I’ve been on a bit of a rant about content marketing as an approach lately and how it’s not getting the recognition that it’s due despite how prominent it’s becoming as part of the overall marketing mix. I promised to be a bit sharper in my evangelism for content marketing. So, I don’t want to equivocate on the challenge to talk about what we can see beginning to develop with the Future of Content and Marketing – especially on the heels of our most recent and extraordinary research efforts.
Over the last 18 months we’ve seen a huge acceleration of change. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella famously said back in the Spring of 2020 “we’ve seen two years-worth of digital transformation in two months.”
Examining the changes in future business and marketing trends is always a little like studying astronomy. You know there are changes are happening – but it can often take so long for the light to reach your eyes that you don’t really notice the change until they appear in the distant past.
So, we’ve seen at least three major disruptions that we can point to that can help us spot where we, indeed, may be headed with the future of content and marketing. And if we can identify the implications of these disruptions – we might just be able to develop our own strategies to be ready for the future that’s coming.
Wow, that sounds important doesn’t it? Yeah, it’s a fancy way of saying that things are moving faster, and we have a lot more choice in content.
Now, you’re no doubt familiar with the time shifting going on in the way we consume, and spend time with, content.
Let’s hope we can finally put the Goldfish theory to bed. If you’re not familiar, you will still see some marketing presentations promoting the idea that humans now have less attention span than a goldfish.
Of course this isn’t true – we have way more of an attention span than a goldfish. Our ability to binge watch Ted Lasso, or Game of Thrones, or Bosch, or Squid Game proves that we have the ability to place our attention into. Though as Ted Lasso might say, we might be happier if we had the “memory of a goldfish”. But that’s a different conversation.
It’s not our attention span that has shrunk – it’s our patience.
The interesting thing is that it’s not just our patience with interruptive based advertising, it’s interruptive communication full stop. One recent study found that Americans now answer less than half of all calls they receive on their mobile phones.
Not only do we dislike interruptions – we also understand that any content we do engage with can be easily replaced at the click of a button. Don’t like that TikTok video? Swipe up. Don’t like that Netflix show? Backspace right out of it and into something else. Don’t get what you need within 8 seconds of that web page search result to your question? Click back to try again and get called a goldfish.
However, it’s the second half of this disruption that has me more fascinated. It’s a trend where our lack of patience, and the ease of acquiring new replacement content is taking away from the ability (some may say need) to build a brand’s legacy.
Data from McKinsey & Co. shows that the average life span of companies listed in Standard & Poors was 61 years in 1958. Today it’s less than 18 years. McKinsey believes that within the next 5 to 6 years, 75% of the companies currently on the S&P 500 will either be bought out, merged, or fail.
Product and Service Brands in so many ways have become much more like startups, fashion, or media-like in how quickly they are launched, rise to fame, create trust in an audience, and then either fall out of favor, wear out their welcome, or are replaced by another.
In some ways, the Content Brands launched (or acquired) by product and service companies are becoming as important to the overall company as the products themselves.
That gets to the second disruption we see that can help us navigate the future of content and marketing.
One of the things we ‘ve all been able to observe much more pointedly during the last 18 months is how precious physical presence is. There’s nothing like something being taken away from you, to make you realize how much you value it. But, interestingly, we are starting to see new preferences being developed during this forced scarcity. We humans are coming to realize that – well – there are indeed many things that are better served in a non-physical representation. Put simply: we are ALL valuing our physical place in the world much more highly.
For example, there is this idea of the Great Resignation. Now, this trend is NOT a new thing. If you look at labor statistics, we can see that this is a trend that’s been happening for the last 10 years. But, again, there’s no doubt that this has been accelerated by the last 18 months. More people are now saying “I’ve actually come to value working from home,” or questioning if their presence at a job is worth more than it was before lockdown.” We have also started to ask more critical questions of whether we need to actually go out, or be somewhere physically before we go.
Now, there is no doubt that over the next year or two there will be a demand for going back to physical presence. There will be demand for truck drivers, and restaurant goers, and attendance at business meetings, and sports fans, and entertainment venues and business conferences etc.. But the supply from us as humans will be much more considered. Thus, we can see what economists might call supply-induced scarcity for physical presence….
But how does this affect marketing and the importance of content in marketing?
