These Content Trends Will Dominate the Digital World in 2017

Visual storytelling. Live video. User-generated content. Interactive media. What do all four of these have in common? They’re some of the content strategies taking the digital marketing world by storm in 2017. This year, emerging technology and market disruption will continue to force brands to move beyond high-quality content creation. In order to succeed in an increasingly competitive market, content marketing strategists are having to think in three dimensions. Let’s take a peek into the crystal ball of content and see what 2017 has in store.

Once Upon a Good Content Strategy

Storytelling is integral to modern content marketing. And no, we’re not talking about the fairytale picture books you revered as a child (although they can be used for inspiration). Creating content for content’s sake no longer cuts it; people want to connect with your brand on a deeper emotional level.

Why wouldn’t you want to include stories in your content marketing? Storytelling is an innate human quality. Cavemen did it with drawings on walls. Children revel in it in fairytales and kindergarten “story times,” and you probably still do it with your friends during happy hour. Here’s why storytelling works: People can connect the dots much faster with a story than they can with cut-and-dry statistics. Statistics are great for backing up arguments, but not for a hard sell. People relate to other people who share a common experience, so when you tell your tale, it builds trust. Moral of the story? Talk with your audience, not to them.

Extra tip: Throw in some happy vibes—nostalgia, excitement, surprise, etc.—because people relate more to positive emotions than to negative ones. In 2014, Apple launched the iPad Air to the tune of  a campaign titled, “What Will Your Verse Be.” Rather than only marketing the new product, Apple combined technology with humanity and asked consumers to think about their contributions to the world, and how the iPad could help them make a difference. Paired with Robin Williams’ monologue from “Dead Poets Society,” Apple encouraged self-reflection and goal-setting all while sneaking in iPad promotion.

You’re Live in 3…2…1…

As we predicted in our 2017 Digital Trends report, video on demand will continue to rise in popularity this year. But watch out for its partner-in-crime, live video, to make more headway in 2017. As phones become faster and WiFi grows stronger, the ability to interact on a more personal level increases substantially. Audiences want real, unedited content, rather than scripted, staged commercials. Give them what they want with more Facebook, YouTube and Instagram Live videos. Experiment with behind-the-scenes clips of brand production, events or product launches, like Brooks Running did on Global Running Day. Yes, it’s a holiday. And to celebrate, the staff went on a group run and live-streamed the entire workout, adding in a spur of the moment Q&A with employees. This gave audiences a chance to learn more about the company while embracing a quirky holiday.

Source: Brooks Running
Source: Brooks Running

Plan for what you can but embrace time-sensitive opportunities (and imperfections) when they arise.

Look to your audience

The average consumer has the ability to create your next Instagram post right in the palm of their hands. They just need a little push—and incentive. User-generated content boosts audience engagement, brand credibility and, yes, provides free content for you to re-use. When used correctly, it’s a win-win.

Word-of-mouth marketing resonates with consumers more than other forms of media. When you allow fans to tell their own stories through text, images and videos, you stimulate brand-related discussion in an organic forum. Align digital campaigns with your brand’s lifestyle and encourage participation through incentives such as social media endorsements, discounts or free products. Starbucks’ cup overflowed with participation in its 2014 White Cup Contest. Sorry, we couldn’t resist the pun. Starbucks asked customers to doodle on their cups and post a photo to social media. After more than 4,000 submissions (and a surge of publicity and customer interaction), the winning drawing became a limited-edition cup design. I’m sure they threw in some free coffee for the winner, too. 

Source: Starbucks
Source: Starbucks

Embrace the lifestyle factor of your brand and brainstorm ways to connect with your audience. From hashtags to crowdsourcing product ideas, smart user-generated campaigns will give you more bang for your content marketing buck.

Go interactive

Buzzfeed-style quizzes dominated the web in 2016; and my spirit animal is the dolphin, in case you were wondering. The interactive, tech-based content strategy isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, the increasing demand for engagement has led marketers of all niches (B2B and B2C) to implement interactive content —quizzes, assessments, personalization and games. Interactive content grabs consumer attention, enhancing both product and message retention. Let’s face it: We love being a part of the story. Plus, learning about a brand through responsive web design is easier and more enjoyable than reading static content.

Even newspapers are taking an interactive approach with their online content. The Washington Post created an interactive map titled, “Scaling Mt. Everest,” which allows users to journey from sea level to summit. They included facts, interviews and pop-outs to bring the story to life.

