looking ahead

2015 has been back to basics for my content practice. While past years involved a lot of experimentation — with social media, SlideShare, infographics and more — this year was all about better understanding my customers. Speaking with them helps me to understand their needs, decision making processes and much more.

As we wind down 2015, let's take a look at what other content marketers have in store for 2016.

Content That Stands Out from the Crowd

We all compete for your attention (PS: thanks for reading!). We heard some great advice from marketers earlier this year about how to make their content stand out from the crowd.

According to George Stenitzer (@riverwordguy), founder and Chief Content Officer at Crystal Clear Communications, “Your audience’s appetite can’t begin to match the amount of content that marketers are serving up. Too many marketers will produce too much irrelevant content and inundate their audiences going forward.”

Here’s a chart Stenitzer created to illustrate the problem:

Graph showing content overload on audiences

Source: Danger & Opportunity Ahead: 3 Trends That Will Shape Content Marketing

Stenitzer recommends five antidotes to combat content overload:

  1. A competitive content audit to give you the peripheral vision you need.
  2. Useful content with a unique hook.
  3. A simple message you can convey in seven seconds, 23 words or less (to fit the average American’s attention span of eight seconds).
  4. A written content marketing strategy and mission.
  5. Buyer personas with real insights into research and decision-making behaviors.

Break Patterns

According to Clair Byrd (@theclairbyrd), director of content marketing at InVision, we’ve learned a common set of patterns when it comes to the content we consume. Overload emerges when content “teaches your potential customer a set of rote content patterns.”

According to Byrd, however, “You can hack those patterns to your program's benefit. Start by planning elements of the unexpected. Identify opportunities where you can create content wakeup calls by injecting something different or unique.”

Want examples from Byrd? The first is its "Get Weird" call-to-action (CTA) included in an email digest. One user expressed his delight on Twitter. The second is something big and bold: making a content-driven movie

So ask yourself in 2016: where can you create content wakeup calls?

Specificity Wins

Speaking of rote content patterns, have you published a list-based blog post recently? There are “7 good reasons” I’ve been guilty of that myself.

According to Loz James (@contentchampion), founder and managing director at Content Champion, “The online space is awash with second rate ‘how to’ articles and substandard 'list posts' that are clogging up the arteries of search and social. Your brand does not want to get involved with this arms race just for the sake of it.”

Instead, James believes that “a growing trend in 2016 is not quantity of output or even quality (that is a prerequisite), but specificity. By this I mean achieving the complete alignment between your goals as a business, the resulting content you produce, and the fulfillment of what your customers actually need.”

Craig Rosenberg (@funnelholic) would agree with James. In a recent presentation, Rosenberg encouraged bloggers to be as specific as possible in their posts (see tip #5 in the article).

Create Content with Your Customer in Mind

Rita Rosenberg (@RitaRosenberg), Chief Content Officer at Crimson Marketing, encourages content marketing pros to create content with your customer in mind.

According to Rosenberg, “Because prospects and buyers can talk back to your brand, marketers need to spend more time building content strategy that genuinely speaks to customers. Focus on your buyers, what they care about, their interests, and most importantly, how you can add value to their life.”

To get there, we’ll need to speak more frequently to customers. In 2016, my goal is to have one meaningful conversation with a customer each month. Hopefully, I’ll exceed that goal.

Use 2015 Data to Drive 2016 Strategy

Happens to me all the time: the content assets I like the most are the ones that perform the worst. Kevin Goldberg (@kevin_goldberg), senior content marketing manager at AppDynamics, has experienced similar results. In 2016, Goldberg encourages content pros not to repeat 2015’s mistakes.

“Conduct a full audit to see what worked, what didn't, and make sure to view the data with a non-biased approach. Sometimes the projects and assets we liked simply didn't perform as we expected. That's not an issue, as long as you don't repeat the same mistake in 2016,” said Goldberg.

Goldberg encourages content marketers to base their 2016 content plan around data, then continue to use data to optimize results. “Optimize your content marketing efforts based on data. Use data to repeat successful campaigns and move away from unsuccessful ones,” continued Goldberg.

2016: Get Started Now

I often spend December finalizing the content plan for the following year. While small details need to be finalized, the big projects and initiatives I’m going to tackle are already laid out. December is a great time to get started on them.

For Mark Sherbin (@MarkSherbin), content marketing manager at The Trade Desk, December is a good time to assess your marketing technology stack: figure out what worked for you in 2015 and determine needs that may arise next year. If you have available funds left in the marketing budget, now may be a good time to pull the trigger on a new tool.

According to Sherbin, “Does Google Calendar still work for your editorial calendar or is it time to build something more dynamic in Excel? How well do your tools play together? Even if everything seems to be working, now's a good chance to revisit the marketing software ecosphere and see who's doing new and exciting things.”

Happy 2016

For 2016, I’ll continue efforts to better understand my customers. Having heard from numerous content marketing pros, I’ll also look to incorporate these approaches:

  1. Perform audits of competitors’ content marketing.
  2. Do the unexpected to break rote content patterns.
  3. Create content with specificity.
  4. Create content with the customer in mind.
  5. Use data to guide strategy and planning.
  6. Get started now (DONE!)