Looking to 2018: tips for Australian content marketers

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85% of Australian organisations use content marketing. But have we truly embraced what it means to “act like a publisher”?

Kate Thompson

The 2018 “Content Marketing in Australia” report, published by Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and the Association of Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA), reveals a lot about the state of content marketing in Australia. While we’re spending less than last year (an average of 23% of the total marketing budget compared to 30% in 2017) we’re certainly invested in content marketing as an approach and using a blend of established and new tactics.
  • Email (91%) and social media (90%) remain on top for distribution.
  • Social media posts (90%), pre-produced video (75%), and illustrations or photos (67%) dominate content formats.
  • A lucky few are dabbling in less common formats such as podcasting (14%), live streaming (11%), film and TV (11%) and virtual and augmented reality (10%).
Note: all data reflect the percentage of Australian marketers who use these tactics and channels
Despite a sense of progress, it feels like the glory days where content marketing was untouchable are over (according to Gartner we’re in the “Trough of Disillusionment” so things can only go up from here) and business leaders are starting to demand a much deeper understanding of what success looks like. On top of this, customers expect more; high quality content and brand consistency are hygiene factors as the competition for attention reaches unprecedented levels. Which is why it is baffling to think that only 58% of us create content for our audience versus for our brand.

Rather than give a play-by-play on the ADMA/CMI report, which you can easily read in your own time, I thought it would be most valuable to share some thoughts based on the key take outs worth considering as you craft your plans for 2018.

1. Generosity and selflessness are the secret sauce for audience development.

Where once content marketers were completely obsessed with social media - and you could argue we still are as social media posts rank as the top content format – we’ve finally caught on to audience development. I've always said it's not sustainable to build an empire on rented land. This year most people agree. There has been a major increase in brands building their own audiences (up to 85% this year from 69% in 2017) which is likely to be influenced by the continued shift towards “a pay to play” model in social networks and ad-blocking in digital platforms.

The challenge for marketers is going to be keeping these “owned” audiences genuinely engaged. If you're a content marketer wanting to stand out, be relevant, or loved, focus on quality over quantity. And, be sure you have a considered contact strategy that captures people in moments that matter or at a frequency that isn't creepy. Very simply, give people content they want when they want it. The moment your email newsletter becomes a chore, or your magazine is a marketing brochure, it might be time to book yourself a holiday and reboot.

"Very simply, give people content they want when they want it."

2. Focus your efforts and measure what matters.

There's increased expectation on results and scale but 79% of Australian marketers remain challenged by the content creation process and 41% say they don't know how to measure genuine return on investment. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that 42% of content marketing is managed by a small or one person team – no doubt run off their feet trying to be all things to all people.

My advice to marketers is to keep things simple: articulate a plan that is built from customer insight married to the core competency of your brand and don't deviate from this position. Do one thing really well. It also pays to find a technology that brings the plan to life - whether they solve workflow or distribution challenges - but don't get swept up with all the bells and whistles that you'll probably never use. Finally, be patient. Content marketing is a long play and a lot like fishing: if you want to catch the big fish, you have to put in the time. As tempting as it is, don't measure long term success by short-lived campaigns.

"Content marketing is a long play and a lot like fishing: if you want to catch the big fish, you have to put in the time."

3. Look left and right: the difference between you and the next brand is what you see.

More marketers than not set themselves up to fail. Well perhaps not intentionally, but 43% certainly haven't documented a content marketing strategy. And, only 37% of content marketers craft content based on specific points of the user journey.

This means there are a lot of us who are not only wasting money but we're doing our brands and the industry a disservice. It's alarming that the same people who probably wouldn't buy the weekly groceries without a list, or build a house without a blueprint, will launch into content marketing feet first. Content marketing plans don't have to be dense, but they need to be smart. That's why I like our simple “Think, Create, Evaluate”' philosophy at Hardie Grant.

And remember, content plans are living, breathing things that should evolve as we learn and adapt. While the industry is moving at speed, like many things in business you're better to take a moment and put in the time to look left and right, understand what your customers need, and be a fast follower, than expand an already stretched operation because “everyone else is doing it”. At the end of the day, being active isn't the same as being effective: we need to do less, but better.

"Being active isn't the same as being effective."

While it may seem like I've highlighted mostly challenges, content marketing has really asserted itself as a discipline in its own right and we're starting to agree on what it means to do content marketing well. There's no doubt that 2018 will see some interesting developments and big wins from any brand who has laid out a solid plan, has an appetite to try be bold and stand for something, delivers consistently but isn't afraid to try new things, and most importantly, puts the customer first.

If there's anything you'd like to chat with me about, email katethompson@hardiegrant.com or find me on LinkedIn.

Kate Thompson is strategy director at Hardie Grant Media. If you want to win her over your best bet is to bring coffee, craft beer or both.