As we’re approaching end of the year, we thought it was the right time to assess what content marketing is and how it’s changing to encompass new technology and theories. Boy, did we get more than we bargained for!
Content marketing is evolving in such a way that it will be hard to recognise in a few years’ time. Read on to learn more, and prepare for this new approach to take hold.
What is content marketing (now)?
We don’t want to go over things you already know, but it’s important to establish where we are now, if we want to understand how content marketing’s evolving.
This is the (slightly) lengthy, but useful, answer from the Content Marketing Institute:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
We’ve come up with our own, simpler definition:
Content marketing: using high-quality and relevant content to bring in and retain new leads without excessive product promotion. It should also eventually lead your visitor to purchase
It might sound straightforward, but this approach to marketing has grown extremely popular over the last six years. Google searches are up, and right now, a whopping 86% of B2C brands and 93% of B2B businesses use content marketing.
This increase in popularity indicates that content marketing has peaked. However, Gartner’s hype cycle suggests that it’s right in the middle of the “trough of disillusionment”. Doesn’t sound too good, does it?
*Image courtesy of Gartner
We don’t think there’s any cause for concern; even at one of the lowest points in the hype cycle, content marketing remains hugely popular among marketers. And, remember, all technologies and disciplines go through this pattern – here’s a quick recap:
Traditional hype cycle:
Innovation trigger: A cool new piece of tech enters the market and everyone’s excited about it!
Peak of inflated expectations: Promises are made by its creators, so expectations build throughout the industry and potential customer base.
Trough of disillusionment: The tech cannot meet those expectations, so public opinion comes crashing down into the trough.
Slope of enlightenment: Creators have a chance to improve their tech, make changes and educate their audience about realistic opportunities.
Plateau of productivity: Everyone adopts this new tech because its boundaries/limitations are known, and it becomes much more effective.
Content marketing’s hype cycle began in 2012. Online users were ignoring ads, so marketers began telling stories that people were interested in.
Big brands like Red Bull pioneered the approach, and others soon followed. They built content teams and channelled money into this experimental phase of content marketing.
Content marketing was thought of as a separate entity to other marketing strategies, and there were several reasons why it didn’t have much success:
- Barely anyone had a documented content strategy.
- No-one knew where to start – there were no instructions or guides.
- It’s a huge undertaking to improve all your content. Some companies didn’t have the budget or team in place to make effective use of this type of marketing.
The traditional hype cycle suggests that content marketing is set to rise again, and become even more effective. All we need to do is stay on top of the latest trends and tech, and perhaps we’ll benefit from it too.
Is content marketing evolving?
Yes, content marketing is evolving; it has to, if it’s to get out of the trough of disillusionment.
We expect content marketing to climb the illustrious ‘slope of enlightenment’ within two to five years, so it makes sense that we’ll start seeing changes now.
Content marketing is evolving in such a way that it’s no longer considered a separate discipline to other marketing efforts. Industry leaders claim that great content needs to be integrated with every part of the marketing and communications strategy to be effective. And, guess what? We agree.
We also need to consider the ‘research online-purchase offline’ approach that has engulfed the ecommerce market. More than ever before, people are researching products and services online prior to a purchase. According to RetailDIVE, 67% say they research products online before visiting a brick-and-mortar store.
Because of this, online content is the first impression people get of your brand. If your content isn’t relevant or engaging, you’ll lose that lead before they’re even aware of your product. You really need to crank the quality of your content up a notch if it’s to be effective.
What should you do next?
Joe Lazauskas gave a great speech entitled “The Future of Content Marketing Isn’t Content Marketing” at this year’s Content Marketing World event.
He claims that content marketing (as we know it) is dead. It’s no longer just about ‘doing content marketing’, it’s about making business operations more successful.
Luckily, he gave us five steps for this, to ensure we get this new approach to content right.
- Embrace the idea of accountable content – every action maps to a high-level company objective
- Develop a strategy that connects the right content to the right audience
- Push teams towards real business goals, not just vanity metrics such as pageviews, impressions and likes
- Invest in tech-enabled process to speed things up and make smarter, informed decisions about your audience
- Commit to a higher standard of storytelling
While saying “content marketing is dead” might be extreme, we understand what Lazauskas means! We all need to rethink our approach, and soon!
As content marketing is evolving, it’s becoming more obvious that we need to adjust our strategies and join it up with other marketing initiatives. We already know it works well with CRO and email marketing, what other areas do you think might be worth trying?