By Joe Pulizzi published January 12, 2013

3 Critical Content Marketing Trends that Signal Big Industry Changes Ahead

Critical Content Marketing TrendsRight now, the content marketing industry, well over 100 years old, is going through as much change as we have ever seen.

The biggest reason, outside of the fragmentation of media, is that the barriers to entry have been obliterated. 

There were three major barriers that used to exist as a gate to corporate publishing. Though they are no longer a concern today, I did discuss them in detail in Get Content Get Customers (published in 2008). Those barriers included:

  • Content acceptance: You don’t have to be the Wall Street Journal anymore to have customers accept, respect, and engage in your content.
  • Talent: In the past, most journalists were against working for non-media brands, as they viewed it as tainting their professional integrity. Today, writers, editors, and journalists are available to help you produce great content in literally every industry. Moreover, the majority of journalism jobs available today are on the brand side, not in traditional media, and thus the stigma of working for non-media brands is not nearly as strong as it was just a few years ago.
  • Technology: Anyone can publish content on the web today, with little or even no investment required.

And now, five years later, we are seeing a number of signs that tell us that the content marketing revolution may be just beginning. In other words, this 100-plus-year-old industry is just getting started.

Here are three things that happened just this week that I believe are industry-critical:

“Content marketing” is now the dominant industry term, according to Google

There are well over 20 phrases that have been used over the years to describe the content marketing industry. When I started working in the industry in 2000, it was “custom publishing.”  Later, it was “custom media.” Today, at least according to Google, the en vogue term is “content marketing.”

The chart below covers the five keyword phrases that I’ve been keeping my eye on (note: I usually include “branded content” as part of this group, but due to performance issues, I replaced it with “native advertising“).

Some thoughts…

  1. Custom publishing,” doing its best imitation of Kodak stock, is now on the verge of being overtaken by “native advertising.
  2. Notice that “native advertising” arose on the scene just a few months ago and is picking up steam in consumer circles. Native advertising is not the same thing as content marketing, but some people think the terms are interchangeable.
  3. Inbound marketing,” which often refers to top-of-the-funnel content marketing activities, came on strong in late 2008 and seems to be plateauing (here is an overview of the difference between inbound marketing and content marketing).
  4. Content marketing” didn’t seriously hit the scene until early 2009.  In early to mid 2012, the term seemed to gap up and separate itself from the rest of the terms.

What may be even more interesting is that “content marketing” is close to surpassing “search marketing” in popularity as a keyword search term.

Why do I believe this is good? Even though there still is confusion over what content marketing is and is not, as an industry we are beginning to come to a consensus on what term we use to refer to our discipline. This means that thought leaders, brand marketers, and agencies are starting to align in their terminology — a necessary milestone for learning and true understanding to  occur.

McMurry and TMG merged, forming the largest content marketing agency in the U.S.

The Wicks Group, a New York-based private equity company, engineered a transaction that (according to them) has created the largest provider of content marketing services in the United States. The merged $100 million dollar organization is the first sign of major consolidations that are to come.

Individually, McMurry and TMG Custom Media were two of the most respected players in the content marketing industry. A transaction such as this should be a wake-up call for all content marketing service providers, signaling that change is afoot.

Richard Edelman has a change of heart

“I have been one of the hard-liners opposing any blurring of the lines between advertising and PR. I am now prepared to change my position. I still believe that we have a primary task of proposing stories to journalists and bloggers. But there is a vital emerging business to be done in content creation for brands.” (via Edelman’s 6 A.M. blog– Richard Edelman, President and CEO, Edelman

Mr. Edelman goes on to talk about the “own-able” media and content partnerships with media channels, but the point is clear: Edelman is staking a claim to its expertise in corporate storytelling.

Mr. Edelman also states that, “Ads are inherently more effective when you have something to say. And we are better than any other marketing services sector at knowing what is newsworthy at any moment in time.

This could very well be true, but are PR agencies best qualified to help brands develop owned-media channels with consistent, relevant content creation over a long period of time? The jury is still out on that.

The bottom line is this: Other PR organizations follow what Edelman does and says. If that is truly the case, watch out!

(Kudos to Jason Aplin for forwarding the story.)

What does this mean for the future of content marketing?

  1. Agency consolidation will not be limited to other agencies. Look for traditional media companies to get into the buying mix, as well as (believe it or not) other brands that are having success at content marketing initiatives (think along the lines of businesses like American Express).
  2. Although much of this is good for the industry, I predict the industry will get worse before it gets better. With a flood of practitioners from all sides (many of them lacking a clear understanding of content marketing), there will be a deluge of really, really bad content (check out this eBook for more details on this point).
  3. Massive amounts of education are needed.
  4. That last point bears repeating: Massive amounts of education are needed.

Regardless, I believe the industry is poised for great things, that epic content will outweigh the bad content, and that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Want more insight that will help keep you ahead of the curve in the content marketing industry? Register to attend Content Marketing World 2013

Cover image via Bigstock.

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • RobYoegel

    Well said, Joe.

  • Barry Feldman

    So Joe, what’s your definition of “native advertising?”

