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The Content Revolution Is Here. Is Your Brand Ready?

With vaccine rollout ramping, the world feels ready to burst.

Our brains are craving escape from the doldrums of isolation and quarantine. If the pandemics of the past are any indication, we’re about to witness a decade of flourishing creativity—a content revolution that changes our culture.

There are signs it’s already begun.

If one media trend dominated 2020, it was the emergence of “The Creator Economy.” The term describes individual creators—writers, filmmakers, TikTok stars, etc.—who build self-sustaining businesses without media companies.

We’ve seen a slew of prominent writers from Matthew Yglesias to Ashley Feinberg go out on their own on Substack, for instance, and easily monetize their following. I believe the forces behind The Creator Economy will also drive the broader content revolution over the next decade.

In the mid-1990s, only a tiny fraction of the world were content creators; today, damn near everyone creates content in some way—from Janet Yellen to your flat-earther cousin—and over 50 million people formally identify as a “creator.”

But over the past year especially, two technological forces have made it much easier for creators to build independent businesses: monetization platforms and no-code tools.

Ad revenue is a fickle beast. Subscriptions are much more reliable. Today, platforms like Substack, Patreon, and Revue (recently acquired by Twitter) make it simple for people to subscribe directly to people’s work. Meanwhile Teachable, Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, and others allow creators to spin up paid courses, and platforms like Contently, where I work, make it easy to pick up high-paying branded content gigs if necessary.

It’s also much easier to break away from a media company and go it on your own if you don’t have to rely on a big team of designers, video editors, and web developers to help develop your content.

That’s where no-code tools come in. Squarespace makes it easy to build a beautiful website; Adalo lets non-coders build apps. Canva allows non-designers to produce high-quality visuals. Descript, mmhmm, and TikTok are making video editing faster and easier than ever. Individual creators can be competent across mediums without spending hundreds of hours learning Photoshop and FinalCut Pro.

These tools are changing the way we think about creative work. Which leads me to the question I’m contractually obligated to answer in this newsletter…

What will the content revolution mean for brands?

It’s easy to see parallels between the creative revolution happening right now and those that happened during past pandemics—from Shakespeare’s creative breakthroughs during the Black Plague to the Jazz musicians and modernist writers of the 1920s.

Pandemics force people to think about art and storytelling in new ways. As things return to normal, there’s a wave of momentum for those creators, both from the post-pandemic economic boom, and also from the strong desire to engage in communal experiences.

As the content landscape shifts, media companies and brands alike will need to adapt.

Many marketers will look at the creator economy and see 50 million new advertising vessels. Influencer marketing! Spon-con! But that’s just repeating the same old advertising playbook—a passive approach unlikely to yield big results.

Smart marketers will look at the shifts and figure out how to build a bigger, better audience of their own. Here’s how.

1. Embracing internal influencers

Last summer, Medium and Twitter co-founder Ev Williams wrote that we’re now in a “relational media” era. There’s a lot to unpack in his piece, but one of the core ideas is that credibility and affinity mostly come from individuals—writers, podcast hosts, etc.—rather than traditional media brands. We care more about the byline more than the masthead.

The good news is that affinity can transfer from the person to the brand. People trust Contently and come to us for content marketing advice because they read and watch smart things made by me, Jordan Teicher, Deanna Cioppa, Kristen Poli, and other people who work here. We’re more likely to trust a brand when we associate it with real people—particularly in B2B tech.

We care more about the byline than the masthead.

Many marketers I talk to are afraid to embrace internal influencers. What if the person leaves? This is silly. First, these influencers are more likely to stay if you give them a valuable platform. Second, if someone leaves, it just presents an opportunity to elevate someone else.

2. Double down on creative talent—even if you can’t hire them full-time

Those influencers can only build trust if they’re pretty damn good at creating thoughtful content.

The truth: Some marketers just aren’t that good at creating content. It’s not what they studied. It’s not how they paid the rent in their 20s. That’s okay! There are thousands of talented journalists and media refugees looking for work.

Your internal influencers don’t necessarily need to be full-time employees either. They can also be freelancers who write regularly for your brand. Over the years, we’ve had a bunch of Contently freelancers who wrote consistent bylines for our blog and earned trust with our audience. We’ve seen them do the same for our clients as well. And often, a great freelance writer is just as likely stay with your brand for a decade than the average employee—if not more so.

3. Know your audience inside and out

One of the advantages of Substack is that writers can focus on a smaller, dedicated following that loves their work, instead of the broader audience of a media company. Those people are willing to pay for that work because the writer knows exactly what interest them.

If brands want to compete, they need to know their audience really well. Too many content strategies start with “What do we want to say?” instead of “What does our audience want from us?”

And as a marketing leader, you need to drive that mindset. You also need to …

4. Give your creative team freedom

The great news about all of the tools at our disposal is that we can create content faster than ever. Give your team the freedom to come up with ideas and execute on them without always asking for permission. Have a strategy and guidelines, but don’t over-engineer things. Your best ideas don’t have to come from a grueling five-hour brainstorming session.

For example, Jordan, our director of content, made this Venn diagram in about 3 minutes on Canva. It was our best performing LinkedIn post of the month.

5. Leverage both creator economy tools and enterprise content creation tools

It becomes a lot easier to give your team that creative freedom when you have visibility into what’s going on. For example, Contently’s platform makes it easy for me to have oversight because I can instantly see everything my team is doing across publications and campaigns.

Most brands need a content creation stack that has two types of tools. First, an enterprise content marketing platform where they can track everything and streamline the compliance process. And second, inexpensive yet powerful creation tools that their content teams can use to create incredible content on the fly.

The past year has brought so much pain and struggle, but as the light emerges on the other side, let the possibilities ahead give you life. There’s never been a better time to create. Let’s get at it.

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