what is the future of content marketing?Last week I attended Content Marketing World where I joined over 1,700 marketers from more than 40 countries around the world. This was the biggest marketing conference I have ever attended. And it represented a huge increase over the 1,000 marketers who attended last year.

What makes Content Marketing World so great? There are a lot of things, such as the mastermind behind the whole operation, Joe Pulizzi (@JoePulizzi) and his amazing staff at the Content Marketing Institute.

There’s also the general sense that this is the right topic at the right time in our industry.

But mainly it comes down to these two things: the content is amazing (as you would expect!) And the connections I made were even better. I’ve never seen such an amazing collection of smart, forward-thinking and passionate marketing professionals.

This year I noticed a subtle change in the biggest question being asked by most speakers and attendees. We were no longer asking: “is content marketing the future of marketing?” We were asking: “what is the future of content marketing?” It’s a subtle difference with huge implications.

4 reasons why we need to ask “what is the future of content marketing?”

  1. Content marketing has arrived. The attendance of the show. The collection of speakers. The increase in brands with great success stories to tell. The explosion of new tools. All these point to the fact that we have reached the tipping point where content marketing can no longer be ignored by brand marketers.
  2. The campaign-only model is dead. Most executives think marketing is the same things as advertising or promotion. We are no longer the folks who blow up balloons at trade shows. And while advertising campaigns and trade shows will continue to be a big part of what we do. It is no longer all we do, We now have to create always-on, continuous programs that drive demand.
  3. Content consumption by our buyers is increasing. While many people focus on the amount of information being created and how we have to “break through the noise,” we also need to see that the amount of information being consumed by our buyers is increasing pretty dramatically. Google’s “Zero Moment Of Truth research showed that the number of sources we look for in making a purchase has doubled (2011 vs. 2010).
  4. Customer-centricity must be at the heart of content marketing objectives. We have to make it all about the customer. And if we do execute on the vision of “brand journalism,” buyers will learn to trust us. And this will ultimately influence sales.

So what is the future of content marketing?

I see the future of content marketing as:

  • More visual: the growth in visual content is astounding. My friend Todd Wheatland (@ToddWheatland) did a great job presenting on this at the show.
  • Quantity content WITH Quality to support the growing information needs of our customers.
  • Brands will resemble publishers and assemble newsrooms and hire or train journalists who can tell stories and contribute to major publications. Look at my friend Steve Olenski (@SteveOlenski) as one great example.
  • Sponsored stories. Brands will continue to create more quality sponsored content that is buyer-centric and that removes the brand from the story.
  • Content length will continue downward as our real-time, mobile world seeks smaller, more “snackable” and more “shareable” content.

But now I’d like to hear your point of view: what do you see in the future of content marketing?

Let me know what you think in the comments below. And please follow along on TwitterLinkedInFacebook  and Google+ or  Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog for regular updates.

About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the Head of Strategy for the leading content marketing platform, NewsCred. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to B2B Marketing Insider by Email

60 Comments

  1. steve olenski said…

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for the props in your piece… :)

    All humility intact I do think you hit the nail on the proverbial head re: “brands will resemble publishers and assemble newsrooms and hire or train journalists who can tell stories and contribute to major publications.”

    I think this speaks directly to just how important and vital it is for brands to consistently deliver the highest quality content at every turn.

    Consumers want to be told a story, there is simply no denying that and it takes someone who is trained and adept at telling a great story to convey that , yes, marketing message without it coming across as a marketing message… if you know what I mean and I KNOW you do!

  2. Joe Chernov said…

    Content marketing “goes horizontal” — meaning it becomes a core competency throughout marketing (and, ideally, the organization) that’s perhaps, though not necessarily, championed by one person — or it remains a tactical niche (like the community manager role has).

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Joe. I agree that content is bigger than marketing. The competency needs to extend beyond us or we risk falling back to the same old expectations of promotional dreck.

  3. Amanda Maksymiw said…

    One thing is for sure: Content marketing isn’t going anywhere. The name may not stick and we may call it something else, but the main principles will last. The stat from Google indicating that we have doubled the amount of sources we look to before making a purchased in one year’s period of time is staggering proof. Buyers aren’t lazy. They want to be educated and informed. My predictions: quality content on a more frequent schedule will win, content marketing responsibilities will transcend the marketing department, and the personalization and targeting of content will grow in adoption.

