In content marketing, what is more important – the message or the technology that serves up the message? The technology is getting incredibly sophisticated, new tools are being created every day to try to understand who you’re talking to, so you connect with them at a deeper level and to try to get your arms around whether or not any of that messaging is helping to drive sales.

Understanding your audience, understanding what their interests are, is critical to provide them with relevant content. If the content you provide drives engagement, then you stand a better chance for more sales conversion. There’s a lot of tools that are being developed to help you in terms of intelligence and predictive software that can help you achieve this with more effective marketing campaigns.

Transparency is becoming more and more of a “thing.” What do we mean by transparency? Readers are tired of being manipulated; they want to ‘consider-the-source.’ Being transparent about where the message is coming from and what the motives are of the parties providing the message, can improve credibility, foster trust, and engagement. That said, all the whiz-bang tools in the world won’t get you anywhere if you don’t have a compelling message. Note to self: the message matters!

For asset management marketers, 2017 was a year of technological change. Connecting with investors, sharing information that resonates and keeps them in the know is what differentiates the leaders from the competition.  I had the opportunity to speak with Radhika Prakash, Global Head of Content Strategy & Distribution at BlackRock , and John Carruthers, Senior Content Designer at Morningstar, to get a sense of where we are today and what’s ahead for 2018.

What were the biggest trends you saw in content marketing in 2017?

Authenticity equals transparency and not only helps investors feel more comfortable but is now becoming a basic requirement in asset management.

Radhika: Transparency was a huge trend in 2017, making sure consumers know where content is coming from and who is delivering it to them and why. I think this trend will continue into 2018 as consumers continue to push for authentic content.

Morningstar focused on getting their arms around the latest trending topics.

John:  I spent a lot of time working Morningstar’s asset manager-focused campaigns this year. We found that what worked best was to focus on the trends and ideas we wanted to explore first, then build out the supporting architecture. So we’d work to identify different topics that we could explore in greater depth as we moved down the content marketing funnel.

Here, the starting point was the message. Content creation was driven by an analysis of relevant topics which they found resonated with investors.

What did you find worked best for your content marketing strategy?

Radhika: Driving contextual relevance was very important – as consumers engage with branded content throughout their days, it’s important that we reach them in ways that aren’t disruptive but rather relevant to what they are interested in at that current point in time.

I got a sense from Radhika they are very scientific and utilizing the latest intelligence marketing automation tools to tackle their content marketing challenges. The basic formula here is context + analytics yields greater relevance. The task is using analytics to understand what the reader is looking for and potentially how much bandwidth the reader has.

Whether you’re talking about active vs. passive, or ESG issues, it’s the topics that are the starting point for Morningstar.

John:  Individual investors have more power, and assets are flowing to lower-fee options as a result. That’s a compelling story to tell to asset managers – not just that investor behavior is changing, but why it’s changing, where we think it’s going, and what opportunities that presents for firms smart enough to react quickly. The investor’s voice is increasingly setting the agenda, a shift in power that works really well for us, since that investor-first mindset is Morningstar’s heritage. ESG investing was a huge area of focus for us this year, which would have been pretty difficult to predict 10 or even five years ago. Topics like sustainability, client portals, transparency, access to data – that’s all down to investors having more control of their financial futures.

Clearly Morningstar believes that knowledge is power and seeks to empower investors. The idea is that if you send the right message and give the full story, you will wind up providing content that resonates.

The challenge for any content marketer is providing a differentiated point of view. Don’t fall into a rut by repeating what everybody else is saying. If you do, you run the risk of being trite or cliché’.

What do you feel is a key part of a content marketing strategy?

Radhika: You only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention so simple, digestible content will be key to reaching consumers. Knowing your audience, using content to meet them where they are and being able to measure that reach is also a critical component to any evolving strategy.

Due to the massive amount of information available, we now live in a world of limited attention spans. Less is more. Keep your videos short and to the point. If you’re posting a message, use images to help tell your story. But knowing your audience, finding the information they want, is the key, no matter what the length of your content. In an article titled, How to Use A/B Testing and Personalization Best Together, they explain how online bank, Chime successfully uses a combination of A/B testing with predictive personalization to gather valuable insights into their customers’ preferences. In their test, including predictive personalization along with A/B testing yielded them 23% more lift for users on mobile devices, 17% more by personalizing geography and 30% more by tailoring their headline based on time of day.

At Morningstar it’s apparent it’s the message that matters.

John: The key for us was starting with finding the overarching narrative that could serve as a compelling story to asset managers. Too often, marketers can think “okay, we need to create one paper, send six emails, and try and funnel X number of leads,” and think of the content second, as a blunt instrument to drive that sales story.

It’s essential to have a unique point of view.

When you’re starting with a compelling topic and a unique perspective, the quality of what you’re marketing tends to shine through, and people tend to listen more closely. I’ve got a few hundred people a week trying to sell me something by telling me how great their company is, but I’ll go out of my way to actually read something that presents an interesting point of view and makes me think. People are perceptive, they know you’re selling something. So it’s on us to create marketing material worth paying attention to in the first place.

Differentition is crucial in separating yourself from the pack. If you merely repeat the same message you begin to sound trite and cliché.

What do you predict might be a big trend for content marketing in 2018?

The more information you can gather, the more you can segment and match content to your audience.

Radhika: As content marketing strategies grow in sophistication, I predict firms will continue to increase their focus on differentiated content with greater focus on audience segmentation across earned and paid.

Understanding your audience and putting something in front of them that is meaningful.

John: In 2018, I hope the trend continues to be more (and better) content from marketers that begins with the client/customer/consumer perspective. That approach worked incredibly well for us in 2017, and it’s really much more fun to work on something you know the people you’re writing for will appreciate.

The tools are getting more exciting and sophisticated, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the message.