It’s that time of year when we all start looking to the future: what lies ahead in 2016? Besides the fact that you’re probably thinking how on earth are we already a sixth of the way through the current century (it doesn’t seem that long ago that people were prophesising Millennium bug related catastrophe), the approach of a new year always brings with it lots of exciting predictions.
And inbound marketing is certainly worthy of a few. Inbound is in a continuous state of flux and there is a whole range of hypotheses about its future. So I’ve had a look around and picked out five inbound marketing predictions for 2016 that I think have a good chance of coming true.
1. There will be more content
Inbound is certainly not new anymore - but that doesn’t mean it’s showing any signs of slowing down. In their recent report, Content Marketing in the UK 2016, Content Marketing Institute (CMI) found that 66 per cent of marketers say they expect their organisation’s content marketing budget to increase in the next 12 months.
This is probably fairly obvious - but it's worth saying. And it makes sense. Buyers are growing ever savvier and more proactive when it comes to purchasing products and services. Think about your own life: it’s likely that you carry out research before investing in something - whether it’s a kettle or a marketing automation solution.
That means it is increasingly hard for companies to stand out from the crowd - but valuable content can make all the difference. The more informative and thorough your library of blog posts, eBooks, podcasts, videos, product demonstrations and the like, the more likely a potential customer will trust that you are the right business to give their money to.
2. We’ll all go back to basics
In any fast-moving industry, there’s always the danger of forgetting the foundations that hold it up. Let’s take a look at HubSpot’s definition of Inbound: "Sharing is caring and inbound is about creating and sharing content with the world. By creating content specifically designed to appeal to your dream customers, inbound attracts qualified prospects to your business and keeps them coming back for more."
In other words, content lies at the heart of inbound marketing. It’s all very well using sophisticated software to track visits to your site, the number of leads and how many new customers you have but, without excellent content, the figures won’t be a cause for celebration.
This prediction is shared by a number of authorities. Commenting on the CMI report mentioned above, Joe Pulizzi says that it may be time for UK marketers to "step back, get focused, and consider whether they have a strong foundation for meeting their content marketing goals".
And, writing on Forbes, Kimberly A Whitler says: "It’s easy to get caught up in the new-fangled tech trends that allow us to connect more seamlessly with our consumers, but to what end? If you don’t have the basics of your brand and business mastered, the best social media campaign in the world won’t save you."
So, in 2016, think about your content pipeline. Do you have a strategy? Are you targeting the right people? Are you creating content for each stage of the buyer’s journey? Are you addressing your audience’s fears and desires?
3. The podcast will continue its ascent
This month, season two of the hugely popular Serial podcast was launched - and demand was so high that the programme’s website crashed.
The US podcast, hosted by Sarah Koenig, is a spin-off of the weekly public radio show This American Life. It was first released in October 2014 and is widely credited as being the catalyst for an increase in the number of podcast listeners, after becoming the fastest-ever podcast to pass five million downloads.
Furthermore, in their Tech and Media Outlook 2016 report, strategy and technology consulting firm Activate found that, in 2014, audio consumption time in the US stood at an average of 4:05 hours a day for individuals aged over 13 - and that figure is growing.
As we all continue to lead busy lives, podcasts are a fantastic way to connect with your audience at a time that suits them - whether that’s while they’re at work, cooking their evening meal or hitting the treadmill in the gym.
4. Smart content will be the norm
Smart content is content that is tailored to meet the needs of individual users, according to different factors, such as their buyer persona, past behaviour and interests. In this way, the best user experience can be offered up to people who are connecting with a particular brand.
So new visitors to your site might see a slightly different homepage to repeat customers - for example, they will be offered a different eBook. And people whose contact information you have already acquired might be greeted by their name when they land on your site. You will need to use a marketing automation solution or integrated platform in order to create smart content. Here at Equinet, we use HubSpot.
As more and more companies recognise the importance of creating valuable content, brands need to do more to keep their audience engaged. Adopting a smart content strategy is the best way to target the individual pain points of your ideal customers.
5. Sales and marketing will grow more aligned
We know, by now, that marketing and sales teams shouldn’t work in isolation from one another. So, as companies become more attuned to using inbound marketing to grow their business, they will likely be looking to smooth out the rough edges.
This will mean ensuring that there is close communication between sales and marketing. How valuable are the leads being generated from your marketing efforts? Are your sales people ensuring that they follow up all promising leads? Are both sides voicing any issues or concerns?
2016 will be the year to patch up any holes and close the loop between sales and marketing.
So, there you have it: five predictions for the year ahead. Relax, enjoy the festivities over the coming weeks and let’s see what happens…