Content marketing has been an integral part of marketing at most B2B companies for most of the past decade. In every annual survey conducted by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs (beginning in 2010), about nine out of ten surveyed B2B marketers have reported their company was using content marketing in some form.
Given the widespread popularity and near universal adoption of content marketing, you may be surprised to hear that some marketing industry analysts and thought leaders are contending that it’s time to think about content marketing differently.
For example, Gartner has suggested that the term “content marketing” will soon become obsolete. In the 2018 Magic Quadrant for Content Marketing Platforms, Gartner writes, “By 2021, the term ‘content marketing’ will be defunct as all marketing content rises to high-quality expectations of attention-limited audiences.”
In an October 2017 article at Forbes, John Ellett argued that it’s time to stop treating content marketing as a distinct marketing discipline. He wrote, “For the past several years, content marketing has been all the rage and has been viewed as a discrete discipline within marketing. With no disrespect to the great folks at Content Marketing Institute who have done amazing work in helping marketers better understand the value of content, it’s time to quit developing content marketing strategies and start developing plans for how content supports marketing strategies.”
These views aren’t intended to suggest that content marketing is no longer effective or valuable. Instead, they simply reflect the fact that content marketing is maturing in a normal fashion.
The Gartner hype cycle is often used to track the evolution of marketing techniques and practices. In the hype cycle framework, a new marketing practice usually receives a huge amount of hype when it first appears, which leads to the spread of inflated expectations for the practice. When a practice fails to live up to these unreasonable expectations, many people become disillusioned with it, and some abandon it completely. But in time, some marketers develop more realistic expectations for the practice and begin to use it productively.
We also frequently see a parallel pattern in the evolution of some marketing practices. When a new marketing practice begins to receive a significant amount of hype, a gaggle of “experts” soon appears to help companies adopt and use the practice. These experts usually describe the practice as a new and distinct marketing discipline. Some even argue that the new practice should replace other marketing methods, and that the “old” rules of marketing are no longer applicable. In time, however, astute marketers recognize that the fundamental objectives of marketing haven’t changed, and they begin to view the new practice as a tool for achieving those objectives.
We can see this pattern in the evolution of content marketing. As its popularity and use have grown, we have come to view content marketing as a distinct marketing discipline. Overall, this has been good because it has supported the rapid development of a substantial body of knowledge about how to do content marketing effectively. The downside of this approach is that it makes it easy for us to view content marketing as an end unto itself.
The essence of content marketing is the use of informative or entertaining content to, as the Content Marketing Institute puts it, “attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and ultimately to drive profitable customer action.” Such content is used to “fuel” marketing communications programs that are designed to achieve a variety of marketing objectives, many of which have remained largely unchanged for many years. Therefore, what we now call content marketing is really about using a distinctive kind of content to achieve long-standing marketing goals.
So, it’s important to first define our marketing goals, and then determine how to use content to reach those goals. I believe that in time content marketing will cease to be viewed as a discrete type of marketing strategy or method. It will be assimilated into the fabric of marketing, and it will simply be the way marketing is done.
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