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Say No to the Rise of Internal Content Agencies – and Other 2019 Trends

Each and every year we cover some of the broader content marketing trends for the upcoming 12 months. The post looking forward to 2018 was one of the last written by my pal Joe Pulizzi before he retired. And – no surprise here – he was as prescient as always.

While most companies are still working through the operational aspects of their content marketing strategy, we’ve seen a real acceleration of focus on scalable approaches to our beloved practice.

In looking toward 2018, Joe offered that the trends pointed upward, highlighting the growth in acquisitions, the increase in budgets, and even the idea of marketing as a profit center (which is the focus of our book Killing Marketing).

But it hasn’t been all rosy. There have been challenges. While trust in journalism has seen a bit of a recovery, trust in media, our peers, and social media is at an all-time low.

Content marketing in 2018 has truly been a reflection of where we are in the world – a tale of two cities. The positive economy, and the acceleration of marketing more broadly, have helped fuel investment. But difficulties in finding talent, a fragmented media landscape, and the headwinds of developing consumer trust have provided sharp challenges. What does this mean for 2019?

Well, to put it into a weather forecast metaphor, we think 2019 should bring more of the same: mostly sunny skies with some sharp, cool headwinds.

#Contentmarketing in 2019 should bring mostly sunny skies with sharp, cool headwinds, says @Robert_Rose Share on X

Scalability and the rise of internal agencies: Let content lead

It’s no secret that there has been a sharp growth in the development of internal agencies. Ad Age just reported 78% of Association of National Advertisers members have developed some level of in-house agency. That’s up from just 58% five years ago. Further, of the 22% that didn’t have an in-house agency, 8% said they were considering it for the near future.

This year we’ve worked closely with more than 30 Fortune 500 companies on helping to operationalize their content marketing approach, and we’ve seen this trend firsthand. As content marketing becomes a more recognized piece of what the company is doing, centralizing the approach and creating a content-focused team is a natural extension.

Building a team to manage and serve internal clients with a streamlined set of creative services, production capabilities, and even media buying can be an extraordinarily productive strategy. However, our experience is that looking at the content team as an internal agency is a mistake. Content marketing is a fundamentally different approach, and needs a leading, not a serving, approach.

Content marketing (and content strategy) should be an active and discrete business model within the organization. Thus, the content team is more akin to your R&D team, your legal team, or your accounting team.

#Contentmarketing should be a discrete business model within a company, not an internal agency. @Robert_Rose Share on X

You would never look at the legal team as an internal agency (or firm) that services internal clientele. No. It’s part of the fabric and strategy of how the business operates. It is a strategic leader within the organization, and the legal team serves as experts to lead the business through legal issues. The content team should be viewed the same way.

Intel’s move away from the internal agency model is an interesting example. As reported in Fast Company (from a report in The Information), Intel Agency Inside – which was primarily a storytelling and content creation team – is being scaled back as the organization pivots to a B2B-focused strategy.

There are undoubtedly many reasons why Intel is scaling this team back – not the least of which is the recent turnover of Intel’s CMO position. But it strikes me that the disconnect here is more about what the internal agency focused on (content and storytelling) rather than whether it should have an agency at all.

Organization, structure, and scalability will be the keys to smart content marketing in 2019. And we can all expect new pressure to structure strategic content teams either as part of, or in the model of, an internal agency approach. I would highly encourage pushing back hard against that pressure.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: 4 Business Models for Content Marketing

Confusion in technology landscape continues

To quote the great business leader Tom Peters, “if you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.”

What is content marketing technology?

Analysts, pundits, and others try to make sense of the content marketing technology landscape. It’s incredibly difficult – because, of course, anything used to create, manage, optimize, distribute, and display content could conceivably be called a content marketing technology. Enterprise CMS? Of course, that’s content marketing technology. Collaboration systems? Yes. Email marketing? Yes. Adobe Photoshop? Well, yes.

