Where Is Content Headed?

 In Content Marketing

Marketing (As We Know It) Is Doomed!

This is the title of a new book by my good friend Daniel Newman and his co-author Hessie Jones. (It’s only $9.99, is chock full of brilliance, and ships in two weeks. So just go order it!)

I was honored to contribute to this effort, and they are allowing me to provide this sneak peak of my contribution for free.

So check it out and let us know what you think. And then let me know how you would answer the question:

Where is content headed?

The explosion of channels we all use to gather, consume and share information is having a dramatic impact on the methods of modern marketers. This is putting much more focus on the content brand marketers create ahead of the channels they use. TV, Search Engines, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – none of these destinations are nearly as interesting as the content that flows across them.

Consider that, as consumers, we largely don’t answer cold calls, watch television ads, respond to unwanted emails, click on banner ads or appreciate disruptive marketing techniques of any kind. And this is having a dramatic impact on the landscape of agencies, publishers and brand advertisers that fuel the creation of much of the content we seek on TV, online and the remaining print vehicles some consumers are clinging on to.

Today, advertising agencies are absorbing the impact of programmatic buying (where publisher banner ad inventory is bought and sold to brand advertisers in an online marketplace). They are reeling from the increasing consumer backlash against the interruptive techniques they have pioneered for nearly 100 years. Their response is to get back to what they do best: creativity, design and storytelling.

Agencies are tapping into their core and becoming storytelling masters. They are leading their clients to think in bold, new, and more human ways.

Publishers are clearly feeling the pressure of consumers’ shifting information habits from print to digital and mobile content experiences. Even the oldest, most respected traditional publishers like the New York Times are considering how they can sustain themselves as viable businesses.

A new breed of publishers is tapping into the needs of modern consumers by creating content in many formats – long and short, shareable, informative, and even entertaining. These “social news” content leaders include both newer players like Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, and Vice as well as more traditional news outlets like the BBC and The Guardian who have shifted the content they publish to reflect consumer habits.

These publishers are all seeking new ways to generate revenue from a new breed of marketer: one that understands digital, social, mobile consumers. Marketers also need to hone their storytelling craft if they want to compete in the battle for customer attention and reach their audiences.

At a recent marketing event, actor Kevin Spacey told a crowd of content marketers “Actors and marketers – we are all the same. We are trying to reach an audience with stories.”

The future of marketing is all about storytelling. And the skills required to be successful will look more like that of actors and directors, publishers and film producers who know how to create great content, how to tell amazing stories, but also who know how to win the war of distribution.

But the real trick to becoming an effective storyteller is embodied in extreme customer centricity. It goes against the basic human nature of an enterprise to put customers first. The modern business wants to sell. It wants to grow. And it believes that it needs to push its way into the buyers trust.

Serve customers and you serve the business
As human beings and consumers, we know that this approach won’t work in the long run. We know that we need to put customers first. We need to think like human beings and we need to fight inside the business to show that taking an extreme customer centric view can produce business results.

This is why marketing is hard. This is why most marketing is highly ineffective. 99.9% or more of banner ads are ignored. And yet marketers continue to increase the budgets for online digital display. This approach is not sustainable.

So it all comes back to storytelling.
Brands will learn to partner with agencies and publishers. And they will work together to refine their narratives.

Brand stories or longer term narratives that resonate with consumers will focus on creating emotional connections based on business’ higher purpose – why they do what they do, and how that impacts their customers, employees and society at large.

Storytelling and corporate social responsibility will stop being labeled buzzwords and will become business imperatives as consumers connect with the brands who do it well and who do it consistently.

Where is marketing headed?

It is running fast in the direction of content and storytelling.

The future of content will embody these traits:

  • You will see an increasing need for marketing to push back on corporate cultures to invoke “extreme customer-centricity.”
  • Brands will create internal structures that resemble publishers (editors, writers, designers). Some will go so far as to create entire divisions like Red Bull Media House that even seek to turn a profit from their content.
  • Budgets will shift out of paid promotion like advertising and into owned content hubs that seek to attract audiences with stories people want to consume and share across their social networks.
  • Brand content will follow consumer trends to be more visual, helpful, and entertaining.
  • Leading brands will hire comedians, producers and actors and begin creating top-tanked shows like Netflix did with “House of Cards.”

The future of marketing explained above may sound like a far cry from the folks you see today who blow up balloons at your events, fly around the world with expensive ad agencies to take a few photographs in exotic locations, or manage the budgets of the telemarketing agencies who still cold call millions of people every day.

But the future will be better for all of us. One where brands bring new stories and new formats to consumers like P&G did with soap operas, One where we see less clutter from advertising we don’t want. And one where companies that don’t figure out their larger purpose are punished for their self-serving behaviors.

The future of marketing is bright. And it’s all about stories that connect with us in a human and an emotional way. Stories that inspire our minds and touch our hearts.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. And please follow along on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ or Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog for regular updates.

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Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is the CEO of Marketing Insider Group, former Head of Strategy at NewsCred, and the former VP of Global Content Marketing at SAP. Michael is also the co-author of The Content Formula, a contributor to leading publications like The Economist, Inc Magazine, The Guardian, and Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to the Marketing Insider.
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