Hype or game changer? A brief history of content marketing - Heart Internet Blog - Focusing on all aspects of the web

Content marketing has changed. What was once a new and intriguing way to drive consumer traffic is now standard in the online marketing game, as businesses big and small engage with consumers and clients by way of content marketing. Now, all signs point toward future growth in the industry.

One of the reasons why? Data shows that content marketing works. The Content Marketing Institute released a study in 2018 that showed 86 percent of UK respondents said their companies engage in content marketing, and of those, 93 percent of respondents said their organisations were either somewhat committed, very committed or extremely committed to content marketing.

Over the past several years, even the most sceptical have turned to creating content as a way to support a strong marketing plan. Even within those efforts, though, some still wonder what the true role of content marketing is – is it hype, a game changer, or something in between?

To answer that question, it’s important to understand where content marketing came from, and how it has evolved into the marketing juggernaut it has become.

What is content marketing?

There are many definitions of content marketing floating around. This makes sense considering the breadth of what content marketing entails, and is especially true as content marketing brings together targeted marketing, data and creativity. Here’s how the Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing:

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

This “valuable, relevant and consistent content” can come in the form of white papers, email newsletters, blog posts, videos, news articles, reported pieces and more. Companies engage with content marketing to achieve higher sales, generate leads and to build meaningful relationships with customers, whether in a B2B or B2C setting.

The real beginning

Content marketing as it’s known today has its roots in technological change and consumers heading online. However, content marketing isn’t actually new – in the past it just went by a different name, “custom publishing”, a term that encompassed efforts like in-flight magazines that ran features on travel destinations.

While in-flight reading material provided an improved customer experience, it also brought something useful and enticing – ideas for your next holiday – and gave customers the opportunity to get there, using a specific airline.

On a more everyday level, even supermarkets engaged, and continue to engage, with content marketing. Think of Sainsbury’s Magazine, first published 25 years ago, which includes recipes and brief interviews alongside products consumers can find in store.

When volume was key

In its digital infancy in the 2000s, businesses focused their attention on content marketing by way of bringing as much content to a website as possible. Companies approached digital content creation and SEO success by focusing on volume, short articles and frequent keyword use.

At the time, marketing departments and C-suite executives played into Google’s algorithms, driving traffic by using keywords frequently within blog posts. In these early years, organisations primarily aimed to bring their websites to the top of search engine results when users searched for particular keywords.

While many companies used this targeted content to increase site traffic, both search engine algorithms and the approach to content marketing continued to evolve. At the same time, traditional marketers and hesitant businesses remained on the fence in regard to content marketing.

The discussion still centred around whether content was effective at all. Now the discussion has changed, not to question whether it’s worthwhile, but rather to harness content marketing to make it as valuable as possible.

Refining content marketing

Over the past five years, the discussion around content marketing has changed, as content itself has been refined. More and more companies have in-house content creators, whether that includes writers, graphic designers, videographers or animators.

The content marketing field used to centre on volume and keyword input. Now, marketers have turned their focus to creating high-quality content that not only drives web traffic, but establishes brand focus, voice, and trust. It’s been a concerted effort to increase content marketing’s efficacy in an era where consumers are more tech savvy than ever. Consumers can spot a keyword-packed article from a distance, so content marketing has had to evolve to keep up and continue to engage consumers.

Companies have developed new ways to reach their target audiences through content marketing, including by developing concepts such as skyscraper content and 10x content.

Through skyscraper content, brands essentially reverse engineer successful content. Marketing teams observe effective content marketing pieces such as blog posts on competitor sites, see how and why they gained traction, and then create their own piece of content that builds on the previously published material. This effort has sparked discussions about cracking the code to creating a successful piece, including discussions on whether following a formula is key, or whether content creators should focus on building truly unique content for users.

Another talking point in content marketing comes in the form of 10x content. The creator of the concept, Rand Fishkin, argues that content as we know it is on its way out, to be replaced by content that is “10 times” better than what currently shows up in an online search. Criteria for 10x content include strong user experience, as well as creating trustworthy, useful and high-quality content.

Whether marketers follow either of the above concepts, these developments point to the fact that content marketing is a tactic that shows no sign of stopping.

The verdict

So, is content marketing all about the hype? The short answer is no, and it’s not because businesses are feeling lucky. Organisations are dedicating more effort than ever on content marketing – in the CMI study, 80 percent of respondents said their organisations are focused on building audiences through content marketing.

That’s not just hype – that’s a game changer. Companies are on track to not only spend more on content marketing, but to keep the industry evolving to create more sophisticated, and more effective, forms of content marketing.

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