What does the demise of Content Marketing World Sydney tell us about the industry?

matt rowleyIn this opinion piece Matt Rowley argues publishers need to wrest control of content marketing from agencies and consultants.

Last week the Content Marketing Institute announced, via email, that there would be no Content Marketing World Sydney next year. Pulling the plug on an event in the hottest marketing trend would seem a little strange, especially after running three of them.

But there’s good reason – content marketing is changing. Many have had a chance to try on the Emperor’s new clothes and the draught is noticeable.

Like most hot internet trends, digital content marketing is fuelled by the promise of money for nothing; stop paying for media, make your own for free. You can be a brand publisher as publishing on the internet after all, costs pretty much nothing.

Until you try it.

In my experience companies of size moving into content marketing have found a couple of things.

First  – making content, especially content that people give a damn about, isn’t cheap or easy.   There are reasons why publishers have been bleeding and if you’re stepping into the content game, you’re stepping into their world. Worse though, unlike in publishing, for a brand publisher there are no other clients to share the financial burden with.

Second – that pricey content is about to become a whole lot more expensive if no-one sees it. This is the impasse that many marketers I know have come to – they’ve created their digital assets and filled them with content, but they don’t have a genuinely engaged audience – by that I mean one that will come back for more.

content marketing worldBuilding a sustainable a digital audience is a long game; Buzzfeed started in 2006, Business Insider in 2009 (Mumbrella in 2008!). Even with far less lofty goals and a stack of cash tipped into paid social media, it just takes time  – probably upwards of 18 months to get to a decent size, regardless of whether you’re going broad in consumer or niche in B2B. This requires an unusually patient management team who at best prefer work on yearly (more likely quarterly) cycles.

It turns out that by tackling these two multi-headed hydras, brands end up taking on exactly what publishers have been struggling with for about a decade – except that publishing isn’t a brand’s core business.

This is why content marketing is hitting a turning point. The proposition is still as compelling – engaging a digital hungry ad-dodging audience with content – it’s just clear you need to pay someone with an audience to do it for you.

Publishers (of which I’m one) with their content production and audiences on tap should be cleaning up. However, up to what turned out to be the last Content Marketing World Sydney this year, the running has been made by consultants, content agencies and distribution platforms (like Outbrain) who together have worked to replicate what a publishers should be offering. For whatever reason though, this was clearly not enough to sustain the event.

The next phase of the digital content marketing journey will therefore be fascinating. Can publishers overcome their internal hurdles and competitive mania to create an accessible marketplace for clients, or will the next shiny marketing object fill the void?

Either way there’ll be no Content Marketing World in Sydney next year to talk about it.

  • Matt Rowley is director of content marketing for Cirrus Media

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