  4. Ian Cleary said…

    Hi Michael,

    I thoroughly enjoyed the conference also and it was great chatting with you!

    I agree with a lot of what you say above particularly in relation to a move to more visual content.

    I also think content curation will become increasingly important.

    Even though we can’t get through all the content we have Google is starting to reward indepth articles.

    When you write good articles that are long they generally get more links, shares and are referenced more in the future.

    But we find it hard to read this content on a mobile device.

    So I think there will be much better facilities for curating content. I say facilities instead of tools because tools can’t solve all content curation and we need some people to help!

    Ian

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Nice catch Ian. I am a huge believer in curation and should have mentioned it as a core competency. We are seeing it apply in situations like our social selling discussions and others. It was great seeing you as well and look forward to collaborating in the future!

  5. Steve Wellmeier said…

    Great summary of Content Marketing World for those of us not able to attend, and your fourth reason why content marketing is so critical is right on the money: “We have to make it all about the consumer.”

    And while I agree with your prognostication about the value and inevitability of more visual, I’m not so sure that content length should or will continue to spiral downward. Some purchases are simply too complex for the prospect to make a buying decision based on a cool infographic or snappy paragraph or two of text. There are still many consumers who prefer to get their stories via a novel rather than a comic book, to put it another way.

    But you are right in that the tools of journalism will grow in importance in a company’s ability to generate meaningful, useful content. I also see the need for a layered approach, for want of a better term, where readers are able to keep digging beyond the front page and the lede. Companies need to be prepared to give them that in-depth information in some manner, if not on the front page. And, it has to be compelling all the way through.

    Quantity content with quality? Well, that goes without saying!

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Steve, I think you are right that we will continue to need to produce long-form content especially in B2B but I think we will continue to need to focus on the growing demand for shorter, more visual content. I think this just puts more pressure on content marketers to understand our customers’ needs and to define strategies to answer all their questions, in all the ways that they are looking for it.

  6. I think your 3rd bullet point is a big one for the future of content marketing. At this point, the overall buy-in and acceptance of CM is at an all-time high, but the execution of those strategies still needs a lot of work for many B2Bs and B2Cs.

    As a result, I’d expect more organizations to start making it a priority to expand their own internal content teams and hire people with experience making that machine run. This will certainly continue to open up paths for former journalists, editors and publishers (which is fantatsic). But at this point, there are also now professionals with experience specifically in Content Marketers to target as well. Content marketing is no longer just an idea — it’s a job title just like anything else that people know how to do, and do well.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Awesome Brendan. Love that quote “Content marketing is no longer just an idea — it’s a job title.” Totally stealing that.

  7. Doug Kessler said…

    Today’s content marketers will move up into the most senior positions.

    Then Content Marketing will dissolve into Marketing so it becomes hard to find any marketing that doesn’t include content.

    The term may fade away but the discipline never will.

  8. Rob Yoegel said…

    Great post, my friend. If you would have stuck around for the Tech Summit you could have caught “Content Marketing In the Age of the Empowered Customer.” (http://www.slideshare.net/RobYoegel/content-marketingworld-yoegel2013).

    :-)

    While I’m no award winner or book author, I really believe that as content marketers we must move towards focusing on a true customer-centric model (as opposed to customer-focused), where we focus on delivering the most relevant experience to our best customers and prospects.

  9. Jesse Noyes said…

    Content will go through a massive learning curve as talent becomes an issue. Many organizations will seek out journalists, and while many will thrive, plenty of those journalists will be ill-suited for the gig.

    Massive companies may be able to rely on a team of independent-minded brand journalists and/or storytellers, most will struggle with making that adjustment. The stars of the field will be those who can continue to make compelling, product-agnostic content while knowing how to map content to the unique goals of the sales/marketing organization, and gradually leading people to buy — or, at the very least, advocate on behalf of the brand.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Jesse for bringing up the skills issue and also mentioning the ability to demonstrate business outcomes. So we need journalists who like math. That is the problem.

