Why Net Neutrality is Integral to Content Marketing

It really didn’t seem possible, but net neutrality, the promise of a free and open internet, is as threatened today as it was when I started writing about the issue over eight years ago.

Back then, a junior senator from Illinois was promising that, if elected president, a net neutrality guarantee would be a year one priority in the White House.

Yet after all this time, and not very successful efforts to stir up national conversation around this critical issue, the FCC is saying that a pay-to-play fast lane doesn’t compromise net neutrality. This despite the fact that as far back as 2007, Barack Obama went on record rejecting any possibility that “gatekeepers” would someday “charge different rates to different websites.” Such a system, he averred, “destroys one of the best things about the internet, which is that there is this incredible equality there.”

What’s all this got to do with content marketing? Plenty.

If the current FCC plan goes ahead, gatekeepers will indeed charge different rates to different websites. The result won’t be that those websites are “faster,” but rather all other properties will be “too slow” (and this in a country that already ranks No. 29 in global broadband speed, trailing even Estonia and the Czech Republic).

And because content marketing is defined as owned media (i.e., content a brand creates and distributes on channels it owns or largely controls), this makes net neutrality a big deal indeed.

The initial impact on content marketing will be two-pronged.

First, the channels that brands own will drag. When a few well-feathered, deep-pocketed properties can afford to pay for the fast lane, it’s not so much going to seem like they’re going fast as much as everyone else is going too slowly. Just as we know impatient users don’t sit around waiting for ads, images, and videos to load but (as stats bear out) bail on sites that are slow to load, so too will this effect chill the reach and efficacy of owned media.

Saving the internet means equal access to the means of distribution, not just to the ability to own property there.

The second chilling effect a non-neutral internet will have on content marketing is on those other channels — the ones brands don’t own but rather control (i.e., social media). There is, of course, no social media marketing without content, and already there’s a hue and cry from some quarters around the fact that Facebook, for one, is beginning to charge for content distribution. (You guys expected…what, exactly?)

Those pay-to-play fees for Promoted Posts and such, not to mention ad rates, certainly won’t be going down when web properties are burdened with the additional fixed overhead of getting into the fast lane.

This, of course, applies only to the deep-pocketed properties that will pay. Some won’t pay and may not survive as a result. Other up-and-comers will never have a chance. The next Facebook, or Google, or who-knows-what may never make it unless it is able to pony up, early and often.

The prospect of an internet that isn’t free and equally open to all comers has kept me up at night since 2007. The issue may be a new one to you. If you’re in content marketing, or any type of digital marketing at all, the time to take action has never been more important or more urgent.

Sign petitions. Write to congressmen. Lobby the FCC. Or risk major discontentment.

This post originally published on iMedia

 

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Say Hello to the Content Marketing Stack

You know about ad stacks, right?

Get ready to say hello to the next big thing in content marketing technology: the content marketing stack.

Content stacks aren’t here yet, but they’re coming. In the next couple of years, I expect we’ll see offerings from the big enterprise players: Adobe, Oracle and Salesforce.com. (IBM has a lot of catching up to do if it’s to become a player in this space.)

There are many factors driving this latest phase in content marketing evolution, not the least of which is a tangled and complex content marketing vendor landscape. There are well in excess of 110 content marketing tools on the market today, with more appearing all the time. Most are point solutions.

Acquisitions Everywhere

M&A activity is rapid and accelerating. Content marketing vendors (as well as adjacent companies, such as email marketing, social media marketing software and marketing automation software providers) are being acquired by the three large enterprise players that all hope to integrate them with their larger marketing clouds. Already, they’re beginning to use terms such as “content alignment” and “converged media” in sales collateral and value propositions.

Converged media, the blending of paid, owned and earned media, is also contributing to this trend. With content at the core of advertising, social media and PR, as well as a brand’s owned media channels, content must be unified with the ad stack, as well as with social media software.

Content stacks are necessary to consolidate the eight content marketing use cases identified in research we’ve just published on the content software landscape. No use case is an island. As organizations mature and become more strategic in their content marketing initiatives, it becomes imperative to seamlessly link execution to analytics, or optimization, or targeting, for example.

Media Convergence Drives Stack Evolution

Because content feeds paid and earned media, so, too, do use cases bleed into converged media. This is why content stacks will link with ad stacks and form the core of what we’re today beginning to call marketing clouds.

Content Tool Stack Hierarchy

Who will win the race to build the first content stack? Currently, it’s Adobe’s battle to lose. With their Creative Cloud, they’re far ahead of the game, and they have announced long-anticipated plans to integrate the Creative Cloud with the Marketing Cloud.

