No one needs a reminder of how hard it is to predict the future with any accuracy. Still, you probably feel pressed to try. After all, it’s your job to keep up with (or, if you’re lucky get ahead of) audience preferences and industry shifts.
That’s why CMI chief strategy advisor Robert Rose put hard questions about the future of content to a panel of industry leaders. Their conversation in a webinar offers a sneak peek at the discussions expected at ContentTECH Summit later this month.
Those he consulted for the informative discussion include:
What do they see in their crystal balls? Chaos (and potential) in the rise of citizen creators, personalization, experimentation, and a need to wrangle all that content chaos.
At Ceros, Jamie Gier sees a future in the growth of citizen content creators based on what they’ve noticed in the last 24 months.
“The reality is now you can have somebody like me, who doesn’t have a design background, be able to create compelling content very rapidly and have the means to distribute it out into the universe,” they say.
But not everyone embraces the citizen creator trend. As Jamie explains: “As more tools are available, I think designers and marketers start to worry about losing control over brand standards and design integrity.”
Bynder’s Brian Kavanaugh sees those concerns, too. The questions the trend raises, he says, include: “How is (the image) shot? What are our guidelines? Do we trust that it will be usable for the brand?”
Regardless, citizen creators won’t likely disappear – and they’re even influencing corporate design.
Craig Bollig of Orange Logic shared the story of a creative director who sees a shift from the “perfect look” once created and distributed by brands toward a more authentic look that appeals to the citizen creator world. “It could be user-generated or less retouching or time in the photo lab,” he says.
For example, Tesla often relies on Tesla owners/drivers to populate its Instagram stream with “homemade” aka UGC content, like this image of two dogs waiting in a Tesla while it charges. The animals aren’t easily seen or lit well, and the vehicle’s hood has streaks of snow, indicating someone might have brushed it off haphazardly.
“Unpolished content is the future,” Craig says.
Embracing the rise of citizen creators doesn’t mean you can abandon detailed guidelines and processes. Instead, it requires a good balance. As Jamie advises brands to appreciate the fact that you can put creativity in the hands of all sorts of personas. Just make sure there are some integrity mechanisms in place so you don’t lose that.
Don’t forget, citizen creators may arise internally (from colleagues in other departments, teams, and regional offices) or externally (from audience members and customers). And that creates another challenge.
“For content to be everywhere on all of your channels, it first has to be all in the same place,” Craig says.
Often, that place is digital asset management (DAM) platform or system, but not every organization has one. Craig says he sometimes hears from marketers who have 15 different servers, and their employees don’t know how to find anything on any of them.
The starting place for solving this multi-symptom problem is to designate one home for creative content (Dropbox and Google Drive are NOT that place). “This is a huge step in the right direction, and you should celebrate that when it happens. Socialize it internally,” Craig advises.
For example, a single creative content source might help save a brand from conducting seven similar photoshoots around the world because no one knew about the imagery that already exists.
As your DAM system matures, think about verticals and themes like user-generated content. “There’s no way to accomplish that without governance around usage rights,” Craig says.
Often, that governance is a release form where the person who generated the content gives permission for the brand to use it. The release should detail the timeframe for which those rights are granted and include parameters for how the content can be used. To be effective, that permission document must be attached to the content.
“A hundred-plus people would want to use that (content.) How could you confidently say that image is usable without an original governance central source of truth?” Craig says.
A DAM can help organize the chaos.
While marketers may think about organizing brand content, Craig predicts growing requests from multiple departments and stakeholders for creative assets. “There’s always going to be a little bit of chaos. But it also is important to understand what those bottlenecks are, the challenges for other teams, and how a DAM can help,” he says.
Contrend’s Peter Bakker understands the challenges Craig raises. His organization often helps businesses structure or organize the chaos. “It’s amazing that even a large organization is so dysfunctional in this,” he says.
Sitecore’s Jill Grozalsky Roberson has seen a significant increase in the adoption of personalization and experimentation software over the last two years. “Organizations now are trying to get back to the pulse of the customer and understanding what’s working, what’s resonating,” she says.
And that doesn’t just require software. It requires a change in mindset. Jill advises content marketers to get comfortable with not having everything finalized and perfect to implement personalization.
“Personalization is almost like a form of testing … you’re delivering tailored content based on preference to see if it works. You’re not going to know 100% what the impact will be because it is kind of a test. That can be nerve-wracking.”
To become more at ease with personalization, Jill says to start small. Use what you learn to secure executive buy-in and investment – the two most common hurdles to personalization efforts.
“The more you can demonstrate that there is an impact for personalization, the more excitement there’s going to be,” she says. Then, you can scale the personalization.
Scaling up doesn’t mean you must make every piece of content personalized to every member of your audience right away. Instead, Jill suggests starting with one segment of your audience and then expanding from there.
Is it even possible to predict what will feel personal and relevant to an individual content consumer?
AI-informed tools can help you determine what formats and topics might work for a particular audience three-to-six months from now, Contrend’s Peter Bakker says. These tools predict the future based on the past behavior of this person or a similar audience.
Contrend’s tool, for example, uses a combination of inputs rather than a single measurement. It takes social, SEO, Google Analytics, and other factors to manifest a well-informed prediction.
But the tech doesn’t make the final decisions. “That’s always overlaid with a human eye,” he says. “There’s always someone saying, ‘Do we agree with what the platform is telling us?’”
Ceros’ Jamie Gier says the 2021 Forrester B2B research found that the number of buying interactions jumped from 17 in 2019 to 27 in 2021 marking a new reality in which a more significant share of buying activities happen online.
“I don’t think that’s going to change even as the world opens up,” Jamie says. “We’re at a point where you need to be invited into the world of your buyers, and you want to make that visit worth their time.”
Putting control in visitors’ hands may be the answer. “We have to get to a place where we’re comfortable ditching to a large extent static content because that’s not what’s working to bring somebody into your story,” Jamie says
For example, Sephora uses quizzes to engage their buyers and personalize their shopping experience. Other organizations turn reports into interactive pathways readers can explore.
Emphasize content value over content volume, Jamie advises. When your audience values your content, they’re more likely to stay longer and connect with your brand.
“You’re competing for the minds and the hearts of your buyers,” Jamie says. “Make your content worth their while.”