Source: Washington Post
Source: Washington Post

Interactive features can be used at every stage of the marketing process, from brand awareness and converting leads, but it should not be a substitute for quality content. Enhance, don’t replace.

In 2017, break out of your content routine. Take advantage of the new and engaging platforms available and, most importantly, find unique ways to share your story. Why? Because your success depends on creating new, immersive experiences for your audience.

2017 Digital Detox: A Guide to Your Healthiest Marketing Self

2017 will finally be the year you travel the world, run a marathon, buy a house and nail a digital marketing strategy that will set you above your competition.

OK, so while we can’t speak for the first three resolutions (but we believe in you!), as a badass integrated marketing agency, we do have some digital marketing experience. Our team of strategy gurus forecasted the most important trends for the new year so now it’s time to put them into action. Don’t worry, we did all the thinking for you so you can save your energy for the gym. Ready to get down and dirty? Here are your resolutions and an action plan for 2017.

Resolution 1: Go Deep with Data or Go Home

We know you know your customers, but do you really know them? Rather than relying on vague generalizations, make this the year the one where you get specific (and smart) with analytics. A small amount of information-dense data has greater business value than an ocean of broad-based knowledge.

Start: Utilizing lead scoring and grading to align with the highest potential customer profile. By analyzing your customer’s behavior and assigning value to their activities, you can determine whether or not they are a good fit for your marketing efforts.

Stop: Stop using vague demographics like ‘general public’ to target your audience. One size does not fit all.

Continue: Micro-segmenting your audience based on specific similarities, such as geography, age, gender, interests and spending habits. Filter it down to Team Taylor or Team Kanye, why don’t you.

As with all resolutions, be specific. Once you narrow down your playing field—and who’s playing on it—automate the heck out of it. Then knock those conversions out of the park.

Resolution 2: Go for the Experience

SEO is now an experience, not just an engine optimization trick. Google is starting to humanize its results (think: movie times, events and recipes), so that means you must take a more holistic approach to SEO. The goal should be link interaction, not just top rankings.

Start: Curling those biceps…and SEO optimization. CURL, which stands for content, user experience, RankBrain and links, are all key factors when ranking in Google’s algorithm. The CURL method is a best practice for SEO optimization and provides a model framework for optimizing search experience.

Stop: Sacrificing quality for quantity of link building. Would you rather spend money on eight McDonald’s burgers or one filet mignon? Hint: Your body would prefer the latter. A small number of reputable links with valuable content will give you a greater ROI than hundreds of low-grade links scattered across the web.

Continue: Improving your site’s speed. Implement best practices such as minification, caching and a mobile-friendly approach to ensure an overall ease of use.

Adapting to Google’s changes will ensure your survival in the digital jungle known as the Internet. But we were serious—bigger biceps wouldn’t hurt, either.

Resolution 3: Master the Art of Integration

Omni-channel marketing, which provides a seamless and consistent user experience regardless of channel or device, is now crucial for keeping audiences in tune and engaged. What’s that you say? Rather than just having multiple points of contact like web, email and social media (multi-channel), omni-channel marketing creates an integrated brand experience for the customer.

Start: Using consistent marketing messages and design that speaks to your brand and the customer’s mindset. Give your brand the same look, feel and voice across all platforms.

Stop: Being stubborn. Just buck up and adjust your marketing plan as needed throughout the year. Sure, it was good in January, but ongoing analysis and tweaking will lead to optimal user experience.

Continue: Listening and responding to feedback. Viewing a situation from the eyes of a consumer never killed anyone. In fact, in times of crisis, it might just save you some customers.

Consumers are hit with hundreds of advertisements daily and only the most integrated and consistent brands stand out as memorable. Don’t let your messaging fall through the iPhone screen cracks. And now that we’ve mentioned it, try not to crack that screen this year, either.

Resolution 4: Just Test It

Nike tells us to just do it. We’re telling you to just test it. Just A/B test it. A quick A/B test of two headers, images or landing pages will take the guesswork out of web optimization.

Start: Taking advantage of testing software available on the market. Use tools like Optimizely, Pardot and Marketo to optimize lead generation pages and increase those leads.

Stop: Chickening out. Change is good. Change your hair, change your website, change your life. That’s the saying, right? As daunting as it sounds to run tests (and work off those results) sometimes we need tough love to get over our fears.

