Content marketing isn’t dead, it’s just no longer the cool kid on the block

Despite Isentia's outspoken rejection of content marketing, one bad apple doesn’t ruin a whole tree, argues Mark Jones, CEO of Filtered Media.

Content marketing has lost is focus and failed to evolve. So says Hedvig Lyche, the former Isentia global strategy head and Singapore-based general manager in this Mumbrella Asia story.

What utter rubbish.

Like everyone in digital marketing, I’ve watched the fascinating King Content/Isentia saga evolve. Until now, I’ve stayed silent because there was more than enough commentary out there.

But Lyche’s comment is enough to make anyone bite. Not only is she wrong, but the opposite is true: content, and more broadly, storytelling is the most important trend in marketing today.

Let me explain, right after declaring my interest. I’m the co-founder of Filtered Media, a 30-person strong brand storytelling agency in Sydney. We work with great Australian and multinational brands who need content marketing, PR, social, events and media production services.

So, of course I’m going to defend content marketing. But equally, I’m well qualified to make the case because I’m living the story, witnessing results, and have a thriving business to prove it. And if that’s not enough, let me throw in relevant third party data to make my case.

What’s the current state of content marketing?

One of the most credible third party sources to quote is Gartner’s hype cycle for digital marketing and advertising published in July 2017.  

Content marketing sits right at the bottom of the famous “Trough of Disillusionment,” which is no surprise to anyone in the game. We’ve seen it coming for years.

Perversely, the great thing about this stage of the cycle is there’s only one way out, and that’s up.

Before I started my own agency, I was a technology journalist for some 10 years, including three years in San Francisco documenting the dot-com crash. And if there’s one thing I’ve seen in my journalism career, it’s a lot of Hype Cycle slides.

The good news is I’ve observed a consistent pattern, regardless of the industry plotted on the graph; that any technology or trend worth its salt inevitably climbs up the slope of enlightenment as it becomes normalised among business leaders.

We also discover that during this enlightenment phase the objections, limitations and early implementation failures are ironed out by a passionate and devoted industry of competitors.

Just look at the location of “Personalization” on this chart, also known as one-to-one marketing, or dare I say it, Human-to-Human (H2H).

Marketers are realising that content-led marketing, SEO and social campaigns perform well if you can use martech platforms to accurately nail your personas, reach super-niche target audiences, and deliver relevant messages at scale, in real-time. Give it a couple of years and we’ll be sailing along Gartner’s “Plateau of Productivity”.

Yeah, but isn’t the failed King Content deal a sign that content marketing’s glory days are gone?

To manipulate a metaphor, one bad apple doesn’t ruin a whole tree of agencies. I’m not privy to any special data, but it seems one of the main problems was the cultural and administrative challenges associated with integrating an acquired company.

If I lean on my business journalism career again, I’ve seen this many times over. It takes a lot of careful planning, time, cultural alignment, and a strategic vision to lead everyone through the choppy waters of a merger or acquisition. I don’t know who’s to blame, but I do know it’s never easy.

What I would add is that this news event seems like a great historical marker point. I’ve tracked content marketing’s rise since founding Filtered Media in 2007 and it grew to become something of a panacea.

The influence of the Content Marketing Institute and its founder Joe Pulizzi cannot be underestimated here. The buzz, hype and global passion sparked by Joe and his talented team and network of friends has resulted in some marketers believing content marketing in and of itself is a cure-all.

In truth, content marketing is an increasingly influential part of the marketing mix, but there’s always been a bigger story. I suspect even Joe himself would agree.

Ok, so what’s the future of content marketing?

This is where marketing as a whole really gets interesting.

There are two macro trends that set this “what’s up with content marketing?” story in context:

  1. Integrated marketing campaigns (IMC)
  2. Attribution and ROI

The first is a reprise of the old days when vertically integrated advertising and creative agencies ruled the roost. What we’re witnessing today is a modern take on an old idea.

I can testify from first-hand experience that clients of all budget ranges love the idea of a one-stop-shop. The rapid maturity and integration of martech and adtech platforms illustrates the point: we now have the tools to better align all our paid, earned, owned, and shared activities.  

The payoff is huge. A consistent story told across all market segments, better cost efficiencies, and you can use your paid spend to drive organic reach – and vice versa.

The second trend – attribution and ROI – is also fascinating.

In ye olde days, marketers knew 50 percent of their budget worked, they just didn’t know which 50.

These days, we’ve looked at the new digital analytics tools, our ability to synthesise reams of data and come up with a new assumption: I expect both 50 percent of my marketing spend, regardless of channel, will work. In other words, wasted budget is not an option.

I describe it as the era of data-driven storytelling because, unlike the old days when newspaper and magazine editors operated on gut feel, we now know exactly what people want to read.

So, what are you measuring? We’ve got lots of data at our fingertips, but is it the right data?

Applying this to the content marketing dilemma, what data are you using to measure the success of content marketing as a marketing industry, or within your organisation?

As with all campaigns, if you have not directly tied your marketing activities to the company’s business goals, you’ll find it hard to demonstrate success.  At the same time, if you haven’t tied them to your customer’s hearts and minds, same outcome. That’s the exquisite sweet spot of data-driven storytelling.  

Get to the point, Mark.

Here’s the kicker. Content marketing isn’t dead, or even dying.

It’s doing what every marketing trend has ever done in roughly the following order: grab the spotlight, spark a new niche industry, be forced to prove itself, then settle down and deliver the results as best practices become established.

Google Trends is a useful tool to illustrate my point because it uses search data to demonstrate relative interest and growth in your chosen search terms.

For argument’s sake, I’ve picked a few hot search terms in digital marketing: content marketing, augmented reality, social marketing, programmatic, and brand storytelling.

This chart shows interest in these topics during the past five years.

Clearly social is leading the charge in terms of search volumes, followed by AR, content marketing, programmatic and brand storytelling.

But that’s not the point. What you can see is they are all steadily increasing in search volumes. Content marketing hasn’t dropped off a cliff or “failed to evolve”, but continued to grow up like all the other cool kids.

As a storyteller, I’d say this story has only just begun.

Mark Jones is CEO of Filtered Media


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