Hello Marketers. I hope you’re having a tremendously prosperous 2019.
As we approach the second half of the year, I want to provide a perspective on the current state of content marketing in most businesses.
This overview is informed greatly by the research we’ve conducted over the last 8 months, the culmination of our observations from Content Marketing World 2018 and our advisory client work in the past six months.
Let’s start with a question:
Is content marketing a strategic differentiator for business in 2019?
In one of my favorite business books of all time, The End of the Competitive Advantage, Rita Gunther McGrath vividly illustrates that all competitive advantages are now transient in nature.
I concur as it pertains to Content Marketing. A Content Marketing effort itself will never be a sustainable competitive advantage or differentiator. Instead, we as marketers who utilise content need to change our perspective and understand that WE are the competitive advantage.
Our ability as a marketing team (no matter the size) to come together, de-silo from our 1.0 shells, and develop a more dynamic and fluid use of content that is valuable to audiences is the essential skill in the next successful marketing strategy.
It is our ability to move in and out of “arenas”, as McGrath calls them, and create temporary advantages, that will be the critical determinant of success.
But there is a challenge. Most content marketing programs are stuck in average performance. Consider that only 23% of content marketers conclude that they are “very” or “extremely” successful. And “time to create” and “content quality” are the top 2 challenges cited by marketers. But then consider that 96% of the most successful content marketers say that their company is seen as a “trusted resource” for information.
In 2019, many companies still look at “content” as a sales-driven and/or traffic-generating engine. Most companies are still relying solely on “sales feedback” and “website analytics” as their sole means of researching their target audience. When you consider that two-thirds of adults say that “trust in a brand” has a great deal (31%) or a lot (37%) of influence on their purchase decision, you can see that moving to a more audience-centric model, powered by the time and effort into high-quality content is both the answer, and still a big challenge.
If we are to solve this challenge, we should first ask ourselves if we truly believe that compelling, engaging, useful, and dynamic content-driven experiences ultimately will move the business forward. If our answer is “yes,” then the strategic value lies in our ability to repeatedly and consistently evolve to create the valuable stories. This has many implications:
- Businesses must stop organising and scaling content based on platforms, technologies, and inside out views of the customer journey. Successful marketing departments will become skilled and integrated at creating and managing content-driven experiences. The format and placement of these experiences on multiple channels always will be temporal
- Successful businesses will no longer have a singular view of content as fuel to support marketing campaigns. Instead, they will evolve and begin looking at changing marketing into a function that increasingly supports the fluid use of content to create and support better customer experiences.
- The successful content plan of 2019 will be powered by an ability to constantly reconfigure efforts and manage a portfolio of content-driven experiences. When a particular experience is no longer advantageous to the business, the team will not lean on a “that’s-the-way-it’s-always-been-done” mentality and will healthily disengage and dismantle these experiences.
No, content is not a sustainable differentiator. It’s the ability create, change and optimise value for our audiences that creates sustainable differentiation.
Theme Two: Organising a Media Operation Inside of a Company
For those companies that are evolving their content marketing operation in 2019, the most common question we are asked these days is how do we scale this operation beyond an ad hoc content production machine.
It’s no secret that there has been a sharp growth in the development of internal agencies. Ad Age just reported 78% of Association of National Advertisers members have developed some level of in-house agency. That’s up from just 58% five years ago. Further, of the 22% that didn’t have an in-house agency, 8% said they were considering it for the near future.
In just the last year, at The Content Advisory, we’ve worked closely with more than 30 companies on helping to operationalise their content marketing approach, and we’ve seen this trend first-hand. As content marketing becomes a more recognised piece of what the company is doing, centralising the approach and creating a content-focused team is a natural extension.
Building a team to manage and serve internal clients with a streamlined set of creative services, production capabilities, and even media buying can be an extraordinarily productive strategy
However, our experience is that looking at the content team as an internal agency is a mistake. Content marketing is a fundamentally different approach, and needs a leading, not a serving, approach.
