With the holidays and a rough 2016 behind us (RIP Princess Leia and many others), it’s time to dig in for a new year and a fresh start. Hopefully you are feeling optimistic about your strategy for 2017 and the new initiatives and endeavors that it may contain. I’m sure you’ve read your fair share of “predictions” posts that talk about all the new innovation and tech that early adopters are excited about. This isn’t going to be one of those posts.

What I’d rather talk about, and prepare you for, are all the challenges that we hear from our customers and experience ourselves while fighting the war for customer attention. Many of these marketing challenges aren’t new, but represent the greatest threats for not reaching your 2017 objectives. Here goes (in no particular order):

1. Attention is More Elusive Than Ever

Image Source: Giphy.comWe are all fighting an uphill battle for consumer attention. No matter what industry you are serving, your job as a marketer is to engage PEOPLE that may one day buy something from your company. And those people are constantly bombarded with the firehose of content from friends, family and brands. Their attention often follows that same order of priority. Branded content, unless specifically targeted, magical and serendipitously timed, is probably last on the priority list. Sorry Charlie. That’s the reality of our noisy, digital world.

All that said, this situation is not without opportunity. Opportunities lie within your ability to thoughtfully plan, create and deliver great content experiences in those moments when someone has a problem that needs a solution. A well-documented content strategy and high-quality, consistent execution gives you the best chance of planting a positive seed when those moments occur. Those seeds sprout and multiply.

2. Organic Reach is Coming Up Short

Unless you’re swimming in a blue ocean, or have amassed a huge, loyal following that salivates over every asset you produce, even the best content will likely struggle to reach the number of new eyeballs needed for solid traction. Posting organically on social used to play a big role, but social networks like Facebook have algorithmically clamped down the organic firehouse.

Image Source: Techcrunch

Budget has to be set aside to promote and increase the reach of your organic content initiatives. Many would say that impressions are a worthless metric, but it’s noteworthy when you compare organic reach of a social post to the reach of a “boosted” or “sponsored” social post. An investment as small as a $20 boost can have a dramatic impact on reach, engagement and conversions.

SIDE NOTE: Get in the habit of incorporating UTMs into your social post URLs. The conversion data that you’ll get will help you understand how much that promotion budget is helping the cause.

3. One-Size-Fits-All Content/Channels

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that, if I asked, you could describe the basic profile of the primary target audience that buys your company’s most popular product or service. Ok, now tell me about the owned content property or branded content channel that is dedicated to JUST THAT SINGLE target audience. I won’t be surprised if you can’t answer that.

Most companies today are still executing a one-size-fits-all approach to their content and publishing channels. And then they wonder why the needle isn’t moving much. Relevance, folks. Do you really think that a customer or prospect is going to keep visiting your blog, or opening your emails, if the content is irrelevant to their situation 90% of the time?

Overcoming this is easier said than done, especially when you consider the resource implications. If you work for a big company with many products and services, it’s likely that each product/service has its own set of audiences. The scope of your segmentation and targeting effort is exponentially bigger, but you still have to get content out the door today. My recommendation: baby steps. Let’s at least draw a line in the sand. From this point forward, any new content initiatives should have a narrow audience focus. Create your strategies and content plans with that single audience in mind, and you’ll see some amazing things happen.

Oh, and here’s an ebook to help you get started on that.

4. Trying to Measure ROI

Marketing and advertising tactics have always been somewhat tricky to measure, but today’s convoluted buyer journey makes it almost impossible to accurately attribute ROI to specific tactics. To make matters worse, seeing results from content marketing takes much longer than many paid forms of advertising. Expectations need to be set properly so that leaders don’t try to scrap content marketing programs before they’ve had a chance to start showing ROI. So what’s the solution?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic analytics platform that will work for everyone out of the box. We’re all maturing and getting smarter about how to capture and analyze the data we need to tell some sort of ROI story. I believe the more mature organizations are those that ask the good questions at the beginning of the process. Questions like:

  • What does success look like for this content initiative?
  • Are people who read or download this content more likely to buy more from us?
  • On average, how many pieces of content does a prospect consume before buying from us?

Knowing the questions you want to answer provides a frame for the necessary KPIs, metrics and tracking requirements of each content initiative.

5. Change Management

We’ve all witnessed the evolution of marketing and technology over the last two decades, but some companies and industries are slow to change. So much money is wasted every day on a traditional advertising machine that is sputtering at best. But hey…it’s easy, somewhat automated and is still producing some results…so let’s just keep throwing money at it!

Image Source: Huffington PostContent marketing, on the other hand, is a very different approach from the traditional, interruption-based methods of the past. The overall focus of the marketing effort has to be customer-centric, vs. self-promotional in nature. This shift in mindset and strategy often requires major changes in people, processes and tools to be executed fully. These major changes are often very difficult to implement and adopt when an organization’s leadership and culture is very ingrained in traditional methods.

Shifting resources to content marketing programs is a much smarter investment that will pay much larger dividends over time. Sure, making this change may be costly (people, tools, etc.) and difficult at first, but the returns come with interest.

Honorable Mention: Finding Talent

Another challenge that didn’t make the Top-5 list, but is definitely a growing challenge, is finding talented, passionate people to manage and execute content marketing programs. Content marketing takes a team and several roles need to be filled to scale most endeavors. Barry Feldman of Feldman Creative recently wrote a great article about the roles and skill sets that you should be looking for when building out a content marketing team. The best content marketers are strategically minded, highly creative content producers, often with journalism backgrounds, and are dangerous with marketing technology. I expect the market for talented content marketers to become increasingly more competitive in 2017.