It’s that time of year again, in which columnists dust off their crystal balls and peer into the next year to discern the trends, directions, and probabilities of the coming year.
I’ve got five trends on my list, explained below.
1. Contextual Content: Context will be the foundation of the next phase of content marketing. Content is moving beyond screens, and also far beyond mere personalization. Beacons, sensors and IoT enabled devices mean content is more contextual, and hyper-relevant messaging can be delivered in the "phygital" (physical + digital) world at places, times and under circumstances that are meaningful, valuable and helpful to individuals (I recently published research around this topic). Enterprises are beginning to investigate with contextual campaigns and content. They will develop methods for making highly personalized and relevant real-time messages based on triggers such as purchase history, the weather, physical location, and myriad more factors. Such campaigns are highly complex and technically demanding, but as one Disney executive once told me, “The more context there is, the higher the ROI.” Next year will be an experimental year, when trials are floated in this very new and potentially very lucrative arena.
2. Global Campaigns Enterprises are investing heavily in creating global content strategies. Content in diverse countries and regions must both ladder up to central messaging and goals while at the same time containing enough local relevance to resonate with audiences. People, processes, and technologies must be coordinated and synced - easier said than done. Moreover, doing so creates efficiencies and cost-savings, as well as just plain better content. I’ve got research on this topic publishing in early 2017 that was largely generated from work I’ve been doing for clients recently. Over the past year I’ve seen a spike in this type of planning among my clients. I’ve worked on global content strategy for both a major technology firm and helped a global non-profit shape a content strategy that encompasses 93 countries. This trend is already gaining serious momentum.
3. Content Grains Traction in the Enterprise Organizations are looking more seriously at issues surrounding content marketing, whether it be creating a global content strategy as mentioned above, or assessing needs and investments in tools, people, and other resources to ‘get content done.’ Then there’s the importance of gathering stories and assessing content needs beyond marketing into functions and lines of business ranging from sales, research and development, human resources, and other areas. To this end, content is becoming more deeply institutionalized. A fixture of the Fortune 100 list recently hired (but has not yet announced) a global content lead. Expect more formalized content positions and departments in the enterprise in the coming year.
4. Native Advertising Growth Native advertising, a form of converged media that marries content marketing with paid advertising, will continue to burgeon in 2017, providing desperately needed revenue to publishers who are investing in this more premium and customized service to advertisers. The New York Times’ content group T Brand Studio now employs 110 people. In 2015, revenues increased from $14 million to $35 million in 2015, and it now represents 18% of the company’s total digital advertising revenue. Time Inc. employs 125 people at its content group, the Foundry, and the Washington Post’s BrandStudio branded content unit also is growing quickly, as is The Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Custom Studios. This trend will be driven by the continued eclipse of more traditional forms of digital advertising (see below), as well as brands’ growing sophistication with and confidence in content marketing. It’s a win-win for everyone but ad and media agencies, as brands partner directly with publishers on native advertising campaigns.
5. “Traditional” Digital Advertising Continues Its Decline Ad blockers. Ad fraud. Set-it-and-forget it programmatic campaigns that push horrible ads to unwilling consumers. Missing frequency aps that run the same ad again, and again, and again. Long load times that eat up consumers’ data plans. Adjacency issues, now particularly with the recent explosion of fake news. Platforms like iOS that block ads completely. Falling rate cards. It seems that display advertising an’t catch a break, and video advertising isn’t far behind (most consumers don’t make it to the 5 second mark. Advertising on the web isn’t going away any time soon (if ever), but it has certainly been regulated to ugly stepchild status, both by consumers and now increasingly by brands, too. In fact, it’s this decline in the efficacy of online advertising that in large part is spurring the shift to content and to other forms of marketing in owned and earned (rather than paid) channels. While it sometimes hardly seems possible, “traditional” forms of digital advertising will get worse before they get better. That, at least, is in my crystal ball for 2017.
Happy holidays and happy new year to all.