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.

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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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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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Micro Content, Maxi Effect — How Shifts Toward Visual Content Will Impact Marketers

The written word seems to be on the decline, at least in the online space. Articles and white papers have morphed into blog posts and status updates. Hashtags, acronyms and emoticons stand in for sentences. OTP, BRB, LMK, OK?  :-)

How low can you go? In a year or two, 140 characters — a miserly allotment now — will seem a luxury, a vestige of an era marked by logorrheic verbosity.

If you doubted it before, believe it now: a picture really is worth the proverbial thousand words. Maybe more.

Opinion? Sure. But the facts bear this out. Facebook keeps redesigning to feature bigger, bolder images. Oh yeah, and the company bought Instagram for a cool million. Videos now auto-play on the platform. Yahoo, meanwhile, snatched up Tumblr. Twitter continues to make images and videos a more prominent part of the user experience. And don’t forget the increasing popularity of Pinterest, YouTube, and SnapChat — you can easily see where all this is going.

Research, too, bears out the hypothesis that visual (and audio-visual) content is subsuming the written word. As an analyst, when I ask marketers about the types of content and media channels they’re leaning toward in the future, all forms of written content are on the decline, from press releases to blog posts.  Investment is around multimedia and images.

Content types

The chart above highlights the reason behind this shift in the we communicate online: mobile. Simply put, no one’s about to read War and Peace on a smartphone. Mobile means a lot of things, but mostly it means that screens are getting smaller. The smaller the screen, the pithier information must be in order to be comfortably communicated and absorbed by its target audience.

Ease of use is key here as well. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter don’t create content, rather they enable its dissemination — and if no one updates their status, then these platforms don’t stand a chance. Clearly, it’s a lot easier to upload that shot of your Hawaiian vacation (or delicious lunch, or mischievous puppy) than to narrate in detail why such things are interesting — especially while using your thumbs and combating auto-correct.

Content Strategy Implications

That content is becoming shorter, less verbose and more visual obviously has tremendous ramifications for content strategy. Here are three major points to bear in mind.

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

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Content Marketing: What’s the Big Idea?

bulbrite-g30-main-white-lgThe beginning of content marketing is content strategy, a governance structure that addresses why content is being created, what goals it addresses, and how, tactically, that content will be created, produced and disseminated.

Content strategy is essential. It strips away tactics and bright shiny objects (“We need a Facebook page/Instagram/Tumblr/Vine account! All the cool kids have one!”) and addresses the essential questions: Why and How?

Yet there’s an additional and very essential element of content strategy that’s much less discussed, albeit no less important that well crafted and well reasoned goals. The very best, most successful and essentially most sustainable content strategies all center around a Big Idea.

What’s the Big Idea?

Take IBM.  IBM is a ginormous, multifaceted, global conglomerate offering a broad palette of products and services. What Big Idea could possibly unify their diverse offering? Simple (but smart): Smarter Planet. If you look at the initiative’s home page, you’ll immediately see the Smarter Planet idea easily encompasses every industry vertical, global territory, channel and capability that IBM offers – or serves.

As diversified and complex as IBM may be, the company seems almost one-track when compared to a conglomerate like GE. From transformers to light bulbs, media to microwaves, commercial lending and power grid infrastructure – how can all this possibly be united under the governing principle of a Big Idea?

It can: Ecomagination.  The concept works for B2B, B2C, home appliances and municipal water supplies. Ecomagination is the concept that GE content ladders up to, and is accountable to. It’s no abstraction.  Ecomagination is clearly defined by the company as, “Ecomagination is GE’s commitment to build innovative solutions for today’s environmental challenges while driving economic growth.”

The beginning of content marketing is content strategy, a governance structure that addresses why content is being created, what goals it addresses, and how, tactically, that content will be created, produced and disseminated.

Content strategy is essential. It strips away tactics and bright shiny objects (“We need a Facebook page/Instagram/Tumblr/Vine account! All the cool kids have one!”) and addresses the essential questions: Why and How?

Yet there’s an additional and very essential element of content strategy that’s much less discussed, albeit no less important that well crafted and well reasoned goals. The very best, most successful and essentially most sustainable content strategies all center around a Big Idea.

Arriving at the Big Idea

The Big Idea is way, way too big to belong to the content team alone, or the social media group, or communications. The Big Idea is (yet another) Big Reason – particularly in an era of  converged media – for smashing silos. Every marketing message must incorporate, address and answer to the Big Idea. It’s therefore the responsibility of every marketing division to arrive at what the Big Idea is, and to effectively communicate it to all internal and external stakeholders.

