Right now, the content marketing industry, well over 100 years old, is going through as much change as we have ever seen. The biggest reason for this, outside of the fragmentation of media, is that the barriers to entry have been obliterated.
There were three major barriers that used to exist as a gate to corporate publishing. Though they are no longer a concern today, I did discuss them in detail in Get Content Get Customers (published in 2008). Those barriers included:
- Content acceptance: You don't have to be the Wall Street Journal anymore to have customers accept, respect, and engage in your content.
- Talent: In the past, most journalists were against working for non-media brands, as they viewed it as tainting their professional integrity. Today, writers, editors, and journalists are available to help you produce great content in literally every industry. Moreover, the majority of journalism jobs available today are on the brand side, not in traditional media, and thus the stigma of working for non-media brands is not nearly as strong as it was just a few years ago.
- Technology: Anyone can publish content on the web today, with little or even no investment required.
And now, five years later, we are seeing a number of signs that tell us that the content marketing revolution may be just beginning. In other words, this 100-plus-year-old industry is just getting started.
Here are three things that happened in the past month that I believe are industry-critical:
"Content marketing" is now the dominant industry term, according to Google
There are well over 20 phrases that have been used over the years to describe the content marketing industry. When I started working in the industry in 2000, it was "custom publishing." Later, it was "custom media." Today, at least according to Google, the en vogue term is "content marketing."
The chart below covers the five keyword phrases that I've been keeping my eye on (note: I usually include "branded content" as part of this group, but due to a significant drop in searches, was replaced with "native advertising").
- "Custom publishing," doing its best imitation of Kodak stock, is now on the verge of being overtaken by "native advertising."
- Notice that "native advertising" arose on the scene just a few months ago and is picking up steam in consumer circles. Native advertising is not the same thing as content marketing, but some people think the terms are interchangeable.
- "Inbound marketing," which often refers to top-of-the-funnel content marketing activities, came on strong in late 2008 and seems to be plateauing (here is an overview of the difference between inbound marketing and content marketing).
- "Content marketing" didn't seriously hit the scene until early 2009. In early to mid 2012, the term seemed to gap up and separate itself from the rest of the terms.
What may be even more interesting is that "content marketing" is close to surpassing "search marketing" in popularity as a keyword search term.
Why do I believe this is good? Even though there still is confusion over what content marketing is and is not, as an industry we are beginning to come to a consensus on what term we use to refer to our discipline. This means that thought leaders, brand marketers, and agencies are starting to align in their terminology - a necessary milestone for learning and true understanding to occur.
McMurry and TMG merged, forming the largest content marketing agency in the U.S.
The Wicks Group, a New York-based private equity company, engineered a transaction that (according to it) has created the largest provider of content marketing services in the United States. The merged $100 million dollar organization is the first sign of major consolidations that are to come.
Individually, McMurry and TMG Custom Media were two of the most respected players in the content marketing industry. A transaction such as this should be a wake-up call for all content marketing service providers, signaling that change is afoot.
Richard Edelman has a change of heart
"I have been one of the hard-liners opposing any blurring of the lines between advertising and PR. I am now prepared to change my position. I still believe that we have a primary task of proposing stories to journalists and bloggers. But there is a vital emerging business to be done in content creation for brands." (via Edelman's 6 A.M. blog) - Richard Edelman, President and CEO, Edelman
Edelman goes on to talk about the "own-able" media and content partnerships with media channels, but the point is clear: Edelman is staking a claim to its expertise in corporate storytelling. Mr. Edelman also states that, "Ads are inherently more effective when you have something to say. And we are better than any other marketing services sector at knowing what is newsworthy at any moment in time."
This could very well be true, but are PR agencies best qualified to help brands develop owned-media channels with consistent, relevant content creation over a long period of time? The jury is still out on that.
The bottom line is this: Other PR organizations follow what Edelman does and says. If that is truly the case, watch out!
(Kudos to Jason Aplin for forwarding the story.)
What does this mean for the future of content marketing?
- Agency consolidation will not be limited to other agencies. Look for traditional media companies to get into the buying mix, as well as (believe it or not) other brands that are having success at content marketing initiatives (think along the lines of businesses like American Express).
- Although much of this is good for the industry, I predict the industry will get worse before it gets better. With a flood of practitioners from all sides (many of them lacking a clear understanding of content marketing), there will be a deluge of really, really bad content (check out this eBook for more details on this point).
- Massive amounts of education are needed.
- That last point bears repeating: Massive amounts of education are needed.
Regardless, I believe the industry is poised for great things, that epic content will outweigh the bad content, and that we ain't seen nothin' yet.