They’re funny things, lists.

Very much of-the-moment, the assumption is that they lose their relevance quickly, particularly end-of-year roundups or coming-year predictions.

But revisiting lists long after they’re published is interesting, and often instructive.

For my third annual post on the year ahead in content marketing, this one for 2019, I took a look back at the 2018 (here) and 2017 (here) versions, mostly to avoid overlap. What I discovered is that the bulk of the 10 concepts from those years could sit comfortably among the current crop.

The more things change … even in an age of technology.

From 2017: Podcasts, newsletters, paid social, shifting data benchmarks, increasing competition, and fewer visits to home pages remain regular considerations for marketers.

From 2018: Blockchain is a hot topic that has yet to approach mainstream use, ditto for augmented reality (AR), smart speakers are moving into more homes, high-end web design is becoming commonplace, and while Facebook has experienced serious challenges, the platform, along with Google, remains a go-to part of every marketing strategy.

Here’s a look at my top five for 2019 (plus a ‘bonus’ from one of my colleagues). You may detect echoes from the past, and because of that, I think of these as ‘important considerations for content marketers’ rather than trends:

1. It’s not all about you

It’s not easy to resist temptation, and for brands, the temptation is to make content that’s all about them. There are haters of the term ‘thought leader’ but it’s the best way to describe what a brand should aspire to be when it comes to content marketing.

How can you add to conversations around issues related to your products or services? Expertise is value. Showcase that expertise, and there’s a good chance customers will follow. Talk incessantly about your brand, with little or no context, and it’s a recipe for failure.

Content marketing requires different approaches from traditional advertising.

2. Always-on strategies

There’s a lot of short-term thinking in the market, an approach that manifests itself, generally speaking, in limited-time campaigns. Key performance indicators (KPIs) tend toward metrics such as monthly page views, rather than engagement metrics focused on brand awareness and long-term growth.

When time spent on page goes above and beyond the two-minute mark, not only does that mean users have validated the content, they’ll also have a higher propensity to see and interact with the advertising surrounding that content, and to dive deeper into other material on the site. Focus less on your overall audience size and more on landing a quality audience.

The more time you spend in-market delivering new content, the greater your brand awareness, and the more effective your efforts at the consideration and conversion stages of the marketing funnel. Map out a year-long content strategy, whether it’s calendar year or fiscal year, with campaigns blending into each other, rather than short-term campaigns that take you out of market until the next one.

Always-on strategies also give you more time to optimize your content, to test and try headlines, images and storytelling formats, in an effort to better understand what attracts and retains audience. There’s so much competition for attention, no brand can afford to be out of sight for any period of time. You’ll be forgotten. You need to be constantly jumping up and down, waving your arms (virtually speaking).

3. Retargeting

What’s new here? The landscape is getting more complicated as mobile use further exceeds desktop. Targeting audiences for your content marketing is relatively easily accomplished through a combination of hard work (creating visitor segments, attracting newsletter subscribers) and money (paid social media).

Retargeting was traditionally effective in the age of the desktop because it’s tied to browser history. As people use more devices (and on mobile, as they use more third-party apps that don’t share data) it’s no longer as simple as tracking cookies. Even browsers are making life more complicated for marketers by making it easier to delete or block cookies.

The same marketing problem remains: you’ll rarely convert a customer on your first try. How can you follow them across the web?

Brands that require users to subscribe or log in to their sites have a retargeting advantage, which includes the likes of Facebook, which also enables use of its credentials to verify log-ins on other platforms.

As tracking cookies becomes less useful to marketers, they’ll need to seek out and test out new methods of retargeting.

4. SEO and SEM

As the social-media strategist on our team, Aletta Brandle, wrote in her 2018 roundup, there was a lot of public criticism of Facebook in 2018, with user-trust issues leading to a #deleteFacebook campaign.

Brands are not going to abandon the platform overnight. Its reach remains too massive to ignore. That doesn’t mean they won’t be looking for alternatives, or for opportunities to spread marketing dollars around more widely.

The next best way to get the word out about your content is through organic and paid search. Improving SEO rankings on Google is the holy grail, since it doesn’t cost anything and the impact can be significant. Pay attention to keywords, meta tags and backlinks for best results. Optimizing these areas also benefits SEM campaigns.

Google’s push to surface featured Snippets (quick answers that appear in a box just below some search queries) will make it tougher for websites to measure performance and gain audience insights, as users increasingly get the information they need directly from search results pages.

On the paid side, research what potential customers are searching, and make sure your content is providing relevant responses.

For more in-depth strategies, check out the podcast from a recent panel we hosted on search marketing. One trend to note: 20 per cent of searches on Android devices in Canada are now done by voice search. That percentage is only going to grow. Fundamental rules for text search are the same for voice, but one big difference is the need to ‘humanize’ search terms with keywords better suited to voice. Describe your website in a way you’d tell your friends.

It’s also worth noting Google’s Snippets are powering voice searches and results.

Remember, too, that Google’s not the only search game in town. Consider investing beyond Google, including Bing, YouTube (admittedly a Google property) and Amazon.

5. Vertical video

The launch of Instagram’s IGTV feature in 2018 is another reason to think vertical when it comes to video production. Snapchat’s Discover was first to the post, but with a billion monthly active users, Instagram has supercharged the format, delivering a shiny new object for marketers to play with.

If, as an individual mobile user, you think about your viewing habits, you’ll realize you rarely turn your phone sideways.

In the near term there are two things to consider, aside from how you frame your shots:

a. It’s a longer format. IGTV videos can be up to an hour. Strategically it’s probably an attempt to pull audience from YouTube. It also means brands have more content flexibility, and that your video strategy has just become a bit more complicated. Distribution is key. Even with long-form video, you’ll need cutdowns that are native to certain platforms, such as 10-second or 30-second clips for Instagram Stories that drive to the full versions.

b. It’s a long game. Build personas. People want to connect with the people they’re watching. You need appealing and relatable brand ambassadors.

6. Speaking of personas

My colleague Jeanine Brito, our interactive design lead, considers ‘personas’ worthy of its own category.

In her words:

Media companies such as Man Repeller have actively built up the personas of their (small) staff, social media celebrities in their own right, ensuring articles on-site that feature them prominently (Slack conversations, e-mail threads, roundtables between staff) are regularly top-performing stories.

“Beauty brands like Glossier are leveraging personalities too, with content appearing in e-mail marketing and on Instagram (stories and posts), and on Into The Gloss, the Glossier-run beauty blog with its own cult following. This is highly personal content, featuring employees interacting with the product and sharing their own beauty tips and secrets.

“The persona approach is interesting for its human element. Users who engage with your brand develop their own favourite personalities, whose content they enjoy and come back for. Establishing this personal connection to the brand reinforces trust.”


Sean Stanleigh is head of Globe Content Studio, the content-marketing division of The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national media organization. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Published by Sean Stanleigh

Head of Globe Content Studio at The Globe and Mail

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