The Integration Challenge

But integration is easier (and faster) said than done. It must be noted that the Creative Cloud today is comprised of tools for publishers, decidedly not for marketers. Competitors Oracle and Salesforce.com are aggressively acquiring marketing-oriented software. Meanwhile, smaller, more vertical players such as Percolate, Content.ly, Kontera and ThisMoment (to name but a very few) are attracting partnerships and investment.

It’s going to be a very interesting couple of years to sit back and watch how the content marketing software vendors stack up.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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The Content Marketing Software Landscape: Marketer Needs & Vendor Solutions

Our new research report, The Content Marketing Software Landscape: Marketer Needs & Vendor Solutions, published today to help marketers navigate the tangled and complex content marketing software landscape.

It used to be so easy. You wrote content and posted it to your web site or blog.   Perhaps you did a little keyword research, or looked at web analytics for inspiration or refinement.

The content marketing vendor landscape may not be quite as vast as your programing choices, but it’s pretty darn big with well over 100 vendors offering a variety of solutions, and it’s growing exponentially as investment and M&A activity reach a crescendo in the sector. This leaves content marketers at a loss.

Content marketing has grown exponentially in complexity, and that’s before the fact that it’s beginning to also converge with paid and earned media. We’re far beyond the sign up for a WordPress account and hire a blogger phase of content marketing. In fact, Altimeter Group has identified three overarching scenarios and eight broad content marketing use cases.

To add to this complexity, each individual use case comes with a host of more granular sub-categories that must each be addressed with technology.

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Yet selecting content marketing tools doesn’t end with content marketing needs.  Integration and interoperability are major factors that cannot be omitted from any technology consideration.

Fig6b

Marketers’ questions are manifold:

  •  What content marketing tools and technologies are right for my enterprise?
  • What vendors should we consider?
  • Will our choice scale with future needs?
  • Are integration concerns being addressed?
  • What tools can help us achieve strategic goals, such as measurement and targeting?
  • How can technology help integrated owned media with paid and earned initiatives?

These are the concerns our research hopes to address.  Our new research report, The Content Marketing Software Landscape: Marketer Needs & Vendor Solutions, isn’t a scorecard  of vendor capabilities. Rather, it provides a framework, as well as a pragmatic checklist, to help marketers determine their actual needs, then to pinpoint those vendors offering the solutions that match their requirements. It won’t tell you which vendor to pick (obviously, that would be presumptuous without a much deeper, more personalized dive). But it will help narrow and define a highly mutable and complex marketplace.

As with all Altimeter Group research, The Content Marketing Software Landscape: Marketer Needs & Vendor Solutions is available at no charge under our Open Research model. Please use it, share it, and let us know what you think of it.

Crossed-posted with the Altimeter Group blog.

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Want vs. Need: The Content Marketing Software Disconnect

want-vs-need2

Here’s a scenario: It’s lunchtime. Today it’s your job to make lunch for the family. You decide to make sandwiches. In the kitchen, rummaging through cabinets, you realize you’re fresh out of bread, so you make a run to the store.

Once there, what do you buy? Bread? Or bananas?

If you responded “bananas,” you may well be a content marketer.

Recently I have been busily crunching data for a new research report on the content marketing software landscape (the full report will be available in early May from Altimeter Group at no cost). We’re sifting through piles of survey data about marketers’ content marketing pain points, their budgets, how they make buying decisions, and how these wants and needs correspond to the existing offerings from a highly varied, complex, and rapidly changing vendor landscape.

Surveys often reveal surprises, and this time is no exception. We broke content marketing solutions into a total of nine categories and asked content marketers two key questions:

  • What types of content marketing software solutions do you most urgently need?
  • What software solutions do you plan to invest in over the next 12 months?

Overwhelmingly, their answers fall into the realm of complete disconnect (i.e., buying bananas when you know you need bread).

I’m not going to give away all our research findings (besides, we’re still working on the report), but when the data started coming back, we learned that overwhelmingly, content marketers intend to spend money this year on tools that help them to create more content. “Feeding the beast” is no longer a term reserved for journalists and newsrooms; it’s a very real problem facing organizations that are working hard to create content for a proliferating number of channels, primarily in owned and earned (social media) channels.

But ask these same marketers what they actually need in terms of content marketing software solutions, and you’ll get a very different answer. They are saying that they need tools to help them find and target the right audience for all the content they’re so frantically trying to create.

There are clearly many reasons for this disconnect, but the most glaringly obvious one is a focus on tactics over strategy (i.e., on cart-before-the-horse content marketing coming before content strategy). The overwhelming majority of the content marketers we surveyed say their organization lacks a formal, documented content strategy — a statistic borne out by similar studies. For example, according to the Content Marketing Institute half of B2B marketers don’t have a formal strategy).

If there’s a clarion call for a documented content strategy, it’s spending money on bananas when what you really need is bread (or, in this case, content creation instead of finding the appropriate audience for what’s created).

