Pivoting Toward Maturity and Effectiveness
This is part one of our digital marketing predictions for 2016 series.
Is content marketing finally ready to grow up? After years of steady growth in the number of content pieces created, the discipline itself has felt at times like a long-limbed teenager trying to get used to their body after a growth spurt: awkward and uncertain.
Brands consistently question the effectiveness of their content marketing efforts; regulators—and some marketers—express concerns about the transparency and effectiveness of native advertising, a growing form of content marketing; everybody talks about data but few are using it to drive outcomes; and, as Velocity Partners pointed out in its brilliant piece, Crap, the amount of bad content being produced is overwhelming.
Yet, based on what we heard at Content Marketing World 2015, content marketing is pivoting in some important ways that could enable it to transcend these challenges. They include:
1. The rush to “just do it” is evolving into a passion for doing it well
Starting around 2010, there was a mad rush into content marketing as we know it today. Brands pushed out content before they had the processes and resources in place to do it well. That is, no doubt, why so many brands have expressed so little confidence in their own content marketing efforts in the annual Content Marketing Institute B2B and B2C Benchmark studies.
The futility of that approach has been exposed. Brands that are serious about content are raising the bar on quality and effectiveness. A post from the influential Moz “Whiteboard Friday” series captures the current sentiment, making the case that good, unique content isn’t nearly good enough anymore. We have to produce content that is 10 times better than what is already available to attract an audience. Brands such as Caterpillar and Newcastle Brown Ale are taking this message to heart. Across the industry more attention is being paid to creating content that is entertaining, informative and compelling rather than just creating content for content’s sake.
2. Silos are becoming integrated
In many cases, content marketing has grown from the bottom up. One or two advocates have pushed content as a strategic marketing asset and dragged their organizations into content marketing. They’ve established a beachhead, but until marketing departments integrate across disciplines, often with content as the hub, they will struggle with managing the complexity of digital marketing and supporting the self-guided customer journey that has become common in the digital age.
This means elevating storytelling and content marketing from a niche tactic to a core strategy. It may also require breaking down organizational silos that are decades old. Brands on a mission to transform their marketing face a difficult challenge when they tackle organizational change. However, more and more marketing leaders are realizing they can’t continue with a siloed approach in the current converged environment and are embracing change.
3. Distribution gets its day
We’ve heard it a hundred times: “build it and they will come” only works in the movies. Yet, distribution has consistently been an afterthought in content marketing programs. This too is changing as organizations that have built sophisticated and disciplined content distribution into their content marketing programs are reaping the benefits. It starts with the integration of keyword optimization into the content creation process and extends into expanded distribution through social channels, often leveraging influencers. Increasingly, paid amplification using providers such as Outbrain and Taboola is being added to get content over the initial hump, driving traffic and improving content performance on search engines.
In its 2015 Digital Marketing Hype Cycle, Gartner has Content Marketing sliding into the Trough of Disillusionment, with a two-year projection for reaching the “Plateau of Productivity.” That indicates relatively tough times ahead and 2016 may prove to be a transitional year for content marketing. But based on the changes we’ve observed, we’re a little more optimistic. Content marketing is already growing out of its awkward adolescent phase and into a leadership role in integrated marketing communications.
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