In the previous posts from the Future of Marketing series, we published insights, guidance and advice from some of the best minds in our industry.
To review, Mark Schaefer discussed culture and the future of search. Marcus Starke predicted the rise of the science of marketing. Ann Handley called for more brands to become Content Brands. And Alan See reiterated that the customer and the content is king.
I am really excited to have received today’s insights from fellow corporate marketer, Todd Wheatland. Todd is the VP of Thought Leadership & Marketing at Kelly Services. You should check out their highly-respected company blog and follow Todd on Twitter @toddwheatland.
Tell me about yourself
I grew up on the beach in Australia. When I was eight my parents took a year off and bought a motor home and we trekked all over the US and then Europe. That seems to have left me slightly messed-up for travel – when I was eighteen I went and lived in Peru for a year; a few years later I was working for the Australian government in Spain; and for the past eight years I’ve been living in France. I’ve always tinkered with writing, photography, video work – then I sold my soul and became a corporate marketer which is actually exceptionally fun (and I’ll be glad for that part, if it turns out I really did sell my soul).
I relocated with Kelly from the Asia-Pacific region into Europe, and because our business is highly global a lot of my time is focused on the US market. I started doing what’s become known as content marketing in the late 1990s with custom publishing, then moving into online and the full process as it’s practiced by a lot of people today. As you well know, it’s a very high-change, high-growth space and I wake up every morning thinking how lucky we are to get to play in it.
What do you see happening in Content Marketing today? How is it changing?
One thing happening quickly is that the marketing ecosystem itself is really adjusting. PR was an obvious early hit. Advertising is now in high-speed change. A year ago a lot of companies had never even thought of advertising their content; now it’s booming and you can see that with the product innovation going on at places like Taboola, Outbrain, and now Disqus. At the same time, a lot more content being produced means there’s a lot more poor content and click-baiting going on, so every promotion platform is having to confront how they balance short-term revenue with long-term credibility.
This year is also the year companies start to work out how to leverage their internal employees’ networks to promote content. It’s a very attractive proposition – think of your company, SAP. You have more than 60,000 full-time employees. So imagine if just 10% of that group – and personally I think that’s conservative – were motivated to share SAP content with their social networks each week. That’s 6,000 additional likes/shares/etc a week. Now imagine that’s every weekday – something I don’t think is out of reach for a B2B company trying to get content visible across a platform like LinkedIn, for example. That could quickly be over a million likes and shares a year on LinkedIn. And that’s just from the internal networks themselves – add in the flow-on social effects, and that could suddenly be ten million. The pilots someone in my team has been running on this – I have to tell you, the numbers are insane. The thing is right now it’s kinda messy and labor-intensive. But there’s a bunch of interesting start-ups like Addvocate who are going to get some big traction this year trying to help people manage this to scale.
Of course, that will just start another Triberr-type phase of Like inflation. Big brands who have the scale to really leverage it will do great for six months, and then there’ll be pushback, networks will keep readjusting algorithms, and everyone will be back tweaking again. My son asked me a while back what marketers really do and the first thing that came to mind was that marketers break things. You know what I mean – You want Email? We’ll create spam. You want Twitter? We’ll auto–follow. Everyone says that with negative connotations, like if only we could get beyond ourselves and stop breaking everything then suddenly we’d be focused on the really valuable stuff. But what if breaking things actually is a big part of marketing’s value? What if we’re the fungus of the business world – as soon as something grows strong we pile onto it for all we’re worth, and then we weaken it past its peak and then we’re just devouring it, breaking it down and looking around the forest for the next shiny thing to jump onto. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not all that marketing does – and fungus does serve a very valuable role in the ecosystem! My experience suggests it’s possibly not the metaphor you want to use to impress your kids though.
What about the longer-term? Do you have a provocative prediction on the future of marketing?
For the past few years there’s been this growing buzz around content, a happy coming-together of people from many different disciplines: digital, SEO, social, IT, PR, advertising, content strategy, creatives and the like. It’s been awesome for breaking down certain silos – but actually I think deep down people might just love silos. I think we’re going to see more of a growing apart again now, and maybe that’s how it was always going to be. Different disciplines take what they need from the trend and absorb it, just as is happening with social.
I think the biggest ‘growing apart’ will be between those people who embrace the technology side, and those that don’t. Frankly, a lot don’t, and I think their relative value to a company is declining. If you’re a CMO then you almost definitely didn’t grow up a tech native. As imperfect as they are, the tools that now exist to manage demand generation, connecting content to promotion channels to lead nurturing to sales, well, the world really has changed very quickly in that regard. You can use technology as a marketer in the social and lead environment now in ways that was unimaginable a few years ago. More and more we’re going to see companies’ marketing departments looking like trading floors, tracking inputs, values and variables in real-time.
So we’re going to see an increasing gulf between those won’t or just don’t want to master the tech side, and those who are doubling down on it. The former group could still be producing great, valuable content, and get a lot of stuff right. But those that see content as a central component of an ever-more technology-driven sales program are going to be talking in a language that is increasingly foreign to the other group. Great marketing requires getting the balance right between both; but there will be a lot of people who pare off and specialise in just one of those 2 camps. Hopefully they’ll keep the blinkers off and hire smart people around them who are passionate about the other side too.