Like Nostradamus or a low-rent carnival fortune teller, marketers make predictions every year about upcoming trends. Some of these prophecies are worthy of being repeated for centuries; others should probably be relegated to a tent behind the bearded lady.
The end of the year is also a good time to look at ideas that have become played out, refrains repeated so often that they have become meaningless, or not as meaningful as they once were.
These horses were dead long before marketers put away their clubs. It's time to let them go to that great pasture in the sky — or at the very least, take a closer look at what they mean and how they've become misinterpreted over time.
Big data is the future
It's true that marketing data is valuable – the huge rise in the quantity of content being published means it's more important than ever before to know your audience.
The problem here is that some marketers are losing the forest for the trees. In the huge rush to find the latest and greatest tool for analyzing traffic metrics and user interests, it's easy to forget to think like a human. Everyone is looking for a solution that will ramp up their data collecting and provide a magic bullet to make their content irresistible.
Unfortunately, it doesn't exist.
Michael Berry, director of Analytics at TripAdvisor, made a great point on the Search Business Analytics blog when he said that much of the interest in big data comes from companies believing in one solution that can solve multiple problems across business lines — a fantasy that data vendors are more than happy to play into.
The same idea holds true in marketing. The way you use the data and the type of data you collect is more important than how much data you harvest. As The Harvard Business Review points out, too many companies are using data only for internal decision-making, which is wasting the potential of the massive amount of data we have access to today.
Limiting the amount and type of data you gather will not only relieve some stress on your marketing team, it will also make your data that much more helpful in your content marketing efforts.
Automated tools are taking over
Meet your new content writer…
Technology has given us lots of gifts. I can now ask my smartphone to tell me what the weather will be this weekend, or what the capital of Moldova is (Chișinău).
Unfortunately, technology has also brought some fallacies with it. In a predictions post from earlier this year (I told you they were everywhere), Jayson DeMers wrote that in 2016, freelancers and part-time writers will start to be replaced by automated algorithms in the day-to-day production of content.
I have a lot of respect for DeMers and his reputation, and I may be biased considering my occupation, but I disagree wholeheartedly. Sure, algorithms might be valuable for reporting about sporting events or election results, but this is formulaic, plug-and-play type content. DeMers concedes that "complex topics will require a human hand — at least for a few more years," but I don't believe artificial intelligence will ever be able to write a moving story in a blog post, or capture the emotions we feel when we buy the perfect product — at least not in the lifetime of anyone reading this.
Some graphic designers are worried about tools like Canva, which are made to make design accessible for everyone, even if you don't have any design training. These pessimistic creatives feel they will be put out of business as a result of new platforms to bring visual content creation into the mainstream.
Good content marketing is about connecting with people: answering their questions, alleviating their fears, and helping them think about things in a new way. Algorithms and automation may lighten the load, but we are a long time away from seeing robots with the ability to autonomously create visual or written content with an emotional impact on people.
Every company is a media company
The big problem here is that when companies identify as a media company, it puts too much emphasis on the distribution side of their content production. Companies begin asking questions like, "what channels are we on?" "How much exposure are we getting?" "How often are we putting out content?" These are important questions, but not as important as the holy grail of content marketing: creating valuable content that helps people.
On a recent episode of the This Old Marketing podcast, Robert Rose makes a similar point when he says that companies should be producing the minimum amount of content required to produce the maximum amount of results. He compares in-house content publishing departments to "vending machines" that are focused only on churning out as much content as possible, instead of building a strategy around adding value for consumers.
Sure, you can be a media company — in fact, you should be. But in a world where hundreds of new websites are created every minute, if you focus exclusively on publishing and distribution, you will be a drop in an ocean that gets exponentially larger every day. Every company is a media company, but the organizations that will succeed in the future are the ones that become effective, highly-targeted media companies.
Let's set the record straight: you absolutely need responsive design. Besides the SEO importance after Google's Mobilegeddon algorithm update, it's simply good design practice to account for the ever-rising trend of mobile browsing.
Again, the problem here is that many organizations are painting in strokes that are far too broad. Before you rush to make every single bit of your online web presence mobile-friendly, step back and look at the bigger picture. Mobile users tend to be selective about how they use their tablets and smartphones. 89% of media time on mobile devices is spent on apps, compared to just 11% surfing the web.
While some assets can be designed for consumption on mobile or desktop devices, in some cases you'll have to make a choice between optimization for one platform or the other. You have to think carefully about your audience and the nature of your content before you make this decision. If you're a manufacturing company selling components for use in the production of pharmaceuticals, it's probably safe to say that you aren't going to get many hits from people in the supermarket on their smartphones.
On the other hand, information like your phone number and email address is something that many people look for on their mobile devices. It's not enough to simply throw the mobile-friendly blanket over all of your content and call it a day: the key to great responsive design is understanding which parts really need to be optimized for mobile, and which parts should be more desktop-friendly.
The best practice: find out what works for your organization
None of these concepts are objectively wrong. But many of them have been so warped or overblown that the companies following them are doing more harm than good.
Hopefully, 2016 will be the year you reconsider these marketing clichés so you can use them to take your B2B content marketing strategy to the next level.
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