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

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What to Measure: ROI or KPIs?

Digital marketing is constantly evolving and rapidly changing. It’s full of new technologies, new tactics, and new innovations. Yet there’s one constant: accountability. There’s an expectation that no matter how new, how cutting edge, how experimental or untested, it will all be perfectly measurable.

The reality is all digital marketing is and always will be measurable — but not always along traditional lines. And you can’t always measure what you most want to measure.

Analytics can reveal lots of insight, but there’s a staunch unwillingness to accept (in some quarters) that the exact knowledge desired might well be akin to reading tea leaves rather than spreadsheets and dashboards. This leads to a world of unrealistic expectations and flat-out delusions. As I wrote earlier this year:

“Everything is measurable, but not necessarily right out of the box. That’s why publisher metrics are applied to native advertising campaigns (though goals are widely divergent), and way too much stuff is measured in terms of “engagement,” which means something different to everyone who utters the term. A trend I’d really like to see in 2014, in addition to all kinds of good metrics such as the ability to attribute ROI and measure accountably while aligning with goals, is a readiness to admit that it’s just too early to apply hard-and-fast, unalterable metrics to brand new stuff we’re all still trying to figure out.”

Otherwise put, and very wisely so by Mashable’s CMO Stacy Martinet in a talk last week, “There’s a right metric for every campaign. But you have to figure out what it is, and you have to explain why to the boss.”

The right metric isn’t always ROI, but too often, ROI is the default, go-to metric to which marketers are being held accountable. Software manufacturers are under the same pressure. “How can we build ROI accountability into our dashboards?” is a question you hear over and over again in product meetings.

ROI is a wonderful thing. But it’s not always possible to track every single effort down to a dollars-and-cents return. Often, it’s not possible — or even the most desirable outcome. It’s also perfectly valid to have a goal of, say, message amplification in terms of social shares. If your YouTube video was shared 1.4 million times, that metric tells the right story.

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

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Is There Really a Content Glut?

credit: "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life"

credit: “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life”

You are just beginning to wrap your mind around the fact that content marketing is the new “it” thing in digital marketing when you hear it’s over. Too much noise, not enough signal. Too much content. Too much bad content. No one will ever find your content due to the glut of other content incessantly pouring into digital channels at an accelerating, unceasing rate.

You may as well hang it up and go home. Better yet, if you haven’t already, don’t even start doing this whole content marketing thing.

This argument, surfacing recently in a spate of blogs and articles, is as pointless as it is predictable. You may as well argue that you shouldn’t market via email because of spam. Or (as was suggested in a recent interview), claim it’s time to trash your website because all websites “look alike” and are “boring.”

These are kneejerk reactions to disruption, more indicative of human nature than they are of the efficacy of new marketing strategies and techniques. Here’s what’s really going on:

  • It’s cool to be the first to the party.
  • It’s even cooler to declare the party’s over before anyone else does.

Only with content, you can’t do that because content is a constant. As I’ve said before in this column, content is the atomic particle of all marketing. No content = no website. No content = no email. No content = no social media, advertising, “creative,” DM, you name it. All those tactics and formats are, in effect, content envelopes.

Has a surge in the popularity of content marketing foisted more bad content upon us? You bet it has. So what else is new? Bad content, boring content, superfluous content — the world’s always been full of it and will continue to be full of it.

Even bastions of impeccably produced content, The New York Times, for example, can be tarred with this brush. For more decades than I’m willing to admit, as a print edition subscriber, my first act of the day was to bend over, pick up the paper, and chuck the sports section. That (to me, at least) is boring, superfluous, irrelevant content (though I can appreciate that you may be of an entirely different opinion). This did not, however, impel me to “turn off” my New York Times subscription.

If there’s a content glut, it’s because we’ve reached that very predictable stage in the disruption curve when a trend becomes a bandwagon. This results in spray and pray tactics, irrational exuberances, content “gurus” emerging from every quarter (most of them were social media gurus yesterday, and search gurus a couple of years back).

I won’t dispute for an instant that bad content is being created at a healthy clip. But I do disagree that all this noise drowns out the genuine signals.

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

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Nine Digital Marketing Trends to Watch in 2014

crystal-ballLongtime readers know not to expect a list of annual “predictions” so prevalent in trade publications this time of year. After all, I’m an industry analyst. Un-endowed with the psychic abilities that would enable me to read crystal balls or entrails, I must instead rely on my innate powers of observation and analysis.