  10. Kevin Cain said…

    Nice post, Michael. I think the future of content marketing isn’t just about the content itself (though I agree it will be visual, in smaller bite-sized chunks, etc.), but also about how we are sharing content. I think we’ll see a continuing evolution in social platforms that become more sophisticated and more targeted, making it easier to share your content with very specific groups of people in real time. I also think we’ll see cool new technology like Google Glass shaping how we create content to fit society. That said, I hope that long-form content still has staying power. Consuming a bunch of small bits at rapid speed is great, but so is being able to dive much deeper into a topic and really wrap your head around it. Just my two cents.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Kevin, distribution is the next major challenge. Chernov covered this in his presentation about new tools also. Great point!

  11. Peter Johnston said…

    I read a piece today about how a beer company transformed their success using Content Marketing – in the 1920s.

    The idea of presenting Content visually is going mainstream. Someone suggested 10 second videos.

    So my question is simple.
    Are we simply reinventing advertising?

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Yes. Jpoe’s right. You did answer a question with a question ;-) But I think the economics of advertising and publishing are changing. And it will always evolve. But thank goodness we are shifting to delivering value instead of just creating flashy interruptions!

  12. Joe Chernov said…

    I think you just answered a question with a question.

  13. Ann Handley said…

    Nodding along with what everyone has said here… and chiming in with my own: The future is of Marketing is brand-agnostic content. As you say, Michael… that much is clear.

    The frontrunners will get really good at innovating consistently. I’m pretty excited by the marketing I see that’s looking an awful lot like.. well, art!

    • Joe Chernov said…

      100% agree, Ann. I feel like content marketers need to know just enough ‘science’ to prove the value of ‘art’!

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks so much Ann! We are seeing this evolution take place as a natural extension too. It’s not forced.. It’s just what happens when we keep asking what do our customers want to see in our content and the answer keeps coming back that they want some entertainment with their education. As Tim Washer loves to say, the research confirms that 89% of buyers are people!

  14. Tony Zambito said…

    Hi Michael,

    I believe – at least from the live streams I was able to watch, the most profound message came from Dr. Schultz. The view and the practice of content marketing must begin to transform towards a different future. I liked Dr. Schultz hitting on the head – marketers are still doing “content marketing” as they did in the ’80’s – only with technology. The future is about understanding the stories of buyers, learning these stories, and telling stories, which allow buyers to create a different story. It takes deep understanding of your buyers. With more than 35% of buyers frustrated with lack of relevant information plus the middle only moderately satisfied according to recent research – it is a telling story there is much more room for improvement.

    As always Michael – your “content” is wonderful.

    Tony

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks so much Tony. He was absolutely right. The buyers have changed and we in marketing are still trying to catch up. Understanding the buyer and how they progress through the buying cycle is so core to making this change happen. Please keep pounding that message home to us brand marketers!

      • I’ll weigh in as the one skeptic in the thread. To Tony’s point, I’m absolutely seeing that much of the current CM tidal wave is bad 80s messaging + automation.

        My perspective is B2B only.

        While someone like Joe P has great instinct, methodology, and execution – it’s tough to scale his vision. The masses who are producing “Content,” have neither the experience with buyers or sellers, nor the talent or skills in writing (let’s admit our country doesn’t emphasize great writing in schools) to be effective here.

        And all the crap content + the over-funding of crap content departments and under-funding of sales orgs is robbing B2Bs of better margins.

        SO – I agree in theory about how GREAT content can help B2B sales motions, I’m pretty dejected by what I see on a daily basis.

        Love, Debbie Downer

        • Michael Brenner said…

          Thanks Maureen, it can’t be all sunshine and roses. And you’re not wrong. I don’t think that really diverges with what anyone is saying here. The vast majority of brand marketing, especially in B2B is highly ineffective. Why is it ok to convert less than .1% of banner impressions into clicks? Why is it ok to keep sending emails with less than 5% open rates? Why is it ok that less than 3% of the average B2B lead (filled in a form) converts into somebody who wants to talk to sales? The answer is that IT IS NOT OK! So we have a long way to go. A few brave souls are willing to lead the way. And I’m on board because it is what we need to do. For our customers. For our brands. For our company shareholders.

  15. Joe Pulizzi said…

    Hello Mr. Brenner…love the recap and kind words. Next time I go to comment, I need to do it earlier…you have a lot of comments here ;)

    Here’s my take – we’ve just scratched the surface here. All the comments given are right in their own way, but we are now diving into deep change management issues (so that “dissolve into marketing” thing can actually work). We are battling with organizational structures now that aren’t set up for consistent storytelling. Kraft’s “content center of excellence” is a great model, but it’s just a start.

