Everyone and their brother is talking about this new marketing strategy elixir called Content Marketing. You’ve heard good things about it, but what is content marketing?
Before trying to sell your C-Suite on a new content marketing strategy, or adopting it for your firm, read this. Because these questions will invariably come up, here’s a brief history of content marketing and how it can help you achieve your business goals.
Why Content Marketing and Why Now?
Content marketing as a general concept is not an invention of the internet age. Marketing through “content” is as old as advertising itself. In fact, snake-oil salesmen of the 1800s were probably some of the first “content” marketers.
Today, content marketing is all grown up. Now content marketing is a key budget category for multinational agencies and top brands. Content is used to sell everything from essential oils to fighter jet engines. And for a good reason.
Content marketing has risen to prominence by proving its worth. The ROI is better than many other existing types of marketing collateral. This is particularly true for B2B brands and high-priced consumer products.
The customer journey today is longer and more complex, meaning that customers are viewing more digital touch points before they buy. Media distributed through paid and unpaid media channels, such as social or search, are playing a bigger role in purchase decisions.
Thus, content marketing pieces are having a greater impact and a longer half-life, and it just so happens the costs to produce and distribute this content works out great for modern advertisers.
What Caused Its Rise?
It’s very useful to understand the key forces behind this rise in content. It turns out that in this case, there are five key shifts in the internet and modern media that spurred on the content revolution.
The Rise of “Spammy” Content
Not all shifts were positive, of course, particularly the first one — the rise of spammy content. As more businesses realized the potential profit from ranking highly in the SERPs, competition for page rank exploded. That meant more content, and eventually, more low-quality content. Some content farms sprung up to serve high-volume, poorly written content to the masses. Things got even worse for a bit with wholesale PLR (private label rights) content, that spread more low-quality content across the web.
The Google Panda Turning Point
However, the era of spammy, bad content came to an end in early 2011, when Google rolled out its first “Panda” algorithm update. This and later algorithm tweaks effectively killed the SERPs dominance of low-quality content and the content farms that produced them.
The New Budget Priority
Of course, there was still money to be made for the companies that could rank at the top of SERPs, and now there was an incentive to budget for high-quality value-adding content. For many firms, the ROI of a content strategy had already been proven, making a bigger budget allocation more acceptable.
The Social “Paywall” Factor
Around the same time as Google’s algorithm shifts, social media giants began to shift their algorithms to monetize what had previously been free advertising for brands. The institution of paid reach on Facebook had a massive effect on brands. It was in effect a paywall, where one day, brands were asked to pay for their posts to be shown to a fraction of their thousands of page fans. And brands did pay up because social is still a necessary channel. However, this again forced brands to look at what content they were posting and sharing more critically, resulting in better content.
The Falling Barrier to Entry
On the other hand, as Facebook was putting up an ad paywall, the barrier to entry for independent content publishers basically collapsed. The easy-to-use WordPress CMS spread to take over nearly a quarter of the web and to eliminate many technical problems for novices. “Sponsored content” and journalists working as content creators shed the associated stigma. And consumer audiences learned to enjoy and engage with the high-quality content being produced by brands.
But What Does It Do?
Which brings us to the modern day, where content marketing consists of high-quality, value-adding content that engages prospects and customers — both B2B and B2C — through multiple digital touch points in a longer, more complex modern customer journey.
But what can you do with that, you say?
For starters, content marketing is great for increasing a user base or brand audience, particularly with startups. Content usually gets digested by audiences and spit back out at the brand, in the form of feedback that can be useful for improving products or services. Content marketing can build your audience into a more savvy group of consumers, through an industry education strategy, or into a more faithful and trustworthy group of supporters, particularly if you use your content to create a compelling brand narrative.
Now that you know the backstory, you won’t be surprised to know that content marketing is still growing. ROI is still good, even as more firms enter the market. Budgets are growing, and every day, new businesses connect with their audiences through new and interesting content. If you have not yet tried content marketing for your business, now is the time.