Fred Wilson: Tomorrow’s CMOs Will Be Content Marketers

What will drive the rise of content marketing? According to Fred Wilson, it will be older generations of marketers leaving the scene.

“We need a generational change,” Wilson said at an Internet Week breakfast event on Monday at City Winery in New York. “It may be hard for a VP of marketing from another era to embrace this moment. Some will. Many won’t. We need people who understand this instinctively or intuitively.”

Wilson envisions a world where older generations of marketers eventually give way to young marketers who intuitively understand that you need to constantly produce content and engage to win an audience.

“I think young people are wired up differently around these kind of things and they understand this,” he said. “They know they have to engage in real time, all the time, on these platforms if they want people to follow them.”

Echoing Steve Jobs, who famously said that death will solve the problem of an older generation unable to use computers, Wilson said that once younger people are running marketing departments, the new world of content marketing will fall into place. It’s a wise take, but as he put it, “It’s a transition from an old world of marketing to a new world of marketing and we’re somewhere along the way.”

Wilson also believes that it won’t just be advertisers who are creating more content—he thinks that people at large will become more prolific content creators, too.

“Maybe we’ll have a world where 5 percent create content and 50 percent engage content and less than 50 percent sit back and consume it,” he said. “Rather than today, where 90 percent sit back.” With younger demographics having grown up with the incredibly powerful Internet publishing tools at their fingertips, this seems more likely than ever.

The prolific AVC blogger and managing partner at Union Square Ventures didn’t stop there. He also shared fascinating insights on the future of engagement and data science.

On engagement

Wilson said he does not read print—and the reason for this is at the core of his thesis about engagement.

“I don’t want to rip out the article or paper, because then what would I do with it?” he said. “I want to send that article to many people. So I need to read in a mode where I can cut and paste a quote into Tumblr or post a link into Reddit or email out something to a list of people, whatever it is.”

That chain of content-related events is why print just doesn’t cut it for him. It also explains why he writes his blog. Wilson says he wants to “change how people engage.” Measuring that change is difficult, but understanding readers’ response to your content is a great start.

As an example, Wilson told the story of what happened when he wrote the word “freemium” on his blog, not realizing he’d coined a term that would soon be used ubiquitously across industries.

“I think a lot about people who are affected by something like ‘freemium,'” he said. Wilson explained how the word is used in business all the time, in meetings he and no one else will ever measure, but which he has affected. “We can’t measure that through these channels. But these people do engage. So ultimately, I think engagement is more important than ever, even if it’s hard to measure.”

One of Wilson’s core investment philosophies is to look for technologies that have large network effects—those that become market leaders and as a result become the go-to product or service for new users to try. Similarly, with content he looks to grow an audience and to have that audience be continually coming back for more. Similar to network effects, once an audience turns its attention to you, and you earn their trust, you’ll have an advantage over other content creators who are not as consistent or valuable. “Better to write than to not write at all,” he said.

The importance of data

Wilson was sympathetic to the dilemma in which publishers find themselves: They need to go mobile. They need to be on Facebook. And they need to be on Google. But the more they rely on other platforms, the less control they have over data. Not helping things is the fact that more users are accessing content on mobile devices, which doesn’t provide as strong tracking information as the Web.

“This is a real challenge for publishers,” said Wilson. “It’s unlikely they will acquire the technology or talent to deal with it. They can develop some of the technology themselves. They have to try as hard as they can to take advantage of data that they acquired on their platform and use it to their advantage. But to think that a publisher like The New York Times or CNN or even VICE or BuzzFeed could do that and compete with Facebook or Google is unfortunately not going to happen.”

That said, he did have some tips. First, he said that as we move to a world where customers are asked to like an ad on Facebook or retweet an ad on Twitter, “It’s dangerous because you don’t have the data. So one thing publishers should demand is that they do get that data.”

Second, he said publishers should “try and own as much of the media as possible.” The more media you own on your own sites, the more data you get. “That’s the whole concept of content marketing and putting content out of your own platform—whether it’s a video or blog posts or whatever and get traffic to that there as opposed to letting all engagement happen on larger platforms like Facebook or Twitter.”

What’s the deal with The Content Strategist? At Contently, storytelling is the only marketing we do, and it works wonders. It could for you, too. Learn more.

Image via Wikipedia

Image by Wikipedia

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