If you can believe it, the first 6 months of the year are gone. I know—how did that happen? While we may lament the quick passage of time, we can appreciate the ability to take note of marketing trends that have emerged in the first part of 2017.
If anyone follows the Content Marketing Podcast with host Rachel Parker, you are likely to recognize a lot of these trends. I think it’s only fair to credit her with the flurry of brainstormed ideas that follow. (And, if you don’t follow her, she’s worth the time. If you don’t have the time, you need to simplify your marketing—we can help!)
The main theme that runs through the podcast, this blog, and the principles of content marketing itself is quality. If you need a benchmark for what is quality, take yourself out of the picture, then look at your content and think “would I read this?”. Be honest here. Of course you are passionate about your product, but is the average person who you’re reaching out to going to care? When critiquing your work, consider the following:
Does the message speak to the customer?
This is not you listing features and benefits. It is you informing them of a need and how to solve it.
Is the message visually overwhelming?
Content needs to be engaging enough to spend time reading. People are busy. Don’t lay out all your cards, just enough to get them interested enough to reach back to you.
Does it have a call to action (CTA)?
If you’ve done a good job of messaging, the reader will want to act! Be sure to give them next steps.
The 4 trends I have for you, Google’s Fred update, email, print (yes, print!), and Stories, involve quality content.
Part of why digital marketing is so difficult is because Google is constantly updating their algorithms. As a business owner, you’re already trying to keep up with the competition, or ahead of it—and then you have to stay on top of Google changes. Whoa.
The good news is that most of the updates are minor. When Google makes major updates, they usually don’t talk about it, you just hear about another animal: hummingbird, panda, penguin. The Fred update came out in March and they talked about it. Whoa.
Thanks to xcelance.com for the Fred graphic. They also have a great, in-depth blog about the Fred update. The update rewards content that includes the following:
Conversely, Fred’s algorithm discounts the use of these in content:
Google’s reasoning for the Fred update is that they want to serve users with quality content that has value. To be honest, this should always be the aim of your content so the Fred update doesn’t really affect you, right? Think back to the rule of thumb about content. If you come to a page through a Google search to get information on, say, shoes, expecting to learn about stitching, soles, and fit but find, instead, a page full of links to other sites, sites that sell shoes, that page has little value to you. You’re not ready to buy yet. You’re still researching your options. Google gets that.
If you’re thinking “but I do my digital marketing to boost sales”, have no fear. The time and effort spent creating quality content is well worth it for a couple of reasons. First, your competition is doing it. If the customer finds what they are looking for in your content when your competitor is pushing sales-y ads, you’re going to earn the trust of the customer—and the business. Marketing is meant to inform your customer to move them into the sales cycle, not sell. Estimates say that it takes an average of 10 “touches”, interactions with content, before a customer is ready to begin having a conversation. If your content is the most valuable in those interactions, you become the reliable source that your customer trusts. Second, Google rewards well-performing content, that is content that users engage with and share. The algorithm sees this content as valuable, that is, educational and engaging to the customer. The reward is that they put that content, and its creator, at the top of their searches. Not a bad place to be!
Like Rachel Parker, I use Stories with a capital S to indicate online platform content that has become hugely popular starting with Snapchat, moving to Instagram and Facebook. These microvideos are hugely attractive to consumers who want organic content, not highly produced and stylized videos.
I’ll be honest, when Snapchat came around, I downloaded it to stay ahead of my teenage daughter, but thought, like many, what is the use of disappearing content? Turns out I, and many, were wrong. Instagram stories started in August 2016 to rival Snapchat stories and in June 2017, they have more than 250 million daily views. Let that sink in. (250 million!!!)
How do you capitalize on the demand for Stories? Get your employees and customers involved! Give your employees access to your Instagram account to film a story or let them go live on Facebook. Encourage your customers to use their social media accounts to share Stories about your business. Remember to have them tag you correctly to maximize your reach.
The great news about the Stories trend is that it costs nothing! Almost all of us carry around a video camera that is connected to our social media sites. Going live and sharing Stories is a free feature so use it and inspire others to do the same!
Oh, yes, email. Despite our bloated inboxes, the open rate on email is still significantly higher than social media. Think about it. If Facebook shut down tomorrow, all your followers would be lost. Your email list is yours to keep and is full of people who have shown interest in your business. Even if the users come from a purchased list or were given to you in a trade show spreadsheet, the fact that they haven’t hit “unsubscribe” says they have some interest in what you have to say—so use it!
Email, however, has changed. Again, go back to that rule of thumb and tie it to your bloated inbox. For an email to be kept, it has to instantly interest the reader. This means that long essay looking emails are not going to work. Think about how you reacted to reading poetry in high school. Text body email gets about the same response. The good news with email is that technology has greatly improved our ability to create engaging content that includes more messaging in a shorter amount of time. Offerings in your email can include photo carousels of a series of your products or tie in to a drip email campaign that offers downloadable assets, blog updates, and event notices.
Too much of a good thing is still too much—this goes for email technology as well. Embedded video might not appeal to your audience so no matter how much you love the video series your marketing team created, the value is lost because your audience doesn’t love it. The best way to know which strategies to use and which to pass on is to split or A/B test your emails. Find the open rate for the same email message, but one that has a carousel and one that has a video. Watch the open rate for one-off blog update emails vs. update subscriptions. All of this data can help you improve your content and increase its value.
I hear you. Now I’ve gone crazy. Like Snapchat, I thought the same thing. Print is dead! (And I’m an avid reader and English major.) Who is going to invest the extra time and money into that. New research says anyone who is interested in marketing to millennials. And if you’re into forecasting, the next generation of your customers are poised to be print aficionados as well.
Want to know how serious print is? Airbnb partnered with print giant, Hearst, to create an adventure magazine. The concept is a brilliant hybrid of print and online content and, the Forbes article tells us, “[e]verything in it is sourced from hosts and regular travelers”.
What do you need to think about with print? It takes a considerable amount of effort. Don’t let this scare you off. Because of the “print is dead” assumption, most people (read: your competition) aren’t doing print which makes it a huge, untapped differentiator. Like Airbnb, you can use stories from your customers to help fill out your printed marketing. Use replies to posts and online reviews in your body. While frequency is good, don’t feel tied to an unrealistic time schedule. If monthly newsletters aren’t working for you, publish them quarterly.
The great thing about print is that it is a great way to get your message out. Leave your newsletter out at the checkout for non-followers to take home. Friends will notice the news sitting on their counter and, by association, will see that as an endorsement of your business! Upload the newsletter to your website, in whole or in part, to be shared online.
All that effort put into a print newsletter will go a long way!
There has (clearly) been a lot happening in marketing in the first part of 2017 and it has all revolved around one central theme of content marketing—quality. Google is rewarding informational content that is of value to users with the Fred update. Your online followers can’t get enough of Stories telling them what is happening in your store. You have a list of people who want to hear what you have to say, as long as you grab their attention with quality content in the emails you send them. And, old is new again with consumers craving print.
If these trends tell us anything it is that nothing in marketing is predictable. We must keep testing and innovating to stay ahead of the trends. We can’t determine what will and won’t work based on our own preferences. Quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Keep creating to find what is valuable to your audience and let’s compare notes in December!
Renee is the Content Strategist at Sellr. She is passionate about creating digital marketing strategies that help business owners develop successful relationships with customers and vendors.