More than four in five companies already invest in content marketing, and this figure looks likely to increase exponentially in 2014. Over 100 people shared their thoughts in the second annual NewsReach survey into the changing state of content marketing in the UK; over 87 per cent of these class themselves as marketers, with a roughly equal split between agencies and in-house marketers.
We can see 2013 has been a big year for implementing exciting and original strategies as well as building up a solidified presence on social media, so what trends should brands and companies be expecting for 2014?
But what about last year’s predictions?
The future is a fickle thing, but one thing is certain: the budget for content marketing is more than likely to increase year on year. Last year’s survey revealed 97 per cent of UK organisations would increase or maintain their budget in 2013 and for 2014 the survey supports similar findings: a massive 98 per cent of respondents with insight into their organisations’ investment plans indicated intentions to increase or maintain content budgets.
Last year, many predicted video content would see growth in 2013, and not just from the bigger brands but from smaller ones too. Our latest research shows companies are now embracing video and visual aspects of content marketing completely. We have seen the increase in popularity of social sites such as Instagram, Vine and especially Pinterest, which was the fastest growing social networking site with a recorded 70 million unique users.
Interestingly one person touched on that elephant in the room, Google+. Electric Banana CEO Andy Parker predicted: “Google+ might just come out of the social media shadows in the UK during 2013!” And while the social media platform hasn’t quite reached the lofty heights of Facebook’s 1.19 billion monthly active users as of September 2013, it now has 540 million active each month and is the second biggest social media platform behind Facebook.
Matt Aster, manager at Precision Dialogue, couldn’t have been more correct in his forecast last year that Google would have some surprises up its sleeve: “2013 is going to be interesting; there’s a potential for large increases in algorithm changes dealing with content management (beyond what we’ve already seen).”
The Hummingbird algorithm was introduced which gave the Google search the capability to answer a question rather than a mash of phrases. The internet magnate also rolled out updates for Penguin and Panda which had a number of businesses experiencing either a sharp drop in their site rankings or a significant increase. Matt Cutts, Google’s head of webspam, assured the internet that the updates rewarded those sites with unique and original content and sifted out those that didn’t.
Looking ahead: visual content
The way people share content is an important factor within content marketing. Businesses should always be looking for ways to engage their audience and as social media becomes one of the main platforms for sharing it is essential that you are using the right tools for the job. Our survey shows marketers believe visual content will be increasingly important as part of their strategies in the next year.
They said visual content is the most effective for social sharing, with industry news and blogs coming in second. Just over 50 per cent of respondents think that content such as video and infographics is successful, with many respondents commenting that a mixture of content including memes, cartoons, images, and custom graphics is even more productive when targeting different types of audience.
Brandon Griffiths, CEO and founder of Colour Media, says: “An industry that needs more facts and is driven by accuracy will be more likely to require an infographic; however, a company or business such as a photographer will need video to be as graphically appealing to the audience they are targeting.
“The internet is growing and social media is becoming so big that is is essential to target customers across those platforms. To do this you need content marketing. Just posting text on social media and on your website is not enough any more; people want to watch videos and see images and infographics.”
Research by Axonn Media earlier this year found that video content plays a crucial role in audience perception of a brand, with purchase intent increasing after viewing. And according to the 600-plus opinions canvassed, a massive 75 per cent of people now share video content on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
Jane Hunt, director of strategy at JBH Marketing, sees social media as a crucial element of a content strategy: “Content marketing will become more effective as brands seek to measure not only engagement and interaction, but the impact content has on sales conversions. We expect to see brands link their content strategy to social media optimisation.”
Interactive infographics and even more video
A popular priority for 2014 among respondents as well as even more video content is looking at how infographics will develop. Lead developer Daniel List agrees with how video has grown this past year and that 2014 will focus even more on interactive visual content:: “Whilst unique, well written content is vital, I strongly feel that full-page interactive infographics will be at the core of socially shared content.”
Another respondent thinks diversity is key to keeping your audience returning for fresh, varied content: “More companies will be mixing written news and features with video and audio content, accompanied by infographics and topped off with heaps of social media engagement. It’s going to be all about mixing it up and marketing via a wealth of channels and media. Diversity and variety will be key.”
Martin Duncan, business development director at Fig Creative, said of their strategy for 2014: “We have only touched the surface of video content and we intend to increase video as part of the mix.”
Other respondents agree that we will see more video and graphic based content in general, together with a much broader use of content strategy. Roger Planes, founder of Glipho, added that he thinks “video content will surge and text content will recover thanks to new platforms”.
You couldn’t possibly ignore the growth of native advertising in 2013. The power of social sharing means that in 2013 companies had an even bigger platform to create, share their content and get noticed all without making it look less glaringly like advertising. One respondent to our survey suggested in 2014 there will be more monetisation through sponsored content and adverts.
One site that stands out as an example of native advertising is Buzzfeed. The social sharing news site has seen a huge growth in users this year and released figures for the first time since opening its London office, with ten million unique users visiting the UK site in November and a global audience of around 130 million unique users.
Buzzfeed uses lists and gifs to report content ranging from breaking news and events coverage to the most important pugs of 2013. And noticeably a portion of those lists are from partnered brands and companies that pay Buzzfeed to create captivating and shareable content, and reach valuable audiences they may not engage otherwise.
