Content Will Not Be King

Coronation crown of Louis XVNearly every marketer in every industry has heard the cry “Content is King“. Even the cover of Ad Age was emblazoned with Content is King last month, complete with a crown. Once a call for change and recognition of a new marketplace reality, Content is King has become conventional marketing wisdom.

The problem is, conventional wisdom is average. Following conventional marketing wisdom will not differentiate you.

Why is content king today:

  • Being customer-centric required moving away from creative executions as the primary way to deliver a message. Focusing on the customer requires providing something that meets their need, and content perfectly fits the bill.
  • Content marketing was not the norm. Companies embracing content marketing were able to provide unique value to clients and prospects.

Today, the situation has changed. In B2B and many consumer markets, content is now the norm and potential customers assume you will provide it. Soon, not offering content that supports the research and buying process may be the equivalent of not having a website, phone number or email contact for your business.

The most interesting question is “after content, what is the next major differentiator?” What will differentiate you when everyone embraces content marketing? Here are a few candidates, please add your own in the comments:

Relationships

Will relationships, built on content, service or communications, be the new standard? A focus on relationships would improve almost all marketing activity, as it would focus on meeting each individual’s needs and on the quality of the interaction that builds each relationship.

Marketing Automation

Without increasingly sophisticated automation, marketing will not be able to establish and build relationships at scale. Successful marketing automation may be the next big differentiator. Although it may be a key way to develop relationships, educate or nurture, marketing automation will not be labeled “King”.

Customer Evangelists

Although creating evangelists is not realistic for many markets (ball bearing customer evangelist anyone?), a focus on developing loyalty and relationships may be labeled “developing evangelists”. Evangelists bring independence and passion, making their evangelism powerful for businesses.

Social Media

I am a proponent of social media, and I’m including it here because its absence would be notable. However, social media by itself will not be the next differentiator. If relationships are the next primary focus, social media will be a key way to create and maintain those relationships.

Alternatively, will content continue to reign? Content has managed to morph its definition of the last few years, now TV ads are considered content and tchotchkes are even referred to as content. (Really folks? Shirts and pens are not content!)

As content marketing becomes the norm, it will lose its differentiating power. New challengers representing greater potential differentiation and marketing opportunity will rise to prominence. I believe Relationship is a candidate to replace Content. A focus on developing relationships builds on the strides marketers have made with content marketing while expanding the horizon and focusing more clearly on the ultimate benefit. Applying all of the tools and resources to develop better relationships, not merely content, will differentiate you in the future.

Your Turn

Content is King has survived 15 years, will it survive another decade? Or will a new challenger replace it? Share your view on what will replace content as king or why content will continue to reign in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Recommended Related Reading: Content Marketing Needs More than Content by Ardath Albee (@ardath421)

About Eric Wittlake

I am a digital and B2B marketer with a background in online media and analytics. I work with B2B clients on media and integrated marketing programs. You can connect with me on Twitter at @wittlake or in the comments here on my Digital B2B Marketing blog.

19 Responses to Content Will Not Be King

  1. Eric,

    Great questions, all of them. I do think Content will continue to reign as King. I think that the other options may be false choices.

    For example, content IS king because it facilitates that buyer relationship that is so important. I think Marketing Automation is simply a technical enabler. Similarly, I think that it is social media and the connections we can make there that allow for relationships to blossom.

    To use a possibly tired analogy, I will say that relationships are like a marriage and they are the key, especially in B2B, to marketing and business success. As they say in a marriage it is “all about communication.” Communication in a marriage is just an exchange of information in the form of thoughts, feelings and common experiences.

    Well to me, content is just like that in B2B marketing. It is the “stuff” we say and express to the all-important buyer/customer. And that is why I think Content will remain King.

    I also think that Content Strategy and effective content marketing are not quite ubiquitous (not even close). And even when it becomes pervasive, brands will always be able to differentiate by being more in-tune with buyer needs, with being more creative in delivering effective content and in being more personable or more like-able in the way we communicate.

    Thanks as always for the provocative post! Keep it up…

    Best, Michael

    • Michael, I agree some of the others are false choices, they are just activities. Relationships, however, are more meaningful. Content can be used to develop those relationships, I certainly agree. The question is, what other paths will emerge to developing relationships and providing value? If relationships are the destination, content is the most common path B2B marketers take today, but I believe it will be just one of many potential paths.

      Yes, I agree we are a long way from content marketing being ubiquitous, but I think we are close to it being the norm among the category leaders in many B2B enterprise technology categories. 10 years from know, content will be assumed, and great content, just like great advertising, product or service, will be potential ways to differentiate. I would argue though that isn’t about content, that is about greatness, in any area you compete in.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and continuing to push me, I appreciate it!

  2. Eric – Thank you for the thought-provoking post. Great way to start my day!
    I think content will reign for a long time – and would kindly argue that most companies HAVEN’T figured out how to do this well.

    A key ingredient to an organization’s success will be ensuring that it’s not just about great CONTENT….but that CONTEXT has to be at it’s side (which you do reference with Customer-Centric Marketing). The context piece (yes, behind every good KING is a strong QUEEN) will be a key enabler.

    For organizations that have not yet mastered (or even embraced) content marketing (based on key audience personas….CONTEXT), I offer you some perspectives on how to start this journey with a post I wrote earlier this year. http://laurenondemand.com/2011/06/03/take-4-steps-back-for-1-giant-leap-forward-the-buyer-centric-marketing-model/

    I also believe that relationships (and the other “candidates” you mentioned) are critical components – social and marketing automation are great channels for disseminating content…and relationships/customer advocates are the result of great content and communications.

