I’ve attended two conferences this year: Digiday’s Digital Innovation Summit and Content Marketing World. This was by design. Professionally, I’ve made a commitment to spending less time refining my knowledge around where we’ve been as marketers and focusing more on where we’re going. Call it my own strategy for staying relevant.
While it may not be apparent from their titles, the overlap in subject matter was significant. Storytelling, data and change management, among others, were significant headlines stemming from the discussions at these two conferences.
A Platform for Sustained Innovation
Most marketers seek insights and inspiration in digital innovation. That much is clear. But most lack a framework for sustaining innovation. Cue content marketing.
Content marketing is becoming a practice ground for marketers looking to sustain innovation, from a communications perspective and from an operational perspective. And Content Marketing World is quickly becoming a leading “workshop” of sorts, enabling marketers to interact with other marketers, sharing not just the conceptual, but real-world operational anecdotes — the kind of learning that helps get sustained innovation seeded in an organization.
Same Big Topics Discussed
While at Content Marketing World, I was fortunate to participate in a panel discussion with some super-enlightened folks. The roundtable was moderated by Karen Budell, chief content officer of Imagination Publishing. The panel also included Michael Weiss, content strategist at the Content Marketing Institute; Buddy Scalera, SVP of content strategy and media at Ogilvy Commonhealth Worldwide; Julie Fleischer, director of CRM at Kraft Foods; and, Andrew Davis, author of “Brandscaping.”
The purpose of the roundtable was to provide perspective around some recent research revealing the progress content marketing is making towards establishing a more prominent role in the marketing mix. Ironically, the focus shifted to a discussion around the barriers that still persist in enabling marketers to innovate.
Some familiar “big topics” organically rose from the discussion around content marketing. “Storytelling”, “distribution”, “change management” and “disintermediation” became the headlines; and, all were woven into a central theme that content strategy has become a very sophisticated practice that still eludes many marketers by a wide margin.
Last year’s Content Marketing World put heavy emphasis on the need for marketers to begin creating a form of content that offers real utility for audiences. This year, it was the central theme.
Last year’s conference goers, for the most part, still needed time to process that concept. Having fully embraced this approach, this year’s attendees arrived with the next round of logical questions — “how do I do that?” and “how do I change what I’m currently doing?”
Marketers recognize the knowledge gap, but they lack the experience and expertise to close it. Acknowledging that there is no current process for creating “useful content” is a first step; however, the ability to produce this form of content, the resources to create it and the ability to maintain quality have become the mountain chain on the other side of the forest.
A New Model for Distribution
Jonathan Lister, LinkedIn’s VP of North American sales and marketing operations, shared a very compelling statistic. On average, when a consumer first engages a brand, she is 60 percent of the way toward her purchase decision. And as Buddy Scalera illustrated in his presentation, consumers are on a “learning journey,” whether deliberate or not.
Brands are not only woefully deficient in the kind of content that consumers crave early in their learning journeys, but the distribution channels brands are choosing are also heavily weighted toward the final 40 percent of that journey.
For the consumer, the first “60 percent” of the journey is an adventure and not exactly the linear path we marketers often depict as the consumer’s “path to purchase.” Content is the consumer’s guide along that adventure.
Brands must now map out and manage a far more fluid distribution plan to help educate, inform or entertain the consumer, and more importantly, to lead when the consumer has entered the final 40 percent of the journey.
How to Start
While at the conference, I spoke with a number of marketing organizations from a number of categories. Whether they came from business-to-consumer or business-to-business sectors, a central theme emerged. Marketers need help changing.
The change starts by first understanding that content is not a thing … it’s a process. And marketers are not geared to sustain the fluid creation and distribution of useful content across a more complex media ecosystem. Marketers are geared to buy media. But content marketing will force marketing organizations to be good at buying AND creating media.
However, one approach to change is getting traction. It may prove to be the right model for sustained innovation. As Robert Rose, chief strategist for Content Marketing Institute states, “In most organizations, an experienced practitioner of content marketing is needed to create a lean and independent department, outside of the main marketing machine, to get content marketing ‘started up’.”
This approach of content marketers being entrepreneurial within their organizations is often required for the seeds to get planted and to take root. The volume of work may be small, but over time these internal capabilities attract attention. And these efforts make it easier for the company to essentially sell these services back to itself. This grows the content marketing capability organically and at a pace that is right for the company.
A New Start-Up Community
What was also clear at Content Marketing World was that agencies are in the same boat. In fact, the majority of the folks who attended my session at the conference worked for agencies.
Their struggles are similar and logical. They’re geared to serve the same marketing machine. And typically, their investments in innovation are limited by the mirror investments that marketers are, or more correctly stated, are not making. But the start-up approach should be the same.
However, what compounds the problem for agencies is that these new “start-up” investments within brands, which are outside the visibility of the main marketing operations, are also outside the visibility of the agencies. These brand publishing start-ups are looking for new and different resources, thus removing the agency from the process.
The risk for agencies is even greater as they stand to be disintermediated or made unnecessary to the process of creating and distributing useful content.
On the Calendar for 2014
So mark your calendars for September 8-11, 2014 — next year’s Content Marketing World. We’ve seen significant step changes in audience size and engagement over the last three years at Content Marketing World. I can’t wait to see the progress content marketing makes in the next 12 months.
As Content Marketing World goes, so goes the industry. It’s must-see TV!
Special thanks goes out to all the folks who put on such a great conference. And special thanks to all those who shared their experience and perspectives and contributed to this piece. Continue to get enlightened by following them: @jfly, @TPLDrew, @kbu79, @michelelinn, @mikepweiss, @MarketingBuddy, @Robert_Rose, @MagneticCS