Why does content marketing seem to have reached a tipping point this year?

Doug Kessler, Creative Director and Co-Founder, Velocity Partners

It’s tipping because it works. Content is the engine of search, social, outbound and web marketing. It’s also the fuel for lead nurturing. It took a while for people to see how and why content is so powerful but it’s on every marketer’s radar now.

James Keady, Digital Marketing Manager, McLaren Automotive

Content marketing is reaching a point where having a digital presence is no longer good enough to achieve cut through, you need a value add proposition and this is best done through a strong content strategy that reaches your audience on the right platforms at the right time in an engaging way.

Simon Edelstyn, European Managing Director, Outbrain

Everyday your audience, you, me, we are bombarded with messages from some 10 million brands that exist worldwide. Smart brands and marketers have started to witness that content marketing can be an effective way to cut through this cacophony of noise and engage in a meaningful way with their audiences. 

This is a belief that is born out in our recent research with Econsultancy, which saw a massive 90% of marketers across the board state that they believe that content marketing will become more important in 2013.  Beyond areas such as social, last year many more brands realised the true value of content as a powerful inbound marketing strategy, to build engagement, trust and connections with their target audiences.

Of course, there are some that have been doing this for a while, for example Red Bull, Net-A-Porter and Sainsbury’s.  Brands such as these understand that content enables them to connect on a much deeper level than traditional advertising by adding value to their consumers lives.

In fact, our survey found that sixty-four percent of the survey’s respondents believe that content marketing is becoming its own discipline and in line with this we are seeing a shift away from small test budgets to significant planned spend.

James Gurd, Owner, Digital Juggler

I think the industry in general has realised that content is at the heart of everything we do in ecommerce. It’s not separate to digital marketing, it’s a component part. This is partly driven by the increased consumption of media online and the variety of content formats that people regularly seek out – blogs, video, images, reviews, social discussions etc.

The continued importance of social media in ecommerce has also fuelled the desire for companies to use content to attract and retain customers – we are realising that a content asset has multiple uses, it’s not just a one-channel entity. This has been true for a long time but I think now more online marketers are looking to maximise the reach of each bit of content they own or produce.

However, I’d caution the ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ approach of pinning all your hopes on content marketing – content is not by itself the saviour. For content marketing to ‘work’, the inputs need to be good.

Content has to serve a purpose and provide a value to the end-user. I personally think there is too much content being produced at the expense of a focus on quality – I’ve seen this directly where people want to write blogs, articles, buying guides etc. but there is no structured, coherent plan and content gets thrown up on a website with no understanding of where it sits in the user journey and why customers would want to use it.

Robin Bonn, Business Development Director, Seven

The traditional agencies’ promise of ‘integration’ just hasn’t been met – a seamless customer experience and narrative might be achieved around a single campaign, but not from the brand’s wider point of view. These jarring disconnects mean that consumers are still unengaged and frustrated.

A genuinely always-on approach to marketing isn’t powered by channel expertise, it’s powered by content. Taking a ‘single view of content’ means an editorially-driven approach, a content calendar and more than just copy to keep people interested over time.

Brands have great stories, but just making channels visually similar, i.e. ‘matching luggage’ integration, isn’t enough; those channels have to be populated by experts. To get the engagement levels brands are capable of, clients are realising they need specialist, channel-agnostic content marketers.

And in a tough economic climate, the demonstrable effectiveness of content marketing combined with the efficiency of getting multiple uses out of one piece of content really catalysed the growth of content marketing in 2012.

James Carson, Freelance Content Strategy Consultant

Economic conditions remain tough and marketers want to make their budgets go further. Content marketing gives a good opportunity because you don’t have to spend as much on media.

The tools to run content marketing campaigns have become ubiquitous and incredibly easy to set up.

Big ecommerce websites like Zappos and ASOS have invested heavily in content and reaped rewards – and other companies want to follow suit.

2011/2012 were very rocky years in Search Engine Optimisation – with a marked shift towards better content driving better results.

What do you see as the key trends for content marketing in 2013?

James Carson

HTML5 adoption will create a shift away from pure text-based content towards a more application-driven web. That means the boundaries between the browser-based web and app stores will become blurred. It’ll be a very different web in two years’ time.

An emphasis by companies to ‘get their house in order’ – many businesses are sitting on a content marketing goldmine, but they don’t have the people and/or strategy for effective publishing.

Robin Bonn

  • More heroes. Clients will see what the likes of Sainsbury’s and Red Bull have achieved through telling their brand story in an imaginative way and want to replicate that. So we’ll see more content agencies doing more high profile work, and 2013 will see more hero case studies being held up as best practice.
  • More seven-figure content briefs. Following Coke’s lead, more brands will invest significant amounts in content marketing in order to address the diminishing returns of an interruptive, traditional marketing model.
  • Practicalities. Content agencies will become more confident as they realise that the case for a multichannel content strategy is being made internally by clients, and that the real job is making content easier to do; addressing the practicalities that clients cite as the main hurdles.
  • Accountability. The agencies that haven’t invested in making content marketing accountable will fall by the wayside. The old-fashioned perception that content effectively equals magazines has long since died out. But there remain question marks about how measurable content marketing can be. The best agencies can already prove that the reverse is true, and will continue to clearly demonstrate how engaged people buy more stuff.

