Four months, 56 senior marketing executives, one topic: content marketing.
My team and I have been conducting some deep research on how organizations are rebalancing in their shift to find equilibrium between "push" (read advertising) and "pull" (read content) marketing initiatives, and the results of this research have just been published. (It's available as a free download.)
We learned a lot about how companies are adjusting culturally, in terms of resources, training, staffing, and how they're using external service providers. We identified five phases of content marketing maturity organizations achieve on this journey. But one of the most fascinating aspects of the study was talking to marketers from organizations such as Ford Motors, IBM, GE, Coca-Cola, Adobe, Nestlé, ToysRUs, and a host of other household-name brands about the channels they're currently using for their content initiatives, and the channels they plan to use in the future.
Understanding marketers' content channel needs and priorities is critical to the process of rebalancing. While determining which channels content should be used must always be approached strategically, and with a view toward overall marketing goals, it cannot be ignored that each new digital channel brings with it new technological and budgetary requirements.
We found marketers are increasingly looking toward more technology complex channels, such as video and mobile, for content marketing. At the same time, they're lessening their dependence on text-based channels including blogging, bylined articles, and online PR. This means they'll have to up their content marketing budgets. Creating and distributing multimedia and mobile content require greater investment in technical and production expertise, not to mention measurement, than does text-based content.
As marketers become more ambitious technologically and, at the same time, less reliant on advertising, the need to ramp skills, hire and budget effectively, and plan for the future become correspondingly more complex. Consumer preferences and trends put increased pressure on this area. Blogs have receded in significance as more social channels and video have risen to the fore. Visual content is increasing in importance. Marketers aren't only interested in video, but are looking to images and infographics to tell their stories. So, apparently, are consumers – how else can you account for the meteoric growth of Pinterest?
As interesting as what marketers say they are interested in, channel-wise, is what they don't say. Gap analysis is essential when looking at this chart. SEO hovering near zero? Email not even on the radar? Yet we know each and every marketer we interview for our study is investing serious resources in both channels.
We came to call this "bright, shiny object syndrome." Sure, exploring mobile is a great idea, but it's no excuse for ignoring the fundamentals. In fact, one global CPG digital chief we interviewed was quick to say the primary reason his organization invests in content is SEO.
This sin of omission should be a rallying cry to search practitioner and to email marketers. The former group has its work cut out for it if content moves as quickly and decisively into video, visual, and mobile as the leaders of marketing programs want it to. Optimizing in these channels is harder than working with HTML-based web pages. This means by definition search won't decrease in importance. Making this new content visible and findable will be exponentially more difficult, challenging and labor intensive.
Content flowing into mobile channels and apps has to be somehow discoverable by users. SEO isn't the only channel through which this occurs. Digital PR pros and email marketers excel at creating awareness of new initiatives such as these. Their particular digital specialties, however, are losing a bit of luster as glitzier channels push to the fore. This means they'll have to be a bit pushier-- and cleverer -- to maintain a seat at the table and make their voices heard.
In the context of content marketing, it's important to remember that as with other media, changing channels never obliterates what came before. TV didn't kill cinemas (which didn't kill the theatre), and home video didn't wipe out television. We have the internet and print persists.
Search, email, blogging, digital PR, and even (brace yourself) advertising have, and will continue to have a place at the table as content marketing grows in importance. And grow it will. Every single one of the 56 marketers we interviewed is increasing investment in content marketing and content strategy.
Just as organizations must rebalance to add content to the marketing mix, practitioners of specific digital marketing functions must rebalance as well. It's time to strategize how existing skill sets will be applied to integrating content into the broader marketing equation.