Content Strategy

The S-Curve of Content Marketing: A Futurist’s Take on Story Growth

By Ted Karczewski on April 13, 2015

A week ago, I read an amazing two-part series on Wait But Why about the future of artificial intelligence. Like most readers, the writing left me both amazed and terrified.

However, there was one concept that stood out to me—not because of its explanation of AI, but because of its association with human progress in general. Futurist Ray Kurzweil explains that the rate of human progress—our ability to achieve new milestones through technology and, therefore, life—happens in S-curves. See the Wait Buy Why graph below for a visual aid:

s curve graph

While the example above was used in reference to technological advancements in the twenty-first century, I wondered if personal and industry-wide progress also occurs in these S-curves. These curves are best explained in the post:

"An S-curve is created by the wave of progress when a new paradigm sweeps the world. The curve goes through three phases: slow growth, rapid growth, and a leveling off as the particular paradigm matures."

All of which is to say, any new trend takes a little while to catch on before it experiences explosive growth—and then becomes old news. This all happens with human progress in complete succession. When technology seems to plateau, we find ourselves in the midst of a new slow period where, at any second, dramatic advancements can take place.

Now that we all have a basic understanding of Kurzweil's concept, I'm going to completely ruin it by comparing it to the growth of content marketing.

The Slow Rise of Content

Modern-day content strategy began as an SEO-driven approach aimed at bringing organic search traffic to a specific destination. Ultimately, brands expected this strategy to generate sales, and for a while the strategy paid off big time for organizations.

I equate this time period to the slow growth stage of content on the S-curve chart. Early adopters used content as a means to facilitate their SEO goals. No one measured quality in a meaningful way; quantity reigned supreme.

In the Content Marketing Institute's 2012 report, organizations measured the impact of their content by analyzing Web traffic, sales leads, direct sales, sales lead quantity, and SEO rankings. Flash forward to the 2015 report, where KPIs like brand awareness, engagement, customer retention, and evangelism are commonly cited goals.

But as more marketers explored the power of content marketing, the practice evolved from an SEO-driven approach and began to shift its focus to quality. Here, explosive growth put the phrase on the tip of every marketer's tongue.

The Maturation of Content

a futurist

In the period from 2012 to 2015, content strategy went through the industry's growth period where innovation emerged from every corner. Now, the leading brand marketers speak about content in terms of brand storytelling. The format and channel take a back seat to the importance of a consistent narrative.

The question is: Are we entering the slowing down or plateau stage of content's life, or are we on the brink of another period of intense and exceptional growth across the industry?

The Futurist's Take on Content

The business world has reverted back to storytelling, an age-old form of communication proven through science to evoke emotions tied to loyalty and understanding. As a result, marketers are getting better and better at crafting narratives that humanize huge corporations.

There are new opportunities for storytellers to alter the future of business, from sponsoring global events like the Olympics to creating a new on-demand culture that puts complete power back in the hands of buyers.

This evolution is happening alongside technology's growth. Venture capitalist Ashu Garg expects business spend on marketing technology to increase tenfold over the next 10 years. In those same 10 years, we're expected to have developed an affordable computer with hardware and computing capacity equal to that of a human brain.

As we enter the next stages of brand storytelling, those who are forward-thinking enough to look 10 years out will be able to see where we sit on the S-curve when it comes to content. The question isn't will content continue to grow in use—it's when and how fast the next stage of the curve will come.

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Ted Karczewski

Ted Karczewski is the Content Marketing Manager at Skyword and the Managing Editor of the Content Standard (TCS). He oversees the editorial direction of TCS, and focuses on engaging readers through compelling stories. Ted has a background in print journalism and B2B content marketing, working both for agency clients and brands. He's also a contributing writer to Fast Company and The Next Web. Follow him on Twitter