Evolution of Content Marketing

How many marketing emails do you get? And how many do you actually read?

When was the last time you went to a website on a daily basis to read someone’s blog?

Do you stop and read every tweet or social media post, or do you skim through, looking for something interesting?

How you consume content has changed in the last five years.

Here’s what many businesses and marketers aren’t realizing, though: The way your target customers consume content has changed, too. What got people’s attention five years ago gets lost in the shuffle today.

In fact, there is a two-part movement happening in content marketing. First, longer-form, more well-researched content is coming to the forefront, and second, smart businesses are aligning their content with the buyer’s journey.

Part 1: Reenergizing Content-Fatigued Audiences With Long-Form Content

Content fatigue is rampant. The success rate of short-form content is deteriorating. Blogs are now rated as less effective than case studies, white papers, and research reports, a big change since 2014. While 63% of marketers are using e-newsletters, 33% of those marketers admit they’re only somewhat effective or not effective at all.

In response, smart businesses are moving away from overly frequent, mediocre, short-form content. Instead, they’re producing higher caliber, more thoughtful, in-depth, longer-form content on a less frequent basis.

In 2015, these top bloggers and blogs averaged over 1,000 words:

Even brands like Chevy and IBM are beginning to produce longer content.


Because longer content actually resonates and gets results. This content is what buyers talk about and share with one another. This content is what other publications link to, and what people re-share on social media.

“85% of content published (excluding videos and quizzes) is less than 1,000 words long. However, long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than shorter form content. Either people ignore the data or it is simply too hard for them to write quality long form content.” – Moz’s insights from analyzing 1 million articles

“[O]ur research this year found that longer form content outperforms short form content. Long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than shorter form content.” – Buzzsumo’s 2015 report on content marketing

What is long-form content? I also call this “standalone” content. Ann Handley recently told me she’s calling it “educational” or “training” content. No matter what you call it, this type of content is SSLIM:

S – Standalone. The content can stand apart from a company’s website and email programs, so it can be used across multiple channels. Often this means PDF or e-reader format. Even long-form blogs can be turned into PDFs for distribution through other channels, or as a content upgrade.

S – Strategic. These assets are planned, researched and well-written. In other words, this content isn’t cranked out by overworked staff or interns – it’s thoughtfully created and professionally developed by high-caliber writers who understand the bigger content marketing picture and perform thorough research on the topic. SSLIM content is not typically part of the weekly blog writing process – it’s a project in and of itself, and businesses need to plan for this within their marketing budget.

L – Longer-form. In general, this means more than 1,000 words long. Moz’s recent report found that content over 1,000 words performs significantly better – but keep in mind, beyond 2,000 words the performance increase was nominal. Longer-form also means more time-consuming to write – so once again, plan for this.

I – Intelligently distributed. Smart businesses are working with influencers and media outlets to get their content in front of the right audiences. Also, related to Part 2 below, this content is part of the buying experience – put in front of the right buyers at the right stage in their buying journey.

M – Measured. SLIMM content isn’t one-off, it’s not written on a hunch and shoved out the door so the marketing team can check off an item on their to-do list. It’s created to perform. It’s created to attract leads, convert leads to customers and retain existing customers. As such, this content will have metrics tied to it – metrics that determine its performance down to the last detail, so these learnings can be applied to the next piece of content. This measurement not only helps marketing prove ROI, but it makes each subsequent content asset better.

What kind of content works best as SSLIM content? Here are a few examples:

Proving the ROI of marketing activities is what’s keeping marketers up at night, according to HubSpot’s 2015 State of Inbound report. Another great thing about SSLIM content is that there are myriad ways to track its success, depending on your goals. You can create a unique URL for it to track traffic, use a delivery service such as Attach.io to monitor opens and reading habits, or even put a unique phone number or email address on the standalone content to track where leads are coming from.

Let’s face it. Seth Godin might be the only one who can get away with snippets of blog posts going forward. SSLIM content is making a break for it in the world of content marketing.

This doesn’t mean that blogs, email marketing, and social media don’t work anymore. It’s just that there’s so much of it, target audiences are going blind to it – so you have to think a bit differently to stand out from the crowd.

You have to consider your purpose when creating those blogs, and really think through your distribution process. Your weekly newsletter has to have enough value in it that people let it go through to their inbox instead of unrolling it. Your social media feeds need to showcase your best assets, and demonstrate the personality and value of your brand – not just auto-retweet anything having to do with your industry.

In fact, all content marketing tactics and channels are intrinsically tied in a successful strategy, and this shorter-form content is actually an important part of the life of SSLIM content. A blog post can point the reader toward a white paper. Social media posts can boost the visibility of an e-book. A marketing email can deliver a guide or a case study.

A great example of SSLIM content backed up by other content marketing tactics is the guide I helped Fluid IT Services create: Building a Future-Proof Business. They use this to encourage people to sign up for their mailing list, they write social media posts about it, they’ve mentioned it in blog posts, and they’ve even sent it to prospects, clients and partners they think might find it useful. They have gotten a lot of mileage out of that single piece of content.

Side note: Using SSLIM content to entice people to sign up for your mailing list is still a great idea. However, influencers are less likely to share your content if it’s behind an email gate (an email opt-in form). So think about your purpose for each piece of content before you decide whether you’re going to put it behind a gate or not.