As indicated brilliantly by Scott Brinker’s marketing technology landscape, the marketing stack has become an extraordinarily crowded and segmented niche. There is now a singular technology for just about any particular task a marketer needs to perform, as well as suites of technology that manage just about all of them.

This trend is likely to continue into 2019, as the venture capital market has opened up again, and innovation in technology solutions shows no signs of slowing down. Expect to see explosive growth in the number of artificial intelligence and automation solutions come front and center in 2019.

It’s perfectly OK to be confused. Ultimately, content marketing leaders and practitioners need to ask better questions before starting their technology search. This is the primary reason we launched the ContentTECH Summit.

As our research from this year illustrates, more than half of marketers say their company hasn’t acquired all the right technology to manage content. And another 35% say they don’t fully use the technology they have.

About 35% of marketers say they don’t fully use the tech they have, says @CMIContent research Share on X

As content marketers look to scale efforts and become more organized, technology will be a key piece. But developing a foundational clarity in the strategy, the structure, and the processes is the first step in accumulating the right set of requirements. It’ll get you to a much shorter list of technology options from the very beginning.

Finally, despite the increase in new solutions, we’ll also see the continued consolidation of the martech landscape. There will be continued tectonic shifts, such as this year’s Marketo and Magento acquisition by Adobe and Salesforce’s acquisition of Datorama. But watch for consolidation at the smaller end of the space as well. We would expect to see many of the smaller tech companies merging, joining in tight partnerships, or even making acquisitions themselves to broaden their footprint in the content stack.

Expect to see continued consolidation in the martech landscape, predicts @Robert_Rose Share on X

Increasing buy-vs.-build trend

Last year, Joe noted the marked increase in companies acquiring media properties to jump-start their content marketing strategy. He pointed out that Arrow Electronics – the “Amazon of electronics components” – is now the biggest media company for electronics engineers. It owns 51 magazines, journals, websites, and email newsletters.

In 2018, Microsoft acquired GitHub, gaining access to more than 3 million of one of the hardest to reach audiences in the world – software engineers. And at a much smaller scale we’re seeing smaller companies acquire popular blogs and other content vehicles to get a jump-start on their content marketing. For example,  Volo City – a sports company – purchased the Bitches Who Brunch blog.

In 2019, more companies will acquire popular blogs to jump-start their #contentmarketing. @Robert_Rose Share on X

We expect this trend to expand as we get into 2019, as the pressure to scale and monetize audiences more quickly grows. Combine this with even more fragmentation in the market and competition for the trust of consumers, and brands have an inherent need to look at properties that are already successful.

Trust: Don’t call it a comeback

Finally, and this is more of a prediction than a full-scale trend, we believe “trust” in media (and social media, more pointedly) may recover slightly. This will feed into a resurgence and expansion (and increase in cost) in social advertising.

For the second year in a row, Gallup found trust in media recovering from its 2016 low. Interestingly, our research found trust was rightly one of the concerns marketers had about the future of content marketing. Of our surveyed audience, 12% said that “trust in media” was a concern for them going into 2019. It’s simply much harder to create trust in our owned media when the public has lost its trust in all the media.

It’s hard to create trust in our owned media when the public has lost trust in all media. @Robert_Rose Share on X

But we should realize that even if it comes back at the same pace, trust in media will still be around the 40% mark. As I remarked last year, with the new GDPR-like developments of data and privacy regulations in the United States, content marketers will do well to stay focused, not lose themselves in the rented media push, and focus on the value of building trust in audiences.

Overall – and assuming the geopolitical stage remains as is, 2019 should be quite a year. Budgets should generally be up and content scalability will be a critical factor – but we may be in for a slightly bumpy ride.

You ready? Giddy up!

The challenging technology landscape isn’t likely to become any less complex in 2019, so make plans now to attend ContentTech Summit in April. Use code BLOG100 to save $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute