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The Rise and Rise of Content Marketing

Originally presented by Christine Downton, Senior Consultant, Observatory International at the Digital Annex University 2016

Over the last few years if you’ve looked at the Marketing predictions for the year ahead you will have seen Content Marketing sitting at number 1 or 2 of the most important trends.  And it’s not really a surprise given the evolution of digital – more devices, more channels, more platforms, combined with a parallel trend in personalised communications has inevitably led for the need for more content.  And as this trend has matured the need for more content has evolved into the maturing discipline of Content Marketing.

At the Observatory International one of our principal consultancy areas is helping Brands and Companies structure and organise their Marketing resources, incorporating best practice Ways of Working and finding external Agency partners to support them.  We’ve been proactive in contributing to the debate, as well as advising and supporting Client teams assimilate Content Marketing within their organisations.  And as affiliate members of the Content Marketing Association we’ve made sure we’ve stayed close to new developments in this rapidly evolving discipline.

Content Marketing now accounts for about 25-35% of total marketing budgets – with some companies – splitting spend 50:50 between traditional paid media and content marketing.  So it’s clearly become mainstream and an established part of the marketer’s armory.

If you took a glimpse at Gartner’s technology hype cycle you might think that Content Marketing has peaked and is on the decline.  But in actual fact it is showing Content Marketing maturing.

For Agencies this maturing is evidenced by the mergers and acquisitions that have been taking place as the industry seeks to find the optimal operating format.  So for example:

Dentsu Aegis – a Media Agency, and specifically iProspect buying John Brown – a Content Agency – to provide a source of content to feed its channel and search capability.  In their own words “While we had a good idea of the kind of content people are looking for, what we didn’t have were any real depth of capabilities when it came to the creation of that content.”

Seven and Germany’s C3 combining to form Europe’s largest Content Marketing Agency – enabling them to confidently pitch and win regional and global business because they now have the breadth and depth in multi-market content creation.

Publicis has bought August and other Content Marketing Agencies to give it access to agile content creation methodologies.

Ericsson’s acquisition of Red Bee giving it access to content and content making capability for its technology and devices.

And big consultancies – Deloitte and Accenture – are even taking a proactive and direct approach to Content Marketing – competing head of with agencies.

Many different reasons but evidence of a contraction and consolidation of the Content Marketing Agency landscape.

And with that consolidation comes a maturing and professionalism within these agencies operations.  The appointment of Strategists to drive purpose, planning and objectives to the provision of content.  And Analytics and Data departments to better target and  understand impact and effectiveness.

Clearly a lot of activity in Agency World but arguably changes are not happening at the same pace amongst Clients – or at least not yet, but our perspective is there is increasing momentum to embrace Content Marketing by clients – we’ve certainly been asked to support more pitches for content agencies.

Many sources of research confirm that businesses are year on year creating more content than ever before.

But so far that is not fully reflected in many companies having the strategies, capabilities and resources to effectively exploit this.  In research conducted by HubSpot and Smart Insights 12% of companies felt they had well developed Content Marketing Capabilities, 37% of companies feeling they were “good in parts”.

The processes and ways of working to commission and manage less than a hundred items of collateral each year in the traditional world of marketing, is quite different to handling tens of thousands of items of content.  So it’s not really a surprise that it is taking companies a little longer to evolve.

Content marketing requires very different Ways of Working:

  • Nimbleness and agility – in sharp contrast to traditional marketing which was built around campaigns and a few set pieces each year. Content Marketing requires a constant stream of relevant targeted material and to be proactive and responsive to context and consumer generated content.
  • Managing the customer journey and all of the consumer touchpoints extends well beyond the marketing team, into PR, customer service sales and even NPD. To manage this requires letting go and empowering the team to respond within a framework of strategy and guidelines – the freedom of a tight brief – not always easy for Companies to have the confidence to do that
  • High frequency / high engagement mean that the production values and formats of content can be very different
  • Shorter planning cycles replace the conventional annual budget and scope of work plans
  • Proactive / reactive model – the ability to quickly respond and react to consumer, competitor or other brand-generated content.

And it requires different marketing team structures.  Traditional siloed, channel focused structures aren’t helpful.  So many companies embracing Content Marketing are putting in place multi-disciplinary, multi-functional editorial boards – adopting the techniques of a publishing house or news room.

And reflecting this increased maturing in ways of working and resourcing is clear strategy and purpose for content – the move from push messaging to focusing on the audience and being part of the culture – not just focusing on campaigns and products, but driving value and contribution beyond just product and services – again quite a shift for some companies.

There’s a much better understanding of what Content Marketing actually is.  Although we still hear of Agencies and some clients claiming they’ve been doing Content Marketing for years.  Obviously what they’ve been doing is creating Content.  Content Marketing asks “What is my consumer interested in right now?” and then provides credible answers.  It involves starting with their cultural needs and expectations and not the brand’s desires.  I like the framework for content around Campaign, Conversion and Publishing Content that describes a role and purpose for different types of Content Marketing at different times.

Conversion Content – mostly owned platforms with a purpose to help consumers make choices and overcome barriers to purchase.  For example:

Apple Watch’s product pages that include video, interactive elements, campaign tools, integrations to sales.

Campaign Content – traditional the sphere of traditional advertising and paid media, these types of campaigns although possibly short term, build from within, generate public interest and contribute to consumer culture – obviously examples are the Jean-Claude Van Damme splits film for Volvo Trucks and the Jaguar good to be bad work.

And Publishing Content – content that permanently embeds a brand within a consumer culture, an on-going process of finding brand relevance and salience.  An always on presence with the Brand behaving as a publisher – it is the most different from traditional marketing.  And in a mature model this would be the primary content type.

Good examples include:

Barclays – digital eagles

Unilever – All Things Hair

And of course a robust framework of measurement and analysis to ensure effectiveness, responsiveness and relevance.

To facilitate content marketing delivery Client teams are also wrestling with the question of what to produce in-house and what to use external agencies for.   Whilst there is more opportunity for in-house content creation, at the Observatory International we’ve experienced in the last year an increase in the number of Brands and Companies approaching us to help them find Content Marketing capability for their agency roster.

While some integrated agency networks might claim they have the skills and capabilities to manage the whole spectrum of content, their own ways of working don’t offer the necessary agility or affordability.

The adoption of content marketing requires an element of ‘test and learn’, to put an element of the budget ‘at risk’ to try new techniques and innovations.  In some cases this is leading to a fragmentation of the agency roster, or more agencies operating on a project basis.

There is still a requirement for an agency to define and lead the brand strategy and direction, but how that is executed across multiple channels and multiple pieces of content is no longer in their remit.

There probably aren’t any perfect examples yet but an ideal roster arrangement would include a Creative Agency focused on the brand and the core messaging and big ideas, a Content Agency focused on the consumer involved in story-telling and being part of the culture, with both wrapped around by the Media agency orchestrating channel choices and optimising effectiveness.

In summary Content Marketing is maturing into a grown up Marketing discipline:

  • The agency world is consolidating and is easier to navigate
  • Brands and companies are adjusting their structures and ways of working
  • And there is greater clarity on the role and purpose of Content Marketing

All good progress but there is still some way to go before it becomes fully embedded as a marketing discipline.

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