The shelf life for online marketing trends gets shorter and shorter every year. Whether they’re social media trends that get abused and then ignored – like #FollowFriday or Like-gating Facebook pages – or SEO strategies that Google writes algorithms to overcome, there is a certain trendiness to online marketing. And trends usually follow a predictable bell curve pattern: A few early adopters pave the way for industry leaders before the trend is accepted by the general masses. By the time late adopters sign on, the trend – from fashion to diets to marketing – is on its way out, and the next new thing is on the horizon. As we see and hear more and more about inbound marketing, and especially content marketing, it’s only natural to be skeptical. Is content marketing just one more trend, about to start its decline? Is content marketing, as an advertising strategy, about to become so pervasive that buyers will only ignore it? Have the early adopters already moved on to something new? Some marketing trends fall flat on their faces (and deserve to). Others turn into long-standing best practice, but the true returns and long-standing proofs of effectiveness roll in long after that new-trend-smell has worn off. Part of the art of marketing is telling the difference between marketing trends we should pay attention to, and those that are a waste of time. What should your instincts be telling you about content marketing?
No one opens an internet browser hoping for pop-up ads, or scours the web looking for the latest banners. Most equate online advertising with junk mail, and treat it accordingly – sort it out and get rid of is as quickly as possible. People have been marketed to with pushy ads and flashy headlines for so long that they simply don’t trust, and try to block out, online ads. No one needs stats to be convinced that online ads are annoying, but consider:
Thirty-two percent of buyers feel that online advertising is ineffective, and while there is definitely a disparity between what people think they are influenced by and what they actually are influenced by, the perception of online advertising is clear. Its future is not bright. Consumers are even starting to “opt out” of online ads. Services like AdBlock and AdFender are the “Do Not Call” lists of the internet, providing ad-free experiences for their users. AdBlock, for example, boasts of over 300 million downloads, and is the most popular extension for Google’s own Chrome web browser.
A frequently cited strength of small and medium businesses is agility – the ability to change courses quickly in order to keep up with the marketplace or respond to new challenges. It’s easier to turn a sailboat than a cruise liner. So when the cruise liners change course – when enterprise level corporations restructure and rethink their systems – something big is happening. If content marketing was destined to be a here-today-gone-tomorrow trend in advertising, the goliaths would not be swayed. But they are. Enterprise content marketing is on the rise:
The B2C examples of content marketing of course have mass appeal. The Coca-Cola, for example, has been developing a content marketing strategy, called Content 2020, for years. Vice President of Global Advertising Strategy and Excellence at Coca-Cola, Jonathan Mildenhall, explained, All advertisers need a lot more content so that they can keep the engagement with consumers fresh and relevant, because of the 24/7 connectivity. If you’re going to be successful around the world, you have to have fat and fertile ideas at the core. Red Bull’s Stratos project appealed to their market of extreme sport enthusiasts (and wannabes). The energy drink giant spent about $65 million – and coordinated with NASA and the U.S. Air Force – to send daredevil Felix Baumgartner to the edge of space for the highest freefall jump ever. Eight million people watched the jump live on YouTube, and millions more have seen and heard of it since. Examples of B2B content marketing abound as well. Xerox has a huge market in the healthcare sector, so their content marketing team created HealthBiz Decoded as a resource for new perspectives on industry news and trends. IBM was one of the first enterprise corporations to start blogging, and today IBM Research sets the company apart with high-quality journalism and expansive expertise. From General Mills to Cisco, the world’s largest brands are changing the way they speak to buyers, and investing more and more resources in content marketing. This is more than a fad.
“So what now? If I just start writing content, people will come, read it, and buy from me?” Sorry, it’s not quite that straight forward. But the truth is, your future customers are already looking for you. To the extent that people hate being marketed to, they love to be entertained, and as much as they aren’t looking for your brand, they are looking for information that your brand can provide. Buyers are already seeking. They are already digging for answers, solutions, and content that appeals to them. What you meet them with – banner ads and marketing messages vs. resourceful/helpful/useful/entertaining content – will determine whether they run the other way or stick around and turn into customers. Over the last decade, the internet – and especially social media – has helped the marketplace find its voice. Buyers don’t want lectures and billboards or anything that interrupts them. They want conversations and relationships, and they are extremely loyal to brands – big or small – who will engage with them and equip them. That means content marketing is not just a buzzword or a new spin on the same old outbound strategies. Content marketing is about authentically engaging with a new marketplace. It may take on new expressions and outlets as technology continues to change, but as long as relationships and conversations drive human interaction, content marketing will be here to stay.