When it comes to developing content for marketing purposes, I tend to think in terms of undervalued assets. If possible, I want to capitalize on a perceived gap in the market. Essentially, I look for any opportunity to zig where others zag.
As more marketers invest in content, this becomes increasingly difficult. There are the pieces of content you just simply need because your customers expect to be able to find them (a website, social media pages, etc.), but they may not help to differentiate yourself or exponentially grow your business. The trick is to find platforms and content that will help you tell the unique story of your business in a way that resonates with customers.
For many small businesses, a large part of this is keeping an eye on new content trends in places you may not expect. By looking outside your industry, and especially into the world of content publishing, you can stay one step ahead of competitors by adapting your content before they do. As a general rule, what your customers consume for entertainment, they end up expecting out of you.
Below are a few examples of current trends in the content world along with considerations if you're thinking of trying them for your business.
Today is an interesting moment in the development of online content. For years, publishers have been operating from the same playbook. Publish an article to their website or blog, post about it on their social media pages, send a link out in their daily or weekly newsletter, rinse and repeat.
These practices are starting to get shaken up. Newsletters in particular are increasingly being utilized by publishing startups to engage with customers or readers in new and interesting ways.
Take, for example, the upcoming launch of sports personality Bill Simmons’ new site, The Ringer. In the past, there would likely be a build up to the launch of the site with promotion on social media and maybe an e-blast or two. Then, one day, it would just exist. This is the playbook his prior site, Grantland, worked off of for its launch under ESPN’s guidance.
With the launch of a completely new property, however, Simmons and his team have taken a completely different approach. Once the name and writers for his new website were unveiled, a landing page was set up at theringer.com where readers could enter their email address to subscribe to the website’s upcoming newsletter.
Rather than acting as a promotional tool, this newsletter has featured full length stories that do more than just preview the coming tone of the website; in a way, the newsletter is the website. And it seems to be just as popular.
Other media presences, like the show runner of the popular HBO Show Girls, Lena Dunham, have also started publishing regular newsletters that are not housed on any site. The only calls to action are buttons to share the content on social media or via email.
Email newsletters sometimes have the stigma of “spam” attached to them, but recent studies show that it’s still an effective marketing tool – and that, in fact, many young adults prefer email to other marketing channels. With big names in culture and publishing making this their preferred method of content, it further validates newsletters as a strong content delivery method.
When well-known names begin using content delivery tactics like this, it means that your customers become more receptive to you doing the same. Instead of assuming that the objective should always be to drive traffic to your website, this trend raises an interesting question: What if you use your newsletter itself to get across your complete message? If your customers prefer this medium, what do you lose by not sending them to your site? If the answer is vanity metrics like monthly traffic numbers, you might consider adopting this tactic for your business.
As always, keep your intended audience in mind. If email isn’t their thing or doesn’t line up with your broader strategy, don’t try to force it just because others have done it.
Along with an increasing reliance on newsletters to develop and host content, publishers are more open to relying on independent platforms on which to publish their content.
With the creation of Facebook Instant Articles, LinkedIn Pulse and platforms like Medium becoming full blown publishing partners for interesting brands (including the previously mentioned Ringer, Money, and Fortune among others), publishers seem willing to give up more control of their content by hosting it on external platforms.
Once again, this is done because it’s what the audience expects and wants. These are well-designed, uniform publishing platforms that carry an air of authenticity and authority for their users. They feel official. Users who are already using them can consume your content in their preferred place without navigating away to somewhere that has no clout for them (i.e., a business blog).
This could reach the point where linking to articles is seen as one click too many, and customers instead expect to see the full content of a piece laid out directly in whatever social media platform or app they are using to look for content. Businesses should get started testing out places like Facebook Instant Articles (or the preferred site of your audience) and measuring the difference in engagement with the content. It only makes sense to post your content where your audience expects to see it. Don’t try to change where they’re going; adjust to what they want.
It is also becoming evident that successful businesses are becoming more transparent. In a world dominated by Kickstarter campaigns and other fundraising sites, customers want to feel like they know the companies they’re giving business to.
Take the digital startup of Gimlet Media, for example. Founded in 2014 by Alex Blumberg, a producer at the popular radio show This American Life, Gimlet wanted to create a privately owned, for-profit podcast network. Their first show, StartUp, was actually based around the founding of the company itself. It was hosted by Blumberg and featured a full look into the trials of starting a business out of nothing. Landing investors, finding a partner, hiring staff; it was all covered. And, surprisingly, listeners were lining up to invest in the company.
Now this is an extreme example, but it goes to show just how far transparency can help a business connect with customers.
Small businesses in particular should take note of this. By being willing to share some personality, some vulnerability and most importantly, real excitement and enthusiasm for the product, customers are more likely to become engaged and feel like they have a stake in the business themselves. They’re getting wrapped up into your narrative, which is a great place for them to be.
Everyone loves a happy ending, after all.
Get There First
So there you have it – a few content trends to keep your eye on. Take a look at these offerings, think about what is the most compatible with your audience, and then take advantage of the content gaps in your industry that make sense for your customers. Get there before your competitors do and reap the benefits.