This article was originally published on CMO.com.
If you look at the investment flowing into content marketing, it’s clear the promise of this space has moved well beyond setting up simple blogs and hoping for a lift in SEO or social sharing.
In the last 18 months, we’ve seen hundreds of millions in venture capital moving into position. Take, for example, Taboola ($117 million), BuzzFeed ($50 million), Outbrain ($35 million, with a possible IPO this year), NewsCred ($25 million), Contently ($9 million), and OneSpot ($5 million led by Mohr Davidow Ventures), to name just a few.
Similarly, investors have also shown a strong commitment to emerging players that will continue to reshape the content marketing space. Examples include Triblio ($3.4 million), Atomic Reach ($2.8 million)—significant early-stage funding levels for any industry—and Written ($1 million).
Take the big and small transactions all together and you can easily count your way to more than a quarter of a billion investment dollars that have moved into content marketing in the last 18 months.
Why so much interest? Because investors are recognizing the dramatic shift taking place in marketing. With relatively young elements of the marketing mix like social, mobile, and online content now having graduated from experimental new channels to full-fledged staffed and budgeted pillars of digital marketing, it’s obvious the train has left the station and is turning out to be more of a rocket than a locomotive.
While content marketing technology is growing stronger, the space is still clearly in the early stages. Consider the evolution of brands’ needs as they’ve started to adopt content marketing. It wasn’t so many years ago that predictions of brands becoming more like publishers and media companies sounded radical and futuristic. When that idea was first deemed worthy of pursuing, marketers’ initial reactions were heavily, if not fully, concerned with generating content. That first stage of content marketing was all about creation.
But just because you built it didn’t necessarily mean people would come. With the unfulfilled hopes of attracting audiences via SEO, social channels, and email newsletters, marketers began to turn their attention to paid distribution. Content discovery networks and native platforms have grown steadily and today are helping brands drive basic traffic and engagement at scale. This second stage of content marketing has been all about distribution.
Now we’re entering a new, third stage. Inexpensive clicks and first engagements are great. But how great can they be if they don’t directly help brands build relationships with consumers and ultimately drive business results?
This yet unmet need leaves marketers asking questions like: Who were those people that clicked? What did they do next? Did they come back for more? Do they believe in my brand promise more than they did before? Did we increase consideration or preference? How should I spend my next content marketing dollar?
These are tough questions. And not coincidentally, their answers hold the key to delivering on the optimism implied in that recent investment I mentioned.
In this next stage of content marketing, these needs and questions will be addressed by new ways of doing content marketing. A wave of new technologies and techniques are being applied to drive more success from content marketing. Programmatic marketing, machine learning, content analytics, sophisticated attribution models, and more are changing marketers’ capabilities and expectations for content marketing.
More specifically, brands are starting to recognize that repeat engagement—delivering multiple pieces of content to the same targeted users—is the way to build relationships with content. And as you might expect, repeat engagement correlates strongly with business and brand level results.
Think about it this way: One of the core underlying principles of content marketing is the concept of brand storytelling. Clearly, it would be nearly impossible to get across your whole brand story—and get consumers to believe in it—in just one sitting. It takes constant reinforcement and multiple engagements over time to fully deliver that story. Obviously, frequency alone can’t be a silver bullet. Using data and personalization to make content more relevant to consumers will only grow in importance.
This ability to get closer to consumers and actually impact what they think, feel, and do is the next and greatest opportunity for the content marketing business and brands who rely on it. New technology solutions and a new mentality about what’s important in content marketing are moving this dream closer to reality every day.
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