    For example, here comes major content management issues. Creating more content within the enterprise means that content needs to be updated for 40 locations simultaneously (this is not happening at 99% of enterprises). So translation and localization process issues are becoming more important than ever – and most of the technologies at CMW don’t handle that well (yet).

    And…we are STILL very tactical about our content marketing. We are moving to a more strategic view, but are still so far away from that.

    Finally, I think we are all realizing that content marketing isn’t a department or a function of the enterprise, it’s an approach…a way of (what @Robert_Rose calls) creating better customers.

    I’m happy with where we are at, but we have so far to go. Content marketing is the oldest marketing approach to still be in early adoption phase.

    Thanks again my friend
    jp

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Joe. Can’t argue with any of that. I don’t see org structures, localization efforts or truly strategic content efforts catching up with the changing customer yet. It is really early on and the changes are happening through acts or individual or small team heroism. I think it’s an exciting time and proud to be part of the movement!

  16. Pawan Deshpande said…

    One other thing to add:

    In the past few years, MARKETER = PUBLISHER has become the content marketing manifesto. In the future, we will see MARKETER = PUBLISHER = SEARCH ENGINE / PORTAL.

    Not only do marketers have to produce content, but they have to provide context and help customers find content (even if its not their own content).

    More companies will in the future get away from just being a blog, to more of a portal like Yahoo! who blends the lines between a media entity and search entity.

    Specific to curation, here are 5 things that I see changing in the future:
    http://www.contentcurationmarketing.com/future-of-curation-5-ways-curation-is-changing/

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Pawan, I think you are well positioned as a company because curation will continue to grow as our buyers are looking for brands they trust to find the information they want and need. No company will ever be able to produce all the content their customers need.

  17. carolyn martin said…

    Creating an In-House newsroom model that provides exclusive & original content.

  18. Cormac McNally said…

    Michael, thanks for the article. I’m not sure I have much to add to the conversation. I’m new to content marketing (esp. B2B), having spent 10 years in traditional corporate FMCG marketing. One thing I have noticed though is that content marketing pushes the responsibilities out from the marketing department and into the rest of the organisation. To provide constant, quality content, the experts in the organisation need to be engaged and to be actively contributing to the content generation. We are an e-Learning company so I find that I now have to start pressing the developers to create content as I don’t have their expertise. The compromise is: they write the first draft of the content and I spend my time editing it, giving them approval of the final draft. This, they tell me, saves them up to 50% of the time they used to spend on finishing an article. Anyway, that’s my tuppence. Thanks again for the article.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Cormac, I spent the first 9 years of my work life as a sales and marketing guy selling into retail and FMCG. Interestingly, brands like Coke and Red Bull and Kraft and P&G are leading the way with Content Marketing. They are trying to truly become publishers in order to deliver experiences that just happen to align with their products. Why? Because they are experts at analyzing data and listening to their customers. Their efforts may not all be spot on, but they know why they need to do it. In B2B we are just catching on. And in many ways it is against the direction of sales who are just looking for more leads tomorrow. Interesting times indeed.

  19. Ardath Albee said…

    Hi Michael – Great post and equally terrific discussion going on here.

    But I’m going to step out on a limb and challenge us all to look beyond content marketing dissolving into marketing. In my opinion CM must dissolve into the way business gets done.

    Here’s why:
    It’s great for content marketers to tell stories that grip their prospects’ and customers’ attention and build momentum toward purchase by helping them to understand how to solve their problems and achieve their objectives….but…

    If sales can’t carry on the stories, there’s a disconnect which results in confusion for prospects and customers

    If service and support can’t provide experiences consistent with the stories, dissatisfaction will result

    If the company and its culture don’t live the stories they tell, disbelief will follow

    I think this speaks to Joe P’s point about why CM is still in early adoption phase even though it’s been around for quite some time. The essence of content marketing is bigger than marketing. Those who can see and connect the dots to the bigger picture are the ones with the most opportunity.

