This time last year, we came to the quick and sensible decision not to devise out own list of predictions for 2013, instead leaving it in the safe hands of other experts in the field who could foretell with renown and efficiency the inbound and content trends of the coming year. And they did so with aplomb – thank you Messrs Sheridan, Colman et al.
So, with the advent of another new year, we have scoured the Internet to compile a 2014 list of the best B2B content and inbound marketing predictions for the next 12 months, in the hope that they will prove useful in guiding your future marketing planning and strategy. So here’s our list of the four most salient objectives and anticipated trends for 2014 from the thought-leaders in our industry:
1) Less is more
With the central messages from Doug Kessler’s “Crap!” slidedeck (surely one of the key pieces of remarkable content of 2013) still resonating, the mantra for B2B content marketers in 2014 looks to be “less is more”.
Indeed, the debate around content saturation points re-ignited again just last week, when this post from Mark Schaefer suggested that content marketing as a strategy was unsustainable – in response, notable industry heavyweights, such as Copyblogger’s Brian Clark and Hubspot’s Joe Chernov, weighed in with their thoughts on the key question of content production v content consumption. Against the background, then, of such arguments regarding supply and demand and quantity v quality in the content sphere, a “less is more” approach seems to be an infinitely sensible one for every marketer this year.
To illustrate, in the CMI’s annual list of predictions, author Andrew Davis suggests that marketers should adopt a “bigger success, less content” motto, working more strategically on developing “content brands designed to build subscription-based relationships with a loyal audience” who, in turn, will demand highly relevant, quality content that they would be keen to share. This inbound-centred approach must surely be the right one for audiences, businesses and marketers alike; hence, let us see no more blasting of multiple types of content, via multiple platforms, as frequently as possible – rather, be discerning, be focused on your audience, and let your content writing be considered and notable (in other words, as we learnt previously from Mr Kessler, aim to create only “home run” content).
Echoing these sentiments, the CMI’s very own Joe Pulizzi also encourages us to pare down the multiplicity of channels we use as marketers. He urges us to follow the example of some of the most successful global consumer and business-to-business media brands – Forbes, Huffington Post, TED - who started by focusing their efforts on “one channel, with a targeted, helpful message, every month, week, day or hour”. His “less is more” message is summarised thus, as he writes: “I dare you to focus your content marketing on one content niche using one channel. I think you’ll find the content salvation you are searching for.”
2) Small is beautiful
In something of the same vein, “small is beautiful” might also be a motto for this year, as the trend for small bites (bytes) of content is predicted to continue growing, according to a number of thinkers in the marketing world. For example, Kraft Foods director of media and consumer engagement, Julie Fleischer, describes 2014 as “the year of short-form sound, sight and motion”, during which businesses will compete to “tell the shortest stories with the biggest impact”. Meanwhile, again in the CMI’s 50 predictions, author Mark W. Schaefer, again, speaks of “a definite trend toward small”, which he argues responds to the need for reducing need to process “big chunks of content through a limited pipeline of brain cells”.
So, in a world where brevity and instantaneousness is the order of the day, watch for the rise in 2014 of micro-content: those grains of content sand, such as the increasingly popular looping 6-second Vine videos, Snapchat “blink and you miss it” Snaps and Stories, in addition to the now familiar Instagram visuals and videos, and of course, infographics.
3) Forget SEO at your peril
In the past couple of years, we’ve heard the harbingers of doom pronouncing the death of SEO. But, as we know, it isn’t a death knell that has been sounded by Google and other search engines as such, rather, specific algorithmic game-changers are now in play, which have realigned the relative values – in search terms – of the various online content constituents. Thus, as we’ve said before, high quality, credible, respected, and useful content (as opposed to over-optimisation) is the real search winner. As a result, there are those that are predicting renewed attention to SEO this year.
We blogged some time ago on the importance of social media to B2B SEO, as part of your inbound marketing strategy whole, and that continues to be the case; it’s no coincidence that content with a higher number of social shares ranks higher in search than those with lower numbers. Essentially, of course, social shares in this sense act as a sign of trust or approval for your content – if an audience notes that your post or eBook has been shared a significant number of times, it implies some validity and credibility for the work therein. It’s likely – in the view of Jayson DeMeyers, writing for Forbes - that social signals will carry increasing weight in search engine algorithms in the future (as supported by research by Searchmetrics), as Google and others continue their strive to deliver the most relevant, useful and informative online content to searchers.
And, whilst marketers presage the proliferation of short-form content especially for social sharing, let us not overlook the continuing importance of content writing and video in terms of search. In his forward-looking post on SteamFeed’s blog, Daniel Hebert underlines the importance of the well-crafted written word in search terms, with “content that answers questions and provides value” ranking highly with search engines. And furthermore, with the growth of voice-based searching, particularly on mobile devices – think Siri and equivalents – he alerts us also to the growing importance of long-tail search terms, as “natural language/sentences” become more used by searchers.
4) Streamlining and efficacy
Many marketers are drowning, thanks to the multiple platforms or tools required to manage their B2B content marketing activity. The New Year must surely be a time to reassess: to keep those tools which make marketing processes easier for you and abandon those that don’t; or alternatively, look for a more efficient solution that does the lot. In his Content Marketing Forecast for Mashable, News Cred’s Shafqat Islam suggests that 2014 will see businesses “seek out a clearer, more cost-effective strategy that requires fewer logins and enables them to see the whole picture of their content marketing efforts in one tool.” Daniel Hebert, again, similarly foresees growing popularity for holistic online marketing tools this year, such as Bundlepost and PostBeyond, to help improve efficiencies and show true ROI.
A fundamental part of efficiency equation, surely, is your ability to measure and analyse your marketing activity: how effective has it been in achieving your business goals. Those of you familiar with inbound marketing platforms, such as Hubspot, will already be doing a good deal of this marketing analysis; dashboards in these types of tools let you analyse content performance, conversion paths, and campaigns – interpreting where your activity is more or less successful, and how and where your sales leads are derived. Hubspot’s Kip Bodnar – in the company’s Marketing Predictions for 2014 – believes that this year will see a real push across the industry for “better data and analytics” as marketers seek to define, and do more of, what is working and less of what isn’t. Kip envisages “closed-loop marketing and measuring from visit to customer in B2B industries will go from a rarity to a common practice.”
So if you aren’t already, it would appear that 2014 is certainly the year for scrutinising your activity, in data terms, in order to affect its efficacy for your business. As Paul Roetzer, CEO of PR 20/20 forecasts: “Content marketers will become more adept at marketing automation and analytics, enhancing their ability to maximise performance and connect content campaigns to business results.”
So these are our choices of the four most useful predictions for inbound and content marketers for 2014 – from people in the industry that know what they are talking about. What are yours?