Is “Content Marketing” on the Brink of Going Mainstream?

3 minute read

Upland Admin

Mainstream wall graffitti_The Content Marketeer

Image credit: Lee Winder via Flickr.

While outside of marketing and advertising circles (and even within) mentions of “content marketing” are often met with looks of perplexity, a recent article in Advertising Age is the kind of media coverage that could move the term into the mainstream lexicon.

In “Content: Marketing’s Best Hope, or More Hype?“, editor-at-large Matt Creamer tunes into the provocative content v. advertising/PR debate that’s been circling inside the industry for some time. Creamer’s thesis is this: “Whether content marketing can emerge from the current noise as a central part of the marketing mix is a matter for debate.”

He proceeds with three relevant points of skepticism: “[T]he era of Big Content has yielded big questions—about effectiveness, about clutter and, perhaps most dreaded, about bubbles.”

Passing through each with a point-counterpoint approach, the notion of a “content bubble” gets tackled first. JWT content-strategy director Kyle Monsoon’s argument that “CMOs might not want to hear about clever content campaigns anymore, because they’ve traveled that road before and didn’t see the ROI” is met with the challenge that “[a]s experimentation gives way to systematization, the metrics—soft now—will firm up.”

For the remainder of the article, Creamer posits criticisms—about quality, saturation, and results—in his own voice and seeks answers from companies at the forefront of the aforementioned systematization. Shane Snow, cofounder of Contently—a new-school (read: “anti-content-farm”), journalist-powered content provider—speaks to a shift from “proxy ROI” (like social-media engagement). He’s backed by Weber Shandwick’s Parker Ward, who notes, “With an effective content engine, it costs less to bring a visitor to a platform through content than display advertising.”

The key word in Ward’s statement, as successful content marketers know, is “effective.” Which is precisely what our publisher, Toby Murdock, tackles earlier in the article. Indeed, only those brands that truly embrace their roles as publishers will be able to gauge the efficacy of content marketing. But it must be “real content marketing,” meaning: “They produce substantial volumes of content—a minimum of five pieces a week—that are not about their own products but about the interests of their customers. Only such substantial operations can produce real results.”

For brands like marketing-automation firm Eloqua and Indium, a provider of soldering supplies, the results have been very real. Their content marketing programs led to $2 million in 2010 revenue and a quarterly increase of 600 percent in customer contacts, respectively.

Creamer also mentions, American Express, and Red Bull. But those are simply among the most high-profile cases. Numerous other brands are reaping the benefits—hard and “soft”—of content marketing.

Coincidentally, the Marketeer has been analyzing many of those efforts since 2011, and we will be releasing the results next week as our inaugural 50 Brands to Watch in 2012 package. Like the AdAge article, it’s sure to incite some debate and skepticism, two things content enthusiasts should firmly embrace as our metrics are more precisely honed and “content marketing” takes its rightful place in the mainstream.

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