What does 2016 hold in store for us marketers? Will we be pounded by another tsunami-sized wave of martech solutions? Will the pace of competition continue to spiral to even greater heights of intensity? What should marketers be doing to pivot to the new year's challenges and come out victorious?
To get a glimpse into upcoming marketing developments in 2016, I sat down with Robert Rose, chief strategy officer at Content Marketing Institute. He was kind enough to share with us what he's seeing in the tea leaves for the coming year:
What will everybody be talking about going into 2016? Are they focusing on the right things?
Well, of course, video is the new black, right? So everybody's talking about video and streaming video through social and all those kinds of things. I think truly what's going to be the big thing of 2016 is simplification.
I think we've reached a tipping point where marketing departments are so complex now, every department is producing content for their own nefarious purposes. And also the strategies of channel, fragmented audiences, all those different things, have become so complex now.
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What we're seeing is a trend of simplification, de-siloing the marketing organization as much as possible and really looking to de-silo content, reduce the amount of content being produced, increase its impact, and look at the channels and the strategies that are making the biggest movement in the business.
Do you see that as being the right place for marketers to focus in 2016?
I really do see that as the right place, and the reason I see it as the right place is because we've become so focused on becoming an on-demand vending machine of content for sales enablement, for filling social channels, email newsletters, and blogs—all those things that have grown up organically over the last seven years—we've forgotten how to create high-impact content.
So, that's a new muscle for most marketing organizations these days.
So, looking to actually reduce the amount of content, simplify the processes and workflows that we're using to create that content and produce it is really the right place to focus because we can always make things more complex.
The real difficulty is: how do we get great at a few strategic points of the customer's journey?
Then we become remarkable not at every step—we'll never be perfect at every step of the customer's journey—but how do we become remarkable at a few strategic steps, so that the thing that the consumer wants is to have another experience with us?
That's going to take simplification. It's going to take unification, marketing groups working together across regions, product groups, functions in the business, and a simplification of the whole marketing strategy.
Where do you anticipate marketers—and especially content marketers—putting the biggest chunk of their budget in 2016?
Where I think marketers—and content marketers, specifically—will be putting their budgets will be in creating high-impact owned media experiences.
We're starting to see this trend a little more at Content Marketing Institute with the research we do, and instead of looking at the content as an alternative form of collateral—which gets to this idea of simplifying the process and reducing the amount of content—we're seeing how can we create owned media properties, whether they're blogs, print magazines, online magazines, events, resource centers, tools, where we can really add value to a consumer's life and lay a valuable product or service over the product.
As that becomes a formative strategy for a marketing department, it's really where I see marketers—and content marketers, more specifically—putting the most resources.
So how do we start to create experiences that add value to our consumers' lives, separate and distinct from the product or service that we offer?
And that money will have to be put into not only the creation of the experience itself, but also the promotion of it. You know, if we're creating great experiences, we should promote them with advertising, with SEO, with PR releases, etc.
So creating those valuable experiences will become a core focus, and by nature they will become a core piece of our budget.
What do you think will be the biggest challenges for content marketers in 2016?
I think there are two major challenges that content marketers have today in sort of formulating a strategy that makes sense.
The first is certainly building a business case. One of the biggest challenges we've seen over the last five, six, or seven years, as content marketing has gotten its legs underneath it, is how do we manage the efficacy of the program. And the challenge there is, it most often isn't a program, right?
Content marketing, in most businesses, is ad hoc, at best, creating assets to support demand generation campaigns, and really measuring it as a campaign is impossible because, quite frankly, it isn't a program. It's not a function. It's not a structured business within the organization.
The second challenge is how then do we actually scale that?
Assuming we can actually build something that is worth building and create those experiences, how do we scale that across regions and functions and products and make something that the marketing organization can actually get their hands around?
Those two challenges alone will provide enough for us to do over the next coming years.
It really will mean that, in order to succeed, you're gonna have to simplify those workflow processes, those governance processes, become much more collaborative with PR, sales, demand generation, brand.
All of the different groups within marketing and communications that are creating content are going to have to become much more collaborative around creating singular experiences that are multifunctional, multidimensional, and get over both the "measurement-of-the-program" challenge, as well as "how-do-we-scale-this-across-the-enterprise" challenge.
What do you think will be the hidden gems of 2016, things that might not be in the limelight but will provide advantages to those marketers who are looking for them?
The hidden gems of 2016 is a really good question, and I think it will probably lie in something that we haven't even seen yet.
