3 Big Content Marketing Themes, Based on Backstage Chatter at Content Marketing World

I’m a big believer that the first day back at work after Labor Day should include free margaritas. That’s partially why I love the annual speaker drinks on the opening night of Content Marketing World. But mostly, it’s because I get unfiltered access to what the smartest minds in content marketing are thinking about right now.

After a week of drinks, keynotes, dinners, and hallway reunions at CMW, here are the three big content marketing themes I’ve been thinking about on my trip back to New York.

1. Content marketing is being absorbed by marketing

For years, too many enterprise companies treated content marketing like a fun little side project, strangely detached from larger marketing initiatives. Look how cute we are, over here in the corner, trying to make stuff that people actually like. Fortunately, that perception is changing.

The competition for attention is undeniably fierce. The performance of salesy direct response tactics is plummeting. It’s hard for any marketing initiative to succeed if it’s not backed by content that pulls you in. This is true whether we’re talking about social advertising, sales enablement, product marketing, or a pitch deck. And it’s why Gartner declared that the categorization of content marketing won’t be necessary in a few years. Good content has become a prerequisite for a successful marketing initiative.

Many of the brand marketers I spoke with at CMW had been recently tasked with building a central content program for their company. Their job is to track down all of the old, crappy content so they can develop a new system for getting high-quality content out the door. In turn, many prominent consultants and technology companies are rethinking their products and services to help marketers tackle those challenges.

At Contently, that’s been our focus for the last 18 months with our clients, and let me tell you, it’s a big, messy problem that needs a solution. Those who figure out how to do it the best will be the big winners of our industry in the next few years.

2. Brands are rethinking their distribution advantage

I’m biased because Marriott is a client, but I loved hearing Marriott content chief Marc Graser talk about how his company scaled its newsroom.

Graser, who came to content marketing after a long run at Variety, sees Marriott as a true media company. A big reason for this is because there are over a million screens in Marriott hotels open for content programming. That’s a mini-Netflix-size advantage.

Instead of just praying to the Google and Facebook gods, brands are starting to think about how to use the real estate they already control to distribute content. Chase, for instance, serves highly relevant content to the millions of people who head to its homepage and mobile app every day. Dollar Shave Club includes a fun bathroom reader that ships with its razors. Phone manufacturers are thinking about how to serve content to people on the lock screen, cutting off Google and Facebook at the pass. This is a crucial space to watch.

3. The war on best practices has begun

Content marketing may be in its infancy, but it’s still old enough to develop bad habits. Another word for those bad habits is “best practices.”

Take the PDF. No one in their right mind wants to read a PDF. It’s like turning off Spotify and popping in a worn cassette. Yet B2B brands spend insane resources churning them out because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do.

From Jay Acunzo to Drew Davis to Margaret Magnarelli, CMW’s best minds compelled marketers to stop chasing the latest tricks. Instead, we should start creating content that spikes curiosity, truly empathizes with people’s problems, and tries to make their lives genuinely better. (Acunzo even has a book coming out about this very topic.)

Give someone a tip or trick, and their content may improve for a week. Teach someone to think creatively and fearlessly about the content they create, and they’ll keep improving for the rest of their lives.

Joe Lazauskas is the head of content strategy at Contently and the co-author of a best-selling book, The Storytelling Edge: How to Transform Your Business, Stop Screaming Into the Void, and Make People Love You.

Image by Harper Jaroff

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