I’m told that, when actors start to learn a character, they look to ‘plant a flag’ in that role. They are looking for the key tension that drives the character – the good and evil, the strong and the weak. Once they have a handle on the tension driving a character, they can inhabit the role and make it their own. 

There is a growing tension within our business here at Future Content. We are a B2B content agency. We have built our name and reputation on producing extremely high-quality content, consistently, for technical or tricky sectors. To deliver on this, we’ve created processes and networks that enable us to create lots of content. This is how we make money. But it is increasingly not how we deliver value for our clients. And so we have changed. 

We are planting our flag, and changing our business, to focus on less content for our clients. Less is more.

What I would like to show you in this article is why less is more when it comes to content marketing in 2020 – both in terms of content created and customers targeted. I will expand on what that means for return on marketing investment (ROMI) and the tools required and the content tactics to focus on in this new era of content marketing. 

We are truly beyond the era of content marketing as a game of ‘produce lots and see what sticks’. You already believe this, I’m sure. But I am amazed by how often I meet with marketing teams and business leaders who still feel they just need to ‘do’ (or ‘do more’) content. 

What changed?

Content shock, increased expectations and the death of organic

1. Content shock, a term coined in 2014 by Mark Schaefer, which describes the moment when more content is published each day than there are humans alive to consume it, was reached in 2018. When supply gets that far ahead of demand, you inevitably get…

2. Increased audience expectation. Once you’ve read a blog post that changed your business, your perspective, or saved your job, it’s difficult to accept anything less. We are all wary of unknown sites that may have the deadly combination of a slow loading speed, irritating pop-ups and, after all that, deliver zero value for 5 frustrating, unrepeatable minutes of your life. 

3. Decline of organic. Across the three major digital channels – search engines, social media and email – the opportunities for organic growth (algorithms promoting – or at least not hiding – content) are on the wane. For Google, see the reduced real estate for organic listings. For social, see the decline to zero in organic reach from Facebook pages. For email, it’s down to the introduction of ‘promotion’ tabs, improved spam filters etc. 

The results of these changes – none of which are new – is that, to compete and win, businesses must be prepared to spend more on fewer pieces of content. They must make fewer, bigger, bets. Less-is-more is the new mantra. 

This new content marketing mantra – less is more – is not restricted to the creation and promotion of content (more on that later). It is also true for the audience we seek to serve. 

Several years ago, my stock answer for B2B firms was first, build the audience – traffic, followers etc – then we’ll have enough data to refine and optimise. I no longer give this advice. The odds of building and maintaining high levels of traffic are slim. If you do achieve it through the sort of tactical plays promoted by various so-called growth-hackers, you will likely have a lot of unengaged, expensively-won, irrelevant traffic.

For 2020 (and, the last two years, in truth) who you keep, rather than how many you attract, matters more. Buying cycles are extending, more decision makers are becoming involved and the steps from aware to action are only increasing as economic uncertainty abounds.

Better to focus on a small group than a large, ill-defined persona. This has been the mantra for many years but the big change for us over the past 18 months has been a focus on individuals, not personas. This is the foundation of Account Based Marketing (ABM).

You may be interested in: Why account-based marketing could drive business success in 2020 

By focusing on specific businesses, accounts and the target individuals within them, we can provide more relevant content, we can better track effectiveness, and we can make bigger bets. 

Less-is-more when we talk about our target audiences, too. 

What does all of this mean for marketing planning?

  • Marketing Directors must recognise that content is no longer a siloed marketing strategy. The plan cannot be ‘do content’.
  • They must also recognise that, to generate any real results, on any channel, they cannot compromise on quality
  • One such compromise is to target too broad an audience. If we create something really good that is clearly specifically for this audience, will it be near-impossible for them to ignore it? 
  • Finally, they must recognise each piece of content for the investment that it is and back it with a distribution plan and budget.

As costs go up, and we make fewer, bigger, bets, so the need for greater reporting and clearer ROI crescendos. It is unreasonable to assume that business owners must accept content as a cost that cannot show ROI. It is for this reason that we have become Hubspot partners. 

Hubspot is the only serious option for SMEs when it comes to marketing automation and CRM. This is because it enables the sort of monitoring that should accompany a considerable business expense. When it comes to your business, I suggest that, if you cannot afford Hubspot, you cannot afford the costs associated with a high-growth content marketing strategy.

This same logic is also true as we target fewer accounts: as we do so, the pressure to get it right increases. One of the advantages of the ABM approach is that ROI is easy to track – did we land that account or not? Increasingly, we see ABM and content marketing as two overlapping and complementary strategies, and so we are increasing our investment in this area in line with demand from clients: more training, better tools, the refining of our own proven ABM process

Finally, we are doubling down on content creation. Interviews have long formed the core of our content strategy. We are pushing more clients toward partnerships with relevant B2B influencers, greater investment in qualitative and quantitative research, creating rich, PR and backlink-worthy rich media. This is what is working for our clients: one month’s budget in one asset that is rich in research and craft.

For your content team I would suggest a similar approach. What if you could only produce 4 pieces of content all year? How would you adjust your approach to make sure you hit the results you need?

Less is more in 2020. And that means a little more pluck, less wasted effort and a whole heap more fun. Where will you plant your content marketing flag this year?