    Ardath

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Ardath,

      Content IS bigger than marketing and that’s why our adoption and penetration into the other areas is so slow. Marketing needs to build credibility to help enable our sales and support staff to start connecting with customers. This is why the whole social media conversation has evolved beyond the tools and into a strategy discussion. Some CEOs and their direct reports are starting to see the changing buyers because they are consumers and buyers in a social connected world. Ultimately, they will look to marketers to help drive adoption of storytelling best practices. That’s why I think the future is bright and also why I’m really glad I got my degree in English ;-)

  20. Gurdeep Dhillon said…

    Hi Michael,

    Such a profound wrinkle isn’t it? The future of content marketing :) I think your point about brands hiring writers/storytellers resonated strongest with me. Why? Because the best decision our team made this year was to hire a veteran copywriter who has a passion for storytelling. It’s been incredible having her on staff and has helped us shape our content in ways that we may never have considered before. There’s got to be a merger between this new world and the traditional world, and I think it’s got to be a groundswell of change at the individual marketing team level.

    Best,
    Gurdeep

    P.S. Encourage you all to take a look at my thoughts on the future for marketers here: http://scn.sap.com/community/customer-edge/blog/2013/09/19/why-im-so-excited-about-the-future-for-marketers

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Gurdeep, that’s why I’m thrilled to have you on our side and excited I got to meet you. (I just wish we could have spent more time in Cleveland, but the phone will have to do.) I agree there will be some interesting changes to the traditional marketing org structure in the next couple of years!

  21. Sean Swentek said…

    I see the future of content marketing as brands playing matchmaker. We will have to be able to consume and categorize information in such a way that when an opportunity to satisfy a customer’s need arises, we are ready with the appropriate content and connection to satiate that need. I like to call this to B2B+C.

    Example: I am a maker of children’s products. I have fostered a connection with a non-profit organization that works to end child labor. A major news story breaks on the child labor issue. My customers are mothers, who are instinctually affected by this news story. I provide the content and connection they need by sharing the story of the non-profit agency. If you are the cold-blooded type who is thinking of monetizing this moment, then you would create a limited edition line of products where a portion of proceeds go to the NPO.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Sean, I think brands will increasing take on more of the burden of helping journalists deliver the news. One way or another ;-)

  22. Jason Miller said…

    Hi Michael, Really great post and nice insights as always.

    There are two things that come to mind about the future of content. One is the importance of moving from information to insights for better content relevance and two is embracing real-time content. I like to use the Minority Report example as I believe we are on the bleeding edge of using predictive analytics to determine where conversations are heading and developing content to address. At the end of the day it’s not about creating more content, but more relevant content. Just my thoughts.

    Best,
    Jason

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Jason. I have used this term like 6 times today so adding a 7th: “Moment Marketing!” I think this encapsulates what you;re saying. We have to have the insights to know what the audience is looking for and we have to strike while the iron is hot, before our competition. And maybe even ahead of the media!

  23. Robson Grant said…

    All marketing and advertising starts with great content. The first step to generate more website traffic is to create engaging content that others will want to share.

  24. upasna kakroo said…

    I am absolutely thrilled to be working with content these days, makes marketing SO much organic and fun- so I am going to believe all these aspects hold true in the medium & long term as well.

    The one thing I am still unsure on is the content length, there is a school of thought that talks about longer content lengths being more engaging (e.g. those long posts on Medium)- and on the other side as a consumer I can also see the point in snackable content. Yet, I have to admit, the more “utility” our content has, the better the response is, irrespective of the length.

    Also- I think the more consumer are exposed to brand content, the more they will distinguish between manipulative content and genuine efforts. That’s an opportunity as well as a threat. I think it’s fun to work with consumers that openly challenge me as a marketer to do something better.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Upasna, I think the thing to focus on is to create variety. We all like different stuff at different times. On Saturday morning, I might read a long article while Mondays I might be more open to a funny list post or images. I think that if we focus on giving people what they want, learning what works and refining as we go, you end up with a dynamic plan.

  25. Tony Lee said…

    Hi Michael, Thank you for the great and very helpful posts!
    I recently read some articles about “content marketing” and I think your post and comments here has more contents than what I have read so far.

    It is great that I found your site!

  26. Steve Seager said…

    Hi Michael,

    Considering the actual stats of play – where 85% of content marketers fail to connect content marketing with business value – my take is that the future is in storylining. I.e.; better messaging :)

    Best,

    – Steve

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