The rise in content seems to be a perpetual trend, with stats released at the end of last year predicting that the global content marketing sector is set to grow by over 16% between 2017 to 2021. It has shifted from niche to mainstream as brands recognise the value of content as a means to connect with, inform and entertain consumers at a level that other channels struggle to reach.
When disruptive brands like Airbnb launch their own magazine and guidebooks, and Red Bull’s content stream of documentary films and series rivals that of TV streaming and VOD companies’ own catalogues, you know that other advertisers will be taking note.
I have recently spent a lot of time with awards judges, all clever people involved in content as advertisers, agencies or media owners. When talking to them, there are four topics of conversation that have come up again and again, signalling the factors that content marketers will focus on in 2018.
It seems that this is the year when brands will need to create "appointments to view" for their own, repeatable content and podcasts are at the top of the list.
Repeatable content: This is one of the biggest shifts we are seeing in content marketing. Rather than creating a campaign that has a beginning and an end, brands that are reaping the richest rewards are often those that plan long term and take lessons from the other major content creators like the BBC, Netflix, Amazon and the press.
Content can engage consumers for far longer than traditional advertising as it taps into their passions and interests in the same way that entertainment and news providers have for years. It therefore feels more appropriate for brands and their agencies to learn from those content masters, the publishers and broadcasters, and begin thinking in terms of series rather than campaigns, creating content that is habit-forming for consumers.
2018 is the year of the podcast: Everybody loves podcasts -- consumers and brands. Great technology is helping podcasts to become the breakout channel of the year as headphones are now so high-quality, and headline-grabbing podcasts like S-Town have created many new fans for the medium. As more advertisers find the right type of story that works well, they are becoming increasingly mainstream. This not only offers brands a growing audience, but the chance to create a real intimacy between them and the consumer that is almost impossible to achieve through any other channel. What other branded communication will capture someone’s unrivalled attention for 20 minutes or more and give the consumer the feeling that they are hanging out with their mates?
Cross-border content: In a shrinking world, brands are increasingly looking at ways to communicate their messages across borders, despite the potential complexities when implementing international content campaigns -- both in terms of the logistics of head office and local offices working together and also in terms of telling stories that are relevant in different cultures and languages etc.
With global brands, there appears to be a recognition of the need to listen to local markets because, without local input, the risk of not understanding cultural nuances is high -- and that goes for content across different countries with the same languages too. However, they also realise that multi-market ideas mustn’t become bland or watered down in an effort to please everyone. It’s a balancing act, which requires that a solid set of processes are in place and understood before jumping in.
There is a real awakening, however, about how campaigns built around one human truth can resonate around the world. Interests and trends can change vastly from region to region, but brands that take a step back and look for a visceral, personal story (rather than one that is product or service based) are achieving big things.
The shape of success: Many brands are still struggling to measure success in content campaigns whose complex and multi-layered nature can make measurement feel daunting. This year, as more budgets move into content, marketers will have to work harder than ever to make every dollar accountable. Advertisers and agencies are working hard to put effective processes in place and more money is being invested in running brand tracking and awareness studies before and after the content has appeared, which ask and answer very clear questions.