friendly, you might be out of the running.
“It doesn’t really matter if our site is responsive — our customers don’t use mobile.” If you’ve heard those words come out of your mouth, it’s time to rethink your position.
If the latest statistics about mobile users don’t persuade you — some 60% of Internet usage is now done via smartphones and tablets, surpassing PC usage — then consider the SEO consequences of not making your site mobile-friendly. Google now states, “mobile usability is now relevant for optimal search results.” That means you need a responsive website that performs equally well across platforms and screens to remain relevant, for search engines and consumers. Forbes also suggests businesses will be investigating their “mobile social media strategy” taking into consideration how people interact differently with social content on their phones and tablets.
3. Spectacular, long-form content is in demand — but it’s really hard to do.
Wow, what a difference five years make. Not long ago, everybody demanded that we write shorter and shorter content “because nobody reads on the web.” (That’s always been a fallacy, by the way.) But now, long-form content is the thing to do. Why? Because it works: it tends to rank higher in search engines, to get shared more often, and to earn higher social media engagement.
Quality, of course, is still king and is far more important than quantity — and search engines (and social media users) are smart enough to tell the difference. Longer-form content is not for the faint of heart. You really need a professional writer or communicator to help you create it.
Friends Don’t Let Friends …
Because we care, we’re serving up a big helping of reality for the new year.
4. People don’t care about your brand portfolio. Really.
I know it’s hard to hear this, because as a marketer, you spend a lot of time and money promoting your brands. Customers over time do become connected to brands they have experience with — there’s no doubt that’s true. But especially for B2B customers, when they’re first exploring how to meet their needs, the last thing they typically care about is your portfolio of brands and how you’re organized internally. They really only care about how you can solve their problems — affinity for a particular brand or product will come later, once you’ve established a relationship with them.
With that in mind, you must approach communication about your business offerings with simplicity. Begin with solutions and benefits, not product names. Organize offerings according to how customers look for them, not based on your company’s org chart. And since we’re on the subject of product names: if you have too many of them and no strategy behind how to promote them, you may be cluttering the airwaves. Make 2015 the year to revisit and clean up your brand architecture.
5. You’re probably not really a thought leader – not yet.
“Thought leader” is one of the most annoyingly overused terms in marketing, especially now that companies are all aspiring to “thought leadership” as a way to win friends and influence people (and sell to customers). The truth is that thought leadership is an attainable goal, and companies that invest in becoming true thought leaders benefit with more inbound inquiries and short-listing, faster sales cycles, higher close rates, bigger deal sizes, and more long-term loyalty.
The truth is that, even if you’re putting out white papers and blog posts galore, your company probably isn’t a thought leader. But you can be. Thought leadership comes from the top of the organization down, permeates the culture and drives innovation. It’s how you “bottle” that thinking and commit to it in your communications that will turn your company into a recognized thought leader. It takes discipline, strategy, and dedication over time — but it does pay off.
6. If you’re not telling stories online, you’re probably not getting results.
I know, I know — “storytelling” is another one of those things you’re tired of hearing about. But there’s a reason everybody’s talking about it. Humans are wired to understand information in the context of stories. When we know a story is about to happen, our brains kick into action and eagerly await what’s to come: we’re naturally more engaged. That means if you’re telling great stories, people are more likely to tune in, rather than tune out (which is what they’re doing more and more to your ads and promotional content).
There are many ways to tell a story. You need to think of all your communications as weaving one, ongoing, evolving, captivating story over time. If there’s one thing we learned from last year’s NPR podcast phenomenon, people love a serialized story. (I love communicator Ann Wylie’s dissection of how comedian Norm MacDonald uses a serialized structure to tell stories on Twitter.) And each individual communication is a chance to frame information or imperatives within a new story. Familiarize yourself with narrative structure and understand how and why it works.
Yes, Virginia …
Answers to questions you may still be asking.
7. … you do need a blog.