What about in addition to your weekly blog or newsletter, you carve out some budget for a really great piece of SSLIM content? You could create content you’re proud of, that showcases your brand and boosts your credibility. You could actually teach your audience a thing or two about your area of expertise. You could have a piece of content that gets used over and over again in a variety of ways – something evergreen that pays for itself over and over again with new leads and happy existing customers.

Your takeaway:

Consider the quality of the content you are producing. Shorter-form, super frequent, and off-the-cuff content has its place – but to cut through the haze of your audience’s content fatigue, consider creating SSLIM content.

Part 2: Aligning Content Production With the Buyer’s Journey

The second part of the movement happening in content marketing may sound obvious, but it actually hasn’t been in the forefront of content marketing for years:

Content performs better and produces a higher ROI when it is targeted and aligned to a specific stage in the buyer’s journey.

What does this mean, exactly? Well, consider the stages of the buyer’s journey:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest or initial consideration
  3. Evaluation
  4. Post-purchase experience (a.k.a. customer retention)
  5. Customer loyalty (a.k.a. advocacy)

Content that works for a customer who isn’t fully aware of your brand might not work as well for a customer who has already purchased from you. For example, a blog post that positions you as an industry expert. That might move a customer from aware to interested – but what would it do for an existing customer (someone in the post-purchase experience bucket) other than maybe reassure them they made the right purchase?

Or vice versa. Say you create a tip sheet that included X surprising or unique ways a customer could use your product (WD 40 went whole-hog on this with this tip sheet). That would excite an existing customer enough that you might even tip them into loyal customer territory. But it wouldn’t resonate with someone who doesn’t know who the heck you are or what you offer.

Research shows that 67% of the buyer’s journey is now undertaken digitally – and that number has probably gone up in the last year. Marketing is increasingly responsible for the lead-to-revenue cycle, with 74% of business buyers conducting more than half of their research online before making on offline purchase. Buyers are proactively seeking the information they need about their expensive problems and potential solutions.

It makes sense that content that is more tailored to the stages of the buying experience is more successful, and it’s about time marketers started paying more attention to this. No matter what target audience you serve, they want to know that you understand them. In fact, here are 5 things real B2B buyers said they want your content to do for them.

Marketers who are already aligning their content to the buyer’s journey are enjoying great success (source: Aberdeen Group):

  • Double the revenue attributed to their content marketing efforts
  • 98% more marketing-qualified leads
  • 60% more leads from social media

While certain topics will resonate with buyers in certain stages of the buying journey, certain types of content sometimes work best at certain stages too. Here is a very generalized look at what types of content often work well in each stage of the buyer’s journey:

Awareness: Making your brand known

Entertain and engage.

Key content: Infographics, blog posts (opinion, breaking news, lists, challenges), videos, social media.

Interest: Build a relationship


Key content: White papers, e-books, reports, guides, slide decks, webinars, guest posts, blog posts (how-to and expert interviews).

Evaluation: Build trust


Key content: Case studies, data sheets, testimonials, product demonstrations.

Post-purchase: Retain customers

Continually engage.

Key content: Tip sheets, user guides, product-focused blogs, newsletters, and email marketing.

Customer loyalty: Enable advocacy

Encourage two-way communication and build community.

Key content: Email marketing specific to loyal customers (loyalty program).

That is not written in stone, of course, but it can be a helpful starting point when you’re just not sure what type of content to create to attract a certain set of eyes.

I created my Special Report: How to Create a White Paper That Converts to engage my target clients at the interest stage, because this is the stage many people are in when they come to my website or read one of my articles. They know they need a copywriter or content writer when they find me, but they need a little extra encouragement to move into the evaluate stage.

Creating unique content for the various stages of the buyer’s journey isn’t as daunting as it sounds. A lot of content can be repurposed through a variety of channels. A photo of your product in use from that tip sheet you created can be a great social media post that engages buyers earlier in the journey. That white paper about the future of SaaS that your interested audience loves so much can be reswizzled (yes, that’s the technical term) into an email drip that goes out to your existing customers, helping them feel like industry insiders.

Check out the Jack Erwin shoe company example toward the end of this Entrepreneur article.

Your takeaway:

Map out your buyer’s journey (here’s a great example from the Content Marketing Institute). What do they need to know at each stage? What would engage them most at each stage? Make a plan to create content that serves them at each stage, and figure out how you will get that content into their hands at the right time.

The Evolution of Content Marketing

There’s a lot of noise on the Internet. To cut through it and be heard by your target audience, you have to think differently today than you did in years past.

Spitting out a mediocre weekly blog post based on what pops into your mind – that won’t cut it anymore.

Blowing up your customers’ inboxes with value-less, daily marketing emails – that won’t cut it anymore.

Setting up your Twitter account to auto-tweet anything with an industry keyword in it – that won’t cut it anymore.

Your audience needs something more meaningful from you. Something more thoughtful, in-depth and helpful. They wade through content crap all day long and they’ve become blind to the humdrum.

What if you created content that was deeper and more powerful? What if you created content for the right people on the right topics at the right time?

You could attract more and better leads. Those leads could evolve more quickly into loyal customers. Those loyal customers could have in-hand the means to share your message, your brand and your offering with everyone they know.

Content marketing is evolving. Are you?