Content marketing (and content strategy) should be an active and discrete business model within the organisation. Thus, the content team is more akin to your R&D team, your legal team, or your accounting team.
We’ve just released our 2020 Content Marketing team model– and our conclusion is that there is no possible way to scale, manage, and optimise every channel to ensure that the company’s story is being told without a dedicated approach to content as a process.
Theme Three: Measuring the Process of Content Marketing
The third theme within the current state of Content Marketing in 2019 centers on how to change the cultural and procedural challenges of scaling the measurement of content marketing in an enterprise.
Going back to the beginning of this post, when we look at Content Marketing as a differentiator, most businesses measure exactly the wrong thing. We measure the content, not the impact that it’s having on the audience.
Successful content marketers are taking a different approach to content marketing from the beginning. In other words, a traditional marketing campaign is a project – the success/efficiency of which is measured once it is complete.
But content marketing done successfully is a fundamentally different model. Now, it may support short-term metrics of campaign-based marketing and advertising, but it is measured against a longer-term investment model as an asset to the business.
For example, let’s look at some current, successful, content marketing initiatives. As you build a business case for a content-driven experience, you might hypothesize simoilar potential goals:
- What’s the value of the audience on Day 100 when subscribers have grown to 1,000 and the use of that first-party data drives down advertising media costs by 5% but no new leads or customers have been generated? Then, what’s the value on Day 365 when subscribers are at 10,000, new leads are being created, andpaid media costs are down by 20%? Check out how Kraft measures ROI on its online recipes database.
- What is the value of the blog/digital magazine/hub when it provides one incremental lead per month with no additional marketing spend? What’s the value when it provides 20 leads? How about when it becomes 32% of our new business? See how Frontline Software uses original research as a strategic operation for the company.
- What is the value of the content marketing platform if the customers engaging with it have an increased average sales price of 15% over time because it establishes the company as a differentiated brand?
- What is the value of the content marketing platform on Day 365 when it sees a few hundred-thousand page views, and generates thousands of opportunities on the site? What’s the value at the end of Year 2 when it drives 48,000 new leads, is 22% of organic traffic, and creates a $3 million efficiency on paid advertising spend? See why Monster went all-in on its career advice center.
- What is the value of the content marketing platform if it does every one of these things but takes five years to get there?
In 2019, as a business manager, you have two fundamental ways to make the company more valuable – financial and strategic. Campaign-based marketing and advertising is almost always focused on creating financial value. This is the stuff of sales growth, profit margins, increased revenue, and marketing spend efficiency. The more you use creativity, technology, and process to help optimize these activities the more value you create.
Strategic value, on the other hand, doesn’t include but greatly influences financial metrics. Strategic value is the multiplier that gives a differentiated (or easier) way to achieve financial value. When creating strategic value, you almost always incorporate how an asset in the business – product, service, or brand position in the marketplace – provides a multiplier effect.
THE 2020 FORECAST FOR CONTENT MARKETING
Stronger, with a challenging twist of scale.
Last year, we proclaimed the forecast for content marketing to be “cloudy with a chance for change.” There was a real and constant struggle to get over the cultural hurdles of starting a content marketing program. Measurability was the biggest issue, and it continues to be the biggest challenge.
But in the past year, we’ve seen a lot of progress, and the mood seems considerably improved, despite the challenges of change. In 2019, making the business case has evolved from “why start” to “how do we scale” content marketing. From the explosive growth of native advertising to the hard, positive numbers that forward-leaning brands are generating, there can be no mistake – how brands are using content has begun to transform marketing strategies.
What’s clear is that unique, impactful, differentiating content-driven experiences are becoming as important as product development itself. Successful marketers will adapt and change in a constantly evolving media operation that focuses on creating delightful experiences to inform, entertain, engage, and evolve the customer – that’s the business’ sustainable competitive advantage