Nobody would argue with me if I said 2014 was the year of content marketing. The search term “content marketing” has hit its all-time high, and you can’t read an article on B2B marketing without someone talking about content. The Content Marketing Institute put on Content Marketing World and had its highest attendance of all time, capped off with a keynote by Kevin Spacey. Hell, even The Huffington Post is writing about it now. So where is it going to end up? Will 2015 be another big year for content marketing? And what does its future hold for us?
1. It’s Not Slowing Down, But It’s Not Speeding Up
Look at this Google Trend report for the term “content marketing,” and you’ll notice that 2014 saw the fastest growth for the term EVER. If you also use Google to forecast the next year for the term “content marketing,” you’ll see it’s not projected to really accelerate any more than it has. It shows it staying at a constant level.
I agree with Google on this one. Look at the search term SEO and how it trended. It went up quickly, plateaued, and has stayed constant since. It seems that as marketers, we have a need to always hunt down the next new thing — and in 2014 that new thing was content marketing. But it also seems to have hit its peak.
2. It Will Open the Doors for Something Else
If you take a step back from the tactical nature of marketing and look at the interplay the tactics have with themselves, you can find a much different and more interesting story. Think back to 1995, when we all were just trying to understand how to build a website. Once we figured out how to build a website, we needed to figure out how to drive traffic to it, and then how to get value out of that traffic. We began to use forms on our websites, and then started using email marketing to reach the people who interacted with them. Next came social media and mobile marketing. Now, we have content marketing.
All of these techniques and tactics had to come in a sequential order to allow for the next one. Each one opened the door to more advanced and progressive ideas. We had no way to obtain email addresses without forms, and no way to host a form without a website. We had no way to distribute content without email marketing, social media, or our websites. Now that content marketing is here, we should look to see what doors it will open.
It seems it will open the doors for larger budgets, a more tactical focus on execution, and new types of reporting and distribution. We are likely to see a much larger focus on how we distribute the content and how we derive value from it, rather than just creating it. It’s the same cycle as when we created the first websites. We’ve proven they work, now how do we maximize their value?
3. It’s Created Its Own Problems
Just like all other forms of marketing before it, content marketing has created its own specific problems. These may seem really obvious, but how we solve for them will determine who really wins at content marketing in the future, and who is doing just enough to get by. The main problems created by content marketing are:
- Poor content creates noise: Because content marketing has become table stakes in 2014, it has created a serious divide between those who create great content, and those who just create noise. This is the same for every marketing tactic we’ve ever used. The need to create content has in turn created the noise that we now must break through. While writing this article I had an interesting conversation about this very topic with @BilalJaffery:
- More expensive: With more noise comes a greater cost to break through it. With content marketing, it takes a lot of aspects to make great content. It’s not as simple as just writing something. You have to begin with keyword research, customer interviews on what to write about, provide new research, teach something, and have it effectively distributed. All of this has a cost associated with it, and it is not a small cost. Creating good content and effectively distributing it will become the two largest marketing costs in the near future. How can I prove this? It’s simple: look at what happened to SEM over time.
When Google PPC began, it took the heat off of SEO for a short time because you could spend less money on optimizing a Web page, and put that money toward obtaining first-page results simply by paying for it. This is similar to today’s paid social promotion. It’s cheap today, but will not be tomorrow. SEM has become a very expensive endeavor, making Google more than $42 billion each year. Why did Facebook’s Q1-Q2 profits jump by 60 percent? Because the cost of distributing content is increasing and paid social is one of the best ways to do it.
4. Who Are the Big Winners of 2014?
The first big winners of the content marketing movement are the companies who buy into the idea of content marketing and understand that it is about experience, not just content. Companies like Wistia, Mackweb, and Hubspot have built audiences from content marketing that are going to be invaluable in the future. They have direct access to their consumers and have built a relationship of value with their fans. This relationship of value directly correlates to bottom line results. They built these fan bases in a time when content marketing was much easier, less expensive, and it was far easier to obtain thought leadership positions with consumers. The companies that are late to the party are going to have a much harder time, and will have to spend a lot more money to obtain the same results.
The other big winners are the thought leaders who taught us how to do content marketing well in the first place. Look at Jay Baer, Joe Pulizzi, and Ann Handley. Each of these three thought leaders have published at least one book on content marketing in the past 12 months with two of them reaching The New York Times best-seller list. Joe Pulizzi put on the largest content marketing conference on the planet. Each of these people has solidified their names in the minds of every content marketer in the industry, and for good reason.
The final big winners of content marketing are the distribution channels and the tools that help us execute our content marketing strategies. Paid social promotion proved to be the most valuable way for social media to make money, and Facebook’s stock soared as a result. Companies that have made tools to help content marketers create better content have been bought for large sums of money, and those that are still private are growing at very fast rates. Just look at Kapost’s growth this year and the acquisition of Compendium by Oracle. Companies that help you to distribute content have also been sold, such as LinkedIn’s acquisition of Bizo this year. The companies trying to build full marketing technology stacks are seeing large value in both the creation and distribution of content. You can expect to see more of this in 2015.
5. Where Will It Go in 2015?
If you can pick up what I’m putting down, the major trends for content marketing in 2015 are easy to see. Creating great content, showing the value of content’s efforts, and distributing it better will be the keys to success in 2015.
- Paid social via psychographic targeting: I saw Marty Weintraub speak at a ClickZ conference in New York City this year. He presented the most forward-thinking presentation on content distribution I’d ever seen. I’m with Marty in thinking that the biggest trend to come next is distributing content via paid social media. Once again, this couldn’t happen without content marketing coming first.
- Showing real business value: Content marketing is expensive and it is going to take a larger budget. Jay Baer will tell you “you’re late to the party” if you haven’t already put in a request to increase your content budgets. The issue with this is that we’ll have to show more value from content marketing than just an increase in downloads and views. It’s going to take a new way of reporting on content, which I believe to be measuring content’s impact on the velocity of leads moving through the sales funnel, and its ability to increase the lifetime value of all customers.
- Tactical content: To show more value, our content is going to have to be targeted to specific goals. Content is no longer just “content,” but rather a highly tactical piece of marketing created to do specific things, like bring more people into our funnel, increase the speed at which people move through the sales funnel, or mitigate the churn rates. Here is an article on the 13 tactical steps to content marketing success I wrote a few weeks ago. These tactical pieces of content will have to be combined with tactical programs and campaigns, many of which companies have not had to figure out yet because their initial returns on simple content marketing have proven successful up to this point. The initial returns on content marketing and its novelty to consumers will soon fade away, leaving tactical execution as the only way to scale its effectiveness.
2014 was easily the peak of content marketing’s rise to the forefront of your marketing programs, but it will not stay in the forefront without adaptations and a more tactical execution. It’s become table stakes to just have content, and only those who truly understand how to use content to maximize the overall customer and prospect experience will be able to continue to scale content marketing’s effectiveness into 2015.
Homepage image via Shutterstock.
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