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Content Marketing in 2014: The State of the Enterprise

radio-earphones-microphoneIn 1999, the world-renowned marketing professor Philip Kotler published Kotler on Marketing. In it he discussed the latter 1990s — the time span that would fuel most of the thinking for the book — as a time of tumultuous change. But he knew that this was merely the beginning.

Professor Kotler concluded the book with a section called “Transformational Marketing,” in which he discussed how the field would change with the “new age of electronic marketing.” In the coming decade, Kotler wrote, “marketing will be re-engineered from A to Z. Marketing will need to rethink fundamentally the processes by which they identify, communicate, and deliver customer value.”

There’s only one problem: Fifteen years have passed, and this vital transformation hasn’t happened yet.

Consumers have changed, marketing operations haven’t

In case you haven’t noticed, almost every marketing conference you attend these days starts with the same four or five requisite slides. Consumers are now empowered by digital technology… they are becoming more aware… they are researching, engaging, buying, and staying loyal to brands in ways that have fundamentally changed… Yes, we get it. Consumer behavior in the age of the social and mobile web is different than it was before.

In fact, maybe it’s actually more accurate to say “is changing” and “will continue to fundamentally change,” as content’s continual evolution shows no sign of slowing. The challenge is that marketing operations in enterprise companies have largely remained just as they were when Kotler wrote his book — i.e., they are still working from mid- to late-20th century hierarchies, strategies, and processes.

Content in marketing isn’t new, but content marketing is

We often talk about how the use of content for marketing purposes isn’t a new practice — and we still believe that. For hundreds of years, businesses have been using content in pockets to affect some kind of profitable outcome. But the reality is this: Whether it was John Deere’s The Furrow from the 1800s, Michelin’s guide to car maintenance in the early 1900s, or even Hasbro’s GI-Joe partnership with Marvel in the 1980s, content was not — and is not — a scalable, repeatable practice within the function of marketing. In short, content marketing was historically treated as a project, not a process.

That’s the part that has changed. Whether it’s due to the digital disruption and ease by which we now publish and distribute content to aggregate our own audiences or just the natural evolution of marketing itself doesn’t matter as much as the ultimate outcome. There can simply be no argument that as we roll out of 2014 and into 2015, content — and the exponentially increasing quantities of it that every organization produces — affects our marketing strategy, and should be dealt with as a component of that strategy throughout the enterprise.

Forrester predicts that enterprise content volume is growing at a rate of 200 percent annually. Enterprises are now functioning as content factories, producing massive mountains of digital files that spew forth from marketing — like a giant Dr. Seuss machine — and land squarely onto the back of the content wagon being towed. How much that wagon acts as a differentiator or as a weight that hinders forward progress is dependent on how well the content is managed.

Content will affect business — it’s just a matter of “how,” not “if” — so enterprises must make a choice: Content can be managed as the strategic asset that it has (or can) become, or it can be an expensive by-product that ultimately weighs down a company as it tries to navigate the broader disruptions taking place.

CMI’s first Executive Forum: Research and results

In May of this year, CMI held its first Executive Forum. For this event, we brought 40 senior-level marketers from large brands together to address the present and future state of enterprise content marketing. During a series of exercises, presentations, and candid discussions, participants shared the challenges they face, discussed potential roadblocks to success, and predicted the victories they see on the horizon — both large and small.

We’ve compiled an executive summary from the proceedings of this Forum — The State of Enterprise Content Marketing: 2014, which we are proud to be able to share with the whole CMI audience.

(Note: If you would like to download the PDF, select Save via the SlideShare link.)

Over the coming weeks this will be followed by two additional reports, based on the qualitative research we conducted with a broader group of content marketing professionals prior to the Executive Forum.

You might notice that our report asks more questions than it answers. Its goal (as was the case for the Forum itself) is not to provide pat answers to complex issues but, rather, to report on the insights and challenges that participants shared and to help us at CMI frame our larger goals for the issues we want to cover.

Neither the Executive Forum Report nor our ensuing research would have been possible without the generous contributions of the 2014 Executive Forum members (who are credited in the Report). However, their presence at the event — and their inclusion in this report — is not a tacit endorsement of any of the ideas presented.

Ultimately, the discussions that took place at the forum will serve as our “stake in the ground” moving forward. And as we work toward re-engineering marketing processes more broadly, we will consider it a waypoint for our ongoing journey. 

Our journey continues

As for the overall state of enterprise content marketing, it’s decidedly cloudy at the moment. As a focused approach, working in ad hoc ways across a business, it appears to have proven its worth. We’ve seen myriad case studies, blog posts, stories, and examples of businesses using content in strategic ways to profitably affect business results. But it remains to be seen whether or not we can make it a scalable, repeatable, measurable function within marketing, from here.

What will the future of our discipline hold? As one Forum attendee so appropriately said, “The only certainty is change. I can’t tell you where or when; but I do know there will be change, and this is the principle we build on now.

As for what I think, Kotler’s idea of transforming the marketing function seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the digital road that we currently find ourselves on. In so many cases, marketing is simply a service function within the business, with its sole job being to produce ever more voluminous amounts of content that describes the value of our brand (or our products or services) so that sales can sell more efficiently, customer support can service more effectively, and all manner of customer interfaces are more beneficial to both sides.

But I passionately believe that it’s time for marketing to reclaim its ability to create value — not just reflect it. I believe that, as Peter Drucker said back in the 1950s, marketing is the unique, distinguishing function of the business. But that will only ring true if marketing’s goal is to transform and create the kind of value that continually evolves customers from awareness to interest to engagement to the completion of a sale, and then onward to loyalty and evangelism. Content and experiences — and the business’s ability to create, manage, and promote them strategically — will be the key to this evolution.

This year’s Executive Forum, and The State of Enterprise Content Marketing report, will ultimately be but a waypoint on our journey. As the wonderful writer Harvey Mackay said, “Nobody said it would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.”

Now is when the hard work begins. Let’s get to it.

Want more insight into the ways content marketing is evolving? Join Robert Rose for his keynote on The Rise of Content Management at Content Marketing World 2014, September 8–11, 2014. Register today!

Cover image by Ryan McGuire-Bells Design, via Gratisography