The Big, Ambitious Future of Content Marketing

September 11, 2018 Nicole Bump

To start off this post,  I invite you to take a few minutes to peruse the following videos:

7Up Music Lifts You Up from Fake Love on Vimeo.

Philips Presents: The Longest Night - Trailer from T Brand Studio on Vimeo.

Destination Pride • Case Study from Dave Laing on Vimeo.

What do each of these pieces of content have in common? They have meaningful purpose in the world. 

The 7UP brand has long had a connection to the music industry, and in this piece, the brand uses that connection to help hearing-impaired individuals experience music in a new way.

Philips is investing in sleep technologies because many people around the world have sleep disorders. The brand tells the story of an Icelandic fisherman to show the devastation of insomnia, and while the video showcases the brand, it also aligns perfectly with their messaging: "There's always a way to make life better."

The Destination Pride app assesses different locations around the world and uses infographics created with the Pride Flag's colorful stripes to illustrate how safe they are for the LGBTQ community. The app literally helps this community find their place in the world.

Everyone needs purpose and meaning.

Finding purpose and meaning were key themes at this year's Content Marketing World, held in Cleveland September 4-7. 

Kathleen Diamantakis, Managing Director of Strategy, T Brand at The New York Times, shared these meaningful content pieces in her keynote at the event. She explained that we must find meaning both in what we create and consume. Currently, our content can feel empty. We are getting noise instead of signal. Small talk instead of memorable conversations.

This is symptomatic of what is happening in our greater culture. Only 50% of people report that they have meaningful face-to-face interactions in their everyday lives, and only 25% have someone to share their personal problems with. Our daily interactions aren’t all that satisfying, and our relationships aren’t rewarding us the way we need them to. 

Only 50% of people report that they have meaningful face-to-face interactions in their everyday lives, and only 25% have someone to share their personal problems with. —Kathleen Diamantakis, T Brand at The New York Times

Content is one cause of this epidemic. The average person spends 7.5 hours consuming content or media every day. Most of us spend two hours a day on social media alone (three hours if you’re part of Generation Z)—and research shows that spending as little as ten minutes on social media worsens our mood.

Kathleen warns that if we’re not careful, we’re going to find ourselves in an epidemic of meaninglessness. What we consume as humans and what we create as marketers can hopefully rectify this situation, but we need to change our approach now. 

We can begin by comprehending that we’re part of the bigger world. We have a real purpose, and that purpose has some worth. Then we apply this understanding to the content we create and put out into the world.

Brands must elevate their conversations.

Ron Tite, Founder & CEO, Church+State, shared a similar sentiment in a Content Marketing World session titled "The Death of Content Marketing. The Rise of Content Marketers." Ron shared the idea that while the worlds of content and advertising used to be clearly delineated, they are now blurred. Any ad can be content if it’s good enough. Any piece of content can be an ad if it’s authentic enough.

How do content marketers play in this world?

The answer is that we need to elevate our brand conversations. We need to stop being content marketers and be marketersPeople used to vote with their wallets and now they vote with their time, so we must provide value for that time in all of our marketing. Brands must therefore define their purpose for being in the world and use it to drive all of their marketing.

Ron puts forth a three-step approach:

1. Think 

People are exhausted from being pitched. We have to think bigger and elevate the conversation to something the brand and its consumers actually care about. Then, we can use this "something greater" as the red thread through our marketing. Start by finishing the statement: “We believe that…” For example, REI's statement is "We believe that a life lived outside is a life worth living." It is NOT "We believe we should sell you tents."

2. Do

Many of us define our brand values and publish on our websites. Ron says: "I don’t care about reading your values. I should experience your values." Once you understand what your "something greater" is, go out and live it in the world.

3. Say 

Once we have found our "something greater" and used it to guide our actions, then we have something worth marketing and worth talking about.

It comes down to stepping above the tactics to stand for something meaningful. 

Same is lame. Brands must be different. 

Just a few short years ago, most brands were figuring out how to publish more content. Now, we're at the point where most markets are saturated. It's time to slow down, differentiate ourselves and do a better job at distributing and amplifying our efforts.

Andrew and Pete, Founders of the content marketing agency Andrew and Pete, explained in their session "The Competitive Edge: How to Create a Unique Content Spin in a World of Copycats" that there are two ways to stand out in a crowded space:

  1.      Be better. Top 1%. Easier said than done. Impossible for everyone to be the best.
  2.      Be different. In a way that is remarkable and gets people sharing, commenting, backlinking.

