What is the future of content marketing?

Content’s Survival of the Fittest

Evolving from content production to performance

The first group of content pros emerged from B2B marketing’s primordial soup with a super-hero advantage. The creative gene.

They set about driving a step change from the dull, analogue land of colorless white papers into the exciting, digital world of glorious technicolour media.

As someone said at the time: we’re not in Kansas anymore. But, unlike Dorothy, we didn’t want to go back.

Nor should we. The creative gene found perfect harmony in its new environment, providing the magnetic content that search engines, social media and marketing automation plays needed.

Under these conditions, the earliest content portfolios flourished and spread to make their creators (and their companies) the first rock stars of the new B2B marketing world.

The message was crystal: produce creative content focused on your customer problems and they’ll come in leaps and inbounds.

So, let’s say ten years later – an eon in digital timescales – is content still a great bet? If you still want traffic, engagement, eternal glory and untold riches then the answer has to be yes.

But we need to evolve to get all that.

The Marketing Gap

The first wave of content marketing would be like a lopsided person: muscle down the content (supply) side, emaciated down the marketing (demand) side. It was content, but was it really marketing?

That disparity didn’t go unnoticed.

When Mark Shaefer published “content shock” he described an exponentially growing content supply that’s rapidly outstripping demand.

He saw an out-of-control content flow now out-of-sync with its environment. If we pump out so much (dubious) stuff we will, at best, run out of audience or, at worst, overwhelm and kill it off.

Unless we change, we’re headed for a self-inflicted content apocalypse.

But, like many doomsday scenarios, this one overlooks one crucial component: the remarkable ingenuity of humans (sometimes even marketers).

We’re not just carrying on. We’re adapting. And it’s good.

 Survival of the Fittest

Not everyone’s going to make it. The barriers to entry are growing higher and higher – especially in a world where Forrester analysts expect the content marketing function to be “largely swallowed up into multi-disciplinary teams.”

In content marketing, only the fittest will thrive. Is that bad? No. It’s necessary, natural and inevitable.

But what does that mean for your own content marketing?

It’s time to put content performance at the heart of content marketing — and the heart of demand generation, web optimization, lead generation, account-based marketing and customer management programmes.

That means smarter, more scientific, measured and optimized content execution. It’s no longer enough to stick a loosely SEO-optimised page on your site, plunk an isolated post on LinkedIn and add an email to the tail of a nurture flow. Nowhere near enough.

It’s time to grow our content marketing up. And that means to change.

Four Performance Pillars

Over the past three years, we’ve been developing a performance methodology to match our creative offer. An approach for B2B marketers who are measured every day on commercial success (which should mean every B2B marketer).

The four pillars of this new discipline are each familiar to us all — but rarely integrated into one cohesive system:

Strategy

Knowing what you’re doing before you start. A modern approach needs commercial KPIs, sales and marketing alignment and forensic data analysis (of audience, channel and content). Get it right and your demand, lead and ABM campaigns will hit their targets. Get it wrong and there won’t be any targets.

Automation

Making sure your platform, data and content assets are fully blueprinted, sequenced, integrated, optimized and tagged for success. And balancing all that with understanding of creative content across complex sales cycles.

 Promotion

Making sure content is goal-driven, conceived, crafted and optimized from day one. The art and science of content distribution have been siloed for far too long. Bringing them together gives you an advantage you can measure in your KPI dials (and in the awards cluttering your shelves).

 Analytics

Setting up your dashboards with an understanding of specific content impacts. These joined-up reports from web analytics, data analytics, automation and CRM tools are crucial if you want to measure content, conversions, campaigns and channels from awareness to sales.

The Future of Content Marketing

The evolution of content is constant. Both the barriers to entry and the attractiveness of exit are growing. Is it time to panic? Far from it.

We’ve reached a point in our development that demands new thinking, skills and disciplines. It’s thrilling stuff. In the gap between a production line and a performance review lies everything I love about the digital era.

And we can’t wait to drill down into this deeper on this blog series and beyond to show you how moving from production to performance is the most affirming move you can make.

Watch this space.

And we’re not just talking about it, we’re doing it – how we’re transforming content performance into a service.

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