The top content marketing trends of 2014

From micro-content to native advertising, this is what happened in the content marketing world in 2014, and what you need to know to start 2015 with a bang.

It was a busy year for marketers.

Content marketing hit the big time, brands and agencies embraced micro-content, and video marketing proved it’s here to stay.

Here are the 14 biggest content marketing trends of 2014:

1. Content marketing is the new norm.

Content marketing has come a long way since its days as a buzzword. Big brands and startups alike have embraced it. Beyoncé’s self-titled album and complementary music videos are an example, as is the White House’s candid photo galleries.

For more examples, check out Kapost’s roundup of the top 50 content marketing brands.

2. Visual content is king.

At Visually, we’ve discovered a thing or two (or three) about creating compelling content. Time and time again visual content outperforms other content types in grabbing attention, persuading consumers and telling a story. The data don’t lie—people recall 80 percent of what they see compared to just 20 percent of what they read and 10 percent of what they hear.

(From The Power of Visual Communication infographic by Wyzowl)

3. Micro-content and visuals make a powerful team.

Ernest Hemingway is famous for writing a six-word novel: “For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” It might be the world’s first example of micro-content.

Modern micro-content, which we create and optimize for social media, is instantly sharable. However, text-based micro-content, like tweets or Hemingway’s “novel,” only go so far. Pairing bite-sized content with visuals takes micro-content to the next level.

4. Micro-content agencies are on the rise.

Gary Vaynerchuck is betting big on micro-content. His VaynerMedia and GrapeStory agencies focus on micro-content, and the recently launched Burst follows suit. GrapeStory has built successful campaigns for Virgin Mobile USA, Aquafina and GE, and it’s only a matter of time before other brands follow Vaynerchuck’s lead.

5. Publishers are finally getting native advertising right.

When native advertising first appeared, publishers like The Atlantic failed to strike a balance between sponsored content and taking advantage of consumers, as John Oliver famously noted. In 2014, however, publishers such as The Onion and Gawker built best-in-class solutions that have the marketing world abuzz.

6. Real-time marketing teams are aiming for the sweet spot.

Oreo’s “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet set the standard for real-time marketing, and marketers have heavily invested in real-time content in the past year. While teams of strategists, social media experts and brand managers huddled in a room can help brands take advantage of big events, only the best teams walk the fine line between “eventjacking” and truly driving buzz.

7. Cross-platform and cross-screen marketing is changing to reflect consumer trends.

As consumers spend more time with their mobile devices, advertisers shift their strategies to reflect the trend. In addition to creating mobile-first strategies, some aggressive brands have taken mobile-only positions. Taco Bell’s recent strategy included going dark on Facebook and Twitter to encourage consumers to download its new mobile app.

8. Making sense of big data is key.

Marketers have repeated the term “big data” ad nauseam, and it’s as important as ever. But plenty of data is only half the battle. Using this data to derive insight, draw conclusions and influence strategies is important for companies in every industry. While advertisers use data to come to strategy decisions, publishers use data to ensure their ad strategy reaches the consumers who matter most. Vivaki’s new Audience on Demand platform optimizes native-advertising buying in real time to help its partners maximize success.

9. Proximity marketing is taking hold.

Marketers used beacons for the first time in 2014, and they showed a lot of potential. Companies such as Signal360 and Swirl take advantage of smartphones’ ample location-based data. Signal360 partnered with sports teams, including University of Michigan football and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, to enhance live sports experiences.

10. Augmented reality ads don’t feel like ads.

Augmented reality ads combine the best in interactive ad technology, micro-content and personalization. IKEA turned its traditional home furnishing catalog into an addictive video game-like experience for its 2014 edition. IKEA paired the catalog with a smartphone app that allowed consumers to see exactly how a piece of furniture would look in their homes.

11. Marketing management platforms take the pain out of content marketing.

Content marketing can be complicated. Organizing, managing and analyzing hundreds of pieces of content across multiple mediums is tricky, but software can ease the pain. Platforms like Percolate, NewsCred and Marketo take the guesswork out of content marketing and centralize all aspects of a marketing strategy.

12. Interactive and custom ad units rule.

Display ads only work so hard. Estimates put online banners’ click rate at less than .1 percent, but innovative formats better engage audiences. As consumers tire of standard flash and display ads, custom ad units and interactive formats communicate information in more engaging ways. Consider applying the lessons from other forms of native advertising, and make sure your content stands out and adds value. Online ads should be an extension of your content marketing strategy, perhaps supplying an important or surprising piece of the story you’re trying to tell.

13. Personalized content plays to consumers’ vanity.

It’s no secret playing to consumers’ vanity is a best practice. Consumers like to be flattered, which can establish long-term loyalty. Coke’s “Share a Coke” campaign did this, and helped right the ship after 11 years of soft-drink consumption declines.

14. Video content marketing is here to stay.

Marketers invest more than ever in video marketing, and platforms like Vine and Instagram make it easy to create micro-content videos. Four out of five companies produce multiple videos per month; video content marketing is here to stay.

Measurement is a must. Tools like Visually’s Native Analytics reveal who watched your video, where people shared it and how consumers interacted with the content.

Jon Salm is a client analyst at Millward Brown Digital in New York City, and a freelance data journalist in the Visually marketplace. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Salm. A version of this article originally appeared on

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