How accurate are content marketing trend predictions? A 10-year retrospective
It gets towards the end of the year and you think: ‘I’d better see what the trend predictions are for next year, so that I have something new and exciting to offer our clients!’ Because incrementally and continually improving what you’re already doing sometimes doesn’t feel as… trendy.
But you look at a few lists – ‘Top 10 trends to watch out for in 2019’ and ‘Five business-critical content marketing trends to execute in 2019’ – and you feel a sense of deja vu. ‘Hang on, wasn’t video/mobile/augmented reality the must-do/must-have in last year’s lists?’
Yes, it was.
There is justified scepticism around the ‘must-have’, ‘business-critical’ headlines, and most marketers will judge which are accurate, valuable insights and which are pie-in-the-sky ideas that are either years too early or will never emerge at all.
Instead of writing our own ‘5 content marketing trends to watch out for in 2019’ article, I scoured dozens of ‘content marketing trends to watch out for’ articles from 2010, 2014 and 2018 and drew out the common themes to see which trends happened, which predictions came true and which were paper tigers. Have this insight in mind when you read trends/predictions articles, to remember the deeper context of content marketing’s evolution when making decisions about how to spend your 2019 budget.
A number of articles talked about how SEO was changing and as Google continued to weed out black-hat methods, creating the right content was key to driving revenue from search.
Articles said “consumers will demand even more relevant and personalized search results” so publishers and brands should create it – addressing date of publication, geo-location, mobile device browsers, users’ past behaviour, PR and contextual advertising, and social media content.
10 Nostradamus points – into 2019 this is truer than ever with more brands having laser focus on driving search rankings to drive revenue.
“An acceleration of mobile opportunities” was predicted, and while this was true back in 2010, we were still at a stage when marketing commentators were saying: “Even if you can’t make money from mobile, you still have to keep an eye on it.”
Another article said: “In January 2010, it felt like it could have been the year when mobile marketing rose to prominence, but looking back on the year, it is clear that mobile marketing is still emerging.”
7 Nostradamus points – this came to pass, but not as soon as many predicted.
- “Marketers will increasingly understand how to use and manage social media. Doing more listening and monitoring of online conversations this year, as well as collecting data from these interactions to get a better view of their customers or prospects.”
- “Profitable interaction [on social media] will continue to be the exception for small businesses in 2010 rather than the rule.”
- “Greater integration by social networks with each other.”
- “40% of marketers were transitioning from the ‘trial’ to the ‘strategic’ phase of social marketing maturity.”
9 Nostradamus points – social media was already a behemoth by 2010, the key difference was the increased understanding and weaponisation by brands.
Related to the above is: “Proliferation of apps that spread the reach of social networks beyond the browser. This has taken social networking and the Internet to people where they are – and made anytime/anywhere access a reality. Mainly thanks to mobile Web and plug-and-play applications.”
10 Nostradamus points – Not only has app usage skyrocketed, but this prediction is spot on. When was the last time you used social media in a browser?
“2010 will be a year of exploration for online broadcasters as they struggle to find and attract loyal audiences. Internet broadcasters will need to make their media more shareable, more engaging, more trackable and more mobile to attract money from advertisers.”
7 Nostradamus points – early adopters were podcasting in the mid ’00s (when 9% of Americans had listened to a podcast in the last month), by 2010 it was 12% and only 26% by 2018. The format continues to proliferate.
Most lists included statements such as: “In 2010, watch for video to become more accessible to small businesses through online outlets. There’s a lot of investment happening around video, which is sure to create even more low-cost opportunities for small businesses to participate in video promotions in 2010.”
5 Nostradamus points – lists have been citing video as that year’s must-have for nearly 20 years. It’s hard to imagine a time before ubiquitous wifi, broadband and smartphones but in 2010 only 300m smartphones were sold, compared to nearly 1.5bn in 2015. The right prediction… for five years later.
“There’s been a wave, a movement driven by the velocity and intensity with which people have started expressing their views using social media. Across markets in the region, there have been several instances of these social voices impacting brands and influencing opinions on everything from the media and the government to social causes and the choice of sports teams.”
8 Nostradamus points – it might have taken a few more years to become doctrine, but savvy brands were all over this before it even had a name.
