For my final column of 2012, I thought that I would explore the state of content marketing, try to clear up some confusion about the field, and also take a look at trends to watch in the coming year.
Content marketing's star has risen, and I have seen much interest and excitement about the field. But I also encounter lots of questions; so I'd like to chime in with my two cents, and try to clear up some of the confusion.
The misunderstanding can start with the label itself, as the phrase "content marketing" does not seem to be very helpful. Is it about marketing your content, or using content in support of any type of marketing? And what marketing or social media effort doesn't employ some form of content?
Also, there can be confusion over related concepts E.g. I saw the following question in a recent #CommsChat about content marketing (CommsChat is "the home of Europe's most popular communications conversation" according to its About page). The moderator asked: "what are differences between brand journo, content marketing, contract publishing," which drew this response, from the special guest Rob Bonn of British content marketing agency Seven: "not convinced distinctions between content marketing, brand journalism, transmedia storytelling et al are helpful."
Fellow columnist Judy Gombita said, in a recent email to me: "I think some people... are too quick to label everything as content marketing." Her last Windmill Networking column took a deep dive into McDonald Canada's "audacious" social media marketing campaign, in which the company fielded questions about its menu via a specially designed website, and used several socialmedia channels to amplify the dialog; she wrote that some "have labeled it content marketing... I'm declaring this is really a public relations effort." (Judy also recommended that #CommsChat session, so I owe her a big debt of gratitude for this post!).
Trash Talk over Marketing Buzzwords
There has been much debate about content marketing: what is and isn't, and how it compares to other forms of marketing. The discussion can get heated; see this article, from the Sales Lion blog: Why the Inbound vs. Content Marketing Debate is Stupid.
To the practitioner, who just wants to get things done and move on to the next task, this might just seem to be jousting over marketing jargon and buzzwords. But it is not just semantics, labels do count, and people build and stake reputations on turf they carve out around these things. Products and professionals occupy discrete categories (see my post Assume the Positioning).
Some say that using any kind of content in support of any kind of marketing is content marketing; I think this is an overly broad definition, and not very helpful. I favor the Content Marketing Institute's (CMI's) explanation, which differentiates this form from social media marketing.
"Indeed, content marketing heavily involves social media. And, of course, in social media, marketers use content to get their messages across. But although there is plenty of overlap ... they are actually two distinct entities, with different focal points, goals, and processes... In social media marketing, the center of gravity... is located within the social networks themselves.... In contrast, the center of gravity for content marketing is a brand website - whether it be a branded URL like AmericanExpress.com or a microsite for a brand's specific product, like Amex's Open Forum. Social networks are vital to the success of content marketing efforts, but here, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are used primarily as a distributor of links back to the content on the brand's website - not as containers of the content itself."
In my experience, content marketing is generally campaign driven, and part of a concerted effort to plan and track cause and effect. It is often tied to integrated marketing, and features sales lead generation as the main goal, or at least a component.
While I won't resolve all the questions and confusion in this post, perhaps I can leave it at this: judging content marketing can be a bit like the Supreme Court's threshold test for pornography - you just know it when you see it.
Here are some answers from the CommsChat lesson that I found helpful:
MyNewsDesk, a social media newsroom and PR platform (@mynewsdesk_uk): "Brand journalism" attempts to bring a new level of "independence" and quality to content from brands. They cover wider themes.
@mynewsdesk_uk "Content marketing" is a funny one as all marketing involves content! But term has come to refer to a set of tools and tactics.
The State of Content Marketing 2012: Is there a Backlash Brewing?
As I said at the outset, content marketing appears to be on the rise. Last year closed with some very bullish forecasts for increased investment in this area; e.g. see this report from Outbrain, the content discovery platform company: State of Content Marketing 2012.
However, hype and excitement are often followed by disappointment. Judging by some recent articles, content marketing may be at the Peak of inflated Expectations, and poised for (or already entering) the Trough of Disillusionment to use Gartner's famous Hype Cycle terminology.
See How to Fix the Sad State of Content Marketing, on Christopher Penn's blog. There were also a couple of other good posts this week: Marketing Profs featured The Contentious State of B2B Content Marketing, and Social Media Today asked: Are there too Many Brands Using Content Marketing?
Where We Go From Here: Trends to Watch for 2013
Despite this, I for one continue to be very bullish about content marketing's effectiveness and growth prospects. How will it be changing, and what are some of the important trends to watch?
On the tweetup session referenced above, CommsChat also asked about the future of content marketing, and suggested some possibilities: "Mass migration to tablet, greater personalisation, opening up of channels, cross-audience engagement?"
I liked and agree with quite a few of the responses, and list some of these below, including my own; I also share my thoughts on each (my comments follow each tweet:
@mynewsdesk_uk Brands will become better and better at providing valuable content to all of their audiences and measuring the impact.
It seems pretty clear that onslaught of content will continue, with no letup I sight. To rise above the noise, companies and their brands will need to focus on quality and relevance; measuring impact (and hopefully showing real results) will help ensure funding for future efforts.
@robonn: growth - driven by better understanding of editorially-driven ROI & by stronger inter-agency collaboration
Yes, growth seems to be assured - agencies and client teams will need to find ways to collaborate for the best results, ideally with strong client leadership and content competence - perhaps a Chief Content Officer - at the helm.
Montse Cano, Spaniard in London who does social media and online marketing (@MontseCano) I reckon everything will become more integrated
We will progress from one off campaigns to true multi-channel content marketing, optimized for each channel and audience, some are already doing this.
Me (@rgeller) Future of content marketing relates to I would say adaptive content and semantic tech
I believe that the march of new tools and technologies will continue. This also relates to the point above. Adaptive, or smart content makes sure that your campaigns are optimized for each platform (see this helpful article on HubSpot: How Dynamic Content Makes Your Marketing a Helluva Lot More Personal). Semantic tech will get better and become increasingly important in all types of content management and marketing, as it helps ensure topical alignment and relevancy.
How do you define content marketing? Where do you think it is going in the coming year?