Louise Li of Harvest Digital agrees with the sentiment that native advertising will become even more of an important strategy next year: “Content marketing in 2014 will be the year of native advertising. Content amplification will help put content in front of a relevant audience.”
As companies push to promote their quality content using different techniques, there is an opportunity for paid content discovery to become more prominent. Stacey Cavanagh, head of search at Tecmark, says: “I think we’ll see more investment in content marketing on a whole. In particular, I see increased investment in paid content discovery channels like Outbrain and nRelate.”
Depesh Mandalia, head of digital at QualitySolicitors, also says: “2014 will see companies being far more creative in their execution and experimenting with content types and placement to drive brand awareness, traffic and conversion.”
Content marketing budgets
It is increasingly clear that businesses see the value in content marketing. Companies invested more in content marketing this year with 83 per cent in 2013 compared to 78 per cent in 2012. Just two per cent of respondents plan to reduce the budget allocated to content marketing in 2014, with three-quarters of the rest saying they will spend more.
Peter Handley of The Media Flow says: “A real investment increase is likely for 2014 and with it greater testing and analysis of factors that continually work to really ‘optimise’ the content creation and marketing process.”
Big businesses could expand beyond building content but actually purchase and invest in media companies to integrate them as part of their overall content marketing initiative. Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, said: “You will see more brands buying actual media companies in 2014.”
Companies will need to agree, however, with how the budget they set aside is to be used. More specifically, will they be outsourcing content or creating it only in-house? According to our survey, 58 per cent of companies did not outsource any of their content in 2012, but that has decreased to 50 per cent in 2013. This shows us that as content marketing becomes more important and strategies become more sophisticated, companies are calling on expert help in order to stand out.
The importance of creating content that is on brand and not generic could be a problem if companies are not focusing on increasing customer engagement through quality rather than quantity. Julia Dunlop of Dunlop Web Ltd remarks: “As companies realise there’s no way to fake it, there will be a struggle to spend more and get more eyeballs on content.”
Investing in quality
As mentioned previously, Google is rewarding sites with quality over quantity and that remains an important factor going in to 2014. There is no longer room for churning out insignificant content just so that you have something on your site; now it needs to have a purpose and the proven ability to assist in the conversion of your target audience.
Hayley Pearce, a marketing manager at doBranch, says: “Content will be more geared towards conversion optimisation and be measured against this in a more sophisticated way. We will also see more stories about actual people and real-life situations wherever possible.”
Ian Anderson Gray, a web developer and social media consultant, concurs with the need for more quality among the quantity: “With so much content published every second there will be a drive for much higher quality original content.”
2014: The year of mobile? Maybe.
Last year Axonn Media’s director of content, Chris Trimble, believed that it would be a few more years before the mobile platform took over. This year Pak Hou Cheung, an organic search and social media marketing professional at Blue Glass Interactive, believes mobile will play a crucial role in 2014: “There will be a greater shift towards voice search and mobile marketing – therefore making content that is suitable for mobile is crucial. Ultimately [brands] need to make sure that all the digital touch points are covered to deliver a unified online brand presence.”
For social media platforms such as Twitter, mobile is the “primary driver”, with 75 per cent of its monthly 218.3 million+ monthly active users accessing the site from mobile devices, and mobile accounting for 65 per cent of its total ad revenue. Sponsored and promoted tweets, which Twitter now offers for SMEs, are a new and engaging way to target your existing audience as well as new prospects who may not currently follow your brand.
Mobile apps could be a tool to consider especially in terms of being connected constantly to your audience, according to one respondent. They said: “Mobile is going to grow exponentially. We are going to see brands producing more targeted lifestyle content with greater engagement triggers. Companies and brands will need to be producing fresh content throughout the day to hold onto their brands. Apps will grow and brands should be ready to exploit them for more than search functionality.”
We return to Google+ as not just another social media site but a dominating part of the internet. Increasingly, performance in search is being tied to credibility, and the importance of Authorship as part of Google’s 200 ranking factors cannot be underestimated.
Sean Hearn of AnalyticsSEO thinks there will definitely be an “increased importance of Authorship” in 2014, and as Google continues to make adjustments to Penguin and Panda targeting the quality of content and links, investment in the quality of your content is critical.
Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt commented back in February that authorship of content will have a direct effect on page rank: “Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”
Joseph Livingstone, head of content for Axonn Media in Leeds, says authorship adds an element of engagement among your audience: “Google+ Authorship … adds a visual, human element that makes you stand out in SERPs, helping to build trust. It also makes it easier for interested users to find out more about the author, with a direct link through to their Google+ profile and, consequently, exposure to social media activity. Some of the most interesting people in my Circles I’ve discovered courtesy of Authorship, so there really are only advantages for your marketing efforts.”
Rene Power, author of Brilliant B2B Digital Marketing and business development director at BDB, also thinks that there will be increased emphasis on Google+ and author rank as well as “going off-page by seeding, commenting, sharing and adapting influencer marketing techniques”.
To the future and beyond…
Content marketing is no longer a strategy that is up in the air. It has transformed in 2013 to become a method implemented within a large majority of businesses. Companies will make the shift from a lack of strategy within content marketing execution to a more solidified approach that will in turn generate concrete results in 2014.
For more in-depth predictions from our team, read what we think the future and beyond holds for content marketing here.
Check out the infographic on The Changing State of Content Marketing in the UK here.