The rise and rise of content marketing
“While there have been countless articles published in the past couple of years about the importance of content marketing, it’s only now [in 2014] that the term is becoming part of the everyday vernacular of businesses.” announced Forbes and other lists reflected this explicitly or implicitly.
10 Nostradamus points. This happened.
“Social mobile is now mandatory” but “while the majority of marketers now know the importance of having mobile-friendly content, many are still lagging when it comes to actually carrying out their mobile strategy.”
“Make sure your blog is viewable on mobile devices by using responsive WordPress templates. Visual content such as images and video needs to be made easy to view on smartphones and tablets. 12 months ago it was a nice to have but is now becoming essential.”
7 Nostradamus points – Google started to rewards sites with mobile versions of pages, but only went mobile-first in 2018.
The issue was that it was expensive for brands to suddenly create dynamic pages or mobile-first sites, so the move happened slowly. Many brands were still creating massive infographics and PDFs in the years following 2014 – the desktop mindset was a hard one to shift.
Measurement and ROI
Ay, there’s the rub. As Marketing Week predicted: “It seems inevitable that following the excitement, and spend, of 2013 around content marketing, we will see somewhat of a backlash. Marketers may fall into the ‘trough of disillusionment’ in 2014 as they agonise over measurement and return on investment.”
The excitement of content marketing’s promised power swept even the most staunch number crunchers up, in a whirl of spending. But once the investment party, the C suite wanted to know what they’d bought and how to quantify it – and the creative industry’s bowels loosened. But that wasn’t even the biggest challenge.
‘You want metrics? We got metrics!’ Marketers starting churning out new KPIs, from the classic UPVs and email subscriber numbers, to social audience size, assisted conversions and social media engagement rates (as a proportion of your audience – benchmarked against competitors). But it still didn’t answer the question: what is the cash value of these followers/clicks/eyeballs?
“Compared to defining the goal of content marketing, determining the set of metrics that should be used to measure the efficiency of the strategy is certainly a way more challenging task. With such a great number of content distribution channels and social media networks, one cannot apply the same strategy for all and the same goes for KPI.” said FourDots.com
8 Nostradamus points – For ten years marketers have desperately looked at ways to distil and prove ROI to support the work they know is effective. Five years on, ROI for all content marketing remains a challenge. Many marketers still admit that it is simply impossible to accurately define ROI for all aspects of content media.
Even the UK’s Guardian announced: “Video content is a must. It can gain and hold attention above everything else. It is not necessarily expensive and the ROI can be huge.”
Alice Driscoll, MD for creative agency pd3 said: “We can expect more subscriber-based branded YouTube channels and the commercialisation of these via paywalls, which demand high-quality content to justify subscription.”
10 Nostradamus points – Brands were able to use big wallets and creative minds to create high-quality, engaging content which told their brand stories. Think John Lewis Christmas advert, Norton Antivirus’s ‘Most Dangerous Town On The Internet’ and the Red Bull space jump. Compare these to the best print ad you can think of…
Social media will become pay-to-play. “Facebook likes were the start and the finish of Facebook marketing. Obtain 100,000 likes and you could reach a big crowd. Facebook becoming public means the shareholders want a return. That means that free reach is diminishing and paying for it is almost becoming the necessary evil.”
10 Nostradamus points – The party was over. Not only had a million billion people started to dilute brands’ power to reach audiences on social media, but brands realised they could sell access to these audiences. It was the death of organic social media.
Social media will become more visual, due in part to the rapid market penetration of smartphones and widespread availability of high speed wireless networks.
10 Nostradamus points – It’s hard to imagine a time before Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat. It might not have been the most risky of predictions, but nonetheless, it happened.
“Google Glass is offering the promise of doing social at the blink of an eye and with the movement of lips. 2014 will see the emergence of wearable technology that takes social out of your hand and onto your wrist and face. The two other important questions on this trend are, “what will be the adoption rate?” and “what will be its impact for social media marketers?” Look forward to reviewing the numbers in 2015.”
5 Nostradamus points – Google Glass stalled on the starting grid, but Apple watches are growing slowly – with 17.7m units sold in 2017. Even so, look around the space you’re in and see how many people have smartwatches compared to smartphones. This prediction is still a way off.
“The power of the social micro niche influencer on a global scale is now becoming evident and real. Expect to see this trend become more visible in 2014.”
10 Nostradamus points – it seems unfair to give 10 points to something that was predicted four years before and was already ‘a thing’, but it was in so many lists that it was clearly still noteworthy.
