The Content Strategist

So Brands Are Producing Lots of Content. What’s Next?

By now, it feels like roughly a zillion brands are following in the footsteps of giants like Red Bull, IKEA, and IBM and embracing content marketing. It’s new! It’s exciting! David Carr is writing about it a lot!

But what’s next?

As the content marketing world enters its 2015 planning season, that seems like the question to ask. And funnily enough, we did just that to close out the Contently Summit last Thursday, as Contently VP of Content Sam Slaughter and CEO Joe Coleman sat down for a smoke-free fireside chat to discuss the future of content marketing with moderator Neil Chase. In a rapid-fire session, they explained that brands are going to be asking much different questions in 2015 than they did in 2014.

The new buzz-term: ‘business results’

In Coleman’s eyes, the content marketing landscape was far different just a few years back. Content farms, the ominous-sounding engines of low-quality content, reined supreme. “May they rest in peace,” he said.

Businesses like those Coleman had worked at had a hard time tracking down high-quality content, or platforms to help set up their own overarching content operating systems. “We couldn’t find a single place to connect with high-end journalists,” he said.

That’s sort of been taken care of. Getting started still can be a struggle, but fast forward to today, and brands not only have not only access to top-end creative talent, but also powerful software to help them build their media operations. They’ve started figuring out how to create quality content, and as a result, the focus is changing to a new challenge:

“Quality content is still key, and it’s still number one,” Coleman said. But as companies are getting the content thing down, the question is increasingly: “How do we make sure it’s driving business results?”

The focus has shifted to streamlining the process, he noted. And that’s one of the reasons Contently Insights and so many other novel metric systems have cropped up to help marketers become data-driven content creators.

The year of owned media

“Are brands looking at different stuff than they were a year or two ago?” Chase asked.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily different stuff. I think they have different goals though,” said Slaughter. In addition to demanding and pushing for business results, brands are increasingly ambitious in the publishing sphere. At first marketers just wanted to get started with some sort of a blog, he noted. But that was just the first step.

“The big thing that we keep hearing is: It’s about more than the content now. It’s about the audience,” Slaughter explained, adding that he believes brands will soon start to abandon sponsored content and focus on building audiences that they own. “They’re starting to realize, why am I paying to put this elsewhere? Why am I spending zillions of dollars a month to reach my own fans? At a fraction of the cost I could build my own platform and drive people to it.”

And others are also speculating that this is the case. “One day soon, native advertising may be recalled as a quaint evolutionary step as brands are increasingly comfortable simply reaching an audience themselves,” wrote CJR’s Michael Meyerin a recent cover story on the rise of brand publishing.

Looming risks

The power and effectiveness of content marketing is quickly becoming conventional wisdom, but many marketers still worry about the dangers of adopting a practice that takes them so far out of their comfort zone.

“The real danger is producing content nobody wants to read,” Coleman responded, when asked by an audience member about the risks and vulnerabilities of going down the content road.

“Without a real framework of how to produce content, how to get it distributed, how to reach the audience you want to reach, how to build that audience… Without a real understanding of how to do that I think there’s a good chance people will fail—potentially going years without it working out,” he said.

Ultimately, said Slaughter, there’s one thing marketers can do to avoid going down that road, and that’s by measuring their content intelligently and tying the content they produce to “tangible results.”

“We’ve been able to solve the how,” he said. “This year is about solving the why.”