Five Keys to Winning the Content Marketing Game in 2018

It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, content marketing was a niche practice that few mainstream marketers had even heard of. Today it’s a necessary component in any B2B marketing strategy, and it continues to evolve. As more brands jump into the fray and the content universe becomes more noisy and crowded, marketers must continuously up their games to rise above the noise. Trends in content consumption are also driving change, and we must adapt to changing audience preferences.

In the rapidly changing world of B2B content marketing, brands must constantly stay on their toes, and approaches that were successful even a year ago may be outdated today. As we head into a new year, we identified five practices that will help you stay ahead of the curve, leverage the latest opportunities, and tap into current trends to make 2018 a winning year for your content marketing team.

1. Rethink the Bandwagon Effect

When brands set out to choose topics for their next bit of content marketing brilliance, the process tends to begin with “Let’s see which issues are outrageously popular this week.”

And why not? If a topic is earning large amounts of digital ink, it’s bound to boost your SEO, right? Not necessarily. According to some new research by Steve Rayson of BuzzSumo, jumping on popular content bandwagons can actually hurt your engagement.

Using the topic “influencer marketing” as a test case, Steve looked at the correlation between volume of content and average Twitter shares on a day-by-day basis. What he found was that as the volume of content went up, the number of shares declined:

influencer marketing
(Image Source: “New Research Answers: Is Content Marketing Sustainable?”

The exact cause of this phenomenon could be one or more of a number of factors. It could be that the volume of content already out there has saturated the market. It’s also possible that the “bandwagon effect” caused quality to decline, making audiences less likely to share posts.

To make sure this case wasn’t an anomaly, Steve tested his theory with several other “hot topics” — including content marketing, virtual reality, and machine learning — which yielded similar results.

Even though this experiment involved a small sample, it still should cause us to pause for a moment the next time we’re tempted to jump onto a hot topic with the goal of boosting engagement.

What We Can Do Differently in 2018:

  • Be outrageously original. If you do decide to publish on a topic that’s getting a lot of coverage, offer a perspective that’s so unique, it’s bound to attract attention (or at least arouse curiosity).
  • Forget “viral”. Think niche. Look for areas where you can focus on a specific area within the broader topic that will pique the interest of your target audience.
  • Consider publishing less often. If premium-quality, hyper-focused niche content take a little longer to create, experiment with a looser editorial schedule; then monitor your results and see what happens.

2. Publish Original Research

In an overcrowded content marketing universe where everyone seems to be recycling the same stale ideas, original research is like a breath of fresh air, especially among B2B audiences. In a recent study co-sponsored by the Content Marketing Institute and SmartBrief, 74 percent of B2B buyers said they consider original research to be influential in the buying process, second only to peer recommendations.

Original research offers your brand the opportunity to rise to a new level of thought leadership. You can get answers to the questions no one else is asking and unearth enticing new insights that could shape your industry’s thinking on a particular topic.

If you’re thinking that original research is too expensive and/or time-consuming for your budget or schedule, think again. Apps like Survey Monkey and Typeform are easy-to-use tools for surveying your current audience and social media followers. If you want to reach a broader population, Google Surveys will present your questions to select audiences in exchange for access to premium content, at a price that even small businesses can manage.

What We Can Do Differently in 2018:

  • Think like a researcher. Look for industry topics on which your audience would be interested in hearing their peers’ perspectives, and build original research projects around those issues.
  • Bust myths. Try testing some of your industry’s so-called “conventional wisdom” — commonly held beliefs that may or may not be accurate — with scientific research.
  • Refresh past projects. If you’ve done original research in the past, consider revising the topic with fresh research to see if/how perspectives have changed.

3. Create Content for the Internet of Things

Years ago, creating content involved producing a product that lived on a screen. Fast-forward to 2018, and Siri, Alexa, and Google Home have changed all that — and not just for consumers.

Consider Marketing School, the “flash briefing” in which marketing gurus Neil Patel and Eric Siu share 10 minutes’ worth of actionable advice every day. There’s no website or blog to visit, no podcast episode to download. You can only access Marketing School through Alexa.

As we move further into this new year, look for the Internet of Things (IoT) to assume a larger role in how audiences consume content, and consider new ways of delivering the content your audience wants and needs … without having to send them to a website or a landing page.

What We Can Do Differently in 2018:

  • Get up-to-date on your audience’s content preferences. Find out how your audience is using IoT devices to find, consume, and engage with content in 2018.
  • Think outside the screen. Brainstorm ways to leverage IoT devices to deliver highly targeted content to your audience in the formats they prefer, at the right time and in the right place.

4. Use Intent Data for Micro-Targeting Content

The adage “knowledge is power” has never been truer than it is for B2B marketers in 2018. The more you know about your target accounts, the more finely you can target your content to their specific needs, wants, and interests. And the more micro-targeted your content is, the greater its chances of attracting attention from the people you want to reach.

When you leverage the power of intent monitoring, you gain the intel needed to fuel your micro-targeted content initiatives. By tracking your targets’ digital footprints, you can gain a unique understanding of what their problems are and how they’re looking to solve them. Then you can spin those insights into relevant, valuable content that rises above the noise and makes your audience want to engage with you.

What We Can Do Differently in 2018:

  • Add intent monitoring to your marcom strategy. Start tracking online behavior within your target accounts to gain unique insights into their problems and the solutions they’re currently considering.
  • Take your ABM strategy to a new level. The combination of intent monitoring and account-based marketing (ABM) lets you track the online activity of contacts within specific targeted accounts, letting you create and deliver content that’s laser-targeted to the needs of the organization.

5. Tap Into Live Video

Ever since Facebook Live became available to all users in 2016, marketers have been scrambling to tap into the benefits of live video. In an environment where slick, over-produced video content has become the norm, audiences are responding to the raw spontaneity and live interaction that only live video can deliver.

In a recent survey by Livestream and New York Magazine, 81 percent of respondents said they would rather watch live video from a brand than read a blog, and 82 percent prefer live video to social media posts. While live video first gained popularity among celebrities and consumer brands, B2B marketers are catching on — and audiences are tuning in.

What We Can Do Differently in 2018:

  • Look for opportunities to leverage live video. Think big announcements like product launches, ask-the-expert Q&As, keynote addresses, and expert interviews.
  • Go live on a regular basis. Give live video a regular slot in your editorial calendar. If people see you “going live” consistently, you’re more likely to pique their interest.
  • Interact with your audience. As you broadcast, watch comments and questions coming in from the audience and respond to them in real time.

Innovations in technology, shifting consumer expectations, and more accessible tools and apps have opened up a new world of opportunities for B2B content marketers of all sizes in 2018. Of course, in marketing as in all things, the only constant is change, and we will continue to see our environment evolve. These five approaches will give you a solid foundation for exploring new territory, tracking your results, adjusting your strategy, and building a winning content marketing game plan for the year ahead — and beyond.

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