Continue: Building your dream team. Content, marketing and web development go hand-in-hand-in-hand. All three positions, plus that new software you invested in, will rival the ‘92 Olympic team.

A/B testing is an underrated yet oh-so-important process. Plus, it sets the framework for more in-depth multivariate testing. 2017 will be a testing breakthrough. We can feel it.

Resolution 5: Pull Out Your Video Camera

You don’t have to win the Oscar for Best Director (our money is on Damien Chazelle), but make it your mission in 2017 to create more (and better) video content. As a video production agency we know first-hand that videos receive a higher level of engagement than text alone. Plus, consumers now demand more than just words from marketers. Words, meet movement.

Start: Using platforms like Boomerang, Instagram and Snapchat. Test out live streaming channels like Facebook Live, Instagram Stories and Periscope. Companies must understand their audiences and promote their stories across all appropriate channels, so give a few options a whirl before deciding your course of action.

Stop: Undermining the value of using targeted keywords for video search. Treat your video SEO strategy like you would any other platform and optimize it for search engines.

Continue: Creating videos that are under 60 seconds in length. Any longer and you’ll lose your audience’s attention. And ours, too.

Video is now the norm when it comes to connecting brands to consumers, so it’s time to transition your marketing mindset to accept and embrace this new phase. Plus, who knows where this introduction to video will lead you? We will take praise in the form of an Oscar speech.

Five resolutions down, five more to go. We’ve got the guide you want (and need) for your best and healthiest marketing year yet. Grab Sparxoo’s 2017 Digital Marketing Trends for access to in-depth information on all ten trends. Seriously, this was just the warm-up. Your actionable points, details and marketing puns are waiting for you. Download, read, and go forth and conquer.

Go ahead. Show 2017 who’s boss.

Why Link Building is Key in Content Promotion

Link building has received mixed reviews, and not without reason. Search engines don’t exactly disclose the secret sauce to optimizing offsite SEO, and link building campaigns can take months – even years – to properly execute. Link building is a marathon, not a sprint – and this is exactly why some companies may hesitate to invest time and money into it. While this may be a valid concern, consistent effort in link building builds brand visibility and spurs the growth they lack in traditional content promotion practices. As an integrated digital marketing agency, we think link building runs the SEO show. Here’s why:

Link Building Helps Boost Keyword Rankings

In an ideal world, brands would create amazing content that would be instantly seen, heard and shared by millions. Reality is a little different. Without link building, your content promotion is limited. It will fall victim to an extremely noisy, competitive market, and it will remain unseen in search engines.

Link building puts your content in front of thought leaders and key influencers, as it often requires outreach to established authorities. These influencers have the power (and the domain authority) to expose your work far beyond your personal scope of promotion. If your content wows and it’s relevant to the influencer, they’ll give your work a powerful stamp of approval and include your keyword-optimized content on their site. This is crucial for keyword rankings, because search engines recognize the quantity and the quality of influential sites that point to your page. This means the more high-quality external sites that point to you, the higher your keyword rank will be.

Link Building Boosts Visibility and Establishes Your Thought Leadership

You’ve spent years refining your content, wowing customers, and becoming the best brand in the marketplace – but your website traffic is negligible. Now what? Link building is the vessel through which your content gains the exposure and respect it deserves.

By leveraging your adoring customers, reaching out to thought leaders in your area of expertise, and creating newsworthy buzz around your brand, the number of legitimate links pointing to you will surge, boosting your visibility and revealing your content to the world. Before setting off on your link building campaign, however, take note: Your content truly needs to provide value and bring the wow-factor. Spending time creating a high-quality content strategy will ease the pain of building links because industry influencers will want to link to you.

Link Building Fosters Relationships

As mentioned previously, link building involves reaching out to industries, outlets and bloggers that have the influence to help you promote your brand and your website content. In addition to getting a link listed on their site, here lies an opportunity to forge long-lasting relationships with key influencers in your industry. So long as your site and content are of great quality and relevance, outlets are typically happy to consider your content as a resource or link on their site. Nurturing these relationships is crucial even beyond link building, because you create genuine brand advocates for your business when you build these key relationships.

Link Building Increases Link Referrals

Building relationships with influencers can also give your content targeted exposure through link referrals. This tactic may reach a smaller audience, but gaining a referral link by a relevant industry influencer is far more likely to draw targeted, quality traffic to your site. And even if the quantity is smaller, the group of people referred to your site trust the influencer and are therefore more likely to passionately engage with your content.