What the World Looks Like When Content Marketing Becomes "Marketing"

Jul 20, 2017

Content marketing is currently one of the most popular marketing strategies in the world, with 88% of B2B companies using content to secure new leads. Most businesses allocate a portion of their marketing budget to content marketing as a differentiated channel, but soon, we might stop thinking of content marketing as an individual channel, and start thinking of it as the new form of standard, standalone “marketing.”

The Distinction

That may not seem like a big jump, but it represents a significant shift in thinking. According to Gartner, there’s a difference between “marketing content” and “content marketing.” Marketing content refers to all forms of content you produce for your brand, including ads, press releases, product specs, company information, and sales collateral. Content marketing, on the other hand, represents only a fraction of your total marketing content—since ads and sales fliers don’t exactly count as traditional content marketing.

The prediction, then, is that eventually, content marketing will start to take over other channels, in various ways. For example:

  • Ads may tell stories. Traditional advertisements have served as interruptions to daily life, providing little relevance other than making a sales pitch for a specific product and telling consumers how great that product is. Ads are already transforming, using more stories and narrative structures to illuminate products in a positive light. In the future, ads may become even more story-based, providing customers some value before pitching a brand or product.
  • Sales pieces may give way to informational pieces. Instead of conventional sales materials like slideshows or brochures, a more content-focused strategy would lead to the development of purely informational pieces. For example, instead of making a pitch for new server equipment and hardware, a new style of piece might simply inform customers about the failure points of their existing systems.
  • Less effective strategies may fade altogether. Some forms of traditional advertising are waning in effectiveness; for example, consider the fact that more than 200 million people use ad blockers, and that number is likely to grow even further. Rather than attempting to salvage these channels by transforming them to have a greater content focus, marketers may abandon them altogether to focus exclusively on content.

Eventually, nearly all forms of marketing content will qualify as (what we today refer to as) content marketing. At that point, “content marketing” ceases to exist, and simply becomes the new standard for marketing. But what does that world look like for marketers? And what could come next?

Content Takeover

Content marketing arose as a reaction to the overabundance of traditional advertising; some estimates suppose we see up to 5,000 advertisements, in various forms, every day. So is content marketing going to be marketing’s final stage?

These are some of the effects marketers will have to consider as we make this transition:

  • Ads may become cheaper. First, as marketers start cutting off their investments in traditional advertisements, demand will drop, and prices will start to become more reasonable. This will convince some advertisers to stay invested in the strategy, and will attract others to seek advertising as an inexpensive alternative to content marketing, flipping the equation. One of content marketing’s biggest advantages is that it costs up to 62% less than traditional ads; if that advantage disappears, it may rebalance the scales.
  • New tropes will emerge. Old ad tropes like “buy now!” or the internet-centric “click here!” are still used, but are tired and generally ineffective. In the same way, we can expect that certain content tropes will emerge and begin to wear on customers. Originality and novelty will start to increase in importance as the lines between general marketing and content marketing blur.
  • Competition will be fierce. Users will be able to find content on almost any subject they can imagine, and quickly. They’re also going to be bombarded with new content on a daily basis. That’s going to make it even harder for your brand to stand out from the competition, putting more pressure on content producers to provide high-quality, new information in distinctive ways.
  • Native ads will spark trust issues. Native advertising and content marketing are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, but native ads aren’t content marketing, per se. Instead, they’re paid opportunities to promote your content; even if your content is good, and appeals to your target audience, it may look and feel different than the content your user was expecting. Over time, users may grow distrustful of native ads, and specifically avoid them in the same way that modern users avoid pop-up ads with browser-based ad blockers. This would add an entirely new dimension to the content marketing world, since user trust is one of the biggest advantages of the strategy.

For now, content marketing remains just one of many marketing channels, but it won’t be long before it becomes the new normal. We’re already in the midst of the transformation. If your brand wants to survive, prepare for an increase in competition, consider decreasing your traditional ad budget, and prepare for the challenges in trust and visibility to come.

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