Ask the Experts: What Is the Biggest Change to Content Marketing in the Last 5 Years?

July 18, 2016

The hottest smartphone of 2011 was the iPhone 4. It had a 960x640-pixel display, 512 MB of RAM, and a five megapixel camera. It was absolutely state of the art. People stood in line for hours to get their hands on one.

In 2016, you couldn’t give an iPhone 4 away—not when the latest phones have twice the screen resolution, eight times the RAM, and more than twice the camera power. In the rapidly-evolving world of mobile devices, five years is an eternity.

Marketing is one of the few industries that move as quickly as the tech sector. We can look back at what we were doing just five years ago and marvel at how naïve we all were, how different the environment was back then, and how much more sophisticated we must be to succeed today.

When we were putting together The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing, we asked our panel of experts to take a look back into the ancient history of content marketing, way back in 2011. Read on to explore what was state-of-the-art then, and what modern marketers should be doing now.

What is the biggest difference between content marketing five years ago and content marketing today?

Ardath Albee, CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist, Marketing Interactions

Five years ago, content marketing was about “becoming a publisher.” Today, marketers realize that becoming a publisher is only step one. They’ve begun to realize that publishing without a strategy is ineffective, limiting the performance of their content marketing programs. The same is true for the need to understand their audiences and the recognition that this information should drive that strategy. Pushing out content you want to publish is a lot different than executing a successful content marketing program that connects with customers by delivering meaningful experiences that are contextually relevant.

Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group

Content marketing five years ago was the realm of rebels. We stood and saw the waste going into advertising and promotion and said "enough." There was a small and passionate group of early evangelists like Joe Pulizzi, Ann Handley, Jay Baer, Lee Odden, and Andrew Davis. And there was a small group of early adopters like Marcus Sheridan, Todd Wheatland, Joe Chernov, Amanda Maksymiw, Julie Fleischer, Tim Washer, and others who led the way.

Now, you have titled positions inside large corporate brands. People with “Chief Content Officer” and “VP of Content Marketing” behind their name are driving real maturity in the content marketing landscape.

Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder & Strategic Director, Orbit Media Studios

Back in the day, there were more green pastures. It was easier to get traction in larger, more general categories. Now, competition for attention is more intense in more industries. It's more difficult to win attention for bigger topics because marketers and brands have already moved in, claiming the advantage in all three content marketing channels.

  • They've built the domain authority through links (search optimization)
  • They've built a large list of subscribers (email marketing)
  • They've built a following and online networks (social media)

The best content marketers combine search, social and email marketing.

But it’s not too late. The things that make it hard to compete against them will eventually make it hard to compete against you. The advantages that you build in content marketing are durable and cumulative. You will eventually be a force to be reckoned with yourself.

The key today is to pick your battles. There is still plenty of opportunity to win an audience if you niche down to a more specific, less competitive topic. They're smaller, but the pastures are still green.

Pawan Deshpande, CEO, Curata

Content marketing has advanced significantly along 3 main fronts:

People: Five years ago, the typical CMO’s response to the question “What’s the priority of content marketing within your organization?” was “What’s content marketing?” Today, leading CMOs have put content marketing at the top of their priorities list for 2016. As proof of this, investment in this area continues to grow each year, and over 43% of companies have an executive in charge of content marketing.

Process: Although much work is still needed in the area of content marketing process, it has no doubt progressed in five years. Content marketing processes are beginning to advance from the old state of being stuck as a disparate set of tactics executed by small, disconnected teams. Companies are beginning to put in place the organizational structure and processes to enable a collaborative effort for creation and curation of the best content that a company can provide for its audience. Leading companies now understand the potential impact of content marketing on awareness building, lead nurturing and sales enablement. However, there is still a long way to go.

Technology: There has been a mind-numbing proliferation of technology vendors and solutions to address the needs of content and digital marketers. Curata’s content marketing tools map  has increased from 40 vendors to over 130 vendors in its most recent version. A new movement is now in place to build a more cohesive and useable software platform that will build upon marketing automation and sales automation platforms to enable content marketers to drive more impact across their organizations: The Content Marketing Platform. This platform is a software solution that helps marketers be more successful in driving awareness, leads and revenue from their content. It enables a data-driven, scalable and multi-channel approach across four content process areas: strategy, production, distribution (publication and promotion) and analytics.

Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz, Moz

A lot has changed, but I think, more than anything else, the last five years have reduced loyalty and attention to almost unrecognizable levels. No one subscribes to just a few feeds or just a few accounts on social media. No one's messages have a shot at reaching 60 or 70% of their audience - even the audience that's opted in and said "I want to see what you're sharing." All of the social networks have substantially reduced reach. Email deliverability and open rates continue to shrink. RSS readers are barely alive anymore. Earning your audience's attention five years ago was relatively easy (or at least, much easier) if they'd already connected themselves to you. Today, that advantage is gone - a subscriber doesn't mean what it used to, and I doubt it ever will again.

Every new message you want to send will have to pierce the cacophony of noise that overwhelms us in the digital age.

Ann Handley, CCO, MarketingProfs

First, we’re long past the days when creating content for search engines is an effective practice. We need an audience-centric point of view first, and that comes from a strategist.

Second, quality matters a whole lot more than quantity these days. It used to be that publishing regularly was enough to boost you in search rankings and customers would find their way to you. We’re beyond that now. You need to be creating content that has real empathy for the audience you are trying to reach.

Doug Kessler, Creative Director & Co-Founder, Velocity Partners Ltd

Five years ago, just doing content for your prospects was enough to make you stand out.

Now it isn't. Everybody's doing it.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that there are so many ways to do it better. The content production platforms are better. The content distribution options are legion. The analytics apps are more granular. Marketing automation is slicker…

But the single biggest difference?  Now there are lots of fantastic, smart people with real, front-line experience who are ready to help – like Ann Handley, Joe Pulizzi, Lee Odden, Jay Baer, Marcus Sheridan… the list goes on.

Lee Odden, CEO, TopRank Marketing

Five years ago content marketing for many companies was simply about creating more content.

As the practice of content marketing has matured, more marketers are creating higher quality content that not only provides self-directed buyers with answers to the questions that lead them through the sales process, but also content experiences.

Visual content, more creative storytelling, and interactive content contribute to experiences that inform and create an emotional connection with buyers. Brands are still creating more content, but it's held to a higher standard by customers.

Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute

Five years ago, most everything was experimentation and campaigns.  Although this is still the case, more organizations are defining a real, integrated content marketing strategy and approach as a key part of their marketing process.  In other words, this is serious business.  At the same time, some, who started off with lackluster results have become disenchanted and need to take a fresh look at the approach.

Craig Rosenberg, Co-Founder & Chief Analyst, TOPO Inc.

Five years ago the message was, “go create lots of content consistently.” Today, I would argue that it’s not about creating a cadence if you have to sacrifice quality to achieve it. This doesn’t mean we need to move away from bite-sized chunks. It means we were wrong about the quantity game. B2B consumers want deep, rich content that helps them do their job better.

The lens we use to view results is also different. For example, it’s okay to produce something really cool and not put a reg form in front of it and measure the number of leads. Actually, it’s almost better to let the content run free. It’s not just the top brands hosting webinars, shooting video and publishing eBooks. These are the table stakes. Everyone is. To stand out, create that amazing piece of long-form, quality content and let it run free. Accessibility and convenience can be an advantage. For example, a CIO is NOT going to fill out a reg form – let them get to it. Your brand equity will increase as a result.

For more expert insights that can help you create a winning content marketing strategy today, download The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing.

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