The rapid rise of content marketing
The famous screenwriter William Goldman once said that "the easiest thing to do on earth is not write." Let's borrow that for a moment -- and apply it to content marketing.
By now, no doubt, content marketing has reached a tipping point within the marketer's toolkit. In fact, in a study conducted last year, nine out of 10 marketers are utilizing some kind of content marketing in their overall strategy. And, more than half planned to increase spending for content-related marketing over the next 12 months. It seems "content" is the music that everybody's dancing to these days.
The rise of content marketing was a natural evolution from the explosive use of search by consumers. By some estimates, 90 percent of purchase decisions start with online search -- and are influenced most by consumers' sharing information with their personal social networks. Conferences now regularly feature content-marketing strategies and offer marketers every piece of advice about where and how to fit content into their bag of tricks.
But has content marketing now become too popular? Is it now the over-produced pop song of which marketers have started to butcher the lyrics? Certainly if nine out 10 marketers are doing it, we can assume that our competition now knows this tune. They and our partners and everybody down the line are producing content as well.
And, the value of content at the other end of a search query hasn't been lost on those publishers trying to make a business of it either. Content factories such as Demand Media and Associated Content (now Yahoo) produce tens of thousands of articles and video per day. And some marketers are trying to do the same by hiring SEO companies or Amazon's Mechanical Turk to produce hundreds of pages of "Google food" for pennies per word.
But now, the pendulum seems to be starting to swing the other way -- just as Demand Media goes public and Google changes its search algorithm to deal with content spam and the "quality of web content." As search results are becoming less relevant, prominence in the social graph is becoming more so. It's the classic trend: In a market with increasing competition, prices drop, feature wars start, and differentiating values decline quickly.
In short, as William Goldman might say, the easiest thing for marketers to do is not create. When content marketing is treated like any other media tactic -- with its requisite ROI and measurement requirements -- the price gets driven down and it becomes a more and more of a commodity as it competes for budget with SEO, PPC, and banner advertising.
And, it shouldn't be. Effective content marketing is not just a B2B thing, or a tech thing, or even a search or social media thing. It's not even a "marketing thing." It's a business thing -- and it works across size, brand, industry, and even capability.
So, in order to illustrate that, let's look at three very different organizations that continue to expand their success with content marketing. The common thread among them is not that they all use content to increase sales (although that's often the result). The common thread is that they infuse their entire strategy with content. They use content to engage their audience (both customers and prospects), which creates the opportunity for a discussion -- and the invitation to market to and serve their audience. That's the real differentiator here. To these organizations, content marketing is, in and of itself, not a tactic. It's a new way of thinking about their entire strategy; it's something that gets molded into the DNA of the way they serve customers.