According to Econsultancy and Oracle Marketing Cloud research, 77% of companies are planning on increasing content marketing budgets in 2016.

So with more content and increasing complexity of distribution and measurement, what is the future of content marketing?

Econsultancy's recent trends briefing, The Future of Content Marketing, sets out to answer that question.

Here's my take on the future, using some thoughts from this new report and other sources.

Authenticity

It would be disingenous to say that inauthentic content ever stood a chance, but several factors have brought this quality back to the fore.

Namely, the profusion of content, disillusionment with display advertising and the advent of further automation.

Publishers as agencies

This is an emerging trend with newspapers and new digital-born publishers establishing content studios to produce impactful sponsored content that compromises on neither tone, quality or message, and can offer search gains that no brand website could achieve.

The trend is a useful one as a lens to view the redesign of advertiser organisations around content - paid, owned and earned media are now heavily intertwined, each playing a part in building and retargeting audiences.

A brand will sponsor content, amplify it, possibly use it to seek some sort of direct response, and ensure it is as impactful as possible across an entire campaign.

This requires collaboration between CMS, CRM, marketing, sales, comms etc.

Bots?

For all the excitement around the possibility of messenger bots, unbundling content and pushing it to the customer in a channel they engage with frequently, there are many unknowns.

First, can this channel prove effective for content as well as customer service?

There are already examples in the wild of content via Facebook Messenger, though chiefly from publishers, such as Copa90. Where brands get involved, they will need to be wary.

Josh Jacobs from Kik Interactive explains that users need to trust they will be sent relevant content, not spammed on the basis of accepting messages from a bot.

"That doesn’t put the brand in a good light. If a financial services company wants to publish content about refinancing then I don’t mind if a loan product is sponsoring it. I don’t mind asking the bot what the rates are. It’s a circle of trust."

It's also fair to say that just as content marketing might not be right for all brands, messenger bots delivering content certainly need to have a solid rationale being them.

Polyanna Ward, digital and social media manager at Mondelez International, cites Vogue’s use of Whatsapp: “It’s like having a best mate who works in fashion.”

However, Vogue is, of course, a publisher, and Ward is pragmatic about the role for Mondelez in the bot universe.

According to Ward: “Does someone want to have a conversation with a biscuit? Chatbots are great for resolving customer issues though.”

Sponsored entertainment

Crucially, the multiplatform world of digital can allow for more integrated sponsorship of content. 

As far as branded content goes, partnering with entertaining content producers such as sports is the holy grail, hence Twitter's involvement with the NFL.

Josh Jacobs highlights Turner Network’s mid-week NBA Games, sponsored by Sprint.

“They have an amazing cast who do the half-time show. And it’s often more entertaining than the game itself.

"It’s a native execution wrapped around the original content and packaged as Sprint giving me a gift of entertainment but not detracting from the game.

"It’s in the same mould as Wrigley’s in the 50s. The brand is making this possible for me rather than making me tolerate it to get to something I want.”

This concept may not be new, but brands sponsoring big events such as Euro 2016 need to be thinking in terms of content that can be created before and after the event, and reused and repackaged throughout and in the aftermatch, across platforms. 

Quality

A simple bullet point - more content marketing means quality is at a premium, as supply outstrips demand.

Quality now means breaking away from the print template and exploring interactive content. Doug Kessler of Velocity has previously highlighted the example of WWF's Together app (below).

Content marketing cannot be ad hoc and churned out or it will not cut through, just as programmatic advertising must appeal in quality of creative as well as relevance of message.

wwf app 

Specificity

The ability to track users across social, brand website, search and apps means that content no longer need be generic.

Contextualisation and segmentation is possible, if resource-heavy.

Brands should be focusing on a content cycle, creating content that further profiles users where possible, creating a feedback loop.

This concept of 'vertical content' is well known in advertising and B2B sales and should be applied across brand content where applicable.

Sociability

Though brand websites still serve a purpose as, as Doug Kessler puts it, "a rich resource centre", there's no doubt that getting traffic to a brand website is still difficult.

Social media is where people interact with brands and brand content, particularly in sectors and around subjects where search gains are difficult to achieve.

“It has become an arms race,” states Saatchi & Saatchi’s Head of Content, Jack Davies.

“There are 50m searches a year in the beauty space and hundreds of pieces of content are needed to win on the biggest search terms, plus you’re going head to head with not just other beauty brands but also the magazines.

"If you want to rank for SEO in hair care, you’re going to have to write 150 articles just to get on that first page.”

Content, therefore, should not be seen in SEO terms as a method for achieving visibility, but as the food for growing and responding to an online community, whether that be through natural or paid social.

For more on this topic, download The Future of Content Marketing.

Ben Davis

Published 30 June, 2016 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Deputy Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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