As another new year gets under way, content continues to gain its considerable ground in the marketing industry. Content Marketing Institute (CMI) founder Joe Pulizzi and the CMI have released their annual report, Content Marketing in the UK 2016: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends, which surveys UK marketers in both the B2B and B2C spaces. The report’s key findings illustrate just how much content marketing has infiltrated all areas of the industry in recent years.

As with the marketing industry itself, content is an ever changing creature. Trends come and go, techniques get updated and channels go out of fashion. This year CMI acknowledged the extent to which the industry has grown by updating its definition. Once recognised as ‘the creation and distribution of valuable content’, content marketing is now seen as ‘a strategic marketing approach, focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.’

In spite of this new definition being far more precise than the previous one, the percentage of businesses using content marketing actually increased, going from 85% last year to 89% this year. This proves that more and more firms are fast realising the importance for incorporating a content marketing strategy into their wider marketing endeavours. On top of that, 66% of respondents said they expect their organisation to up their content spend in the next 12 months.

66% of respondents said they expect their organisation to up their content spend in the next 12 months

This is all very positive news but the report also highlights some problem areas. In the 2015 survey, 42% of UK marketers said their firms were effective at content marketing; this year that figure dropped to 34%. Something’s amiss. Joe Pulizzi suggests that this could be the result of many businesses not documenting their strategies or of marketers running before they can walk.

He says: “Even though many UK content marketers are seeing great results, others could benefit by taking a ‘back to basics’ approach.”

So, content marketing use has gone up, but its effectiveness could be dropping – how do we address this issue?

In response to a question about business goals, 83% of marketers said engagement will be crucial over the next 12 months. But as we all know, engagement isn’t easily achieved without an effective strategy. If we are to take Joe’s advice – something that’s almost always worth doing – going ‘back to basics’ with our content might help us increase engagement levels and, consequently, our effectiveness.

Producing engaging content is often reported as a major challenge for marketers, so let’s look at some simple ways we can make it easier.

Listen to your audience

Engaging content is helpful, inspiring, informative, interesting and entertaining. It should offer something new, neatly presented in a way that enables the audience to relate.

To do this without first consulting your audience is near impossible. How will you find out what people consider helpful, inspiring, informative, interesting or entertaining without listening to what they have to say on the subject? Tune in to industry conversations online, in forums, on Facebook, on Twitter, wherever. Find out as much as you can about your audience and their needs. Engaging content will happen naturally if you spend time getting to know the people you’re really trying to connect with.

Tell a story

Storytelling is the most effective way of engaging your audience and should therefore form the basis for all your content developments. We’re all hardwired to remember stories, especially those we enjoyed, and if told well, they can bring a subject to life in a way that makes it easy for readers to relate on a personal level.

If your audience is relating to your business story on a personal level, you’re winning, and you can almost certainly consider your content marketing efforts ‘effective’. Creating these compelling stories doesn’t need to be laborious either. To kick you off, think about your company brand, your company history, current industry trends, your customers and how they benefit from your product or services. That last one is key – putting your customers at the heart of your story demonstrates your appreciation of them and is a sure fire way of building a loyal audience.

Use video

Last year Cisco said that by 2017 video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic. Also, a year or two before this, Nielsen reported that 64% of marketers said video content would dominate their strategies going forward. So, in short, if you’re not already including video in your marketing, start now.

It’s estimated that content incorporating video attracts around three times more inbound links than content that doesn’t. Plus, visuals are processed in the brain 60,000 times faster than text, so you can see why it’s a worthwhile investment.

Think about ways you can integrate videos into your future blog posts. But remember, it’s not imperative for you to produce these videos yourself. Instead, start curating videos others have made that help illustrate the point you’re making in your blog, social post or email.

Be authentic

Last but certainly not least, be authentic – your credibility hinges on it. As soon as you show you, your business or your brand to be anything except genuine, honest and trustworthy, people will, at the very least, lose interest – just ask the folks at Volkswagen.

In essence, while content marketing may appear to be getting more and more complex, going back to basics can do wonders for your content’s effectiveness.