In 1895, John Deere launched The Furrow, a magazine that taught farmers about technology and managing their business. Many cite it as one of the first examples of corporate storytelling. Throughout the 20th century, brands caught on to the idea of wooing customers through valuable content and began to produce guides, print publications, host educational radio shows, and even publish comics.
More than a century passed before content marketing became a formal discipline, however, and nowadays, brands can’t stop talking about it.
At this year’s Content Marketing World, an annual conference put on by The Content Marketing Institute, I spoke with both brands and industry influencers about what the future of content marketing looks like. Here’s what they had to say.
“The exciting thing for me is that even though content marketing is hundreds of years old as a discipline, it’s still in an immature state. If brands start thinking about it like a media company would, but instead of monetizing through paid advertising or paid subscriptions they sell more products and services or keep their customers longer, we’re going to see some really exciting things in that area. Smart brands will go all in and commit to content.
Over the next 12 months we’ll see a huge move in acquisitions from brands that sell products and services to buying media companies, blogger sites, and influencer sites. There won’t be that much difference between media companies and brands – they’ll just monetize differently.”
“I think we’ve only scratched the surface on personalization. There’s so much data that we’re sitting on, but we still don’t have the tools (or the right way of thinking about it) to get true insights that can help us provide services, communications, and content that is personalized down to the last node. Brands will need to be extra disciplined to understand the types of customers they can have a relationship with, plus how to get really niche and timely with the experience they create. The next level of content marketing for brands will be always delivering the right content, in the right language, to the right person at the right time.”
“Humans have always been great storytellers, but now, with the advent of sophisticated marketing technology, the way we’re going to tell these stories will be incredibly targeted and emotional. Data will make us much more effective storytellers.”
“Four years from now content marketing will be synonymous with marketing. In 2008, Seth Godin said that content marketing was the only marketing left, and I think this is especially apparent at the Content Marketing World, where you can see the evolution of the industry. By 2020, this event won’t be called Content Marketing World 2020, it will be close to Marketing World 2020.”
“I think long-form content is the wave of the future. We all talk about short attention spans, but I think there will be a backlash here. In 2020, content marketing will look like the Amazon Kindle bookstore. Think about Kindle Singles, which are Kindle books that are 10,000 words or less and are sold for around $3. These are quick reads – very inspiring – I can get what I need and go on my way. That’s the kind of format we’ll see in content marketing. Everyone talks about video as the future of marketing. I’m gonna go against the grain a little and say that video is important, but long-form content in a consumable, nicely-packaged book format will also be popular.”
“The role of a sales professional is changing dramatically because the buyer is much more savvy. Sales will have to figure out how to embrace content as a way to deliver value before getting down to business before and selling.”
“We’re going to continue to see the surge in audio popularity. I think we’ll see a wide-scale adoption of podcasting, and it might not even be called podcasting. Cars will have push-button access to a lot of audio channels, like Apple CarPlay. Let’s face it, a lot of people are spending time in cars nowadays and the only activity that is available to them is listening to audio. I think content marketing will be fundamentally different than it is today because the way that consumers and prospects receive content will change deeply.”
“I think great content at this stage has to be primarily image and video-based. It has to be primarily mobile-first, and it has to be primarily and innately social where people can easily pass it on to others. Also, I’m very bullish about augmented reality and virtual reality being the next platform. I don’t know if we’ll be there by 2020, but I’m often reminded of Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired. He says that technology happens very slowly and then all at once. We’re in the real slow phase with augmented reality, but when it happens, it is going to happen quickly.”
“We’re still producing really long content that’s hard to digest, even though we’re largely on mobile phones. I think the content will be delivered in much smaller, more valuable chunks.”
“We see a lot of 3D virtual reality development and also the hologram. I personally think all those technologies will impact how content is created and encourage us to embed content into product development. Content marketing will probably become synonymous with user experience.”
“In 2020, content marketing will be all augmented reality (AR) overlays. AR allows you to be rooted firmly in your environment while adding a whole new layer of context to the mix. I think we’ll have a whole different vision going on.”
“Hopefully there will be more of a focus on quality instead of quantity. This is something we’ve talked about for years, but it still hasn’t been done. Hopefully, over the next few years, we’ll start to focus on less – but better.”
“Content marketing will be central to everything we do. It may not be called out as such – as content marketing, as we do today – it will just be marketing. It will just be the primary way we communicate with customers. I think there’s a rich future, because people love content: visual content, written content, audio content – all kinds of content.
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