We're a little late to this party but we will make this count, so buckle up! As we enter mid-Feb, which trends should content marketers be watching closely? What has the potential to significantly impact efforts in 2019?
Given how quickly things evolve, there are countless fresh tactics, strategies, and shifts to choose among. However, after looking at a host of recent research reports and predictions from top analysts, we believe there are a few that stand out as having the potential to fundamentally change the field.
Specifically, we believe content marketers — and others in related areas such as digital media publishing — should keep a close eye on these nine trends in the year ahead:
1. The Ever-Growing Importance of Paid Distribution and Promotion
In a recent manifesto entitled "We've changed our stance on ads. Here's why.", the VP of Product at HubSpot, a developer of marketing tools, outlined why the company was moving away from encouraging only inbound/organic (unpaid) content tactics and embracing the idea of helping marketers pay to reach/engage audiences. He noted that a number of things have shifted over the past few years, including:
Attention on the Internet has consolidated
A few firms (Google, Facebook, Amazon) are gatekeepers to audiences
Paid units have become central to search, social, and content sites
Add the fact that there is now a constant flood of new content to compete with— the result of so many firms embracing content shock — and paying to reach audiences is increasingly becoming not only a good approach but an absolutely necessary one.
2. The Depoliticizing of Branded Content
Politics has felt inescapable for the past few years and many brands have felt compelled to take stands on issues. Gillette or Nike and Colin Kaepernick anyone? It turned out not too badly for Nike, but did hit a few retailers that took a stance.
Here's some food for thought, though: consumers don't necessarily want politics and the marketplace to mix. In fact, just 29% of US adults say that they want businesses to take public stands on issues. The exception is younger consumers, with 56% of US adults age 18-29 saying they want brands to take public stands.
This doesn't mean that marketers can't express opinions, but rather that they shouldn't feel as if they have to (unless they're targeting younger demographics). Given that, and given that 2019 is not a major election year in the US, this may be an opportunity for brands to depoliticize their content - for the benefit of not coming across as too pretentious or leeching profits off of sensitive issues.
3. The Continued Rise of Instagram
Imagine a social network that is based on visual content types, that is massively popular, that isn't tainted by scandal, and that has powerful ad capabilities.
The social network now has more than 1 billion active monthly users, rivals Snapchat in popularity with young consumers, and is avoiding most of the controversies surrounding parent company Facebook while still maintaining integrations with its sophisticated advertising engine. All of that is likely to make the social network ever-more appealing to content marketers in the year ahead.
4. The Growth of Natural Language Search
The integration of tools such as Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa into smartphones and other devices is fundamentally transforming behavior: increasingly people are using voice rather than typing to search.
This matters for marketers because people tend to conduct searches differently via voice. Specifically, they tend to use natural language rather than stilted queries. In 2019, this could impact everything from how content is structured to which search engine optimization tactics are most effective.
5. The Enduring Appeal of Email
As marketers embrace new tools and strategies in 2019 they shouldn't forget about a reliable approach that continues to deliver exceptional results: email.
Marketers continue to rank email as the most effective digital marketing tactic, ahead of areas such as websites, social media, and mobile apps.
This doesn't mean that your email strategy should stay static — the channel is evolving in all sorts of interesting ways ways, especially in the areas of automation and targeting. Rather, it means that in 2019 content marketers should treat email as a vitally important tactic, not as an afterthought.
6. The Evolving Customer Funnel
Marketers have long had a core concept that frames their strategy: the funnel.
While the specifics have varied, the general idea of the funnel — that consumers/customers needed to be led step-by-step from interest to purchase — has been the basis for guiding the content efforts of most firms.
Now, thanks to evolving behavior and more sophisticated tools for connecting with, engaging, and retaining audiences, the idea of the funnel is starting to feel outdated. What exactly replaces it is still up for debate — pundits have argued for everything from the flywheel to the loop —but what's certain is that many marketers are moving away from the idea of a linear path and towards a more sophisticated approach that continually engages and re-engages customers.
7. The Shift to Monitoring Engagement Over Traffic
One important effect of the funnel changing and content marketing moving more towards paid distribution is that the metrics for measuring success are changing too.
Because content marketing efforts are becoming more sophisticated, and because there is more of a demand to clearly show ROI, traffic-based metrics such as page views, impressions, and site visits are becoming less valuable.
What's replacing traffic? Engagement. Metrics that clearly show how interesting consumers find offerings, and what actions they then take, are quickly becoming more and more vital to measuring success. This is likely to continue through 2019, as businesses pay increased attention to impact and budgets.
8. The Maturation of Artificial Intelligence
For a while Artificial Intelligence (AI) felt like a futuristic vision, not a reality: there was a lot of buzz about it but not many examples of it in action.
That's changed. AI is being utilized by firms in many different verticals, ranging from defense to healthcare, and by 2024 the market is expected to grow to more than $191 billion as the technology continues to mature.
For marketers, this may be the year that AI finally becomes essential: it now powers tools that can help with a wide-range of different tasks, from powering highly-targeted content recommendations to providing rich content insights, and utilizing the technology may be the most cost-efficient way to improve the effectiveness of your efforts.
9. The Increasing Demand for Transparency
Finally, what do consumers really want from marketers online?
Most (81%) consumers believe brands have a responsibility on social media to be transparent and nearly nine in ten (86%) say they would be likely to take their business to a competitor if a brand isn't transparent.
The specific things that consumers say signal transparency fairly simple: they want businesses to admit mistakes, to openly address issues, and to be upfront about things like pricing. In other words, people want brands to be honest with their online content — a wish that should be fulfilled in 2019 and well beyond.