It’s hard to think of a more apt metaphor for why organizations require content strategy than this disconnect between need and pain on the one hand, and budget allocation on the other.

Bear in mind it’s not an either/or proposition. Strategy is also planning against goals and determining what tools and workflows are required for an efficient and effective content marketing program. I’m by no means debunking the need for creation tools. Anyone creating content for digital channels needs them.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

Image Credit: Little Things That Amuse Me

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Content Marketing Haters Gonna Hate (And Why They’re Wrong)

When something gets big enough to attract a great deal of media coverage and conversation, it’s inevitable that not all the attention will be positive. Take Justin Bieber. Or Miley Cyrus. Both have detractors as vocal and as passionate as their fans.

content_shutterstockContent marketing is certainly no teen idol, but as interest in the topic continues to hockey stick up the charts, the naysayers are coming out in force.

Now, I can be as contrarian as the next guy, but I have yet to see a cogent, well-reasoned argument against content marketing. Instead, detracting arguments seem to be ill-conceived, knee-jerk negativity based on conjecture or downright ignorance.

Let’s take a look at the content marketing haters’ prevailing arguments — and debunk them.

It’s A Meaningless Buzzword

This argument is grounded in the belief that content marketing is basically just marketing. By that measure, so are advertising, promotion, branding, user experience and dozens of other disciplines that fall within the broader category of “marketing.”

Marketing contains many discrete areas of specialization. It’s helpful to have terminology and definitions to describe these separate disciplines.

It’s A Stupid Name

This argument is purely subjective. Sure, there are people out there who hate the term content marketing. They’ll insist on “branded content,” “storytelling,” “brand publishing” and a host of other related terms.  There are arguments against other marketing terms as well, such as “native advertising.”

Let’s just all agree to move beyond the semantics, shall we? You can argue a point like this until the cows come home. Ultimately, it doesn’t help move anything forward, or provide much clarity. Love it or hate it, “content marketing” is the industry standard term now, so learn to live with it.

shutterstock_84816412-measuring-tapeYou Can’t Measure It

Oh yes, you can. Establish the appropriate mechanisms and strategies in advance of implementing content marketing initiatives, and you can measure up and down the funnel: intent to purchase, brand favorability, awareness, amplification and so much more.

Even that shining, most exalted ROI metric can be extracted from content marketing efforts.

Doing so, however, requires discipline, strategy, tools, and an understanding of what to measure, and what KPIs matter to the brand.

Rarely are these metrics the same as the ones used by publishers, yet publisher metrics are all too frequently (and mindlessly) applied to content initiatives. That’s not content marketing’s fault. That’s a lack of planning — and maturity — on the part of marketers.

It’s Social Media

Without content, there is no social media — but content marketing is not social media’s equivalent. Content is owned media: it’s media created by a brand for marketing purposes, and distributed or published on media the brand owns or controls.

Social media can be that, but it also heavily relies upon earned media (e.g., from fans or followers), sometimes even paid promotion and distribution. Paid, owned and earned media are converging and commingling in all sorts of new ways, but pure content marketing is no more social media than it is advertising.

It’s SEO

SEO can certainly be a primary or secondary goal of content marketing — and indeed, without content there can be no SEO — but my research indicates that SEO is diminishing in importance as a stated content marketing objective.

It’s Storytelling

Like social media and search, content marketing can certainly be about storytelling, or forming a narrative to relate a compelling message about a brand. But content marketing goes beyond storytelling into utility, thought leadership, education and other initiatives that are useful, compelling and effective, but hardly narrative.

Please read the rest of this post on MarketingLand, where it originally published.

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Social Media’s Fade-Out (and Why That’s a Good Thing)

Wave goodbye to all those social media gurus. They’re about to head off into the sunset. And that’s a good thing.

By all indications, this is the year that social media will fade into the background. All those social media gurus and social media ninjas and social media experts’ volume level will no longer be perma-set at 11. It’s not that social media is going away. It’s just that it’s fading into the background. Which is a really good thing.

Social media is the new wallpaper, a highly predicable moment many of us have been waiting for. It’s an important and very distinct historical pattern.

Whenever a significant new digital channel develops, it inevitably begins its lifespan as a Bright Shiny Object. The turn of this century was all email, all the time.  Email marketing was the new new thing that dominated the digital marketing conversation for close to 10 years.

Then, oooh! Search! Paid search! SEO! Search engine conferences were the industry’s largest events. The one I was formerly involved with, the biggest one there was, recently rebranded twice: first as a “search and social media” conference, then as a “digital marketing” event.

See where this is going? Email and search now both enjoy wallpaper status. They’ve faded into the background. This is absolutely not meant to diminish the importance or significance of either as a marketing channel. Search and email still are significant, impactful and effective. “Wallpapering” is a sign of maturity and of essential integration into the larger marketing organization. Really, it’s what all those experts and gurus and pundits are fighting for.

