Earlier this year I had the pleasure of traveling around the country, armed with notepad and Dictaphone, to speak to some of Scotland’s best and brightest Content Marketers for my thesis research.
A wide variety of senior, experienced practitioners of content marketing volunteered their valuable time and expertise, coming from a varied range of industries, including: a national cloud hosting provider; a leading travel search company; and a digital agency on the forefront of content marketing (I bet you’ll never guess where that was!).
Although I’m sure you’d love nothing more than sitting down with a (very large) cup of tea to read all 16,000 words of the resulting dissertation, I thought I’d summarise the most interesting bits in a slightly easier-to-read form…
1. Nobody thinks Content Marketing is a new concept
Seemingly in contrast to commonly held beliefs, almost every single expert interviewed criticised the idea that content marketing is a “hot new thing”, which has sprung out of nowhere in the last few years.
The concept of creating something that your customers find valuable as a marketing tool has been around since at least the Victorian era, with tractor manufacturer John Deere publishing the first edition of the perennially popular “Furrow” farming magazine more than 120 years ago!
Even the suggestion that content has only become truly relevant to modern marketing in recent years was rejected, with one interviewee citing the long and widespread Contract Publishing industry as evidence of the ongoing importance of marketing content.
2. Awareness isn’t enough – Content is expected to drive sales (just like other forms of marketing)
In today’s ROI-focused & data-led marketing environment, claiming that the considerable resources invested in creating and distributing high quality content have gone towards “building trust” or “establishing thought leadership” no longer cuts the mustard, according to the interviewees.
Summing up the harrowing experience of a content marketer standing in front of their Board of Directors armed with nothing but “soft conversion” data, one interviewee said:
“Brand awareness is kind of fluffier and difficult to measure. You can’t say “we went from 2.3 brand awareness to 4.5”. There’s no metrics for that kind of thing”
There’s no doubt that these “fluffier” objectives have an important part to play in any content strategy, but leading content marketers have begun turn their attention towards harder objectives such as sales & lead generation, organic traffic & frequency of repeat website visits.
This is being driven by two main factors:
- The challenge of convincing more traditional, sales-led decision makers to believe (and invest) in content marketing without any kind of demonstrable impact on the bottom line.
- The growing sophistication of tracking & analytics tools which allow the proper attribution of sales/leads to website content.
3. All content marketers experience four main challenges
Despite plying their trade in a wide variety of industries within Scotland, practically all of the marketers we spoke to found common ground on the four main day-to-day challenges that they face:
- The production of valuable, relevant content requires a huge amount of time and expertise, often making it the first thing to be cut when things get tight.
- However, churning out low quality, poorly written & “salesy” content is comparatively cheap. This leads to common distribution channels (such as social networks) becoming saturated with rubbish content all vying for the attention of your customers. In this environment it can be increasingly difficult to be heard.
- There’s too much emphasis on creating content and not enough emphasis on effectively distributing or tracking it. As one of my interviewees puts it, in a brilliant turn of phrase:
“Content isn’t king. Content is queen, and infrastructure is king.”
- Content marketing isn’t as widely understood as you might think. Regardless of seniority, the content marketing experts I spoke to cited resistance from sales teams & more traditionally-minded marketers as their organisations began to shift towards a more content-focused strategy.
4. Despite all that, the future’s bright!
Another area of consensus among our experts was the promising future of content marketing (although admittedly they may not be the most objective bunch!).
If the predictions of our panel of leading Scottish content marketers come true, here’s what we can expect to see in the next 5 years:
- Rapid advancement of the ability of businesses to track the impact of their content and demonstrate ROI.
- Increased understanding of what content your target market wants to read…
- …and where/when they want to read it.
- The Big Data-led automation of customised content, presenting each potential customer with an article or infographic that is tailored to their desires.
- The value of content marketing will become much more widely recognised, attracting the same (or even greater) levels of respect given to TV or print advertising.
A well thought-out content strategy is key to overcoming the four key challenges of content marketing. It also allows content marketers to begin tracking and measuring content performance, shifting towards a model of content based on longer-term strategic objectives.