“Content marketing is killing advertising.”
This has been a popular marketing mantra in recent years, as content marketing trends and organic reach increasingly attracted the attention—and budgets—away from advertising. The focus on organic content and distribution began to surpass advertising and other paid promotion as the strategy proved to be both engaging for audiences and effective for marketers. Today, content marketing is no longer a competitive advantage, it’s a marketing mandate.
This shift comes at a time when all types of marketing are being held accountable for business impact. Pressure to measure and prove return on investment is mounting across all marketing sectors. Gartner’s CMO research shows that in 2017, marketing budgets actually fell by 6 percent—back to 2015 levels—implying decreasing business profitability.
Ewan McIntyre, Gartner research director, shared, “One thing is clear—previous budget increases have come with weighty expectations, some of which have yet to be met.” So it makes sense that marketing analytics is getting the biggest share of marketing budgets in 2018 compared to any other capability. We need data to prove the value of marketing and constantly monitor and optimize performance for the best results.
Advertising and content marketing have traditionally been treated separately, the former forced on audiences and the latter chosen by audiences. However, content marketing trends have become so mainstream, that it’s starting to have a boomerang effect, bringing advertising back into the picture as an essential partner instead of a faltering competitor. In fact, 67 percent of CMOs plan to increase their digital advertising spend in 2018.
The prominence of paid promotion doesn’t mean that content marketing is going away. It means that marketers need to pair organic and paid marketing tactics to break through the clutter and competition. The advance of targeting technology, content strategies, and online audiences demand it. Native advertising and content distribution engines have gotten a start—but there is still more work to be done.
Content Marketing Institute’s 2018 research found that 44 percent of B2B marketers and 53 percent of B2C marketers agree that in 2017, it became increasingly difficult to get the attention of their audiences. To overcome this, 50 percent of B2B marketers and 53 percent of B2C marketers attribute improved success to effective distribution and targeting. The assets don’t need to change; the distribution does. Whatever asset you use—blog, video, graphic, etc.—organic and paid distribution are needed to get the results.
The need for content marketers to utilize paid promotion within their amplification strategies is actually a good thing. It brings marketers closer together, encouraging further integration of teams and tactics. It also makes marketing success much more achievable in today’s digital ecosystem. Measured separately, the return on investment for organic and paid tactics won’t measure up. Together, they can.
Image attribution: Austin Distel
Start with your team structure. Evaluate each marketing capability: Are their goals aligned? Is their success measured separately? Is there tension between advertising and content teams when it comes to budget allocation?
You want to create a balance where independent contributors will continue to focus on their specialties, but everyone will follow the same overarching performance standards. Hold your entire marketing unit responsible for collective results—and do the same for external partners.
Sandie Overtveld, vice president of sales at Zendesk, shared that their top executives are adapting and collaborating to meet the changing landscape. “Simply put, customer expectations are rising, and the onus is on companies and their key decision-makers to step up. At Zendesk, the roles of CIO and CMO are currently undergoing massive changes and evolving to become close-knit in order to make decisions quicker.”
This standard and mindset will foster a culture of collaboration. Many organizations fall into siloes by marketing channel or function. The resulting disconnect works against success. You may not need a total overhaul of your marketing department, but make necessary changes to unify your teams and measurement. Hold team-wide meetings to set goals, integrate reporting across all channels, and celebrate collective successes.
In-office changes can also help. Switch up your seating arrangements to encourage teamwork among typically siloed teams. Even change job titles or department names to emphasize the shift in thinking. Physical and literal disruption further ingrain a strategic change.
As you merge the marketing players, also audit and align your distribution efforts. Are organic and paid promotions planned separately? Are they working with or against each other? Make sure they’re complementary, not conflicting. Review all your distribution channels, automation, tools, campaigns, and technology vendors. You may uncover unexpected overlaps in frequency, messaging, or targeting—and even find ways to reduce spend by streamlining it all. Keep testing to find the right balance for your audience and goals. It’s more crucial than ever to have a foolproof distribution strategy to make an impact. So don’t rest on it.
Image attribution: Xiang Hu
With unified teams, create internal processes and frameworks to measure results as a single body instead of different limbs. If you aren’t already, have transparent discussions and presentations to establish a results-driven culture—but not one based on fear of consequences. Consider the performance of your marketing holistically. How are all your efforts working toward the same business and marketing goals? What optimizations are needed to improve?
At a tactical level, this can be put in action by merging your regular reporting documents and methods for content marketing, advertising, and other digital disciplines. Remember the reality of optics in influencing morale and mindsets, while staying realistic about areas for improvement and optimization. This is the kind of marketing culture that translates into business results. According to Overtveld, “By instilling a collaborative and transparent work culture, we maintain a high level of employee satisfaction while keeping turnover very low.”
The unification of paid and organic reach isn’t the end of the marketing world, but it is the end of “content marketing” as we know it. Stop thinking of “advertising” as the bad guy and “content marketing” as the hero. They’re both on the good side now, ready to save marketers everywhere.
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Featured image attribution: Soroush Karimi