Our annual content marketing research was released last week, and as CMI’s Stephanie Stahl wrote, “(C)ompanies are waking up to the power of content marketing due in part to the pandemic.”
I say, “Yes, and …” through the lens of our consulting and advisory work with more than 30 brands over the last 18 months.
In spring 2020, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella famously said, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”
Since then, we’ve seen at least three major disruptions that help us spot where we may be headed. And identifying the implications of these disruptions may help you develop your strategies to be ready for the future of content and marketing.
Disruption 1: Consumer time shifting and brand legacy
Wow, that sounds important, doesn’t it? It’s just a fancy way of saying things are moving faster, and people have a lot more choice in content.
Now, you’re no doubt familiar with time shifting in the way people consume and spend time with content. But let’s finally put the goldfish theory to bed. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s 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, Game of Thrones, or Squid Game proves we have the ability to pay attention. 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 attention spans that have shrunk – it’s our patience.
It’s not just our patience with interruptive-based advertising, it’s any interruptive communication. For example, a recent study found Americans answer less than half of all calls on their mobile phones.
Not only do we dislike interruptions, but we also know any content we do engage with can easily be replaced with 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 the answer you need within eight seconds of that search result click? Click back to try again.
However, it’s the brand half of this disruption that fascinates me more. It’s a trend where that lack of patience and the ease of acquiring replacement content takes away some of the ability (or the need, as some might say) to build a brand legacy.
In 1958, the average life span of a company on the Standard & Poor’s was 61 years, according to McKinsey & Company. Today, it’s less than 18 years. McKinsey believes that within five to six years, 75% of the companies on the S&P 500 will be bought, merged, or fail.
With that rapid evolution, product and service brands have in so many ways become more like startups, fashion, or media in how quickly they are launched, rise to fame, gain trust from an audience, and then fall out of favor, wear out their welcome, or get replaced by another.
In some ways, the content brands launched (or acquired) by these companies are becoming as important to the business as its products and services.
That gets to the second disruption we see.
Disruption 2: Scarcity of physical presence
One thing we’ve all observed more pointedly in the last 18 months is how precious physical presence is. There’s nothing like something being taken away to make you realize how much you value it.
But, interestingly, we see new preferences being developed during this forced scarcity. We humans are coming to realize that many things are better served in a non-physical representation. Put simply: Everybody values their physical place in the world much more highly.
For example, the idea of the Great Resignation is NOT new. If you look at labor statistics, the trend has been happening for the last 10 years. There’s no doubt that it has been accelerated by the pandemic. More people now say, “I’ve come to value working from home,” or “Is my physical presence at my job site worth more than it was before the pandemic?” We also ask more critically overall whether we need to actually go out or be somewhere physically.
Now, no doubt over the next year or two, demand will grow for going back to a physical presence. There will be demand for truck drivers and restaurant-goers, attendees at business meetings, and fans at sporting events, entertainment venues, etc. But this in-person presence might remain a supply-induced scarcity at some level.
How does that affect marketing and the importance of content in marketing?
Well, as physical presence remains more precious, in-person events (once the most effective content marketing tactic) will become luxury items. Thus, and this is key, the nature of the content we deliver at these events better be really good and very different than it has been.
More immediately, this trend puts renewed and big pressure on digital content experiences. Why? Digital content platforms now act as a physical presence proxy. All our digital content (events, thought leadership, etc.) has to be more differentiated because our audiences expect more and the noise will only get exponentially crazier. When you see Salesforce, a B2B company, investing millions of dollars in evolving their Dreamforce conference into a B2B streaming service to compete with the likes of Netflix or Amazon Prime, you can see how important digital content experiences have become.
And that brings us to the third disruption.
Disruption 3: Decline of trust and truth
In many ways, it feels as if the world is more divided than we’ve ever been. And honestly, it’s hard to know in the moment whether we actually are. But what we do know is that trust in mainstream institutions is at the lowest it’s been. Whether it’s government, mainstream media, businesses, or even non-profits, we are awash in an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of all of these institutions and their leaders.
While there is much to discuss bigger than business and content marketing, we should recognize this disruption is a direct and pointed opportunity to help us shape the future of marketing.
When the bar is so low, marketers not only have an opportunity – and 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 invest in and that can create wealth for the business. But not all that customer investment must involve a purchase of our traditional products or services.
We can monetize marketing in a different way – through time, attention, referral, personal data, and brand loyalty – even trust. All of this can be converted into wealth for the business.
Future of content and marketing
When we put these three disruptions into context, we can see a future of marketing 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, in the context of our customers’ 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?
Well, I see this coming together in an interesting way. Content and marketing are evolving. Again. But this time, ironically, both content strategy and marketing as a practice are becoming more valuable, more enriching to the business.
How? Let me pose it as a question: What if content and marketing as a practice and its output was treated as important in the business as its current products or services?
In other words, what if marketing is not seen only as an expense line that develops activities and creates content to persuade audiences to become customers of the company’s product and services?
Rather, what if marketing is seen as a profit center where the primary function is to create experiential products for audiences that can be monetized in multiple ways, only one of which is the expanded or ongoing purchase of the traditional products and services?
Put even more simply: What if content marketers and our approach to adding value, monetizing audiences, and treating our content as important as a product is the future of marketing full stop?
As I have said, the quickest way to get into trouble is to predict the future. There’s a famous quote attributed to Peter Drucker: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Whether or not he said it, I actually prefer a variant from Dennis Gabor, a physicist who won the Nobel Prize. Over 50 years ago, he wrote in Inventing the Future:
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 CMI’s research this year, we say the “giant has awakened.” I say, “Yes, and look out because we’re the future.”
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute