The increasingly complex world of business-to-business (B2B) marketing—pulled in every direction by demanding sales teams, cost-cutting business leaders and ROI-driven CMOs—continues to make the role of content a challenging but crucial aspect of the marketing landscape. As we head into the new year, these five trends will reshape content marketing conversations in 2017—and maybe even your career path.
1. Storytelling
Especially in the B2B tech world, it can sometimes feel like it’s “poets versus quants”—and the quants win every time. But recognizing the effectiveness of storytelling on sales and marketing success is on the rise. After listening to years of pundits lamenting the ever-shortening attention span of the modern reader, and the dubious rise of titillating photos paired with clickbait copy as a near best-practice among digital advertisers, it’s almost too easy to give up the real, hard work of telling a good story. And in the B2B space, it’s a good story—not an irrelevant picture or a juicy factoid—that will convert prospects to customers. Every human being, family, brand, cause and movement has a story to tell. And these stories, when in the hands of skilled storytellers (whether writers, video producers or designers) can be enlightening to consumers, taking them through a journey of discovery not dissimilar to the plot of a mystery novel, allowing them to learn things about problems they didn’t know they had, uncovering solutions they didn’t know existed, and helping them see their day-to-day workloads in a new light.For more great resources on the craft of storytelling, I highly recommend following the work of the doyenne of storytelling, Jane Praeger.

2. Good writing
Writing still counts, and, in my opinion, always will—perhaps now more than ever. Many marketers follow the latest social media platform, hitch their wagons to flashy graphics, or produce expensive videos without first understanding that most of our communication is still text and story-based. And this is especially true in B2B marketing. And even in video or on social media, writing plays a part in the storyboards that drive the video and in the text components of social posts (not to mention the creative briefs that always drive both). In a world of information overload, increasingly cluttered with poorly written clickbait, fake-news social posts and other drivel, good writing is guaranteed to stand out.

3. High-value content
It won’t matter a whit if your writing is good if your content is not of high value. If your potential customers don’t take something useful away from your content—whether it’s a guide on how to better manage an aspect of their day-to-day responsibilities or a checklist they’ll find handy and pass around to their teams—then it doesn’t matter how good your writing is. Your content will go in the trash, and your prospect will not convert. Before you even sit down to a project, ask yourself, “Would I take time out of my busy day to read this if I were in my prospect’s shoes?”

4. Paid promotion
As marketers, we tend to think of content in buckets: neatly sorted into “earned,” “owned” and “paid.” Now, however, the line is being blurred between the three with the dawn of nearly seamless promoted content integration into almost every platform you can think of—from Instagram to LinkedIn to Bloomberg News. Sure, you can publish your LinkedIn blog post organically (owned), but if you promote it, more people will see it (paid), and it may even be picked up and shared by another influencer (earned). Today’s platforms—LinkedIn in particular for those of us working in the B2B space—offer such fine-grain targeting that not considering content promotion would be a missed opportunity to get your owned content in front of a paid (but highly relevant) audience.

5. Account-based marketing
This “2017 trend” might seem more relevant in a list targeted toward B2B field sales reps. Why? Because account-based marketing basically means that a marketing organization communicates with an individual prospect or prospect organization as a “market of one.” It calls for highly personalized, specialized materials, close coordination between marketing and sales, and strategic selection of key accounts for which to craft personalized messages. Content plays almost all of its traditional roles within an account-based marketing model, from awareness and lead generation campaigns to sales support materials and messaging development. The difference? It’s far more hands-on and highly specialized than most B2B content marketers are used to, but if done correctly, can be extremely effective. For more on account-based marketing, I’d turn to Alana Edzerman, a pro in the industry.

So, what do you think are the top trends for 2017 in content marketing?

 

This article was originally posted on the Communication World Magazine website by Sarah Brown, a communication professional specialized in content marketing for B2B organizations.

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