How fast did 2015 go? When we hit December, I couldn’t believe we were already gearing up for 2016 and it was time to invest in another cat wall calendar I’ll never use and jot down the New Year’s Resolutions I promise to keep. So much happened in 2015 that it’s been hard to keep up, but one of the most important things that happened to me was that I got my very first job in content marketing.
Yep, I’m a content marketing newbie. That said, I’ve spent the past few weeks learning a lot about the marketing world and what types of content are growing in popularity. Based on my research, I’ve compiled a list of what I think will be important content marketing trends to look out for in 2016. I’d love to hear your predictions as well: Leave a comment and let me know!
1. Interactive Content
If you’re reading our blog, you probably already have an idea of how delivering content to your audience in an interesting and interactive format can help drive engagement. As content marketers, we seek to inform our audience. It isn’t about the sell, it’s about the story. Telling these stories in the same linear format can be boring and repetitive—not just for your reader, but for you too. The beauty of presenting your content in an interactive eBook or infographic means you have the freedom to tell your story in a million different ways.
It also means your reader’s attention is less likely to slip when they’re actively exploring links embedded in your story or navigating the many layers of copy. With interactive content, your audience has the opportunity to choose their own adventure, and when you give your readers choices, they’re more likely to stick around.
One of my favorite examples of interactive content from 2015 is NewsCred’s Inspiration Lookbook. NewsCred could have wrote a simple blog post about the companies and individuals that inspire them, but instead of taking the traditional route, they brought their content to life using an original and exciting interactive microsite. Their content transforms the audience from passive readers into active participants and lets them become involved in the storytelling process.
Source: NewsCred Inspiration Lookbook
NewsCred outlines their favorite sources of inspiration, provides the details, and then gives the reins over to their audience, letting them choose how the story unfolds. In doing so, NewsCred creates a warm, welcoming environment for their audience, a conversation about inspiration rather than a monologue. The content isn’t a one-way street—it’s accessible to the audience and holds their attention.
The bottom line is that interactive content gives content marketers the freedom to tell stories in more unique forms while giving their audience the opportunity to actively engage with the content. Through this engagement, your audience will build a deeper understanding of your content’s purpose and ultimately feel more connected to your brand.
2. Using Video to Tell Stories
Video has been a huge part of the internet ever since Me at the Zoo was posted to YouTube over ten years ago. From viral campaigns to running preroll video ads, marketers have been using video to get their brands in front of their audience for years. With Facebook native video seeing 3 billion video views per day in January 2015, it’s clear that video marketing will only get bigger in 2016. Video is easy to digest, holds a viewer’s attention, and is more likely to be shared across social platforms. In fact, a Usurv survey of 1,000 UK adults found people are 39% more likely to share a video than a text article.
As content marketers, we can use video content to our advantage by telling our brand stories. Want to engage with your audience in 90 seconds? Utilize the power of video by crafting an original and compelling story that brings your audience into your brand’s world. One of the most effective examples I’ve seen of a brand joining story with video is Extra Gum’s The Story of Sarah & Juan.
This video exploded online, garnering around 78 million Facebook views in the week of its release. It was shared all over social media; I saw it in my Facebook feed at least ten times—reposted by people I can guarantee don’t work for Extra. It works because Extra isn’t actively trying to sell gum at all. Rather they focus on telling a heartwarming love story viewers can relate to. The success of Extra’s video proves audiences respond well to video storytelling and value brands that create immersive experiences.
When it comes to video, creativity is key. Though the thought of bringing your content to video seems intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. Keep your focus on telling unique stories that resonate with your audience and partner with an experienced videographer and production person to bring your ideas to life.
3. Episodic Content
Before diving into the world of content marketing, I went to school for an MFA in creative writing. What I’ve found now that I’m involved in content marketing is how the ideas and techniques we discussed in my writing program overlap with those I run into at work. Episodic content is a strategy I see popping up when reading blogs about content marketing, one that stresses the importance of a killer cliffhanger.
Episodic content organizes your story by an overarching theme, which helps keep your audience on track and engaged. It also helps you build anticipation in your story by creating a narrative and then disturbing that narrative with breaks. Analytics show episodic content makes a lasting impact on readers and often performs better than one-off pieces. When the Content Standard looked at their pageviews for articles posted between February 2014 and October 2015, they discovered the average pageviews of articles in a series was 124.3% higher than those not included in a series. Episodic content has the power to build loyalty and awareness. Through promising your audience consistent content on a topic relevant to them, they are more likely to return.
