Online advertisers have struggled with the efficacy of standard banner ad units for years. Consumers tend to skim right past them, meaning the advertisers has little incentive to devote creative energy to the unit, which means the unit has no hope of delivering performance. Marketers have turned their attention elsewhere, and in in 2013 content marketing was one of the biggest stories in online media.
Marketers have learned that brand-oriented content can deliver ad messages to engaged and interested consumers, and this practice will likely continue to grow in popularity in 2014. I’ve written before about how easy it is to use existing content to get started in content marketing, but advertisers looking to go one step further would be wise to get ahead of the following trends in the coming year.
A greater focus on mobile. If you’re in online publishing, you’ve likely spent a big chunk of the past three years working on mobile sites. If you’re a Web surfer, you’ve likely noticed how much of the content shared via social networks is mobile-optimized. This is how most consumers interact with online articles and media now: via a mobile device, often delivered through a social platform like Twitter or Facebook.
If you're creating content for marketing purposes -- micro-sites, product articles, video, etc. -- it must be mobile-friendly. According to comScore data, photos are largely consumed on mobile devices. Other kinds of content, including entertainment and news stories, are quickly approaching a 50/50 split between mobile and desktop consumption. Keep this in mind when developing content.
Personalized content via better targeting. Optimizing for a mobile screen is only one piece of the mobile puzzle. Mobile also opens up a world of opportunities based on available data. One area where content marketers should focus is location data, which will help personalize the content based on a person’s location. For example, since spring in Boston is quite different from spring in San Diego, a clothing retailer may develop two different articles or lists about “must-have spring apparel,” using location data to direct consumers toward the appropriate version.
Location data is just one of the tools marketers will use to target influencers within narrow niches. Local weather could also affect the content results. For example, clothing retailers can show rain gear on an unusually rainy day to push sales in a typically slow category.
Changes in social will trigger native growth. We’re already seeing changes in Facebook’s platform that limit the ability to spread content without buying advertising. As the social networks push these new distribution models, it will get even harder to play without paying. Content marketers should consider investing in the social networks, especially if they’ve seen good performance thus far. The paid media may force you to move some budget around, but there’s no need to change something if it isn’t broken.
Another option is to invest in native advertising to grow content distribution beyond the walled garden of social. Native advertising is still a nascent channel, but it offers advertisers plenty of opportunity to develop content on relevant sites, or spread across a network.
Native can come in the form of paid article placements, where a piece of content matches the tone and look of a site, but the content is highly relevant to the advertiser. Here’s one such execution by Purina and Buzzfeed. Other options include ad units that spread content. For example, a restaurant that receives a good review in a major publication could buy paid, targeted native placements, exposing that review to more consumers.
In this case, the content came free, but the marketer amplified the impact through paid native placements. I mentioned at the very beginning that display ads are largely ineffective, but pairing content with ad units can be highly effective.These are the kind of content marketing tactics that brands big and small will need to execute to stand out in 2014. As the market gets more crowded, savvy advertisers will need to take advantage of new tools, data sources, and platforms to deliver content that speaks to consumers much louder than standard online banners.