Social media is now following search and email into the background. It’s finally mainstream, not a novelty (like having a website once was – remember?). Social media has been departmentalized, strategized, budgetized – all of which are very good things.

We’re seeing the industry shifts that corroborate this. It’s not just conferences that are rebranding and shifting their go to market strategies. Social media software vendors, SEOs, and email providers are all scrambling to reposition as content marketing purveyors. Their offerings are essentially the same as they were before, but this new positioning is more topical, and more broadly relevant.

Content marketing is the new term on everyone’s lips. As an analyst, I’m seeing (and hearing) that it’s top-of-mind with clients, technology vendors, at conferences and seminars, trade publications – everywhere, in fact, digital marketing is discussed.  There’s a sudden plethora of “content marketing experts” blathering on about the topic who you never heard of two weeks ago (a source of great amusement to those of us who have been undertaking serious work in the sector for years). “Content is king” is new all over again, even if that trope was tired as far back as when I still worked in television.

Sound familiar? It should. Content is where email was. It’s where search was, and one day, it will be where social media is headed: fully integrated into marketing, not a nice-to-have but a must-have.

Wallpaper. Really, it’s kind of the goal, isn’t it?

This post originally published on iMedia.

Image: “Sunset at sea” by Jan-Pieter Nap

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Content Marketing Goes Far Beyond ‘Storytelling”

storyTo effectively create content marketing, you must be a master of storytelling.

True?

Nope.

Storytelling can indeed be an important, if not critical element of content marketing. But it’s not the be-all, end-all of content marketing strategy.  Now, I like a good story as much as the next person. Four of the most magical and riveting words in the English language are “once upon a time.” A story is a wonderful way to capture attention and interest. But it’s not the only way.

Recently I took part in a panel discussion on “branded content.” The proponents of that term asserted that all “branded content” is contingent on a marketer’s ability to tell a good story. Certainly content marketing tells plenty of great ones, from classics like Unilever’s Dove Real Beauty to newcomers like First Kiss, which (though arguably a stealth campaign for Wren Clothing),  was as narrative as it was riveting.

But there are two other types of “branded content.” (OK, I dislike that term, which has its roots in print advertorial, from which is probably picks up the storytelling association.  From now on let’s just use good, old-fashioned content marketing).  Storytelling plays little, if any, role in these types of content, but both types of brand-generated content can be equally as effective as brand storytelling.

There are three types of brand-created content marketing (as distinct from content not created by a brand, e.g. user-generated content, ratings, reviews, aggregated and curated content). The first bucket, content that entertains, is what generally falls into the storytelling camp. Think entertaining videos and other forms of narrative entertainment.  The two other types of content marketing are:

1. Educational or Informative Content

This type of content is  used in B2B or long-sales cycle purchases. Think automotive. Consumer electronics. Computers. Appliances. Consulting services. Much of it centers around how-to’s, or what to look for when buying…a flat screen TV; child safety seat; a mainframe computer. Different elements of this type of content are often geared to the sales cycle, or around educating customers around a new product category.

Educational/informative content can be thought leadership: white papers, opinion pieces, executive or specialist blogs, new product introductions. It can be instructional (how to use, set-up, activate, make an informed decision). Or it can cross- or upsell additional products and accessories for an existing purchase, e.g. why you might need a new attachment for that lawnmower. Or mixer.

Bottom line, it’s helpful, useful, instructional, and helps all along the purchase cycle, from awareness through to purchase, brand loyalty and advocacy.

2. Utility Content

Utility content is utterly devoid of story. It exists to help consumers get something done, e.g. complete a task, provide highly timely or tailored information, or understand a need. Most often, utility content takes the form of an app or a calculator. Ever calculated an interest rate on a bank’s website? Looked up calories, or a recipe from a brand’s database of ingredients? Then you’ve used utility content.

Because this type of content is app-ified, it’s gaining tremendous momentum on mobile devices. Think Better Homes & Gardens real-estate tool. Location aware, it locates nearby properties for sale, but also delivers information about average sale prices in the neighborhood, nearby schools, taxes, and other information a home buyer needs to make a purchase decision. Sit or Squat, an app developed by Charmin, is the Yelp of public restrooms, helping people who gotta go find the nearest accessible public restroom, complete with ratings and reviews (likelihood of toilet paper, or cleanliness, for example).

In fact, as I write this column in-flight, I’m realizing I just used Delta’s app to check in and ascertain my status on the upgrade list (alas, no dice). At the gate, I got a push message from Marriott telling me my room is ready at the other end of my journey.

All of the above is content. All of it is – or can be – branded. Only some of it tells a story. And that’s OK.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

Image: http://windling.typepad.com

 

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