With most marketers planning to create more content in 2016, it’s a boom time for B2B copywriters. But what kind of projects can you expect this year, and what skills will you need to succeed?
These are great times to be a B2B copywriter. Marketers are crying out for sharp, incisive and entertaining writers to create top-notch content that stands out and gets read.
And the content marketing boom shows no signs of abating. Fully 88% of UK marketers surveyed by the Content Marketing Institute said they plan to create even more content this year than last:
But what will that content look like, and what can copywriters expect in the year ahead? Based on our own discussions with clients, together with some recent research and a look back at the way our work was heading towards the end of last year, I can offer the following five predictions.
And I mean really long. One of the most interesting pieces of research from the last year was a study by Buzzsumo of the type of written content that gets shared on social media.
Surveying articles published by Buzzfeed and The Guardian, they noticed a huge uptick in shares for articles that are over 3,000 words long. This graph says it all:
And long-form articles don’t just get shared more; they also perform better in search. In its 2015 report of search ranking factors, Searchmetrics noted that the average word count on a top 10 ranking page has increased to 1,285. Here’s the graph:
But longer doesn’t automatically mean better. For writers, the challenge will be to produce long-form posts and articles that people actually want to read and share.
That means we’ll have to hone our interview skills to get the most interesting stories out of our clients. We’ll have to do more research to find credible data that backs up what we’re saying. We’ll have to spend more time crafting narratives that draw people in, and arguments that convince people to act. And we’ll have to work hard to keep our writing engaging and readable over thousands of words.
Not every copywriter has these kinds of skills, so the ones that do ought to have a bumper 2016.
Until recently, B2B marketers tended to view social media platforms as a place to promote content hosted elsewhere. We used to write hundreds of social media posts designed to entice people to visit a microsite, read a blog post, download an ebook or sign up for a webinar.
But from 2014 onwards, we’ve seen a shift towards content intended to be consumed on the social platform itself. That includes LinkedIn Pulse posts as well as comics, memes, ‘inspirational quotes’ (*shudder*) and other image-based content designed to stand out in busy Twitter and Facebook feeds.
More recently still, we’ve noticed an increase in requests for scripts for ‘teaser’ or ‘trailer’ versions of longer videos to be posted on social media.
All the indications are that social media-native content will continue to grow in popularity in 2016. For writers, that means understanding how that content will appear on the platform in question, understanding the context in which it will be viewed, and – crucially – the kind of device it will be viewed on, and writing it with those things very much in mind.
The death of email marketing is often predicted, but as of the end of 2015, it was still a primary B2B marketing channel, for the simple reason that when it’s done properly, it still works.
But there are lots of things about B2B marketing emails that are changing, and writers are going to notice more of these things in 2016.
Personalisation will be a big trend, going beyond the basic ‘Dear FIRSTNAME’, towards highly customised emails that will require writers to come up with many different ‘flavours’ of the same basic email, depending on things like the recipient’s job role, company type, and buying stage.
More clients are using marketing automation software, too, which means writers are spending a lot of time populating email templates with subject lines, pre-headers, button copy, sidebar copy, etc.
Sometimes this feels not so much like copywriting, but rather like creating endless punch cards to be fed into some infernal marketing machine. When you’re just filling in boxes it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you’re communicating with a person, so a challenge for writers in 2016 will be to keep emails feeling fresh, engaging and conversational.
I predict we’ll also see marketers make more use of LinkedIn to cold-email prospects who haven’t opted in to receive communications from their brand. This is a huge challenge for writers: you have to write plaintext emails that will be opened, read and acted upon by complete strangers. Summon all of your persuasive writing powers, because you’re going to need them!
Almost all firms are now using content in their marketing. The amount of content produced by marketers is steadily increasing, as is the number of different content formats they’re using.
It’s not hard to see where this ends up: with more firms producing more content more of the time, the overall impact of that content will diminish. The content that stands out will be the content that’s really, really good. The rest of it will get muted, deleted, or ignored.
So it’s no wonder UK content marketers see ‘producing engaging content’ as their top challenge:
It’s hard to make really, really good content without really, really good writing. Lots of marketers get this, but not so many are equipped to distinguish really good writing from run-of-the-mill stuff, and not many understand how hard it is to write engagingly on difficult and arcane topics.
Marketers who appreciate great writing and are prepared to pay extra to get it are pretty thin on the ground. Even rarer are marketers who appreciate great writing, are prepared to pay extra to get it, and are willing to give the writer enough time to produce an outstanding piece of work. (Even though they’re the ones who reap the rewards from their patience and investment.)
If you’re lucky enough to get one of these clients – and I can confirm they do exist – hang on to them for all you’re worth. Otherwise, I fear we can mostly look forward to a year in which clients will expect us to produce higher-quality, better-researched content for no extra money and no extra time.
One thing that will be on many marketers’ minds in 2016 is the ROI of all this content they’ve been creating (and intend to create).
At Content Marketing World back in September, CMI founder Joe Pulizzi noted that content marketing is falling into what Gartner calls the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’.
Here’s his slide, courtesy of Crystal Clear Communications:
This is the point where, after a period of sustained hype, everyone starts wondering when the much-touted benefits are going to start appearing.
Over the past few years, B2B content marketing has been in a refreshingly exuberant ‘experimental’ phase, with brands trying different creative approaches to see “what works”. Now it feels as though that phase is over, and the focus on 2016 will be creating content that delivers hard results in terms of lead generation, conversions and sales.
As writers, this means that in 2016 we’re likely to be measured on how our content performs, rather than on how ‘creative’ it is (although in an ideal world, the two will complement each other).
So be prepared to write original, persuasive, hardworking copy that’s useful, relevant and inspiring to the audience – and that’s better than anything your client’s competitor can come up with.
In other words, for the best B2B copywriters, it should be business as usual in 2016. For the rest, it could be time to up your game, or risk seeing your projects evaporate.
To read more predictions for B2B copywriting in 2016, and share some of your own, head to the #b2bcopychat on Twitter on 12 January 2016.