I participated in an interview by Jeffrey Davis from Original9 last week and was asked this question for the first time ever:
“When will B2B marketers take their content programs to Pulitzer, NMA, Oscar level?”
It’s an interesting question, and one for which I don’t have a very good answer. Traditionalists will say that because brands always have an ulterior motive for their content (to attract and/or retain customers in some way), that type of content quality will never be possible.
With that, I strongly disagree. All content has a point of view; some is just more obvious about it than others (think Fox News).
I have more to add to this. But first, a few stories…
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About 10 years ago, while at Penton Media, one of our publishers in the material-handling market was complaining about one of their advertisers launching a large research report. This was a problem because our magazine had a competitive research project, which required sponsorship to fund. My biggest surprise was not that this advertiser launched a research project or that it was competing with our project. What I couldn’t believe was that our publisher said that we simply could not compete with the advertiser’s resources. Hmmm.
Then, earlier this week, I keynoted the Interactive Advertising Bureau‘s town hall on content marketing. (If you are not familiar with IAB, it’s the association of media companies dedicated to setting guidelines for interactive advertising.) The day was enlightening, filled with amazing case studies about how brands are working with media companies to both create and distribute branded content. Although many of us disagreed a bit on the exact definition of content marketing, one thing was clear: Media companies now understand the new reality that is content marketing, and are incredibly concerned about the future of online content. Many in attendance spoke of the opportunities for media companies, while the majority were outright worried about the future.
And they should be.
This is not a post about how publishing is dead. Far from it; in fact, publishing has never been stronger. What is dying is the business model of ad-supported content. The dozen-plus amazing examples shared at the IAB event provided ample evidence of brand-supported content (like the example to the right, from Cisco Systems), rather than ad-supported content (as in traditional models).
There is nothing to fix here, and no toolkit for marketers or publishers. This is just the truth and, as such, it presents opportunities and challenges for both sides. But from my perspective as a publisher, here are the new paradigms that I see content marketing being driven by:
Brand publishers and media companies have the same goal
Big goal = audience that leads to subscription. Brand publishers are challenged with trying to get found in Google, drive leads, and figure out social media. At the center of making all this happen is storytelling. It’s all about brands creating helpful, valuable, and compelling stories that position them as trusted experts in their fields. That content, if worthy, will convert casual, passerby readers into loyal ones. In turn, those loyal readers may then be converted into loyal customers.
Media companies are trying to do the same thing. Exactly the same thing. The only difference in this business model is that media companies are supported by different revenue streams (paid content or sponsored content).
Brand publishers have almost unlimited resources
A lot has been made of Coca-Cola’s content strategy. The company is investing millions, but let’s put that into perspective:
Coke’s content marketing is a needle in a traditional advertising haystack. It’s simply a rounding area. If Coke ever decided to really get serious, it has more money and resources than any media entity in the world to develop world-class content.
The same goes for virtually every well-known brand. Publishers need to face the reality that brands will always be bigger and stronger than publishers (think “The Matrix”). And this is just the beginning.
Brand publishers are competing for the best talent
At the IAB event, a publisher was overheard saying, “Thank God for brands, or all my journalist friends would be out of a job.”
Most journalism jobs are going to the “dark side.” It’s the new reality of the discipline and will continue to be the case — and let’s face it, most brands could use some help from skilled, experienced storytellers.
To survive, traditional media companies are trading on trust
There is a big opportunity for publishers to provide an audience for brands, whether it’s through custom content programs or native advertising and sponsored content deals. Brands want to leverage the trust and loyalty readers have for media companies and transfer some of that goodwill to their brand.
This means that publishers, not brands, need to police the branded content. One improperly labeled piece of sponsored content, or poor piece of branded content on the network, can destroy a publisher’s reputation (just look at what happened in The Atlantic situation).
Publishers need a distinct set of guidelines for how they should deal with content marketing from brands.
Today, it’s already a messy business, and the issues have only begun to surface…
Hear more of Joe Pulizzi’s perspective on the future of content marketing during his keynote address at Content Marketing World Sydney. Register now for this landmark event, taking place March 4-6, 2013 in Sydney, Australia.
Cover image via Bigstock.