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Next-Wave Content Creation Strategies for the End of the Online Ad Era

Disclaimer: This post discusses what may happen in the future (and may turn out to be dramatically wrong).

end of online ad eraOver the past month of speeches and appearances, I’ve heard two questions more often than any others:

  1. When consumers finally tire of ads on the web (i.e., pre-roll, roadblock ads, basic banners), what will brands do?
  2. Once all brands have started embracing content marketing, what happens then?

What’s interesting is that the answers to these two questions go hand in hand.

When the ads are gone

I’m convinced that there will come a point in my lifetime (I’m 40) when interruptive online ads will no longer be tolerated by consumers. Already, there are millions around the world who sign up and pay for Adblock Plus, and millions more who have installed Google’s Pop-up blocker. One way or another, it won’t be long before online ads go away altogether.

Like it or not, the future of online advertising for brands will involve content in some way — entertaining and/or useful content creation in text, audio, and/ or visual forms. We are already seeing this in native advertising, where advertising spots are transforming into some form of relevant or entertaining content (hopefully). But this is just the start of the massive content marketing trend on the horizon. When it arrives, here are some of the things I see coming with it:

Sponsored content will come of age: Extremely useful or entertaining content created by media companies will soon be offered exclusively through their key partners. This basically means that if consumers want their content, they’ll have to engage (in some manner) with its sponsor. A great example of this is Mother Nature Network. Nearly all of its major content categories are sponsored. For example, its Fitness & Well-Being category (pictured below) is sponsored by Coca-Cola. It integrates a native advertising unit that features Coke content from the brand’s “Coming Together” fitness program.

mother nature network

The content will become the “sell:” Red Bull’s Media House develops as much content as some traditional media companies do. Importantly, almost none of that content involves talking about energy drinks — rather, its content creation is completely focused on targeting readers’ interests (like a media company does). Procter & Gamble has done this with Home Made Simple. AMEX has done this with its OPEN forum. OpenView Venture Partners has done this with its OpenView Labs.

In other words, most brands will finally realize that focusing on their products and services in the majority of their content will get them nowhere, and they will finally succumb to investing in creating meaningful content that people truly want to engage in.

When all brands embrace content marketing

My answer to the question of what happens when all organizations do content marketing? “Well, we are already there!

Every piece of content marketing research, in both the B2B and B2C sectors, finds that approximately nine in 10 marketers employ some form of content marketing. This means that content marketing strategies that were quite effective in the recent past will need to be changed.

Case in point: Marcus Sheridan’s “answer all customer questions on fiberglass pools” marketing strategy worked for him and River Pools & Spas because no one else was doing it at the time. He was truly the first in that industry, and dominated because of it. The same happened to us at CMI, as we and Copyblogger were two of the first to answer marketers’ questions around content marketing.

So, what happens next? Robert Rose believes that brands will need to find their differentiating story to stand out from the competition. In his most recent CMI blog post, Robert stated that only “thoughtful planning and a strong focus on creating differentiating, remarkable content that communicates from a strong point of view will be what separates the rare from the commodity.”

This means that simply answering questions is no longer going to be enough to cut through the clutter.

Once everyone is creating content, what do we do, then?

Even though content marketing has been around for hundreds of years, we are at the beginning of an industry revolution. Those organizations that make a true investment in content marketing strategy and processes will have a clear competitive advantage. As that happens, here are some areas to think about:

Strategy: Yes, 90 percent of businesses produce some form of content marketing, but less than 10 percent have an integrated content strategy. If your organization is among this majority, it’s time to set yourself apart. Start by determining what each of your buyer personas would say is the differentiating value you provide, and use those traits as the basis of your content marketing mission statement. Why will your customers and prospects look to your content for meaning and value? Don’t create any more content until you know the answer to this, from both your customers’ perspective and your own.

Point of view: Does your content sound just like your competitors’? Does it sound like the trade magazine in your industry? If so, you have a problem. Make sure the content you create has a unique point of view that only you can provide. Tell the story differently.

Amazingly useful or entertaining: Do these attributes describe the content you create? If not, think about how you can serve as a true and trusted resource for you customers. Remember, your customers have tons of amazing content at their disposal to help them make buying decisions, so your content must communicate the benefits that come with choosing to engage with yours.

Audience development: Since the dawn of media, the circulation department has been critical in making sure the right audiences were being reached. It was this department’s responsibility to make sure key buyers “opted-in” to receive communications (both print and online) from the media organization.

Do you have someone in your organization focused on both audience acquisition and audience retention? Yes, most of our organizations have marketers focused on acquiring leads to feed into our nurturing programs; but are we really thinking about this in terms of our content strategies? Having someone in the organization truly focused on your subscription efforts will become critical.

What is the key takeaway from all this? Simple: We are seeing marketing departments transform into true publishing operations. Advertising, as we know it in the digital form, will change, sooner rather than later. Brands need to make changes to adjust to this, and those that take this seriously now will have a significant competitive advantage in the future.

Want to learn more about content creation strategies that will give your business a competitive edge? Don’t miss Content Marketing World 2013. Register by May 31 to take advantage of early-bird pricing. 

Cover image via Bigstock