What is the future of content marketing?

In a world where five per cent of branded content gets 90 per cent of the engagement, the green-field opportunity for B2B brands in content marketing appears to be closing. Where does this leave marketers? 

Our research of over 500 European C-suites revealed that two-thirds of the C-suite couldn’t care less about branded content. When we asked them about the barriers to their content consumption, they told us that branded content lacks credibility, and that too many brands go down a self-serving route that doesn’t add value.

Despite reduced cut-through, brands are producing more content. CMI 2018 benchmarks show that content marketing is growing in double digits, with marketers planning to increase their spend for next year. As B2B marketers, creating engaging campaigns that will cut through the noise should be your top priority.

This is certainly a challenge for marketers, but the picture is not as bleak as it may seem. Our research found that despite the struggle of brands to cut-through,a majority of C-suites are open to branded content as long as it is genuinely useful and offers a new point of view. Over 60 per cent of the C-suites surveyed, described themselves as either ‘hungry’ or ‘pragmatic’ in their content consumption.

While content marketing and thought leadership has become a much nosier space for brands to play in, there are still opportunities to grab. So how should brands proceed to create impactful content programmes?

To answer the question, we brought together leading marketers to share the findings from our research at our event ‘Back to the future of Content Marketing’. We were joined by Carrie Osman, Founder and CEO of brand consultancy CRUXY & Co who gave a keynote on the strategic principles that produce excellent work and Jeremy Waite, Evangelist at IBM, who shed light on how AI will change content marketing.

Here are our key takeaways:

1. Invest in long-form

In a world obsessed with micro-content, the majority (70%) of C-suites are still looking for in-depth thought leadership to engage them. Freddie Ossberg, CEO and founder of Raconteur poses a question to those who believe that the key to success lies in 140 characters or less.

“How come that despite studies showing that our attention spans are dropping, book sales are increasing? Brands are moving to churn out bite-sized content quicker, when their audiences are looking for more in-depth, intelligent analysis.”

The research backs up this observation, showing that the preference is still for long-form, written thought leadership with only 30 per cent of C-suites believing that the future of content lies in short-form.

2. Do less, and do it better

Carrie advises brands to be bolder, and not be afraid to take a stance.

“To engage the 71% of C-suites that find branded content boring and bland, marketers need to start doing less, and doing better. So many businesses churn out content that is a five or six out of ten at a fast rate. But if you pinned all of the work up on the wall at the end of the year, how much would you as a marketer be proud to put your name to? Brands that want to succeed need to invest in quality and start producing work that is a nine out of ten.”

Freddie explains brands’ reluctance with the fact that we have ‘entered the performance era’ of content marketing. Internal pressure to impact the business’ bottom-line — quickly — is the driving force behind branded initiatives and content marketing is no exception. However, for those marketers wishing to drive results merely playing in this space is not enough. If you want to win the content game, you need to outperform the competition.

“The research shows that content marketing is like the film industry — if you want to be successful, go big and aim to be the best. Brands need to ask themselves, what is our Lego movie or our Bourne trilogy?”

3. View your work through your audience’s eyes

In order to achieve better work, brands need to understand how their audiences view them. Jeremy explains, ‘Brands are obsessed with building relationships with their audiences, not realising that their customers aren’t after relationships — they want experiences, and the best experiences win’.

New technologies, like AI, will have a huge impact on marketers’ ability to deliver personalisation, and creating bespoke experiences. The opportunity going forward, according to Waite, is to see everything your brand does through the eyes of your audience. Design — in everything from UX to look and feel — has a huge role to play for cut-through.

“We’ve thought for a long time that it’s the survival of the fastest, but like the research shows, engagement comes down to the survival of the prettiest. In order to create the best experience for our audience, design is crucial for success”.

What do brands need to do going forward?

Content marketing may have reached maturity as a discipline, and although there’s increased competition there’s still a huge opportunity for brands that invest in doing content well. Creating a strategy around your audience’s needs is key, but the execution is equally important.

Here are the four principles from our research around create engaging content going forward:

CREDIBILITY. Embrace the power of partnerships. Without credibility your content will be ignored. 51% of the C-suite we surveyed think content produced by brands lacks credibility. Partnerships can hold the key to increasing the credibility of your content.

DEFINING AN EDITORIAL POSITION. 71% of C-suites think branded content is boring, expected and repetitive. With increasing competition it’s never been more important to differentiate your brand with an ownable point of view and a perspective your audience can relate to.

THE IMPORTANCE OF DESIGN. The battle for attention is usually won or lost within the first few seconds. According to 57% of C-suites, most brands don’t take design seriously enough. Don’t let design be an afterthought, as it can be the difference between success and failure.

LONG-FORM VS SHORT-FORM. In a world obsessed with micro-content, the majority (70%) of C-suites are still looking for in-depth thought leadership to engage them.