Sir Isaac Newton said that what goes up must come down. It’s a principle that applies to digital marketing trends as it does to baseballs and airplanes.
Of course, while all trends are subject to laws of gravity, some are granted a bit more hang time.
Some fads burn incandescent and quickly flame out or slowly fade away. Others trends are longer-lasting, following the full arc of the Hype Cycle, arriving at the plateau of productivity for a dignified salute.
Take, for example, content marketing, which has ranked near the top of digital marketing spending priorities for the past several years (see “CMO Spending Survey: Eye on the Buyer”; subscription required). This year, Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing showed this category on the decline—rounding the peak of inflated expectations and flirting with its slide into the trough of disillusionment.
Does this mean that content marketing is doomed to fade away?
Hardly. It simply means that there’s cause for vigilance—and perhaps some rocky roads ahead.
Earlier this year, my Gartner colleague Kirsten Newbold-Knipp and I published research that pointed to the maturation of content marketing as a practice, from experimental to operational (see “Content Marketing Comes of Age”; subscription required). This research, of course, focused on the best practices of the most progressive content marketers. Brands that already get it.
However, plenty of others are still fumbling awkwardly to adapt to the age of brand publishing.
I heard these findings echoed back last week in Cleveland, where I attended the fifth annual Content Marketing World. It was an impressive event—its size, scale, quality and attitude testament to the energy around the content marketing movement.
I had a chance to spend some time with Joe Pulizzi, the founder of the Content Marketing Institute, producer of Content Marketing World, and widely considered one of the most influential voices in content marketing.
Joe is a showman who wears perfectly orchestrated orange accents to amplify his brand. But while he’s an enthusiastic promoter of the content marketing movement, his comments struck a cautionary tone.
He said that, while last year’s tone reflected unbridled optimism, this year he’s seeing disbelievers. He said that we’re now starting to see more failures than successes—and they’re becoming public.
Joe shared what he sees as the causes of these failures; offered here with some light editorializing:
They focus on campaigns, not conversations—where content marketing is executed with a beginning and an end explicitly to drive short-term results for the business.
They’re more about the brand than the audience—where marketers focus on their value proposition more than their values; where the brand—not the audience—is the hero in the story.
They’re impatient for impact—where executives expect content marketing efforts to ring the cash register on a short horizon—and, when it doesn’t, they deem it a failure.
They tell undifferentiated stories—where your content is lost in a cacophony of competing content—or, worse, when a brand’s content sounds exactly like its competitors.
They target too many audiences—where brands fail to focus on a serve a niche, instead casting a wide net with content that’s one size fits all—but, more likely, all sizes fit none.
Joe mentions bold-faced brands like Red Bull, Lego and Marriott that clearly get content marketing.
“These are content-first brands,” he says.
And they’re also eons ahead of the average content marketer. They’ve bet big on content marketing.
While he’s no less enthusiastic about the promise of content marketing, Joe recognizes that we’re in the earliest innings of the game. “Now,” he says, “is when the hard work begins.”