Follow the Leader: Why Agencies Need to Embrace the Content Marketing Challenge

How will content marketing take its next leap? How will it go from an experimental, but undoubtedly effective, marketing channel to a full-fledged paradigm shift in how brands think about selling themselves? How will the trickle of media dollars currently going to content marketing become a full-on waterfall? While you’ll find a lot of different takes on these questions on the Content Strategist (Measurement! Compliance! Audience growth hacking!), I believe there’s one bigger answer: Digital agencies need to lead the way.

First, some context: Digital agencies are reaching a big turning point when it comes to the way they handle campaign dollars. They’ve been very good at distributing display media programmatically and owning the optimization of that spend. And over the past few years, they’ve mastered basic social maintenance. But display ads are very clearly not the answer, and the industry is realizing that social can’t truly succeed without dynamic, longform storytelling. As Claudia Cahill, chief content officer at OMD, has said, “The reason so many people get into content is to tell a story that traditional media can’t. It gives you the flexibility to go deeper on the story, and to go directly to the consumer.”

Agencies—which already own the brand relationship when it comes to media planning, buying, strategy, research, data analytics, mobile, and social—must be the ones to push brands into this next era of marketing. It makes sense for brands, and it makes sense for the digital agencies that serve them. There’s a gargantuan opportunity for everyone to connect the data across paid, owned, and earned media channels, and to empower the creation of original content in all forms.

So will agencies accept this challenge? It remains to be seen. So far, they have largely limited themselves to dipping their toes into the water with native advertising, or, in other words, renting audiences for short campaigns. After all, that’s how agencies are used to working with brands. But I believe that the smartest minds in the industry understand that content is not just another campaign. It’s an always-on listening tour that puts the customer’s needs, interests, passions, and values first. It’s more collaboration than interruption, which requires a whole new way of doing things. And that’s why the real opportunity for brands and agencies alike is to build brand-owned publications that will provide exponential returns for years to come.

When I first arrived as Contently’s CRO six months ago, the theme of my first essaywas “Why I went all in on content marketing.” After half a year in the trenches, it’s clear to me that great storytelling requires a lot of moving parts: If you want to scale a content marketing operation, it requires coordination from all sides. All of us in the content marketing world—from the brands, to the tech companies like Contently, to the content creators that make those stories possible—need agencies to foster that coordination. We need them to lead the charge.

Brett Lofgren is the CRO of Contently

Image by Kyle Fewell

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