If you don’t have one, it’s time. There are a million reasons. It’s good for SEO; it helps your content get found more easily on your website and online; it makes your content easier to share; it gives you fodder for email and social media; it gives your brand and company a voice; it helps you educate and establish the buying vision for your prospective buyer; it puts you in play when customers do their research online before reaching out to you. I could go on. The most important thing to remember is your blog will serve as your hub for your content marketing activities. And because of that, you need a content strategy and a blogging calendar and plan to make it sustainable.
8. … you do need to be on LinkedIn.
I’m a huge believer in Twitter for building communities and Facebook for building fans, but LinkedIn is where your business really needs to be. Your voice, your point of view, and your constant contributions should be visible there. If you are a B2B brand, it is absolutely where your target customers will find you. LinkedIn has recently made some business-friendly changes to help you get more mileage from your business presence there.
9. … you do need an editorial calendar.
Create it, make it shareable, keep up with it. It doesn’t need to be complicated. But it will keep your content efforts on track and mapping back to your strategy. (Need help getting started? Download Suite Seven’s editorial calendar template.)
Cart Before Horse
Tackle your challenges in the proper order.
10. Figure out your lead nurture strategy before you start lead gen.
According to Marketing Sherpa, 65% of B2B companies do not nurture their leads, and 79% of leads never convert into sales. Shocking numbers! But we work on a lot of programs that solely focus on generating leads, with little thought given upfront to what the team plans to do with those leads once they’re in the door. It’s extremely important to map out your lead-nurture strategy across the funnel, including communication touchpoints and messages and campaign ideas for keeping the prospect warm, before beginning any kind of lead-generation activities.
11. Think about distribution strategy as part of your content strategy.
We’re so excited that more companies are investing in developing high-quality, targeted, strategic content for their marketing efforts. But distribution of that content is just as, if not more, important than developing the content itself, and it has to work hand-in-hand. An article in Harvard Business Review states that only a quarter of content marketers invest in distribution, and our experience is that it’s too often an afterthought. Right content, right audience, right place, right time — all of those elements must work together for a content marketing (or any marketing communication) program to work effectively.
12. Don’t add content before you fix your existing content.
I don’t care what all the crazies are saying online. Your website is still the most important marketing asset you have. If your website content is a mess (and isn’t performing well for your business), the last thing you need to be doing is creating new content for social channels, blogs, campaigns, etc. Your website is home base, and it’s still where people visit to learn more when they do encounter your brand content online. Put your house in order before going out and building a bunch of new assets.
13. This is the year you should start making your content marketing measure up.
Even if your senior management team has let you off the hook for showing any real ROI this year, start thinking about how to measure results for your content marketing program. Measuring results will hold you accountable, help you determine what’s working and help you start to get more people within the organization engaged in your efforts — plus, you’ll be able to show a track record when your managers finally decide they do want to justify the time and cost. (It will happen eventually.) Pick a handful of meaningful KPIs and start measuring on a weekly and monthly basis.
14. This is the year you need to start thinking about holistic customer experiences.
The Holy Grail of marketing these days is the integrated customer experience, driven by big data and big technology. We are incredibly optimistic that this will become less of a vision quest for marketers and more of a reality for most companies — someday. For now, however, it may be good to take a few simple steps toward consistency … by ensuring your businesses are talking to each other, your communications are aligned regardless of what department they’re coming out of, your social media people and your PR people know what each are doing and a few other manual measures to achieve brand communication harmony.
15. This is the year you should find your voice.
Your brand voice can be a really subtle thing — not everybody can be, or should be, MailChimp with its quirky tone of voice. But it’s nevertheless important to define your voice based on who you’re trying to reach and what your brand stands for. Defining voice not only gets everybody who’s communicating on your brand’s behalf on the same page about how the brand “sounds,” it helps you humanize your brand when communicating online — where there’s an opportunity to break through the cold and anonymous technology interface with flesh-and-blood emotion and connection.
Have any other tips or ideas to add? Feel free to leave them in the comments. And here’s to a happy and successful 2015!