Sixteen billion dollars—that, according to the 2018 Global Branded Entertainment Forecast from research firm PQ Media, is the size of the global consumer content marketing industry in 2018.
That $16 billion may seem like a drop in the bucket next to the more than $550 billion brands are projected to spend on advertising this year, but for a relative newcomer to the pantheon of marketing, the absolute numbers are less revealing than content marketing’s rapid growth. According to PQ Media, we can expect 15 percent growth in the content marketing industry over the course of 2018, making content marketing the fastest-growing segment in the fast-growing field of “branded entertainment”—which in turn is growing at twice the rate of the comparatively sluggish advertising industry.
Directionally, PQ Media’s report gives content marketers plenty to cheer for. Their choice of definitions, however, may actually obscure just how substantial the rapid expansion of content marketing really is.
Branded entertainment, per the report, is “non-traditional marketing that blends brand messages with entertainment or information to engage consumers, build brand awareness and create positive brand associations to drive consumer sales.” Within this category they include experiential and event marketing, event sponsorship, product placement, and a narrow definition of content marketing that includes only native advertising and custom publishing: “paid marketing messages developed to simulate a news story or entertainment program that is cohesive with the media’s content structure, including assimilated design that is consistent with the media platform.” Conspicuously absent are any B2B applications of content marketing whatsoever—branded entertainment, by this definition, is directed at individual consumers only.
Most content marketers—this publication included—would consider the definition of branded entertainment more in line with that of content marketing overall, though likely minus the product placement, which sticks out like a sore thumb in this context. Certainly the widely accepted definition of content marketing put forth by the Content Marketing Institute—“a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience”—takes a broader view by far.
Add back in the inexplicably missing B2B content marketing and the many content marketing practices that sit outside the narrow definition used here—social media content, content-driven email marketing, video content, branded podcasts, just to name a few—and suddenly content marketing is a far more significant challenger to traditional advertising.
Image attribution: Joe Yates
Late last year, Forrester predicted that 2018 would be a year of painful correction for the ad industry. Changing consumer behavior, enabled by the digitization of media, has hurt traditional interrupt advertising’s ability to penetrate target audiences.
In their report, PQ Media rightly points to the stagnation of traditional media platforms such as newspapers and television to explain why brands are increasingly turning to alternative forms of marketing over advertising, but digital advertising is taking a hit as well: witness Procter & Gamble CMO Mark Pritchard’s ongoing campaign to clean up digital advertising. Ad agencies face increasing competition not just from other agencies but from alternative means of reaching audiences, and they can expect a greater degree of scrutiny from the brands they represent.
Image attribution: Eli DeFaria
The picture is far rosier for brands than for the ad industry, provided we recognize the opportunities available to us. The acceleration of content marketing’s growth is vivid evidence that we’ve moved past the early adopters and are nearing the inflection point of the adoption curve.
The talent market is sure to follow a sustained increase in investment in content marketing, leading to an influx of creative talent—including those creatives who might balk at creating advertising but who respond positively to experience-driven rather than sales-driven branded content. What’s more, now that content marketing is established enough to be represented in college curricula, the first crop of recent grads seeking specifically to work in the field are now joining the workforce.
With the initial hurdles of proving credibility out of the way, brands are increasingly likely to approach content marketing as a central part of their marketing strategy as opposed to a niche, experimental play. Content-driven brands are already establishing in-house content studios to position themselves as publishers akin to the media properties they might otherwise be advertising on.
The flipside of widespread adoption of content marketing is that branded content experiences are no longer an automatic competitive differentiator for brands. But even this is ultimately a positive development, for brands and consumers—increased competition in content will push brands to probe the frontiers of content marketing, trying new channels, exploring alternative media, enhancing personalization, and, of course, pushing boundaries in terms of exceptional creative storytelling. In short, the future of content marketing is bright.
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Featured image attribution: LinkedIn Sales Navigator