2015 marketing trends

‘Tis that season again when we put on our clairvoyant hats and make bold predictions about the future of marketing.

I’m by no means an industry veteran, but I know enough to make one bold claim: content marketing will dominate digital marketing budgets in 2015. In the last few years, I’ve seen it grow from a buzzword to a marketing mainstay for brands big and small. As we enter 2015, it will only increase in importance and impact.

So let me pull out the crystal ball and make a few more predictions about content marketing and where it is headed in 2015:

1. Brands will mature as publishers

In 2011, John Battelle, founder of Federated Media, wrote an influential article in AdAge in which he argued that “all brands are publishers”. An year later, PBS retorted that not just brands, but “everyone is a publisher”.

These are powerful ideas that are ultimately rooted in the democratic ideals of the internet – a place where everyone can express themselves.

original WordPress sites promote personal expression

As we step into 2015, this powerful idea is becoming a bit jaded. Everyone is a publisher, but very few are good at it. Thousands of brands jumped on the publishing bandwagon only a handful managed to create something worth reading.

This is why I believe 2015 will be the year when brands will mature as publishers – or risk perishing. We’ve already seen this at an individual level as bloggers abandon the 350 word posts of the past and create in-depth resources, hour long podcasts and 5,000 word Medium.com essay.

I predict we will see a similar reinvention for brands in 2015. More and more brands will turn to storytelling and create content that aligns with their core values. Smart brands will turn their content marketing operations into independent, entrepreneurial media outlets, fully embracing the idea of what it means to be a publisher.

As Shane Snow of Contently puts it:

“We’ll see a large number of brand-owned publications launch, using budget that once went to sponsored content.”

For a wonderful example of this, see Basecamp’s extraordinary TheDistance.com

2. Content creators will start focusing on readability

The rapid growth of content marketing has put the spotlight firmly on content creation. Unfortunately, very little of this content is readable – and I’m not talking about the quality of the content here.

I’ve seen countless otherwise great content pieces this year marred by readability issues, ranging from limited line-height to poor font choices and a glaring lack of visual breaks.

People read differently on the internet. They skim, they scan and they make value judgments about whether your content is actually worth 10 minutes of their lives.

This is why I believe content creators in 2015 should start focusing on readability as much as they focus on actual content.

This means short paragraphs.

Generous line-heights.

Large fonts.

Plenty of visual elements on the page.

And of course, better font choices.

recommended fonts for blogs

3. There will be no room for “medium-sized” content

Sam Slaughter, VP of Content at Contently, said:

The term “snackable content” will mercifully be put out of its misery.

A recent study by Buzzsumo showed that people are far more likely to share lengthy, in-depth content. Part of this is for SEO purposes – Google favors posts over 2,000 word on its front page – and partly because consumers are sick of the same regurgitated 500-word pieces.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, micro-content – tweets, 6 second Vines, Snapchats, Whisper secrets, small infographics – continues to grow at breakneck speeds.

The loser, in the midst, is “medium-sized” content – those 500-800 word blog posts that formed the backbone of so many content marketing campaigns in the past.

As marketing moves into 2015, I predict this content will slowly die out. It makes for mediocre marketing and engages neither the writer nor the reader.

I, for one, won’t be mourning this demise.

4. Wearables will present a challenge to marketers

The whole wearables market has been threatening to blow up for quite a while, and I believe 2015 will be the year when the phenomenon will hit tipping point. Apple will launch the iWatch early 2015 and we should see 2nd generation Android Wear watches by the second quarter next year.

Whichever way you look at it, the wearables market will heat up before we exit 2015.

How marketers deal with the challenge of fitting content on tiny screens will be interesting to watch. We saw how marketers struggled to make the transition from the big screen to mobile. The transition from mobiles to watch screens might prove to be harder still.

Either way, I am really looking forward to how this phenomenon unfolds in 2015.

5. Content marketers will have access to better data

Most content marketers I know are frustrated; the analytics tools that measure their success are woefully antiquated, measuring useless vanity metrics like pageviews instead of metrics that matter, like engagement and content performance.

