Last year Gartner released a study about the five top emerging trends in digital marketing. One of those trends was the “rise of big content.” Julie Gauthier (@JulieGTR) reports Gartner’s study concluded, “Content is the most important thing marketers can do and yet they’re unequipped to take it on from a skills and sourcing level.” For the record, not all Gartner analysts buy into that conclusion. Augie Ray (@augieray), a Research Director at Gartner, insists, “Content is not king. It is important — vital, in fact — but it is not king.” He explains:
“A new study from TrackMaven demonstrates that while brands continue to pursue greater content production strategies, they are getting less engagement for their effort. This is an outcome that a simple supply-and-demand analysis could have predicted, and it demonstrates once again why customer experience is the real king.”
Ray is highlighting a conundrum facing all marketers — consumers prefer content marketing to “in your face” advertising, but, providing them content in an acceptable way remains a challenge. Gauthier adds, “Most marketers understand how important content is for their audience and their overall marketing strategy, but they critically lack resources/skills to either create good content or source good content to curate.” Greg Satell (@Digitaltonto), a well-known business consultant, believes he knows why consumers aren’t taking the bait on content marketing’s hook — too many content marketing ads are simply “a longer-form version of the same old ads.” He argues, “Marketers need to change their approach. … Today, not only have audiences fragmented, requiring a more targeted approach, but digital activity is tracked — so even if you succeed in building brand awareness, your rivals can retarget those consumers with competing offers.” Both Ray and Satell make valid points. Finding the right combination of content and experience is difficult. How difficult? Laurie Sullivan (@LaurieSullivan) reports that content engagement is decreasing, which means it’s faltering. She notes, however, “Twitter is the notable exception, where engagement rose slightly throughout 2015.” But even the growth of Twitter users is stagnating. She continues:
“Similar to Web sites or display advertisements, the content needs to become dynamic with the ability to change and adapt to the channels in which the person searching for information will view it. Verizon, AT&T and other telecom carriers discovered that early on as they set out to make their content delivery systems dynamic with the ability to convert one file to serve in a variety of formats. Don’t confine the content to social sites.”
Ray agrees content engagement is falling; but, as he noted above, part of the blame for that decrease has to do with supply and demand. “Consumers may be multitasking more,” he explains, “but they still have just two ears, two eyes and so many hours in the day to consume media. Media consumption has risen, but nowhere near the pace of media production.” What that says to me is targeting continues to narrow as businesses try to reach the right consumer with the right offer at the right time. More granular targeting has been too expensive in the past. However, the age of big data has fostered the emergence of cognitive computing systems capable of handling much more advanced analysis than has been previously possible — and none too soon. Larry Alton (@LarryAlton3) notes, “Content marketing strategy is one of the most popular online strategies nowadays, and for good reason. It’s generally hailed as a cost-effective strategy that generates compounding returns over time, as the longer you remain consistent with your approach, the more growth you’ll inevitably see.” That will only remain true if consumer targeting continues to become ever more refined.
Larry Levy, Executive Vice President of Business Development at ScribbleLive, agrees a content strategy is important but he insists that the consumer, not the business, should dictate what that strategy should be. “The best campaigns,” he writes, “come from marketers who spend their time understanding the customer journey, listening to and quantifying the types of conversations that happen along that journey, and weighing in at key points with content that educates, informs, and entertains.” He continues:
“The key point to remember is that customer conversations are usually not focused around our brands, as much as we might wish they were. They’re about the customers’ needs and desires. A consumer tech brand might hope and think that customers want to talk and hear about the latest and greatest product specifications of its newest phone. But, in fact, those conversations are more likely to be about how such products fit into their daily lives and make important tasks easier. Brands need to listen to the interest of the market and be poised to weigh in with solutions that are both authentic and credible. Only then do product features become relevant to consumers and welcome in their decision-making processes.”
I agree with Levy. As I have noted in previous articles, the customer is king on the digital path to purchase. The revolutionary philosophy underlying content marketing appears oxymoronic — that is, providing content not directly aimed at selling. Dr. Lee Frederiksen, a managing partner at Hinge, explains, “If you regularly provide high-quality information that is relevant and educates buyers, you will not have to sell. … When you educate, prospects will see you as an expert and also be more likely to trust you.” The difficult challenge, of course, is discovering what constitutes “relevant” information to your target audience. Levy adds, “Marketers must understand that a data-driven approach to content marketing will often uncover topics they might not like. It’s not always going to be rainbows and roses when it comes to conversations that are relevant to your brand.” Honesty, however, develops trust and trust brings consumers back to future content. Satell recommends every company ask, “What value are you offering for exchange?” He explains, “The main advantage of content is that, when done effectively, people see it as an exchange of value rather than an interruption. It offers the resources and expertise of an enterprise to customers and partners in a way that holds their attention and builds an ongoing relationship.” Another benefit of this approach, Satell notes, is that it transcends “changes in the marketplace, the audience, and even the personnel who initiate it.”
Satell also agrees with Ray that experience and content must go hand-in-hand. “Most marketers have become aware of the importance of user experience in products and websites,” he writes, “but ignore it when it comes to publishing and producing. Instead, they fall back on traditional marketing conventions such as targeting and messaging. That may work for a 30-second spot or half-page ad, but is less effective for creating a compelling experience.” The fact that rising generations get most of their content on their smartphones will play a major role in how both content and experiences are served up in the years ahead. Virtual reality may play a significant player in this regard as manufacturers offer systems that serve both as a phone and virtual reality platform. The only things that look certain in the foreseeable future are that content and experience are going to remain important in the consumer’s digital path to purchase.
 Julie Gauthier, “How to adapt your content marketing to the rise of big content,” Scoop.it!, 19 May 2015.
 Augie Ray, “Content Isn’t King–Customer Experience Is,” Gartner for Marketing Leaders, 13 February 2016.
 Greg Satell, “Why No One Is Reading Your Marketing Content,” Harvard Business Review, 9 December 2015.
 Laurie Sullivan, “Content Engagement Drops To 2.19 Interactions Per Post Per Brand,” Search Marketing Daily Search Blog, 12 February 2016.
 Larry Alton, “Is your content marketing strategy paying off?” Scoop.it!, 9 July 2015.
 Larry Levy, “How Data-Driven Content Marketing Draws in Target Audiences,” Martech Advisor, 17 February 2016.
 Lee Frederiksen, “What Every Managing Partner Needs to Know About Content Marketing,” Hinge, 14 September 2015.