Not Your Dad’s Content Marketing Trends—But Maybe Your Great (x5000) Granddad’s

February 17, 2017 Tom Bentley

marketing trends

Nailing down marketing trends is targeting something that’s ever-moving. One day’s list might be topped with a push for bigger big data, the next insisting that more personalization is the thing, while the next declares that inbound, top-of-funnel crusades pave the road to conversion nirvana. Whatever the strategy du jour, narrowband hit-and-run tactics aren’t definitive enough for C-level execs who often need to map out blue-sky content strategies—ones with staying power.

So, say you’re the VP of marketing at an enterprise firm, and you’re looking at your company’s website traffic over the first quarter. You notice something: although your traffic is overall much higher than it was this time last year, things are stagnating, and, you’re disturbed to realize, taking a turn toward a decline. As a marketer, you know you need to be pushing the boundaries and engaging your audience in new ways, but you don’t know what to improve first.

You’re not alone. That’s why we’re looking here to survey the kind of trends for 2017 that have operational components—things that industry leaders are drafting into their master plans. And, just to make you wonder whether we’re going to say Windows 95 is back as well, let’s start out with one of the granddaddies: email.

This Isn’t Your Dad’s Email

Email—it will not die! With all the whiz-bang connectivity apps (and their advertising) burning consumers’ smartphone batteries these days, it seems ludicrous to claim that email is still one of the kings of content strategy. Yet, the inbox remains a sacred space—it’s the Rip Van Winkle of marketing trends.

The table-busting wealth of internet distractions finds consumers clicking then vaporizing in a nanosecond; in comparison, their inboxes are calm confines of sweet repose, where your message—if sticky (and storified) enough—might make its way to top of mind. Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute cited an email renaissance swelling subscription numbers at places like BuzzFeed and the Washington Post.

Pulizzi specifically cited targeted email newsletters as an audience-growing trend. Sumo Stories and MailChimp’s What’s In Store newsletter are good examples of companies expressing the basics of their brand—often using video and good graphics—with good humor and worthy information.

Ooh, Look—Pretty Pictures!

Video, video, and more video moved in the minds (and came out of the mouths) of industry pundits as one of the huge marketing trends of 2016—and it ain’t going away. Creatively composed imagery, as any moviegoer knows, has a way of slipping behind your rational mind and grabbing your gut. And these days, you don’t need a hushed audience and a darkened auditorium to reach your clients with video—as Facebook Live has shown, the right movie messages on their phones can equally tingle their spines.

The impact of video on conversion and engagement suggests that it’s a tool with persuasive power, and that millennial viewers are particularly hungry audiences. But soul-grabbing video content isn’t usually the result of a tossed-off iPhone capture. Producing solid and inviting video messages takes considerable skill and resource allocation—with more companies investing time in recording and production, the bar has been upped. Many companies have YouTube channels with sophisticated video products, but with its Planet of the Apps show, Apple is even getting into original programming to expand its brand offerings.

And if you want to see companies dancing on the film edge (but sticking, because of their charm) check out this First Moon Party video for the Period Starter Kit from HelloFlo, or perhaps the 50 Shades of Grey-inspired Burger King Valentine. These aren’t your dad’s videos, either.

Peddling Influence

Instead of scrambling with scattered promotions, ads, deep campaigns, or other measures to gain the attention of rapt followers, why not just piggyback on some company or person who already has a fervent following? Influencer marketing is a tried-and-true strategy with considerable sales charge, as TapInfluence and Nielsen can attest.

As this Inc. Magazine article suggested, “. . . the potential customers you’re looking to attract would prefer to hear about you, not from you.” Markets are often better served by some glittery outsider singing your product’s praises—even if it’s clear you’re paying a pretty penny for them. As another Inc. piece stated: you’re paying for trust.

However, when that trust is lost, the influence can go bust, and with it, your shiny association. Witness the recent debacle with the wildly popular YouTube star, PewDiePie, whose YouTube Premium channel was just shut down because of Pew’s anti-Semitic content. When reports of the vile content became news, Disney’s Maker Network ended its association with the channel.

Tell Me a Story

Hmm, this “what’s old is new” thing might be a theme (or better yet, a marketing trend). Going back a mere 40,000 years or so, someone stenciled some images of human hands on a wall. Someone was telling a story, trying to connect. The group probably worked it up around the campfire, as well. Lots of evidence suggests that we are hardwired for stories: tales of courage, lust, conflict, loss, good and evil—we gobble them up. And many brands are turning to storytelling as a key 2017 content strategy.

A prehistoric story on a cave wall

A well-told story is a beguiling thing—and if you can integrate your company’s story into a creative, richly told tale, one with emotional resonance, audiences will lean in. Procter & Gamble’s Thank You, Mom campaign hit the right notes. Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World promotions continued to amuse (and reinforce the brand), even when the original concept became meme fodder. A new Most Interesting Man even took over the role last September.

If you invite people into the story, rather than hammering them over the head with it, you lull them defenseless and cultivate receptivity to a product or a message. Storytelling has a good shot at being a content strategy for the next 40,000 years—so start sprucing up your cave paintings.

I Like My Reality on the Virtual Side

It seems that, since we started seeing 3-D glasses in movie theaters, virtual reality has been talked about in bug-eyed tones as “the next big thing.” Wasn’t that during Eisenhower’s term? Facebook’s purchase—which was not without some fiscal hitches—of Oculus Rift a couple years back seemed to ensure the legitimacy of the experiential technology, but its true adoption has only been seen in fits and starts. But 2017 should deem it one of the true marketing trends. Maybe.

Not that some analysts don’t see big bucks in the near future. Google’s release of its Daydream headset is pushing what seemed like a stalled momentum, and some brands, like Jaguar, Volvo, and The New York Times, have made forays into VR programming where the user can, for instance, take a test drive using their phones as the base display for the VR headset.

One issue is that the hardware (like the Oculus and the HTC Vive) that supplies the truly immersive experiences is expensive. I ran through a number of the supplied programs on a less pricey Samsung Gear headset this past Christmas, and though the experience was interesting, the video quality was just fair (though the illusion of depth and spatial experience did provide some thrills). But I soon tired of the headset feel, even though it was only modestly bulky. Still, there is some buzz that 2017 will be the year that the VR experience is normalized.

Trends come and go, but some examples, like those cave paintings, are seemingly forever. The tools to tell your stories might change, but the fundamentals apply: the stories have to be good. Aim high.

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