Even though content marketing is a relatively young discipline, significant changes have already taken place since its adoption in terms of how content is consumed by users. It wasn't too many years ago when most online content was consumed on a publisher's website from within an internet browser. Fast forward to the present: You now have the majority of content being read from within mobile apps from major platform providers like Facebook and Twitter. This shift cannot be underestimated, and it will heavily influence where content marketing is headed in 2016.
1. Marketers will finally embrace the new mobile consumer dynamic and get out of the browser mentality.
According to a comScore report earlier this year, the majority of time spent on digital media takes place within mobile apps, with mobile apps accounting for 54 percent of people's digital media time versus 38 percent on desktop devices. The massive move to mobile consumption will continue to grow. As a result, content marketers will develop a "mobile-first" mentality and will change how they deliver content.
First, content will be explicitly created to support the mobile consumption experience. Users tend to spend less time reading a particular piece of content on their mobile device than on desktop browsers -- giving marketers much less time to make a meaningful impression. Therefore, three things have become critically important: 1) mobile content must be shorter and include compelling visuals; 2) content must load quickly as mobile pages have higher bounce rates; and 3) the content must support a single-page scrolling experience.
Second, calls-to-action will be used to grow a loyal following. One of the challenges marketers face when their content is read inside of mobile apps is that the apps try to get users to remain in their silos, and they don't want users to go to other sites. Content read via mobile apps is not nearly as sticky as on a desktop, and the likelihood of a revisit is very low. As a result, calls-to-action that get users to return -- have them sign up for an email subscription, for example -- will need to be integrated within the flow of content.
2. Publishers will get comfortable with their content being read offsite.
Not only is the majority of content being consumed from within mobile apps, but also a growing percentage of the content is being hosted by platform providers. For example, Facebook has Instant Articles, which allow publishers to have their content stored within Facebook. This enhances the viewing experience as users see content immediately and don't have to click on a link that takes them to a publisher's site -- and away from their mobile app experience. Other platform providers like Google and Twitter are developing similar capabilities.
The downside of these initiatives by platform providers is that users will not always go to a publisher's website to read an article. As a result, publishers will need to get comfortable with their content being read "offsite," and they will need to find ways to measure how consumers are interacting with their content (and brand) beyond their own website properties. Fortunately, new analytic tools that provide a comprehensive picture of offsite and onsite user activities are becoming available.
3. Marketers will start leveraging content data to gain cross-platform visibility.
As marketers distribute content across a variety of platforms, they will discover that content performs differently on the various platforms. For example, a particular piece of content might drive more clicks on Twitter but more email signups on Facebook due to the nature of each platform's audience. As a result, marketers will need visibility on how their content is performing across platforms so they can distribute content effectively.
To get insights on content performance across platforms, marketers will start to use "content data" -- data that captures how different audiences act on content across platforms. This data will enable marketers to push past the limitations of traditional cookie-based marketing -- particularly important as more content gets read on mobile devices where cookies don't work -- and target audiences across different platforms with their content.
4. Publishers will leverage their audiences to provide a new source of advertising revenue and to strengthen relationships with brands.
Top publishers are continually testing new ways to drive long-term ROI in today's shifting publishing landscape. From a subscriber perspective, a lot of emphasis has been placed on digital subscriptions and the use of paywalls, but the verdict is still very much out in terms of how effective they are.
On the advertising front, realizing they have a treasure trove of data about their subscribers, publishers will try to model Facebook's targeting approach and give their advertisers the ability to market to specific target audiences directly from them. In addition to being a new source of revenue for publishers, this will also be of benefit to a publisher's advertisers. Advertisers will have a new option that is different than the fraud-riddled ad exchanges they are shying away from.
5. Paid distribution will no longer be a dirty little secret for publishers.
Historically, it has been a major faux pas for publishers to pay for content distribution. While the decline of content's organic reach in social channels is no longer up for debate, many publishing industry pundits have clung to the belief that good content should and will find its own audience.
Good content might indeed find an audience over time, but it might not be the ideal audience and it might not meet business goals. As different content will likely resonate with different people, each piece of content should be distributed to the audiences that will help publishers achieve their business goals. As content consumption patterns continue to shift, publishers will need to use editorial content in new ways in 2016 -- be it justifying advertising rates and attracting new audiences or signing up new subscribers.
Now a valuable currency, content can be used to drive many business goals. For that to happen, content needs to get in front of the right people. In 2016, more publishers will embrace the fact that paying for content distribution to targeted audiences is the best way to do that.
6. Kittens will no longer cut it.
As marketers spend money to distribute their content, it becomes important to make sure that business goals are being achieved. Creating massive amounts of content and blindly distributing it across audiences and platforms will not always achieve business goals. Moving forward, content will need to be developed through the lens of business objectives, target audiences, and distribution platforms.
Marketers can better understand how content resonates with various, niche audiences across different platforms by focusing on measuring content effectiveness -- particularly against business goals. Looking at how the content experience and resulting target audience response differs based on distribution platform (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) is the first step to improve content creation and measurement.
In closing, 2016 will be an exciting year in content marketing. Marketers will develop a "mobile-first" mentality and become better at leveraging the platform providers -- both from a content hosting and a content distribution perspective. Content marketing initiatives will go to the next level in the year ahead, becoming much more effective at meeting business goals.
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