The 2017 content blueprint

Our step-by-step guide to kick-start your content marketing. We look at current 2017 trends and how to build a robust framework for your strategy.

It was late into the night of 4 November 2008 when the President Elect Barack Obama finally took to the stage in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Following one of the most arduous campaigns in modern times, the newly elected leader of the free world declared to over 240,000 supporters, “I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to – it belongs to you.”

Of course he was referring to the 69 million Americans who voted for him earlier that day, but Obama could just have well been talking direct to his campaign manager David Plouff.

For Plouff, an unassuming working class man from Delaware, had just overseen the most sophisticated political campaign in electoral history.

It was a campaign which mobilised over 10,000 neighbourhood teams, which garnered 3.95 million individual donors and which orchestrated 68 million individual telephone calls.

Perhaps most impressively, though, this was a campaign which took a little known, black Senator from Illinois and delivered him the largest number of votes of all time.

The secret to Plouff’s success lay not in his charisma, or oratorical flare, but rather in his fastidious approach to planning. Everything from high level strategy to local messaging, from policies to polling, were meticulously planned to within an inch of their lives.

If proper planning worked for the 44th President of the United States, why shouldn’t it work for your content marketing?

Trends for 2017

Today, there is no excuse for treating someone who’s been on your mailing list for a year the same as someone who’s only just joined.

The trend towards personalisation kicked-off in earnest during 2016 and we anticipate a further explosion in 2017.

Why? Because personalised content is 80 per cent more effective, yet 55 per cent of marketers have only been personalising for two years or less, according to Demand Metric and Seismic research. There is both motive to enhance efforts and capacity to do so.

Going up: user generated content (UGC)

According to the Content Marketing Institute, B2B brands have lagged behind their B2C counterparts when it comes to using input from their audience in their content marketing. Indeed, while 70 per cent of B2C marketers use UGC only 48 per cent of B2B brands currently do, a Demand Metric and Seismic report showed.

This is short-sighted as the motivations for UGC (authenticity, versatility, engagement) remain constant regardless of industry. We predict 2017 will see B2B brands beginning to harness the power of their audience in their content marketing.

Here are two examples of how B2B brands can use UGC:

An emerging trend has been the involvement of audiences (particularly social) in company rebrands. For example, rather than using an expensive brand consultancy, ICAP founder Michael Spencer invited suggestions from clients and colleagues when rebranding the firm post-merger.

Rather than obtaining quotes or reviews about your products, this is about getting your audiences’ views on a given topic. Doing this is a win-win: clients/prospects love being flattered, and you get fresh insight to bring back to market.

Going up: video

In the past, video was used as an attempt to add excitement to the most tedious content. “Let’s do the dull product explainer as a video”, the thinking went.

This is about to change as brands begin producing content which their audience actually want. Expect short-form documentary content to dominate going forward.

Invest in production: all too often video is plugged into an activity as an after thought (e.g. “We really ought to record this round table”). As a result, much of what is created suffers from shabby production values. Either do video properly, or don’t do it at all.

Ditch talking heads: we’ve all sat through some cringe-worthy CEO mumbling their way through a clunky script and thought “never again.” Swap talking heads for voice overs, and use professionals.

Going down: noise

Given that a recent study found 16 per cent of businesses publish new content daily, it is unsurprising that the last few years has seen an explosion in the sheer volume of articles, videos and graphics available.

As audiences tire of the constant bombardment, we predict a renewed focus on quality over quantity.

Going down: collaboration

Producing great content means having an opinion, keeping things concise and ensuring consistency. For these reasons ‘collaboration’ is the enemy of content creation, and we expect brands will wake up to this in 2017.

After all, as Milton Berle said, “A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.”

Going down: skills gaps

Since the boom in content marketing began, many marketing departments have reported severe skills gaps. This year, 25 per cent of marketers placed “gaps in knowledge and skills of internal teams” in their top five challenges.

However, with a 300 per cent yearly increase in the quantity of content marketing jobs, there are signs that brands are finally taking action to fill these gaps.

Plan the plan

Be brutal

Before embarking on a plan for 2017, it is crucial that you comprehensively evaluate 2016. Which initiatives drove engagement, and which flopped? Which activities are ‘must have’ versus the ‘nice to haves’?

Crucially, this assessment must be objective and brutal: if the CEO’s blog bombed, it’s going in the bin.

  • Did clients enjoy it?
  • Did people actually read/watch/listen to this content?
  • How many people shared and discussed this content?
  • Did this activity say something new, or was it ‘old hat’?
  • Did this initiative really educate the audience?
  • Did this initiative help sales teams?
  • Was internal feedback positive?

Be business-minded

The age-old challenge with content is that its returns are neither immediate nor directly traceable. This can make it a soft target when it comes to budgetary planning, so it’s essential that all investment is accompanied by a comprehensive business case.

  • Sixty per cent of a purchase decision is made before contacting a supplier
  • 27 million pieces of content are shared daily: you need to be part of this conversation
  • Eighty-two per cent of customers feel more positive about a brand that creates content
  • Website conversion rates are six times higher for content creators.

Plan for approval

Particularly if content is new for your organisation, or if spend is increasing significantly, gaining buy-in can be challenging. Prepare for this by streamlining the process.

The more stakeholders that are involved in approval, the more likely your plans will become diluted or distracted. How can you reduce the size of the review panel? Isn’t content an issue directly for the CEO?

Before submitting plans for review be clear in communicating which elements you want feedback on and those areas which are out-of-bounds. You are the expert. Be firm.

Build the framework

Set the KPIs

With an efficient approval process in place, now is the time to develop honest KPIs with which to measure performance. How will you know that your content strategy has paid off?

While the objectives for content are usually strategic (e.g. reposition the brand), the majority of measurement remains tactical (e.g. how many leads did we get last month).

Overcome this by developing a set of longer-term KPIs.

  • What was the impact on profitability (rather than short-term volume)?
  • How did content improve client retention, loyalty and satisfaction?
  • How did content impact on non-commercial audiences (e.g. analysts, press, employees)?

In addition to macro-level indicators of success, it’s vital to have open channels of communication with sales teams. They have a clear view of how prospects are reacting to content, so listen
and learn.

Construct the calendar

Before building out the structure of the editorial calendar you must understand what you’re capable of. What frequency and scale of initiatives can your team handle? What role can external agencies play?

Delivering a coherent, consistent and engaging content campaign is seriously hard work. Hence when you are sketching out your capabilities be highly self-critical.

Build the narrative

The most common mistake when it comes to content planning is the structure of narrative planning. All too often the focus is on ‘how’ and ‘what’ will be produced rather than emphasising what your audience wants.

The point of content marketing is to engage and excite your audience, so asking “what does my audience need?”should be the first question.

Split your audience into commercial (sales prospects/existing clients) and non-commercial categories (employees, analysts etc.), and then further refine them according to:

  • Organisation size
  • Job title
  • Objectives.Then ask yourself:
  • What does this individual want from content?
  • What is this individual’s key challenge at work?
  • What other content are we competing against?
  • Consolidate this analysis and build into a simple matrix.

Make it stick

Write it down

Verbally agreed plans aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on. Documenting your strategy helps guide consistency, plan resources and provides a point of reference for those ‘mid-year wobbles’.

Focus on premium production

Content is much more likely to ‘stick’ (both internally and externally) if it is of exceptionally high quality.

Use the best writers you can get your hands on; drive designers to push the boundaries of infographics; use beautiful photography.

Be brave

One of the many benefits of a properly honed plan is the confidence it gives you in delivery. Of course you must monitor performance and approach the year with flexibility, but have conviction and stay the course.