Look around and you’ll see many examples of episodic content in your daily life. One of my favorite examples of episodic content (and unyielding obsessions) is Serial. Serial changed the podcast game in the fall of 2014 by delivering captivating story in weekly, hour-long segments.
Source: Serial Podcast
Every episode ends with host Sarah Koenig leaving her listeners with a cliffhanger, thus creating a desire to hear the next episode. In my writing program, we studied chapter endings and the importance of crafting chapter endings that keep our readers wanting more. Though it’s not just the last few paragraphs you should consider when building tension in your episodic content, you should focus on pulling that thread through the entire piece. What helped me learn how to build tension in my chapters was understanding my story’s overall narrative. It may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised by how many writers develop longer content without understanding where they want it to go. In Serial, Koenig’s narrative rises and falls. She gives the listener moments to ruminate, but ratchets up the tension quickly enough so they don’t lose interest. In doing so, Koenig strikes the perfect balance between so much tension that the audience isn’t retaining anything and not enough that the story falls flat.
Episodic content shines in its ability to convey large topics in several smaller content pieces that both capture your audience’s attention and give them time to contemplate the information they learned.
You may have heard of the term micro-moments, but haven’t considered what they mean or how to utilize them in content marketing. Neither did I until I started looking into this trend. According to research conducted by Google, more internet searches in the US happen on smartphones than they do on desktop computers. Additionally, people check their phones approximately 150 times a day at around one minute intervals. Because of our increasing turn toward mobile technology, Google developed the term micro-moments to describe those moments when people turn to their mobile device for help or assistance in a task.
Filled with immediacy, intent, and context, these moments boil down to 4 different channels:
- I-want-to-know moments
- I-want-to-go moments
- I-want-to-do moments
- I-want-to-buy moment
When thinking about how to utilize these micro-moments for your brand, it’s important to heed Google’s advice on creating useful content. The brand believes that creating an experience and providing valuable information rather than selling right out the gate is more beneficial to your brand and audience. In fact, Google notes that 73% of consumers believe having consistent and useful information is the most important factor when choosing a brand.
An example of how a company has leveraged these “I want to” moments and built a reserve of useful, informative content is Home Depot’s collection of “how to” videos on YouTube. Understanding that many people look for answers to their home restoration and repair quandaries on YouTube, Home Depot compiled a channel devoted to answering their questions.
Source: Home Depot YouTube Channel
Rather than focusing on selling home improvement products, they’ve created engaging content that utilizes the immediacy of micro-moments. The collection has garnered more than 43 million views and has positioned Home Depot as a hardware company that strives to give its customers valuable information.
Google’s micro-moments further emphasize the importance of relevant, informative content. By making your content mobile-friendly and utilizing different media like videos, mini blogs, and podcasts, you’ll meet your audience during these moments and find success.
5. Humanizing Your Brand
Storytelling and engagement are at the heart of content marketing, but sometimes content can fall flat with your audience and feel one-dimensional despite your best efforts. Content marketing simply doesn’t work if your stories are only skin deep. Consumers are more interested in dynamic, rich stories that give a good sense of what your brand stands for rather than thinly veiled attempts at a sale. By creating content free from ulterior motives, you have the potential to build relationships with your audience and amass a more informed community that will give you their loyalty. This strategy goes beyond simply stating your brand is all about its audience. You have to mean it. Today, people value authenticity and genuine connections. They can see through half-assed attempts of trying to win them over, and when people spot a fake, their loyalty is lost forever.
One of the best strategies for humanizing your brand is to create dedicated spaces to build your content that are relatively free from traditional marketing messaging. Red Bull, for example, has garnered a large following that goes beyond energy drink consumers by becoming heavily involved in the extreme sports industry. They found a common interest with their original audience and built their identity around catering to this pastime. By reaching out to their audience through a shared love of extreme sports, Red Bull created relationships and developed a loyal following.
Source: Red Bulletin
Red Bull has furthered their efforts to humanize their brand through creating an interactive and engaging site, Red Bulletin, where visitors can read articles on sports, film, travel, and science. Visitors can also catch up on sporting events Red Bull streams directly to their site. Their efforts to go above and beyond humanizing their brand have paid off. Currently, Red Bull has over 300,000 newsletter subscribers and a total audience of 2.2 million readers.
When it comes to humanizing your brand, focus on content that tells a real and compelling story rather than dressing up a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Try going beyond the standard content by devoting a blog, podcast, or video series to a story that, though not necessarily about your product, hones in on what your brand stands for. Show that your brand isn’t just a faceless corporate machine, but an ecosystem comprised of people with interests and hearts. In doing so, you can connect with your audience and develop long lasting relationships that foster loyalty and engagement.