Thankfully, this should change in 2015. A number of startups have been cooking up analytics tools built from the ground up for the modern content marketers. Some of the standout examples are ClickTale and Parsely.

These tools will change the way we measure success, and in the process, the way we create and execute our content marketing campaigns.

6. Organizations will embrace content marketing as a belief, not just a tactic

The most effective content marketing organizations don’t see content marketing as just a tactic; they see it as a part of their culture and their belief system. They produce content not just to plug a marketing hole, but because they see creating content as a core part of how they express themselves as organizations and brands.

I believe 2015 will be the year when we will see more and more organizations embrace content marketing as something that everyone in the company does, not just the marketing department. Employees will jump in and help out with content creation, both internally and externally. The smartest organizations will identify employees with a sharable expertise (say, sales or coding) and give them the tools to share this expertise with the world.

To me, this is one of the most exciting developments in content marketing.

7. Companies will buy what they cannot build

Google acquired Zagat and Frommer’s, Adorma invested in JPGmag, and Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post. All these media companies continue to thrive under their new ownership.

Contrast this with the never ending tales of woe coming out of Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media – a media company built from the ground-up.

As content marketing matures, more and more brands are learning just how hard it is to attract an engaged audience. Instead of wasting years of effort and talent into creating properties from scratch, smart brands are already buying existing media companies outright.

It makes sense from a financial perspective: traditional media companies are struggling to stay afloat while brands, especially tech companies, are flush with cash. Apple, for instance, is worth a whopping $655Bn. The 160+ year old NYT? A paltry $1.99Bn.

Apple vs. NYT

It also makes sense from a marketing perspective: existing media properties come with their own audiences, writers and editors.

As Matthew Rothenberg puts it:

“At some point, brands are going to start wondering why they’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to rent an audience instead of building one of their own.”

8. Companies will realize that great content is nothing without great distribution

Over 92,000 pieces of content are produced every day – a number that will only go up in the future.

What is the likelihood that your blog post, video or infographic will be discovered and read?

This is why companies that double down on distribution will see much better results from their content marketing efforts.

I predict we will see companies pursue hybrid distribution models where they will leverage existing platforms while simultaneously nurturing their own. Boosting distribution through paid social advertising will become the norm (Jay Baer calls it “paid amplification”), and brands will devote increasingly larger content marketing budgets to cultivating distribution channels.

9. Brands will realize the potential of apps as content

Not too long ago, “content” meant “articles”. Then we expanded that definition to include pictures, infographics and videos.

I believe 2015 will be the year when brands will start seeing software and single-use sites as content.

We’ve already seen mainstream brands like Charmin and Oakley see tremendous success by distributing independent apps that complement the brand experience.

As content marketing organizations mature further, I predict we will see even greater use of “software as content”.

10. We will finally see the death of the boring corporate blog

Most big corporations were slow to jump aboard the content marketing express, and when they did, they stuffed their blogs with the kind of dull corporate-speak that can put a caffeinated Energizer bunny to sleep.

Fortunately, all our ranting and raving over the years has had an effect – more and more corporate blogs are ditching the boring bits in favor of bolder, more fun content.

GE’s Vines are a great example of this trend – a stodgy, old corporation that embraced a new medium and created content that is not just educational, but also a whole lot of fun to watch.

Ditto with the GE Stories blog.

I predict 2015 will be the year when other corporations will follow GE’s lead and finally infuse some life into their long dead blogs.

11. We will see the boundary between sales and marketing blur even further

It used to be that sales handled sales, and marketing handled marketing.

That divide isn’t quite as clear anymore.

Salespeople have always been expected to educate prospects about a product or a service. With the rise of content marketing, the same salespeople are sharing their product and industry expertise with millions of readers spread around the globe.

As a result, salespeople are doing what earlier used to be the responsibility of the marketing department – sharing knowledge, educating audiences and building authority.

The lines between sales and marketing are getting blurred, and this will only get more pronounced as content marketing becomes the norm, not the exception.

Whichever way you look at it, we are at an exciting moment in content marketing. We’ve already seen brands invest in a big way into content. 2015 promises to be the year when content marketing will finally mature to become the cornerstone of digital marketing.

Photo credit: Christmas Stock Images cc

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