Well, number one – as physical presence becomes more precious, we will really have to provide much better reasons for all of our teams to get budget to fly to present at the foot of a conference table, attend a business conference, play golf, or even have that physical dinner with people. These physical “events” will become luxury items. Thus (and this is the key) it will inherently change the nature of the content we deliver at these events. It better be really good and be very different than it is today. Second, and maybe more immediately, this trend puts a renewed and big pressure on digital content experiences to be connected and differentiated. Why? It’s because these digital content platforms must now act as a physical presence proxy. Whether it’s digital events, or on-demand thought leadership experiences – these experiences must not only be better than they’ve ever been, they will compete with everyone else who is doing the same. When you see Salesforce – a B2B company investing millions of dollars into evolving their Dreamforce conference into a B2B streaming service to compete with the likes of Netflix or Amazon Prime you can see how important this is becoming. And that brings us to the third disruption that might help us understand the future of content and marketing a bit better and that’s
In many ways – it feels as if the world is more divided than we’ve ever been. We feel this divisiveness. And honestly, it’s hard to know in the moment whether we actually are or are not more divided than ever.
But what we can know is that our trust in mainstream institutions is as low as it’s ever been. Whether it’s government, mainstream media, business, or even non-profits, we can see that we are awash in an epidemic of misinformation, and widespread mistrust of all of these institutions and their leaders. While there is certainly much to discuss here that is bigger than business, and bigger than content marketing, what we must also recognize is that this disruption is a direct and pointed opportunity to help us shape the future of marketing. Today when the bar is so low, marketers not only have an opportunity – but perhaps even a responsibility (a discussion to be had over a good whiskey) to create trust and truth as a value.
Great marketing adds value that customers are willing to invest in and that can create wealth for the business. But today not all customer investments must involve a purchase of our – let’s call it classic (or legacy) – products or services. We can monetize marketing in a different away – through time, attention, referral, personal data, and brand loyalty – even trust. These can all be converted into wealth for the business.
When we put these four disruptions into a context, we can start to see a (if not the) future of marketing. The creation of trust and truth, empowered by the need to create and assemble audiences into differentiated digital and physical content experiences, and created in the context of our customer’s decreased patience for interruptive communication is the future of content and marketing. But what does that look like? How do we bring that into something tangible that we can build, or trust? Well….
I see this coming together in a very interesting way. Content and Marketing are evolving. Yes. Again. But interestingly, and perhaps in a way ironically – both content strategy and marketing as a practice are becoming more valuable more enriching to the business. How? Well let me just pose it as a question….
What if Content and Marketing in the future (as a practice) and the output of it was treated just as importantly in our business as our current products or service? In other words – what if, in the future, marketing is seen not only as an expense line item in business that has activities to use content to describe the value of our product and services so that we might reach audiences and persuade them to become customers?
What if, rather, Marketing is seen as a profit center where the primary function of it is to create experiential products for audiences that can be monetized in multiple ways – one of which is the expanded or ongoing purchase of our products and services?
Now, some of you are saying “hey, wait a minute Robert. Didn’t you write a book about this very thing called Killing Marketing?”
Well, yes and no.
In our book Joe and I argued a business case for Content Marketing, saying that Content Marketing might become one way that a business can start to create marketing programs that pay for themselves. We said – the practice of Content Marketing might just eventually blend into the overall Marketing Strategy approach.
I may be beginning to come around and think it might actually be the other way around.
It might be the entire practice of marketing might morph into what we now call Content Marketing.
Put even more simply – what if we content marketers and our approach to adding value, monetizing audiences, and treating our content as importantly as a product, is the future of marketing full stop?
As I said in the beginning, the quickest way to get into trouble is to predict the future. There’s a famous quote attributed to Peter Drucker that says “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” Whether or not he said it – there is a variant that I actually prefer.
Dennis Gabor, a physicist who won the Nobel Prize wrote a book called Inventing the Future. In it, he actually says a version of the quote that I like better in today’s world of technology and artificial intelligence. He said:
“Rational thinking, even assisted by any conceivable electronic computers cannot predict the future… All it can do is map out the provability… Technological and social inventions are broadening this probability all the time…. The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented.”
In our research this year, we say the “giant has awakened”. I say, “look out” because we’re the future.
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