26% of all marketing dollars in the US are now directed toward custom, branded content, according to the latest research by the CMO council. Considering that content marketing was in it’s infancy stages just a decade ago, this fact is absolutely staggering.

As organizations continue to invest more heavily in all forms of digital content, from white papers to custom videos, it’s no secret that the field is changing very rapidly. It’s no longer considered novel for a company to have a blog, or send gorgeous, visually-stimulating emails about deals and sales. It’s the norm. If your organization’s content efforts are below-average, you run the risk of falling behind your competition.

While it’s impossible to predict the future, it is plausible to make some educated guesses on changes that marketers are likely to see in the year to come. Based on some of the latest studies, research, and expert predictions in inbound marketing, here are some changes that could come to pass over the next 18 months:

1. SEO Becomes More Than Just Search Engines

You can’t always find what you’re looking for on Google, Bing, or Yahoo. While their algorithms continue to undergo improvements, the truth is that with 30 trillion pages on the web, you can’t always find what you’re looking for.

Today’s consumers are also more social in their purchase habits than ever before. Some 88% of today’s purchasers make choices based on online comments from consumers. This has lead to an increase in searches for products or services on Pinterest and YouTube.

Sharp brands will shift their efforts and budgets from pure search engine SEO in 2016, and begin optimizing around social media networks. Search engines certainly aren’t dead and are unlikely to go anywhere quickly. That said, it’s reasonable to start strategizing for other, more social and interactive ways your future customers could find you online.

2. You Think Competition is Fierce? Just You Wait!

Did you know that content marketing is now the second largest component of digital marketing budgets? Content creation and management are just behind mobile marketing (including mobile-optimization of websites) as the biggest expenditures for enterprises and SMBs. This means that competition is currently really fierce for talented content marketers with a proven track record.

Unfortunately? It’s going to get much worse, especially for individuals who drive really exceptional results or have niche specialties. The following competencies could quickly become some of the most sought-after by content marketing teams and departments at organizations:

  • Workflow content specialists

  • Visual email marketing experts

  • Sales/case study experts

  • Data-driven content creators

There probably won’t ever be a shortage of entry-level content creators. However, individuals with skill sets at the intersection of creativity and technology will reach a place where they’re in much higher demand.

3. Investments in Touchscreen/Interactive Content

Virtually all digital marketers know the basics of mobile optimization, and why it’s important. Your prospects are more likely than ever before to use a tablet or smartphone to perform the following actions online:

  • Consume news, entertainment or professionally-relevant content

  • Watch videos and listen to music

  • Use social media networks

  • Use media or apps to message colleagues, friends, and family

  • Read and write emails and text messages

  • Research products and make purchases

  • Complete or consume product reviews

  • Research and navigate local businesses

It’s crucial that your website is mobile-responsive; designed in a manner that will appear well on a wide variety of screen sizes. However, the sharpest marketers are looking toward creating content that is optimized specifically for touch screens.

Given the choice, would you rather shop Amazon on their mobile website or via your app? If you’re like the majority of us, you’d surely pick app in an instant because every aspect of the experience is optimized for your mobile device. Fortunately, it’s now cheaper and easier for organizations to create apps of their own, even without on-staff iOS or Android developers.

Are you unsure if you’re in a position to create your own app? Delaying a branded app release could be the right decision, especially if it provides you time to optimize your concept and related content. Alternative ideas for mobile-only content can include:

  • Smartphone coupons, discount codes or deals

  • Social media content that’s designed for smaller screens

  • Mobile-only emails or landing pages

4. Change in Budgetary Control

In traditional enterprise environments, marketing budget control has rested squarely in the hands of CFOs, or sometimes CIOs. However, Caitlin Roberson of Skyword predicts this will shift over to CMOs, and we couldn’t agree more.

Truth be told, content requires extremely flexibility. Concepts like “agile SEO” and “agile inbound marketing” are quickly becoming buzzwords. The world’s best content brands are the ones with the ability to pivot, respond, and create relevant work in real-time.

Traditional budgetary approval processes don’t always work for content marketing teams. It can be difficult to navigate corporate financial approval processes, including filling out forms and obtaining managerial signatures, in an appropriately agile environment.

This is the reason the average CMO may have more control over department spend and monetary autonomy than ever before in 2016 and beyond. This may need to be an earned privilege, but it’s likely to pay off dividends in companies with appropriately strategic marketers and strong leadership.

5. Digital Content Gets Bigger Than Ever Before

Recent data from The CMO Council’s annual survey reveals that digital advertising will overtake television ads by 2018. This is sort of a no-brainer, but it’s pretty mind blowing when you consider that television advertising is actually really expensive. Great commercials are pretty high-budget affairs.

It’s safe to assume that as enterprise organizations shift their dollars away from expensive tv commercials and into web marketing strategies, the quality of content created exclusively for computers, mobile devices, and tablets will rise drastically. Does this mean high-quality web series, gorgeous games and apps, and beautiful immersive web experiences? Yes, yes, and yes. I doubt any consumer will be disappointed by better-quality content exclusively for the web and fewer television commercials in the future.

How do you predict content marketing will change in 2016? Share your predictions and suspicions in the comments!

image credit: heidi/flickr/cc