Standing adjacent to Tower Bridge and overlooking the River Thames, I reflected on the past five days: a 100-hour whirlwind of meetings, missed Tube stops, presentations, espresso shots, pints, and meat pies. I’d just finished my last meeting with one of the largest multinational professional services firms in the world, and I was fixated on the future of content marketing.
It all began as a U.K. reconnaissance trip for Contently. Our small team consisted of Shane Snow, co-founder and chief creative officer; Corey Cummins, head of finance sales; and myself, the company’s chief revenue officer. The objective of the mission was clear: Evaluate the opportunity for Contently to expand into the European market.
Was the next wave of content marketing about to hit the European shores? And if so, were we prepared to ride that wave?
For any growth company that could be making a hundred different moves, focus is critical. I was concerned that a London expansion could distract us from executing our successful U.S. strategy. I had opened several international offices in the past for other companies—some wildly successful, some not so much—and I learned a great deal about the various cultural, geographic, and behavioral nuances that apply to any new market. From the moment we landed, my guard was up.
I’ve found that a successful expansion means balancing what made you successful in the past with what you need to do to adapt in a new environment. During my first time trying to launch a new branch overseas, we focused all of our initial investment on local hires. That didn’t work out because we were missing the core mindset and values that drove our success in America. The opposite approach—dropping a team of Yankees into a foreign market without any local expertise—won’t work either.
But by the time the trip ended and I found myself looking out at the Thames, my caution had transformed into a boyish enthusiasm for the opportunity ahead. In order to be successful, we need to combine the best local talent with individuals who are fluent in our core beliefs to make sure Contently has the perfect balance of cultural awareness and institutional knowledge. We’re ready to do that, and Europe is ready for the brand publishing revolution. Specifically, I realized, it’s ready for us.
It wasn’t the Guinness talking. Despite the oft-touted misconception America is outpacing the rest of the world when it comes to content marketing, that isn’t the case. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2015 U.K. benchmark report, 85 percent of U.K. marketers are using content marketing in a strategic fashion, and 42 percent consider themselves effective—on par with their counterparts in the U.S.
Those numbers were reinforced this week as we met with dozens of financial services companies across London. Time and time again, we spoke with companies hungry to move past basic blog posts and take things to the next level, telling bigger and better stories. They want—and need—top-notch local writers, editors, and videographers who are armed with the European expertise that comes from experience working for top business publishers like the Financial Times, the Guardian, The Economist, and many more.
These financial companies are ready to dive into ambitious longform storytelling and multimedia projects capable of truly winning over audiences. And they’re prepared to talk about complex topics like asset allocation, international economics, Asian e-commerce, digital currencies, foreign currency, corporate treasury, and debt trading in ways that are engaging and accessible.
A few companies are already putting other publishers on notice. Look no further than Caxton FX, a foreign exchange service based out of the U.K. that is producing a high-quality travel blog focused on empowering and educating travelers all over the world. And Charles Stanley, a U.K. investment management firm, has managed to produce an elegantly designed publication with a gated email newsletter that is fueling audience growth. As we head into the second half of 2015, we only expect the number of ambitious brand publishers to increase.
With our network of over 50,000 freelance creatives—including thousands who work for top publishers in the U.K. and throughout Europe—we’re excited for the opportunity to power this new wave of brand publishers that are motivated to succeed. From my perch above the Thames, I could see the future, and it looks bright.