Content marketing. It’s been a thing since before Donald Trump even had hair. Right now, it’s one of the hottest trends in advertising and publishing, with bazillion-dollar bills splashing in all directions. Five years ago, two of my best friends and I paused our lives to build a tech company to help make publishing better for businesses and creative people, putting us right in front of the impending content marketing wave.
As we’ve seen with past ad industry trends, the number of companies developing products and services to support content marketing is flourishing. Many of us have bet careers and life savings on creating or pivoting businesses around content marketing. And though building a martech (marketing technology) company isn’t easy—especially in the shaky early days of a new industry—several players have established valuable enterprises in various slices of the biz.
It’s clear that the next couple of years will see content marketing transition past its early adopter phase. So I reached out to the creators of some of the top tech products in the space—including our own competitors—for a glimpse of their vision of the future.
What will happen in the next 12–18 months in the content marketing space?
Allen Gannett, CEO of TrackMaven: Gut-driven marketing is still rampant in Fortune 500 companies. We’re now seeing early adopters and media companies using rigorous data-driven approaches to editorial decisions with success. Over the next 12–18 months, expect to see Fortune 500s work to move away from gut-driven programs and instead focus on using data that predicts what their audience will react to.
Yaron Galai, CEO of Outbrain: I’m not a big believer in the “brands as publishers” mantra… Being a publisher requires deep expertise, and brands have enough to worry about with their, well, brand! So instead of “brands as publishers,” I’m going to bet on “publishers as agencies”—as agencies are slow to embrace content marketing, I predict we’ll see more publishers fill that space and become de-facto agencies by providing marketers with full content marketing services. We’re starting to see that at companies like BuzzFeed.
Tom Gerace, CEO of Skyword: Brand marketers, recognizing the rapid decline in interruptive advertising, will shift an increasing share of the $600 billion they spend annually on ads toward original storytelling. When they do, smart marketers will shift most of those dollars into creation, rather than distribution, of their content. They will recognize that extraordinary creative, created and shared regularly, earns audience and engagement at a rate that mediocre creative and distribution spend cannot match.
Carlos Dominguez, President and COO of Sprinklr: Great content has always been the lifeblood of a brand, but most companies are not organized for a social world where people share, repurpose, and interact with brand content as they see fit. Brands today need to know everything that’s out there in the public domain—whether they created it or not—but increasingly, that’s not enough. Over the next year or so, customer-facing teams will need to have cross-functional workflows so that any employee or agency partner, across any line of their business, can work with any piece of content in real time, along with all the metadata associated with it.
Toby Murdock, CEO of Kapost: “Content marketing” has, to date, been an amorphous, jumbled space. As it matures over the next 12–18 months, it will evolve into a sharpened category segmented by the dimensions that have defined prior markets (i.e., the B2B vs. B2C and enterprise vs. SMB that segmented marketing automation) to better address specific customer needs.
Shafqat Islam, CEO of NewsCred: There will be massive consolidation. Smaller content marketing players merging. Content marketing and social marketing companies merging. And content marketing and paid distribution companies merging. Should be fun.
Ross Crooks, founder and COO of Visage: Brands will begin to lead with their purpose and values in marketing content as a means to establish deeper and more authentic connections with their audience. Many are now learning that merely publishing is not enough—they need to be sharing a unique perspective on the world they’re trying to create. Content marketers will increasingly leverage internal data and original research to publish original insights. Industry studies quickly become picked over, and republishing the same content with a new take holds decreasing value. The best marketers will establish strong connections and communication with the analysts and data scientists in their company, and cultivate strong data journalism skills in their team to tell these stories. The content marketing industry as a whole will establish commonly accepted frameworks for content strategy. Many brands have complex strategies but struggle to execute. Others have scattered execution of ideas that don’t align to a central strategy. Simplifying content strategy will aid in getting organizations aligned in their efforts and relieve the pressure to do everything.