Doug Kessler

We’ll see the content tsunami slam into just about every B2B market as everyone starts firing up their content machines. It’s time to raise the quality bar to fight off all that quantity.

We’ll also see proper content strategies run by content teams inside marketing departments.

On the tech side, there are too many point solutions. We’ll start to see content marketing platforms that will make it easier to run an entire content strategy from one place.

Simon Edelstyn

Video is expensive to create, but can be highly lucrative in terms of driving engagement and ROI – so as content becomes central to a wider range of marketing strategies, we can expect more video-led content campaigns.

Mobile of course, as mentioned above is also a huge trend – and given the sophistication now experienced across devices, we can definitely expect content to become more and more mobile friendly.

Our recent survey results suggest that we will also see a continued uplift in social posts, with 83% of in-house marketers currently creating content on a regular basis. Email newsletters (78%), magazine style news/feature articles (67%) and blog (63%) posts will also continue to be of significant importance.

What are the best examples of content marketing you’ve seen in the last few months?

Simon Edelstyn

  • Coca-Cola’s new magazine inspire home pageThis was developed to deliver users insightful and interesting content in a fun way. Its online magazine styling embraces the modern digital environment and marks an ambitious shift away from the traditional corporate website image.The scope of subjects covered range from entertainment, the environment, health and sports to corporate announcements, press releases as well as opinion columns, interviews, video, audio and photo content – all popular trends.
  • The Mo Farah Foundation ‘Do the Mobot’ campaignLaunched in November 2012 this campaign capitalised on the Mobot craze with engaging videos to raise money for a very worthwhile cause and maximise online audience engagement. The campaign delivered 127% of its target number of clicks, and supported the Mobot campaign in raising awareness and funds for the charity.With a £2 donation being made by Virgin Media for every video uploaded to the charity, it was imperative that the campaign quickly developed a strong online presence to reach its target audience. The Daily Telegraph, Sky News and the Mirror Group were among the top referrer sites for the campaign, which delivered 127% of its target number of clicks, with an average click through rate (CTR) of 0.11%.

    One of the article headlines used in the campaign – ‘UK’s hottest dance craze inspired by Olympian’ – raced to its position as the campaign’s most popular headline with 4,136,566 impressions, 5,407 clicks and a CTR of 0.13%.

  • Red Bull’s Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic freefall. Inspiring and excellently executed, this has set a new high for content marketing.

What we also find is that brands that publish lots of content develop a greater understanding of what is of interest to their audience and can effectively refine their content marketing strategy accordingly.

Doug Kessler

The Business Innovation site from SAP is excellent. Michael Brenner and his team have done an excellent job keeping the content high quality even at pretty high volumes.

I attended Citrix Synergy in Barcelona in October and it really drove home how powerful a vendor event can be as part of a content marketing strategy. Done well, an event is really “Content Marketing Live” – and generates great content that can be re-purposed all year long.  Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce is another great example of course.

And I have to name one Velocity helped create: the Salesforce.com Social Success content microsite: really strong content – original, curated, co-created and re-purposed – to help people social-power their businesses.

James Carson

I wouldn’t really call it marketing, just great content… it’s got to be James Bond: Cars, catchphrases and kisses on BBC – perfectly timed for the Skyfall release. People say there are too many mediocre infographics, but this completely upped the game and I love the iPlayer integration (so it is marketing a product, kind of).

What types of content and formats have worked best (or not worked well)?

Simon Edelstyn

Engaging content that really adds value to the reader experience always gets the best response, that’s why publisher content generally gets a higher CTR – and it’s the brands that are using their expertise and insight to give something useful, entertaining, funny or meaningful to their audiences that really get, and benefit from content marketing.

The rise of content marketing is also allowing brands that have a great back-catalogue of content sitting in PDFs or on micro-sites to breathe new life into it and bring it to a new audience. That said, content that isn’t really content but dressed-up advertising never works, won’t help you meet your objectives, and ultimately leads to distrust from consumers.

James Carson

Infographics have become such a staple of content marketing that a lot of marketers are getting sick of them. However, they work best when they tell a good story first and help people understand often fairly abstract data. They don’t work so well when they are basically a series of images and quoted numbers. Infographics are here to stay, and people still enjoy the best ones.

I feel the next frontier will be companies taking video much more seriously. Due to 4G, mobile consumption of video will explode, and there’ll be a significant opportunity to bypass media buying and use that budget to invest in better production and inhouse resources.

Doug Kessler

For linear storytelling, we love short videos and really enjoy Prezis, like this one on social customer service.

And Slideshare is fantastic for an attitude-packed rant (like our “3 Poisonous Metaphors in B2B Marketing“).

The eBook is still a staple of content marketing. It’s a great way to capture a company’s position on an issue in an easy-to-consume way. And it’s chunky enough to put behind a form if you need to.

The infographics bandwagon is running out of road (thankfully) but there’s still plenty of scope for good ones that really tell a data-rich story.

What are your thoughts for 2013?

With content marketing still on the agenda for most marketers, what do you think will be significant in 2013? Will the distinction between brands and publishers vanish? Will we see the rise of the ‘Chief Content Officer’? Or is content marketing simply a new term for something that is as old as business itself?

Share your views in the comments below.