It was November 2009. I was sitting in a meeting with the CEO of a regional powerhouse in the fitness equipment business. We were there to review the results of his PPC campaign, but I had something bigger in mind. I was going to explain to him how content marketing, in conjunction with changes in consumer buying behavior, was going to disrupt not only his sales and marketing model, but his entire business.
It went something like this. “Bob, right now you market equipment, not fitness. Your message focuses on a piece of equipment’s features, reliability, dimensions, and price. Soon enough, every personal trainer, gym, and equipment retailer will start creating fitness content — not product content — to educate the consumer, and educating the consumer will lead to brand awareness and brand loyalty. Let’s shift some of this ad budget to creating original, educational content.”
Bob humored me with some type of feigned understanding of the argument, then made his call. We’d be sticking with what we’d been doing because it feels like it’s working.
So, no content effort, and certainly no content marketing effort.
Fast forward 10 years. Bob’s company is nowhere to be found. If I had to guess, they began to run out of cash, and someone swooped in and made an acquisition.
You know what else has changed in the last 10 years? I never, ever have to convince anyone to create content anymore. As a matter of fact, these days I am trying to convince people to STOP churning out new content.
Think I’m shooting my own company in the foot since our service offering revolves around content marketing?
I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why.
The explanation requires a bit of history of how we got to this spot in content marketing, how this shift in the approach to content creation and content marketing will affect companies like yours, and the types of companies that will master the creation of effective content and its marketing in the next decade.
How we got here: metric ass tons of content
Bob became an anomaly. Brands — large and small, B2B and B2C — embraced content marketing.
If you want the full history, you can check out this infographic/timeline on the history of content marketing or take a look at the content marketing Wikipedia page, but I’ll simplify it for you: Everyone began creating metric ass tons of content.
Marketers became content marketing managers. Journalists became content marketing specialists. Content marketing departments were born.
They continued to create metric ass tons of content.
Content Marketing Institute made its debut. They created the most popular content marketing event in the world. Others followed suit and created their own content marketing events.
More metric ass tons of content followed.
Naturally, the technology providers jumped in. Content operations platforms. Content intelligence platforms. Content workflow platforms. Platforms for everybody and for everything.
You guessed it. More metric ass tons of content produced. As a matter of fact, there are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day.
So, what does this content glut mean for organizations?
In simple terms, you’re going to have to raise your game.
But before we go there, consider these data points:
- 60-70 percent of marketing-created content sits unused
- And yet, 70 percent of marketers are planning to create more content this year than last
- However, only 8 percent of marketers consider themselves very successful at measuring the ROI of their content marketing
In summary, there are metric ass tons of unused content, people keep making more, and most marketers can’t figure out how to measure the stuff they’re making.
So, maybe we should all STOP creating content, right?
No. The solution is to focus on creating EFFECTIVE content.
But what IS effective content?
Well, first let me say that effective content is nothing without the marketing that gets it to the right people. You definitely need both. But here, when I talk about effective content, I truly mean only the content. You could create very average content and be a marketing machine. Doesn’t matter. The content glut has made audiences much more jaded and discerning, so marketers must now create truly remarkable content and then market it effectively … get the right pieces to the right people at the right time.
So, back to the question of what is effective content. Effective content is:
- Anchored by a complete strategy, starting broad with goals and objectives and finishing with an execution plan.
- High quality because consumers will only become more discerning.
- Targeted for a particular audience and easily discoverable by that audience.
- Available in the formats buyers are engaging with today, which are completely different than the formats of yesteryear.
- Developed to drive actions and conversions, but also conversations. Meaning it can be created to drive a particular action, but it can also be developed as thought leadership for your company or a particular SME.
- Distributed through all the appropriate channels to reach the target audience.
- Measured, reported on, and analyzed in a way that leads to continuous improvement.
Ok, so now you know what you need to do. The next question is HOW will you execute? Are you going to hang out and see what your competitors do? Will you create a strategy and lead the pack? Your success really depends on your answer to those questions.
The future: content marketers and their companies will self-select as leaders, lookalikes, or laggards
As companies strive to become effective with their content and marketing, they will fall into three types: leaders, lookalikes, and laggards. Chances are you can already identify companies that fall into each of these classifications, but remember, a savvy marketer can take his or her company to new levels, and changes in leadership, strategy, or personnel can drive seismic shifts.
I don’t really like talking about the laggards, probably because I understand them the least. Whether it’s because they don’t care about growth, are uber conservative with “new” tactics, or are simply slow, they’re going to get lapped multiple times over the next decade. They’re the ones who just stood up their first blog … but can’t continue to publish because future content is stuck in the CEO’s inbox for approval.
The lookalikes are tougher to spot. To the untrained eye, they look like leaders. They appear to be doing all the right things. Solid website. Solid content. Solid social presence. Solid search engine presence. Solid people. Solid innovation. The Solid Company, however, is following someone else’s blueprint, likely a leader. They’re satisfied to watch what the leaders are doing and mimic that, but rarely if ever step outside the comfort zone and take a real content marketing risk.
And then there are the leaders. Here are five things that set the leaders apart:
- They create comprehensive, documented, nimble content marketing strategies and plans.
- They use data — meaningful data — on how both humans and search engines are consuming and indexing their content to inform every single piece they produce.
- They repurpose the hell out of their content in order to extract maximum value from already sizeable content marketing investments.
- They remember that this is called content marketing for a reason and distribute using today’s marketing technology and via owned, earned, paid, and internal channels.
- They truly innovate, using new formats, new channels, and even new ways of scaling their content marketing operations.
There’s no data that tells us how many organizations are already mastering these five areas, but as an advisor to many companies who aspire to reach leader status, I’ve seen maybe a half dozen who are on the right path.
Rewrite your story and embrace the future
Content remains at the core of every successful marketing effort. Without content, there is no marketing.
And yes, the content landscape has become cluttered and consumers tune out much of it. Yet we know that consumers DO still consume content, but only the well-strategized, well-written/produced, well-targeted, well-promoted kind.
So, as a company and as a marketing professional, it’s time to make a choice. You can be like my former client, Bob, and stick with what you’ve been doing for the past 5-10 years, knowing that your effort will never get you to the top, or you can start creating effective content and be a leader. What do you choose?