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This Old Marketing – The Evolution Continues

CMI_11Exactly one year ago, we were just coming off a great Content Marketing World – and I was steeling myself for a family-filled Thanksgiving. As I was talking with Joe Pulizzi during our weekly phone chat – which we regularly ended by gossiping, ranting, and raving about what was happening in the industry – he asked me a seemingly innocuous question: “Should we do a podcast?”

“I think that’s a great idea,” I said – having absolutely no idea what I was signing up for. (Note: This is how I’ve adroitly managed my career thus far: Say “yes” to anything that sounds remotely interesting and figure out how to do it later.)

And, here we are, one year later and our jump into podcasting is just such an interesting metaphor for where I see the industry today. Things are changing so quickly, it’s sometimes really difficult to have perspective on it all. Everything about this thing we call “this old marketing,” both literally and figuratively, is riding tall.

A year of change

For those of you who have seen me speak this year – you’ll testify to my passion (sometimes verging on obsession) for remaking every marketing department (with content at its core) as the strategic, innovative function that creates differentiating value in the business. I really believe that content marketing can be that change agent in the business.

It’s evolving. A year ago – we talked about the business case. We could see that paid, owned, and earned media strategies were converging – but owned media was such a black box. Marketers asked, “How do I prove to my boss that this content marketing experiment is worth doing?” We searched for templates, case studies, examples, and best practices of how to begin a project. We looked for methods to optimize organic search, engage on social channels, and transform our habit of speaking in “features and benefits” into delivering value through original content.

In our first episode of “This Old Marketing,” we covered Google Plus-comment integration into other channels and how LinkedIn was launching Showcase pages. I ranted about the need to prove ROI as a prerequisite to starting a content marketing program, and Joe raved about Minecraft and its content marketing.

A year later – Google+ is … well… complicated (at best). LinkedIn has, arguably, ramped up its publisher aspirations to such a point that it’s competing with business publications like The Wall Street Journal – and I rarely have the ROI-as-prerequisite conversation anymore.

Evolution is, indeed, upon us. Our challenge as marketers is no longer about when we’ll do this content marketing thing. The question a year later is: How in the heck do we scale this thing?

What’s next?

I am not sure. “This Old Marketing” is as much an exploration for us as it is for you. Like I said, quoting Joseph Campbell, we just continue to say “a hearty yes to the adventure.”

What I do know is that marketing departments are mostly lost in a chaotic and anachronistic struggle to evolve from classic models. For the last 15 years, businesses have been constructing layer upon layer of small marketing – maintaining product, place, price, and promotion for every digital content channel that comes along and happily spending ever smaller amounts of money for ever smaller results and never solving the big, disruptive challenges that face the business as a whole.

Sixty years ago, Peter Drucker said that the “purpose of a business is to create a customer. The business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation.” In its time, it was true. During the 1960s, the idea of a “brand manager” was the cutting-edge equivalent of what we look at today as a “chief content officer.” The brand manager was an extraordinarily innovative professional who was considered to be (as marketing textbooks claimed) the “backbone of true marketing.” A mere 30 years later, the idea of the brand manager would be called “ill suited for today’s environment.” And, with that change, the overall role of marketing as the strategic function began to diminish as well. The textbooks would proclaim that marketing “cannot dominate, but rather must share power with other functions to ensure competitive advantage.”

Over the last 15 years, consumer behavior has changed fundamentally. The way customers become aware, browse, investigate, purchase, use, complain, and/or become loyal to the way a brand delivers its product or service has evolved. However, the business processes to inspire this customer journey have not. Marketing departments serve mostly a subservient, on-demand function, producing ever-more sales sheets, PDFs, brochures, and ad copy for an ever-hungry business that views marketing as the department that “makes things pretty.”

But content marketing is truly starting to change this. Over the last year, we’ve started to hear a stronger chorus of a hearty yes to the adventure. From the research we’ve conducted, advisory clients we’ve served, classes we’ve taught, and CMI’s own Executive Forum, we’ve seen real marketers make real strategic advances, solving big problems, and making content the natural evolution of the marketing department.

I’ve personally watched marketing teams transform from serving only to describe the value already created in the product or service into the departments that create differentiated experiential value separate and distinct from that product or service.

Now, can we take content marketing from a project to content marketing as a process? Can we do it in the next year? I don’t know. But, as for me, I’m ready to help create another 52 weeks of what we call “This Old Marketing.” As Drucker also said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Adventure is calling … why not say a hearty yes?

You can listen to any of the CMI “This Old Marketing” podcasts or subscribe to the weekly series through iTunes or Stitcher.

Image courtesy of Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute