In 1999, the world-renowned marketing professor Philip Kotler published Kotler on Marketing. In it, he discussed the 1990s as a time of tumultuous change. But he knew that this was merely the beginning. Kotler concluded the book with an entire section, called Transformational Marketing, in which he discussed how the field would change with the "new age of electronic marketing." In the coming decade, Kotler wrote, "marketing [departments] will be re-engineered from A to Z. Marketing will need to rethink fundamentally the processes by which they identify, communicate, and deliver customer value."
Fifteen years have passed, and this vital transformation hasn't happened yet. Consumers have changed, but marketing operations haven't. In case you haven't noticed, almost every marketing conference you attend these days starts with the same four or five requisite slides. Consumers are now empowered by digital technology. They are becoming more aware; they are researching, engaging, buying, and staying loyal to brands in ways that are fundamentally different than they were even half a dozen years ago. Yes, we get it: The consumer is empowered. Marketing in the age of social/mobile/Internet of Things is different than it was before.
Maybe it's actually more accurate to say marketing is changing and will continue to change, as this evolution shows no sign of slowing. The challenge is that marketing operations in enterprise companies have largely remained just as they were when Kotler wrote his book-i.e., they are still working from mid- to late-20th-century hierarchies, strategies, and processes.
Practitioners of content marketing such as me often talk about how the use of content for marketing purposes isn't a new practice. And this is true. For hundreds of years, businesses have been using content in pockets to affect some kind of profitable outcome. But the reality is this: Whether it was John Deere's The Furrow from the 1800s, Michelin's guide to car maintenance in the early 1900s, or even Hasbro's GI Joe partnership with Marvel Entertainment, LLC in the 1980s, content was not-and still is not-a scalable, repeatable practice within the function of marketing. In short, content marketing has always been treated as a project, not a process.
That's the part that must change. Whether it's due to the digital disruption and ease by which we now publish and distribute content to aggregate our own audiences or it's just the natural evolution of marketing itself doesn't matter nearly as much as the ultimate outcome. As we roll out of 2014 and into 2015, content-and the exponentially increasing quantity of it that every organization produces-affects our marketing strategy. And it should be dealt with as a component of that strategy throughout the enterprise.
Forrester Research predicts that enterprise content volume is growing at a rate of 200% annually. Enterprises are now functioning as inadvertent content factories, producing massive waves of digital files that spew forth from every customer communication crevice. Every department now produces content in every form, similar to a giant Dr. Seuss machine-landing squarely into the back of the digital asset management (DAM) wagon being towed. How much that wagon acts as a differentiator or as a weight that hinders forward progress is dependent on how well the content is managed.
Content and the ability to create, manage, and distribute it effectively for marketing purposes will affect business-it's now just a matter of "how," not "if." Enterprises must make a choice. Content can be managed as the strategic asset that it has (or can) become, or it can be an expensive byproduct that ultimately weighs down a company as it tries to navigate the broader disruptions taking place.
The forecast for content marketing in the enterprise is, undoubtedly, cloudy with a chance of storms. The practice, in pockets, has proven to be a very effective way for marketers to create value for business. Content marketing and the idea of providing education, delight, and general usefulness as a brand's approach to engage its customers provides a method to enrich interactions with customers at every single stage of their buying journey.
But for the storm clouds to disappear and sunny skies to emerge, marketers must evolve from the subservient department that creates content, on demand, to the rest of the organization-and then only to describe the value of a product or service. They must transform into an adaptive media organization that knows how to create, manage, lead, and scale the creation of valuable content-driven experiences during the next decade.