    • Joe Pulizzi

      As far as I can tell, native advertising comes from the media or publishing side. So where normally, I would sell display space (an ad), I can now sell native ad space which would be inclusion of paid, but relevant content spots (content as advertising). It’s more along the lines of a digital advertorial, but highly relevant.

      We have a post coming out on this soon…very soon.

      • Barry Feldman

        Gotcha. I get it now, but definitely don’t like it. Definitely will blur the lines to the majority of media consumers who aren’t paying close attention to what’s what. It’s kind of like the difference between PPC and organic search. I’m no longer surprised when the person I’m talking to doesn’t know the difference between what’s on the left vs what’s on the right side of a SERP.

        • Joe Pulizzi

          I have mixed feelings depending on how it’s addressed by the media company, but realize that this has been going on – on the web – for a dozen years or more…just catching fire now though (because brands actually have content and realize that display doesn’t work that well).

  • Bernie Borges

    Joe, I couldn’t agree more. As an agency owner one trend I’m following is the blurring of the lines between agencies that deliver services around PR, SEO, “inbound,” and those that call themselves content marketing agencies. Those lines are blurring fast.

  • John Miller

    These are indeed exciting times for content marketing, and I agree fully that there is a great danger of “crap” muddying the environment, and that the brands whose goal is to become “famous” for content are the ones who will rise to the top. But Joe – would you characterize Edelman’s post as being about content marketing, per se? It seems to me he’s only talking about sponsoring content; I think there is value for an organization to do that as part of its marketing mix, but I would not consider it content marketing.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi John…honestly, I’m not sure…I got hints of both in the full article. I guess only time will tell. Regardless, it’s a big deal for them to talk about owned media versus earned. We will see.

  • Marcus Sheridan

    Over the past 6 months, the usage of the phrase in the vernacular has clearly found it’s tipping point in my opinion. I’m just curious to see how all the marketers that were calling it a “buzzword” now finally accept what’s been a silly debate for a while now.

    • Joe Pulizzi


  • Jesper Laursen

    Hi Joe, what do you mean by branded content being replace because of ‘performance issues’? And how would it look if it was in the chart?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Jesper…sorry for not explaining that better. The search term “branded content” has fallen down below most of the other terms and going down. From what I could see, as a term, it’s lost momentum.

  • Andy Hayes

    Great post – especially the keyword research. Matches what I am hearing from clients, namely we want “content marketing” and we want it now, even if they don’t know what it means. 😉

  • Arnie Kuenn

    Joe – you know I whole heatedly agree with you here. Especially on this: “Although much of this is good for the industry, I predict the industry will get worse before it gets better. With a flood of practitioners from all sides (many of them lacking a clear understanding of content marketing), there will be a deluge of really, really bad content”

    We spent most of 2011 educating and changing the mindset of our own agency. My frustration today is seeing so many in our space suddenly call themselves content marketing experts. Same thing happened in social media, but I fear this will have much worse consequences for our industry and the clients for a while.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      We all have to fight the good fight for the next year…let’s hope it’s for the best.

  • DF

    Joe, as far as i can see the term “Native Advertising” is simply a new way of packaging what’s been going round for yonks. I recall that in the UK where i was part of the Advertising/Direct Marketing Industry, as standard practice we always bought the space around press ad’s for our clients (budgets willing). This worked extremely well in terms of generating responses (especially is there was a call to action).

    The thing that really irritates me is the marketing industry’s addiction to re-labeling/re-inventing, and then trumpeting that it’s the next best thing to sliced bread!

    For that matter; Digital Marketing is just direct marketing electronically. Its always about the sale. To quote Ogilvy (where I worked and had the pleasure of meeting the great man during his last days) “If your advertising isn’t ringing up your cash register then your not doing advertising”.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      DF…you are correct. We always like to relabel things as marketers. I agree, the term “Native Advertising” cracks me up, but it’s interesting how many organizations are adopting this term.

  • Jeff Korhan

    Whatever one wishes to call it, there will always be a thirst for fresh, original, and relevant perspectives that are backed by direct experience with real consumers and customers. This is why much of the content created by PR agencies nearly always falls flat. Great opportunities here for businesses, especially small businesses that have that experience.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Jeff…great take.

  • Pay Per Click Marketing

    Advertising, by definition, is the action of calling something to the attention of the public or a specific audience (B2B or B2C) especially through paid announcements. Advertising is part of marketing, in that it is one method of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service from producer to consumer.

  • Pay Per Click Marketing

    Advertising, by definition, is the action of calling something to the attention of the public or a specific audience (B2B or B2C) especially through paid announcements.

  • Tom Mangan

    A content editor’s take on this post and how it applies to everybody offering themselves up as an expert on content marketing: Start with the facts, please. Joe, for instance, has a graphic depicting precisely the facts he’s talking about. Then there’s analysis built around the facts. This is the essence of content marketing – it’s built on the objective truth about your goods and services, not the spin on them.

    The next time you’re writing “7 ways to do X on your company blog,” please make sure there are facts backing up your seven assertions … and not just your own anecdotal experience that these things work. They work for you because you are you. They might not work for somebody else.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Tom…and here I thought I was just winging it. 😉

      Nice analysis