It's statistically unlikely that any given brand can succeed by being the best, so we have to strive to be different. Jay Baer, President, Convince & Convert, agrees and explains that competency doesn’t create conversations. In his words, "Same is lame." Jay recommends that the best way to build your business is for your customers to do it for you, but you must give your customers a story to tell based on an operational differentiator. He calls these "talk triggers" and explains that they must be remarkable, repeatable, reasonable, relevant.

For example, you probably think of a specific hotel just by seeing this photo:

You thought of DoubleTree, right? Giving every guest a warm cookie at check-in is remarkable—and it aligns with the vision they've defined for their brand of "filling the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality." The cookie is a talk trigger that gets customers to do the brand's marketing for them. To bring it back to Ron's Think, Do, Say approach, DoubleTree thinks they should fill the world with warm hospitality. The do it by offering every single guest a warm cookie. They can say this cookie is a differentiator—although, with a good talk trigger, the customers will do the saying for you.

In many industries, it seems like all brands are saying the same things. How can your brand break out of the mold? Andrew and Pete insist that we should not be looking to our competitors for ideas: "If you're just playing follow the leader, you'll always be one step behind." Instead, look to the leaders in the medium. If you want to launch a podcast, consider who else does audio really well. Break them down into the bare elements that make these leaders successful, then put your own spin on it. 

If you're just playing follow the leader, you'll always be one step behind. Instead, look to the leaders in the medium.

—Andrew and Pete

Andrew and Pete took this approach when they created their podcast The Andrew and Pete Show. Instead of creating yet another podcast of marketing professional interviewing other marketing professionals, they modeled their podcast on one of their favorite BBC radio shows. The result is their show that "combines all the fun and games of a radio show, whilst interviewing some of the most inspiring and knowledgeable marketers and entrepreneurs on the planet!"

The takeaway here is that most content professionals are scrambling to get more and more content out the door. We've become our own publishing companies—often at the expense of differentiation and distribution. It's time to slow down and find or create something remarkable about our brands that's worth talking about.

Content professionals should contribute strategically.

Both Ron Tite and Shafqat Islam, CEO and Co-Founder of NewsCred, believe that it's the content marketing teams that are uniquely poised to break down the traditional silos that inhibit this more integrated, meaningful approach to marketing. Ron explains: "This is the sweet spot for content marketers. The ad folks don’t get it." Why? Because the content experts already understand we have to elevate ourselves internally to have good conversations across platforms. 

Shafqat agrees that our current opportunity is to orchestrate all of the content that gets produced and shared across channels to do better integrated marketing. His hypothesis is that it is high performing teams that create the high performing content and will be able to transform marketing organizations into integrated, cross-functional teams.

Heather Whaling, Founder & CEO, Geben Communication, explains that content itself will soon become the data that drives strategic business decisions. In addition to using data to inform our content creation, content can actually BE the data that generates insights. Content results and performance measurements can be used to help with higher level strategic planning. 

For example, many business leaders are completing their 2019 strategy. They will then pass that business strategy to the marketing organization to put a marketing strategy in place that will achieve their goals. But there is not much input from the marketing organization on that business strategy. This is a big opportunity! 

Whaling recommends that our content data should create value for the organization, which ultimately helps to bring more budget to the department. There are opportunities for content data to cascade throughout the organization to inform human resources, product development, customer service, fundraising, client retention efforts and more. Whaling explains that one of her clients conducted some Twitter ad testing in which there was one clear winner that drove significantly more clicks and conversions. This information could also be used to help sales team determine what messaging to use when speaking with clients.                                      

Content teams must do the measurement, take the numbers, and turn these numbers into the insights that can improve the organization as a whole.

Quote-y Conclusion

Keynote speaker Tina Fey may have summed it up best: "Don't be afraid to contribute. It's your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you're adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile."

"Don't be afraid to contribute. It's your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you're adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile." —Tina Fey

It's time for content marketers to grow into the strategic marketers they are destined to become, pulling together teams that can help brands find unique purpose and communicate it effectively through integrated, meaningful marketing.

As Joe Pulizzi says, "If you go into your CMO with your content marketing plan, and it's accepted the first time, you're not thinking big enough." Think big, aim high and take the risks.

This is the future of content marketing. 

About the Author

Nicole Bump

Nicole Bump, Director of Content Marketing is responsible for developing the Harte Hanks content strategy, bringing this strategy to life through the editorial board, generating much of the company's content and managing the Harte Hanks social presence. A writer at heart, Nicole also enjoys evaluating ways in which new technologies can enable better content production, distribution and measurement.

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