The Past, Present, and Future of Content Marketing


Bold topic, no? You can stop reading now if you are expecting a crystal ball and guarantees about how content marketing will change in the next few years. Instead, I will offer some insights based on what we’ve seen in the past and the trends emerging now.

The Past
The past was perfect. It always is. (Just ask my father-in-law, who thinks it should still be 1958.) And since the past is perfect, the present can never measure up. So it’s understandable that there’s a chorus of naysayers who think content marketing’s golden age is behind us. After all, there is data pointing to a decrease of as much as 60% in engagement for content marketing. That’s not good by any measure, but who ever said our ultimate goal was really engagement?

Yes, in the good old days you had previously unheard of brands like BlendTec or (more recently) Dollar Shave Club going viral.

But “going viral” – which is another way of saying “killing it on the reach metrics” – isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

For example, I’ve watched each of those videos more than a few times, helping increase their millions-plus views metrics. I’ve written about them and recommended other people watch them, adding further to their gaudy reach numbers. Setting aside the professional research aspect of my interest, this is purely entertainment for me. I’ve never bought a product from either of the companies, nor have I recommended the product to anyone even as I’ve recommended the videos.

To be clear, in both cases, the content is strong and the marketing is strong. Going viral is beside the point and, I’d argue, has had much less of an impact on their bottom lines than is popularly believed. (Though the impact is still pretty astounding, I’m sure.)

The Present
So if going viral isn’t really a great marketing strategy, perhaps the golden days weren’t so golden. It’s still undeniable, though that back in the days of yore it was easier to own a topic or conversation: there simply wasn’t as much competition for attention.

And that seems to lead people to believe that the decrease in content marketing engagement is a result of the increased competition.

Not really.

It was never easy to go viral, even in a less competitive market. Great content marketing was great, then and now, because the content was great. The problem with content marketing today isn’t that there’s too much content; it’s that there’s too much crappy content.

The Future
By now you’ve figured out where I’m going with this. More content isn’t the answer. Better content is. Actually, I take that back. Better is not enough. Your content has to be great. That’s the only way to encourage engagement and extend reach.

If you’re creating more content and seeing less return on your increased investment, you probably have someone with P&L responsibility looking over your shoulder and asking questions. Meaning, you’d better fix the problem.

You can start by getting back to basics. Audit your content. Evaluate it against your metrics. If your metrics don’t tell you anything useful, rethink your metrics.

Talk to your prospects. Find out what interests them, find out what scares them. Then develop content for them that addresses their needs throughout the buying process.

Forget about producing 150 pieces of content because you need 5 pieces of content for each of 5 audience segments at 6 different points in the buying cycle.

Think big. Because the secret of great content marketing is that great content almost always lends itself to adaptation in other forms. So while one great idea probably won’t get you those 150 pieces of content, it can get you enough great content to fill, say, 30 of those 150 slots you’re worried about.

Big thinking like that is hard work, but it’s the hard work that will raise your content marketing – all of your marketing – above the competition. Rising above the competition will do more than get you noticed. It will get you results.



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