You know, we've seen a lot of new channels come up over the last nine to 12 months, everything from streaming media through social on Periscope and Meerkat to the more of temporal nature of messaging with Snapchat, WhatsApp, and those kinds of things, and there's a lot of experimentation going on.
And I think the hidden gem will really be in something classic.
And what I mean by that is, we're seeing a lot of efficacy in print as a channel for content. Why? Because there's not a lot of people there right now.
You know, the level of print mail you see in your mailbox these days is quite low and so differentiating through a great print piece or a great print magazine or through physical events is really the hidden gem that no one's exploring right now.
The really cool thing is, if someone can start to merge those two things together—we tend to think of print and digital as two very separate worlds—but as we can start to merge those things in a way where they become seamless experiences that feed off of each other, now we've got something that's really differentiated and really cool.
I like print as a gem for next year.
Is there any virtue in chasing some of those tools that you mentioned and trying to fit those into your strategy?
When you're trying to figure out if you should chase every new channel, every new platform, every new technology that comes along versus sticking to your guns and looking at getting really good at one thing, I think there's benefit in both.
Gary Vaynerchuk talks about this a lot, really exploring every single channel that comes along, whether it's Periscope, Meerkat, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Blab, you know, etc., making sure you try it out to see if it resonates with the audiences you're trying to create.
Have some level of experimentation.
Then there's another school of thought that says, "know what you do really well." This sort of "good to great" idea, right? Know what you're the best in the world at and deliver that.
To me, it's a bit of both. I think marketing these days, as it becomes a more strategic process in the business, has to be able to innovate quickly.
So when we stand up media properties, whether it's a blog or a website or a microsite, it just can't take us six months in order to do that anymore. We have to do that within hours, days, and weeks, not months and quarters and years.
At the same time, we sort of add the innovation capabilities, the Agile capability, the ability to innovate quickly, test quickly, iterate quickly. We also then have to expand the things that we're doing really well. And so it's this balancing act.
You know, Forrester used to call it the adaptive marketer, and I like that term quite a bit, because it used to be: "Well, what are we evolving into as marketers? What is this new stage of marketing?"
And I think now, rather, the structure, the process, the workflow of marketing is not "how do we evolve into something?" It's "how do we evolve into anything?"
And we're so adaptable and quick to change that quite frankly, whatever your team's titles or roles are, they're going to change, and then they're going to segment off as we build these things that we're really good at, and become differentiated at.
So we're going to have a new skill set, which is the ability to innovate. But then take those innovations and move them over into more permanent infrastructure where we can get really good at them.
Which tools should content marketers be looking at to succeed in 2016?
The tools that are going to be really important in 2016 are going to be based entirely around collaboration.
We talked earlier about this idea of being able to adapt and innovate and move into new arenas of competition very, very quickly and very fluidly. That's going to take collaboration.
Most of the toolsets that we have these days, whether they're web content management, whether they're calendaring, whether they're workflow, or they're analytics, whether they're social media suites, they're built around this idea of managing a single channel through a governance-based workflow.
That has to change, because quite frankly, the siloed nature of those tools has been built up around the technology platforms that they support.
You're starting to see some of that cross-platform work done now, where you're seeing some of the companies, like Adobe, offer multiple suites across different channels and different abilities to manage content and experiences across all those channels.
You're starting to see analytics starting to cross over into social, web, physical, dashboard. Marketing automation is doing the same thing.
Those tools by nature will have to start to work in collaboration with the teams. And the teams will have to work in collaboration with each other.
And so rather than take teams that are scaling based on platforms and technologies, which is what we've done for the last seven years—we've scaled, we have a social team, we have a social CRM team, we have a web content team, an email team, a brand team, a PR team, and all of them have tools—now we're going to start to see, as the teams merge and become more fluid, we're going to need to have the collaboration tools to be able to facilitate that collaboration.
And I think that's a really important thing in 2016. The ones that get that right—not only the marketing departments that deploy those tools, but the vendors that get that right—will be the winners in the long run. Collaboration is going to be the key here.
We'd like to thank Robert Rose for allowing us to interrogate him and look into his crystal ball. To see what foresight other thought leaders had to offer about the new year, give these videos from Ted Rubin, social marketing strategist, and Joe Staples, Workfront CMO, a watch:
See Robert's post called "Tying Silos: Managing the Human Part of Content" for his advice on breaking down barriers between silos.
About the Author
Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.Follow on Twitter More Content by Marcus Varner