Chris Bolman, director of integrated marketing at Percolate (CEO Noah Brier is on paternity leave. Congrats!): We’re about to see quality content recognized for what it truly is: advertising creative that delivers value to its recipient, not just a forgettable impression. Marketers who get this are going to design their content to be interactive, mobile-first, and amplified by media dollars, and they’re going to create it within a system that enables continuous improvement, not just scattered executions.
Joe Coleman, CEO of Contently: The concept of a content-first approach that we’re currently seeing in content marketing will spread throughout the entire enterprise brand. Organizations have traditionally oriented themselves around the department that is communicating: HR, internal communications, sales, public relations, or marketing. That will shift in the next few years. Content won’t just be a department within marketing, it will become the source that feeds all departments. Executives will demand the technology to support the creation of high-quality content throughout the company.
Matt Cooper, CEO of Visual.ly: Content marketing will be more about quality than quantity. As content marketing really hits its stride, more companies are going to focus on volume first. Content marketing will start to suffer from the same signal-to-noise ratio issues that we’ve seen in written content for SEO (content farms = spam) and display (banner ads = blocked/ignored). This will put a true premium on the most engaging, original content, and those companies that focus on quality over quantity will see the best results.
What will NOT happen in the next 12–18 months in the content marketing space?
Allen Gannett, CEO of TrackMaven: We’re not going to see significant consolidation of publishing solutions. Marketers want best-in-breed solutions, even if it means having lots of tools.
Yaron Galai, CEO of Outbrain: Consumers aren’t going to continue clicking on clickbaity content marketing links that aren’t authentic and valuable to them. As with any online marketing format of the past, there will be many companies that try to capitalize on consumers’ trust and goodwill with misleading links that are made to look like content, but are actually not genuine content at all. In the short term its easy to get consumers to click on clickbait like that. But unlike most companies in the content marketing space, my bet is always that the consumer is smart. Therefore, I’m going to guess that clicking on misleading content marketing links isn’t going to happen in 12–18 months at the rates it might be happening at today.
Tom Gerace, CEO of Skyword: Creation wins. In the early days, some content marketers thought that curating content might be sufficient to engage their audiences. They hoped that curation might allow them to avoid the investment required to create original stories. In 18 months, it will become clear to the industry that marketers cannot differentiate brands in the minds of consumers, share thought leadership, or prove their brands to be innovators by sharing somebody else’s stuff.
Toby Murdock, CEO of Kapost: Contrary to much of the revolutionary rhetoric, “content marketing” will not become a new way of doing marketing. Rather, the category will embrace and manage all of the content that marketing produces, from the cutting edge thought leadership and native advertising variety to the more traditional product collateral.
Shafqat Islam, CEO of NewsCred: The number of new companies entering this space will not stop nor slow down. The investment in this category is crazy, and despite the saturation, we’ll continue to see new players emerge, some of whom will be innovating on new canvases (IoT, for example).
Chris Bolman, director of integrated marketing at Percolate: It’s not getting any less competitive. An exponentially growing volume of content is competing for a finite amount of human attention that’s increasing at a much slower rate. The result is simple economics: Supply has outpaced demand, so the tactics that got you here probably aren’t the system that will give your best ideas a competitive advantage tomorrow.
Matt Cooper, CEO of Visual.ly: Data will not kill creativity. There’s a lot of talk about how data is increasingly driving decision-making in marketing. But I believe that armed with more data, marketers will be in an even better place to make creative decisions by getting better at knowing what works.
Joe Coleman, CEO of Contently: Brands won’t simply give up on content marketing because it’s too hard, as some critics of the industry have suggested. Instead, companies will increasingly look to organizations that have figured out content—like Amex, GE, Marriott, and others—and emulate the way they work to find a pathway to success.
(Full disclosure: Amex, GE, and Marriott are Contently clients.)
Building the future
It’s a pleasure to participate in building an industry (and often: go head to head) with such smart people. As I said when I reached out to each of the above: At the end of the day, we all care a lot about this industry, and our different approaches to the space yield valuable perspectives.
Today, we capture a snapshot of a wild time in ad industry history. Tomorrow, we’ll keep writing its story.