Content is king
“Spurious and waffling content which adds little or no value to the reader and is littered with marketing messages is incredibly annoying and transparent. Consumers are now looking for much more than an online shop, and the most successful e-tailers in 2014 will be those that are seen as trusted editorial platforms.”
So obvious, it makes lists every year or two because it seems that people forget – focusing on channels or other gimmicks.
“Content creators can legitimately claim to be the fastest growing job title in marketing, with more companies recognizing the value in original content creation and hiring in-house creators.”
Inside this statement was changing understanding of content’s power: “In looking at the factors that determine search engine rankings, we see that high-quality, long-form content, and content with many social media likes and shares, consistently rank highest.”
9 Nostradamus points – While no one doubted that content was king, it wasn’t always clear what content and whether this changed over time. What certainly came true is the amount of brands creating more content, guided by more data, audience understanding and strategic thinking to defined ends (for example, rankings).
Native advertising and branded content
“Advertisements will become less blatant as marketers begin to favor ads integrated with content. We’ve already seen the rise in native advertising among publishers like BuzzFeed, The New York Times, and Forbes. With banner ads being largely ineffective for anything but perhaps brand visibility, native ads like advertorials, sponsored content and branded content have become much more popular and effective.”
10 Nostradamus points – Blending editorial and advertising was a no-brainer – and it made sense to media buyers so it was easy to sell – unlike podcast sponsorship per se.
“Retargeting is a solution that utilizes cookies to track visitors after they depart your site,” invaluable for representing yourself to people who may have shown an interest in your products or put thing in a cart but not purchased.
10 Nostradamus points – Victorian Plumbing anyone? I looked at a retro toilet and it followed me like some macabre spectre wherever I went for months. In the end I bought the Burlington high-cistern with walnut seat, very nice.
“People were so focused on creating great content, they forgot to tell anyone. And in 2014, they realised. Most businesses have gotten the message that content creation and publication are the cornerstones of a content marketing strategy. However, where many are still lagging significantly is in the distribution of that content.”
7.5 Nostradamus points – While many people had forgotten the marketing part of content marketing, lots of brands still didn’t disseminate or promote their great content. As if promoting content felt like paying for it twice.
Here are some common predictions for the year ahead, in order of the number of times they came up in 2019 trends articles and the sites they’re from.
* indicates ones we’ve seen in previous lists.
- * Video: webinars, webcasts and live video (8) – Inc.com, Skyward, Forbes, SingleGrain, CIOreview, socialmediatoday, BeMedia, Weebly
- Voice Search (7) – Forbes, SingleGrain Business2Community, CIOreview, BeMedia, SoftScripts, Weebly
- * Distribution will remain a driver of success (6) – Forbes, Prodo, LAstartups, SoftScripts, Vanhishikha.com and TopRank
- Chatbots (5) – Forbes, SingleGrain, Skyward, CIOreview, BeMedia
- * (More/continued) Influencer marketing (5) – Coredna, TopRank, CIOreview, Prodo, socialmediatoday
- * Personalization (4) – SingleGrain, socialmediatoday, Weebly, NeilPatel
- Artificial Intelligence (for improved UX, deeper insight and automation) (4) – Inc.com, SingleGrain, Brafton.com, BeMedia
- *Better measurement and attribution (4) – TopRank, SmartInsights, Vanhishikha.com, Merehead
- Long form content (3) – NeilPatel, Business2Community
- * Content marketing will become marketing (3) – Forbes, Vanhishikha.com, LAstartups
- Subscription and audience ownership (3) TopRank, Weebly, SmartInsights
- * Social Media (Still important, especially LinkedIn) (3). Forbes, Brafton.com, CIOreview
- * SEO (still) (3) – SmartInsights, Inc.com, PracticalCommerce.
Those who make predictions are often right, and we can forgive those who included Google Glass in their lists in 2014. The key is knowing which predictions we can make use of for our companies and clients.
There are a few ‘new’ things in the list: artificial intelligence and chatbots, for example, but it seems that the main predictions address things we already know and do. We just need to adapt and refine (measurement, SEO) or steer (video, longform content) as they evolve.
This might suggest that content marketing is ‘settling’ with fewer new channels, principles and approaches. The key takeaway for 2019 from this ten-year retrospective being: evolution not revolution.