This is part 1 of my 2017 take on the State of Content Marketing and content marketing trends. My 2016 take is here.
I originally wrote this post as an open letter to Content Marketing that began: “Congratulations on making it another year…”
But that sounds somber and a scooch melodramatic, doesn’t it?
Maybe. But the end of an old year and the start of a new always make me a little somber—and that’s been especially true this year.
Maybe it’s because 2016 felt more warped and wounded than many.
Or maybe it’s more personal than that. Maybe it’s just because my beloved little dog Abby is showing early signs of senility. She just asked to go outside for the 8th or 9th time today and as I type this she is barking her head off at some goblin or shadow or (more likely) tree branch that threatens our happy home.
Which is both sad and hilarious, as aging is for all of us.
Abby isn’t too far gone to not know that it’s probably a tree branch. But she doesn’t want to assume as much, either.
Which seems fitting. If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s this:
We need to challenge our biases and assumptions.
That isn’t just a lesson for Marketing. It’s a lesson for us all.
2016 tweaked some over-rambunctious beliefs, like a choke-chain correction delivered to a wound-up Labrador retriever getting a little too rowdy at the dog park.
That jerk comes as a surprise to the dog, as it was a bit of a surprise to more than half of the US who voted in November, too. It was a good reminder that we need to occasionally rein in our own thinking and biases.
Even in business, we need to pause from peddling whatever it is we’re peddling to look at things from different perspectives.
Your assumptions are “your windows on the world,” Alan Alda once said. “Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.”
Am I challenging my own marketing assumptions?
Is Content Marketing really the thing we believe it is? Is it really a game-changer? (Like, really?)
And if I believe it is: Would I believe that even if my livelihood and ego weren’t all wrapped up in it?
Would I think that even if Content Marketing and my professional raison d’être weren’t locked in a cuddle-puddle?
Some doubted Content Marketing would come this far. Some still doubt it’s actually a thing.
So harsh have been critics that 10 months ago my friend Robert Rose offered a template for how to write a “content marketing is dead” article. (A literal LOL in an insider-basebally kind of way.)
So let’s address this head-on: are you really a game-changer, Content Marketing?
Yes. I believe you are.
Here we are at the end of the warped, wounded year that was 2016. And it’s not the end times—either for us or for you, Content Marketing.
You are still subject to small miracles and flashes of genius that signal just how much you’ve grown and changed. You’re not a child any more, that much is clear.
But you aren’t quite full-grown and financially independent, either, as I’d predicted a year ago.
Change happens “gradually and then suddenly,” Hemingway wrote.
You’re still gradually evolving.
And I’ve come to understand that there’s a reason why you haven’t quite grown up: It’s because we marketers haven’t. We haven’t challenged our own assumptions quite enough.
We all know that any company with a website is a “publisher,” but only recently have we begun to understand what that really means.
Only now are we able to glimpse how “publishing” can empower marketing and marketers in more fundamental, important ways—beyond checking the box on a bunch of tactics. It can take us deeper into unmapped territory, to help us to flush out the richer story of our businesses, our purpose, our Why.
Only now have we begun to see you, Content Marketing, as more than just a top-of-the-funnel tactic; you have the strategic chops to empower Marketing to think differently about its real value to an organization. (That “strategic” tucked in that last sentence is key, by the way.)
Only now are we beginning to think more broadly about Content Marketing’s role in a business to see its value beyond generating leads. This is a long game, people!
And only recently have we begun to understand that being a “publisher” means acting like one: Putting the audience above all—creating value for it first, and selling stuff second.
Which leads me to my wish for all of us in 2017: Let’s challenge our assumptions.
Challenge what you think you know. Poke holes in what you’ve always done and the way you’ve always done it.
Challenge yourself to think of alternatives.
Simplify your marketing by putting quality above quantity.
Say no sometimes.
Aim for sustainability over the quick-hit.
Ask What if…?
Challenging our Content Marketing assumptions starts with slowing down. I spoke and wrote about slow marketing a few times in 2016; I’ll do more in 2017. The gist is this: There is such a thing as a bad slow in marketing, but there is a critical need for a good slow, too. In 2017, the smartest companies will slooooowwww down at the right, necessary moments.
2017 Content Marketing Trends
So what does this actually mean, in practical terms?
I have a lot of thoughts for us. But Abby is still outside barking—yup, still!
So right now I’m debating whether I forge ahead and share the specifics now or whether it might not be better to pause, pull on some boots, and skid over the icy lawn to shuttle Abby inside to reassure her:
There are no goblins in our yard today.
Nothing lurks in the shadows.
And the only threat to our happy home is assuming the dopey tree branch we see is always just that. Because it might be something more.
Part 2 to come: Content Marketing Trends and Specifics
Header image credit: Gareth Simpson