That’s not said casually. Observation and analysis of digital marketing and media is what I do.  Based on industry movement, technology developments, and industry trends, these are the areas I’ll be watching most closely in the new year.

  1. Enterprises Organize for Content  The hue and cry up to a year or so ago from content marketing evangelists was “hire a chief content officer!” The sentiment behind this exhortation was and remains correct: content strategy is the foundation of content marketing. To create, maintain and enforce strategy, guidelines, processes, governance and guardrails are entirely necessary. However not every board is disposed to create a new C-level position. That’s why companies are taking seriously the need to organize for content marketing.  Last spring we identified six real-world models. Expect to see companies begin to adopt these with some alacrity in 2014.
  2. Native Advertising Will Surge Brands, publishers, agencies, technology vendors – virtually the entire digital advertising ecosystem has a stake in the ground when it comes to native advertising. The IAB and the FTC have chimed in with the beginnings of defining the space and the rules of engagement. Virtually all the members of the Online Publishers Association now offer some form of native advertising, and major brands are allocating budget for serious experiments. You’re going to hear a lot more about this form of converged media (paid + owned) in the coming months.
  3. Real-Time Marketing Another form of converged media is real-time marketing,  the strategy and practice of reacting with immediacy in digital channels.  As more channels and media operate in real-time, and as real-time events such as television converge with digital channel on mobile and social media platforms, virtually all marketers will be challenged this year to define a real-time marketing strategy, and indeed to determine what real-time means for their organization and marketing efforts.
  4. Content Marketing ‘Stacks’ Emerge It’s already happening. Adobe has formally announced what we’ve long known they would: their Marketing and Creative Clouds will merge. Oracle bought Compendium and Eloqua (expect Salesforce to do something very, very similar quite soon – ExactTarget isn’t quite in the content bucket).  This trend indicates 2014 will usher in an important new chapter in content marketing maturity: end-to-end, cloud-based technology solutions similar to ad stacks, rather than the boutique array of much more limited solutions that are currently available. This matters not just as a technology play, but as something that will make content a safer and more integrated enterprise investment.
  5. Media Continue to Converge Paid, earned and owned media continue to collapse into blended forms of marketing. This trend is only accelerating with consumer trends such as cord-cutting, that make platforms such as television even more digital than they formerly were. Concurrently, OOH signage and other forms of media are more digital, too, allowing owned content and forms of shared media such as tweets to circulate freely through media ecosystem.
  6. Breaking Down Silos If number 6 comes as a surprise, you clearly haven’t read the first five trends. Media converging, a greater emphasis on content marketing, native advertising, real-time marketing and other blended forms of marketing means teams must collaborate more than every before. Goal alignment, resource sharing, and content portability – none of this happens internally, much less with vendor and agency partners, unless barriers and divisions are smashed.  There’s no more time to wait. Silos must be abolished now.
  7.  Interoperability Much more than a byproduct of convergence, apps, gadgets, devices are becoming interoperable – seamlessly interoperable. AS a for instance, my personal fitness monitor smoothly syncs with my Android phone, laptop computer, iPad, Walgreen’s loyalty card, stand-alone weight and food trackers, and (if I wanted, which I don’t) with all my social media accounts. All this at the flick of preference radio buttons. The days or “either/or” “Mac/Windows” customer experience are over. Customers expect – and demand – seamlessness from their digital life.
  8. More Mobile Yeah, we hear this every year, but mobile really has come to the fore. More smartphones and tablets are flying off the shelves than PCs and laptops, and mobile finally commands more consumer time than the boob-tube.  This means new experiences, media strategies and (looping back to the top of the list) more content, real-time and native in marketing plans.  “Mobile first” is no longer a hollow mantra. It’s really, actually true.
  9. Measuring What’s Undefined  Is this really a genuine trend? I hope it will be. There’s this unrealistic expectation in digital that everything’s measurable. It is, but not necessarily right out of the box. That’s why publisher metrics are applied to native advertising campaigns (though goals are widely divergent), and way too much stuff is measured in terms of “engagement,” which means something different to everyone who utters the term. A trend I’d really LIKE to see in 2014 is, in additional to all kinds of good metrics such as the ability to attribute ROI and measure accountably and aligned with goals, is a readiness to admit that it’s just too early to apply hard-and-fast, unalterable metrics to brand new stuff we’re all still trying to figure out. Square pegs, round holes.

 

 

 

 

 

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