Are Content Brands The Future of Marketing? An Interview with Ann Handley

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In this series, I am trying to uncover insights into the Future of Marketing. To help guide our path, to drive our plans and to help us all to start dreaming BIG!

You’ve already seen my own marketing predictions on the future of marketing. But now I want to continue to bring in ideas from the greatest minds, the thought leaders and the social business innovators in our industry. We have already heard Mark Schaefer discuss the future of search. And SAP’s Marcus Starke predicts marketing will start to be run more like a business.

But now, I could not be more excited to bring you this interview with my Twitter idol, content rock-goddess and a truly wonderful person, Ann Handley (@MarketingProfs).

ann handley - content brandsTell us: who is Ann Handley?

Here are the facts: Since 2002, I’ve been the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a training and education company. I’m co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (Wiley, originally published 2011. Paperback 2012. Translated into nine languages, including Turkish, Chinese, Korean, Italian, Portugeuse.)

I’m a monthly columnist at Entrepreneur magazine, and the co-founder of ClickZ, which was one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary. I spent my early career as a business writer and editor.

So those are the facts. But temperamentally, I’m an artist, who went to school to study story, writing and journalism and was drawn, in due time, to business. My evolution from the world of writing and literature to the world of business seemed happenstance at the time, but it now seems lucky and plenty fortuitous. In this new world of marketing and social business, all of us can learn a lot from storytelling, and particularly journalism — which respects the content and the audience above all.

Tell us about a tough or interesting challenge you / your team faces

In a world where every brand is a publisher using content to help them sell their stuff, what does that means for a traditional publisher, who generally has no “stuff” to sell other than the content itself?

How are you approaching that challenge?

For MarketingProfs, it’s meant a shift in focus to two primary areas: professional development (for those who are serious about learning the how-to of marketing) and marketing services (for those who are looking for help marketing their product or meeting their goals).

In other words: We’re tapping into our inherent strengths as the source for the latest in marketing advice and know-how to help brands navigate this new world in two ways:

  1. by offering comprehensive and customized training and education for marketing staffs (we’ve been providing online learning since 2001, so we are pretty familiar with how to do this well); and
  2. by helping brands plan and implement lead-gen programs that will drive business to them, and by helping them reach audiences and amplify their message in a fragmented digital environment.

It’s not quite a true pivot of our business model, but it is a refinement that gives clarity to the role we play in the broader marketing world.

What’s your prediction for the future of marketing?

I think we’ll see fewer brands publishing content and, instead, more Content Brands. With a capital C and a capital B.

Doug Kessler articulates this well in his recent piece at MarketingProfs: Six Principles of Great Content. In the article and deck, he stylishly encapsulates and extends many fundamentals C.C. Chapman and I talked about in Content Rules. Specifically: Creating momentum, being strategic, and seeing content as a rich opportunity – and not a one-off task.

Those who kill it with content in 2013 and beyond are those brands that view publishing as a privilege. They are the ones who create content that is packed with utility, empathy and inspiration. They are rewarded with customers who love and trust and believe in them.

Does that sound a little aspirational and a little daunting? Yes. But is a Content Brand critical? Yes.

Also, Vine will be the new Instagram (assuming it gets its act together and exterminates the bugs and other jank annoyances). I haven’t been this excited about a new social platform since I joined Instagram two years ago (and by “joined” I mean “became obsessed with.”) It’s more of a challenge than Instagram (video is inherently more challenging than stills, especially at 6 seconds long). But still.

Why? Like Instagram, it’s easy to make art with it — it puts the tools of wizards into the hands of us Muggles. It makes the everyday into content – and trains you (as I often talk about) to see content moments everywhere. And I love the six-second clock on the video: Because it trains you to distill the essence of your story – to keep it tight, as Tim Washer and I say — into something that respects your audience’s time investment. I articulate this more fully in Vine – Stupid, Simple, and Brilliant

In a nutshell, I love tools that enable and challenge us all to create things that are fun, interesting, and (ultimately) beautiful.

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Are you becoming a Content Brand? Let us know what you think in the comments below. And follow the conversation on Twitter (@BrennerMichael or @MarketingProfs),  LinkedIn, Facebook or Google+.

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

6 thoughts on “Are Content Brands The Future of Marketing? An Interview with Ann Handley

  1. This marks the first time I’ve seen the term “jank” on a B2B marketing blog. Further proof that Ann Handley is a trailblazer in ways people don’t always appreciate. Aww yeah!

    1. Thanks Doug, I picked up on that word right away and asked Ann if that was the word she meant. She then sent me the link to the definition and we had a good laugh that she was schooling me on how to talk “street.” She’s amazing and I am really honored she took the time to share her thoughts here. Thanks for yours as well!

  2. When my team launched Nitrogram, I immediately took on the role of creating content. I had experience writing articles on a more personal level, and a marketing-driven education, but that was about it. So, I spent a lot of time acquiring knowledge on how to write content. Of course, I learned a lot from Ann’s articles, so it’s nice to get a bit more context about her and MarketingProfs today.
    Thanks Michael for this interview.

  3. I hope Ann’s right; I think that brands will have to get a lot more creative, however, if they are going to reach that differentiating level of “utility, empathy and inspiration” that she mentions. For one thing, it will mean pushing out beyond the typical, text-centric definition of publishing to embrace, well, anything and everything.

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