In the past, brands created content two ways: in house or through an agency. These content marketing methods were usually used in tandem.
Agencies took on the big campaign work—TV commercials, out-of-home advertising, print, media buys, etc. Then as digital came along, they took on website design, banners, and the occasional god awful microsite.
Meanwhile, the in-house team tackled anything that required an intimate and technical knowledge of the brand. Think website copywriting, brochures and one-sheets, help centers, email newsletters, the occasional blog post and press release.
That traditional model is collapsing before our very eyes.
The variety of content brands need has increased exponentially—social video, animated explainers, blog posts, data visualizations, video case studies, interactive tools, white papers, infographics, and more. They need to create it all quickly, cost efficiently, and across all stages of the customer journey.
Content used to be considered primarily a top-of-funnel tool. Today, however, consumers expect helpful, high-quality content across every touchpoint. And to accomplish it all, we need a new model.
Faced with these growing demands, some companies have tried to adopt by growing their in-house team, putting up job postings for more copywriters, videographers, and designers. In a few rare occasions, brands (Red Bull, Reebok) have made this work.
But most companies that aren’t hot consumer brands have found that it’s really hard to recruit top-flight creative talent to work at a bank, insurance company, healthcare company, etc.
Also, while you may need help for a specific content format (like data viz), the need isn’t great enough to justify a full-time head. It’s often hard to produce great creative work when everyone lives inside the echo chamber of your own brand.
Others, meanwhile, have relied on agencies to pick up the load—particularly as more and more shops rebrand as content-centric. But many brands have struggled here as well because you still end up having to pay full-time employees just to project-manage endless messy email chains, Google Docs, and compliance reviews.
While your agency was great at the big campaign work, they aren’t built to handle the brand’s wide array of content needs at scale—e-books, webinars, case studies, explainer videos, etc. Even when the content does get created, it’s super expensive, because agencies jack up the hourly price of creative talent by 2-4x. That doesn’t work long term.
Over the past few years, four big shifts have changed the course of content marketing.
1. Brands accept that their content can’t be full of product plugs. With an emphasis on true storytelling, the creative class is more open to working for them.
Granted, this is a work in progress because too many marketers are focused on outdated SEO stuffing tactics and product plugs. But content that puts the audience first is now an established best practice.
2. We’re in the midst of a media apocalypse.
I wrote about this dynamic earlier in the year. Layoffs and takeovers by private equity vampires are hurting traditional media companies. (As someone who once ran a failed news site, I know this pain all too well.) We’re now entering a world in which some of the best-funded content operations are run by brands, and freelance creatives are giving them a much longer look than they did five years ago.
3. For the first time, the technology exists for brands to collaborate with remote freelance creatives at scale.
Invoicing, brainstorming, and creating content with independent freelancers was a nightmare before the rise of content marketing platforms. Now, it’s as seamless as working with an in-house employee.
4. A new generation of marketers is coming into power.
This last point is really important. The new wave of marketers that’ll dominate the 2020s are unattached to the old ways of doing things. They often come from a digital media background, and they’re eager to build deeper relationships with their customers across channels.”Companies get it best when they hire people who are video editors or have journalism backgrounds,” Crystal Eastman, who’s led marketing at Blackrock and Amex, told me recently. “They bring that external view and expertise on how to create content that people would actually consume and look forward to. Then you can merge the artistry and the science of those experts with the internal teams that are the experts at the product. That’s the way best content gets created for customers.”
As these ambitious, content-savvy marketers rise into leadership positions, they’re gravitating toward a model that lets them build deep relationships with their audience. They’re allergic to the idea of producing mediocre content that merely checks a box.
We’ve seen this model work first-hand at Contently, by fusing our content marketing platform with world-class content creation talent and strategy services.
With this system, the results can be incredible—just look at Marriott Traveler, which attracts millions of readers each month across over 50 local editions across the globe; or RBC’s Discover and Learn financial education hub; or ENI’s ambitious thought leadership on renewable energy and climate change. It’s inspiring to see what great marketers will do when they can access and collaborate with some of the world’s best creative firepower on demand.
In the future, this model will enable the creative renaissance for branded content we’ve all been waiting for. It’ll usher in a decade in which helpful, entertaining content becomes the centerpiece of marketing—a decade in which marketers will rise up to the challenge of telling great stories. What a great decade it’ll be.