    As always, thanks for your thoughts and insights!
    Market Well – LaurenOnDemand

  3. Chris Koch says:

    Hi Eric,

    Nice post. I’m getting a little tired of the content is king stuff, too. I think you’re on to something with relationship. I think we’re still very far off from the time when companies become good at converting a marketing relationship (an arm’s-length relationship based on content and thought leadership) to a sales relationship (person-to-person). I think marketing automation and a good lead management process can help. The idea is to be able to predict the behavioral signals in the marketing relationship that mean that a prospect is ready to move to a person-to-person relationship–and then make that transition happen seamlessly. I’ve never experienced it. Have you? All I’ve ever experienced is relentless pestering from salespeople after downloading a white paper or listening to a Webinar. I think that seamless hand off is “king.”

    • Chris, thanks for commenting.

      No, I have never experienced that either. The handoff is happening at the wrong time, we are still in information mode, and the company has switched to sales mode. Making the handoff feel like it is serving the audience, instead of the marketer, would be welcomed.

  4. One candidate for the next King is co-creation.

    What is more powerful than good content? Good content that you can alter to your exact wish.

    Relationships and social media have a part to play in this, but I don’t think they will play the main role, even though a progression path from content to relationships to co-creation would make sense as well.

    Technology already enables many types of mass customization. We can already manufacture batch size one products at a reasonable cost. Fully utilizing this capability is not only a marketing operation, but it will provide marketers with unprecedented possibilities.

    • Ville, content like this elevates content to be much closer to a conversation than it generally is today. Content is still the delivery mechanism, but the real magic is then in the system, rules or Watson-powered logic that makes content a highly tailored response.

      Cool idea, thanks for sharing!

  5. Let me be a bit of a devil’s advocate here. I question whether the “king” metaphor will continue to be the right one. Behind it is a certain assumption on the part of us marketers that we are the “ruling family” and will designate which royal figures reign. Customers have already been stepping in on what we used to consider our kingdom of demand creation.

    If what will change is the “governance” structure, then I agree with Ville. Crowd-sourcing and co-creation may be parts of the next major change in marketing. Does that make marketers uncomfortable? I think it does.

    It won’t happen soon. I do agree with Lauren that a lot of companies still don’t quite “get” content. But when the next big change occurs, we may not even call the shots. Perhaps it will be a “Marketing Spring.”

  6. Hi everybody!
    In my opinion, the next phase of content marketing will stress greater interaction. Rather than pump out content like a firehose, B2B marketers will entice their prospects to describe themselves in order to direct them to the most suitable and relevant content.

    This kind of content marketing doesn’t have to mean volume. It can simply be a question of functionality – that is, a web app that asks a few basic questions, places the recipient in a taxonomy and returns some relevant results, or relevant advice.

    For me, that’s the next content marketing leap.

  7. Mike Brown (@mikeyb95) says:

    Great thought “content is now the norm and potential customers assume you will provide it. Soon, not offering content that supports the research and buying process may be the equivalent of not having a website, phone number or email contact for your business”

    We all need the content to be in the game – but agree it is just a starting point… People make buying decisions (B2C and B2B) because of a connection… The connection could be that the content spoke to them – but more likely there is a deeper emotional connection…. Agree that relationships are the way to build upon awesome content – but the challenge for people selling lower-priced point products and services, is how do we maintain the intimacy of those relationships and still scale??

    • Good questions and observation about connections.

      Here is an interesting question: if you are selling lower price-point / shorter decision process products or services, do you need as intimate of a relationship? As the complexity of purchasing decreases, the depth of the relationship you need to develop and maintain decreases as well, right?

      Thanks for commenting!

  8. Brad Shorr says:

    Great post and conversation. I’ll cast a vote for Conversion as King. B2Bs need results, and the point of content, relationships, conversation, etc., is to generate some type of action. I think this gets short shrift or completely overlooked in many aspects of Internet marketing.

  9. A lot of great thoughts here. A more apt phrase would be “content should be king.” In our rather isolated world of social media marketing, we hear the buzz and yet if you look around, most companies are not enacting even basic content marketing schemes. We keep hearing the same tired case studies over and over. So while you may think this is old news, for most of the world it isn’t. Content’s reign as king has not even started!

    And content is only part of the issue. In addition to having a content strategy, you have to have a network strategy. Together, that is power on the Internet. People are only beginning to understand the meaning of this.

    • Mark, thanks for the comment. As a colleague pointed out, the category I spend the most time in (Enterprise B2B Technology) is one of the earliest adopters of content as well.

      Would love to hear more about your network strategy, what you mean by it and how it is developed. Will be watching your blog for that…

  10. Generic content may be normalizing; but individual content that is substantial has not. In fact if you design content around a specific problem that people have, and can solve that problem; your content is relevant, timely and appreciated.

    Content is a window into the soul of your business, and good content always lets in the light.

  11. The idea of “content is king” predates 15 years. It’s been the mantra that has driven the media industry since the invention of the printing press.

    Content being king is the differentiator between the distribution platform and the catalyst that drives the demand for the distribution platform.

    If there were no content, the internet would be worthless. If there were no iTunes, the iPhone would be pretty lackluster.

    Same analogy for business. In this era, where media has proliferated every nook and cranny of connected life, mobile, internet, etc… a website is simply a distribution platform. The content that gets provided through that website is the reason people would go.

    WHAT the content is, becomes the differentiator. Just like network TV shows… the ones with crappy ratings are the ones that get axed, because if they don’t the network ratings suffer. If a company puts out garbage, lackluster, boring, non-engaging content… well… then it’s going to suffer a ratings plunge.

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