What's the Future of Content?

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Content and content marketing are maturing. Brands are connecting with their customers via blogs, forums, social media and more, and some are getting to the point where they're asking, "What's the future of content?"

TopRank Online Marketing CEO and author of Optimize, Lee Odden, not only understands content, but he also has one of the most highly educated opinions of where it's going. Lee spoke at tonight's Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association event and prognosticated about the future of content.

We hear only those questions for which we are in a position to find answers.
 - Friedrich Nietzsche

Why Content?

78% of CMOs think custom media represents the future of marketing. It's not hard to see why. Consumers are increasingly able to choose the media they consume as options explode, which benefits brands with great content and chips away at the entire notion of advertising at the same time.

Content affects organizations at all levels, yet the approach to content creation, management, promotion, and measurement can vary significantly. Many organizations remain completely siloed. So what is content? How is it created? And what are some trends we expect to see?

Planning Content Around the Customer Journey

Any successful journey starts with your customer's sales cycle: awareness, interest, consideration, purchase, and advocacy. Do you know what people are looking for? What words do they use when they search? How do they consume what they find both in terms of devices and mediums? And finally, what makes your customers act?

Developing and planning great content isn't so daunting when starting with these simple questions because content should be created for a relevant audience, it should satisfy their information needs, and it should serve as business purpose.

Think you're doing well along this path? Lee shared Altimeter's content marketing maturity model that adds to the traditional concepts of crawl, walk run:

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If you have a process and dedicated resources in place to create content, you may think you're ahead of the game. Consider this: unless your content is good enough to monetize by itself, you're not quite there yet.

What is Content?

Content is an ambiguously multivalent term. Even the experts can't agree on a formal definition. 

In a nutshell, content is stories that brands tell to their customers over the course of time that convey a meaningful experience and inspire action. Content is not a campaign and it is not solely about the written word. It is the dynamic, ever-changing conversation brands can have with customers in all mediums and on devices. It adds value. It engages, educates or entertains. It gets people to feel something. It gets them to act.

The Perfect Content Marketing Team

Many content teams look a little different, but ultimately, every content team consists of four critical functions:

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The model, number of employees, and roles may vary widely depending on the business model.

Small companies, large companies, in-house and agency models may all differ, and so will the titles. Chief content officer, VP of inbound marketing, managing editor, content creator, content producer, chief listening officer, editorial director, curator, syndicator, analytics expert, site manager, designer, editor, and writer are all examples of titles and roles that could be a part of a content marketing team, but ultimately the four functions of creating, optimizing, socializing and measuring content should be in tact.

What is the Future of Content?

Lee went on to share a solid dose of emerging trends and predictions for the future of content:

  1. We'll see more content leadership positions emerging
  2. Companies and agencies will be scrambling (more than they are already) to come up to speed with content
  3. Mobile devices will continue to rise
  4. Brand publishers will begin to view traditional media sources as competitors for traffic and content
  5. Consumption devices and wearable computing will increase when and where people consume content
  6. Converged media will take hold as the concept of having similar assets and narrative across channels to create a congruent experience
  7. Visual content will continue to grow as budgets increase and the content bar raises
  8. Adaptive content that reacts to current events will become the norm (e.g., eating Oreos in the dark at the Superbowl)
  9. Brands will finally be forced (and freed) to be human and personal in order to have  voice worth listening to
  10. Collaborative content will see multiple contributors building, curating, and editing a larger piece of content
  11. Similar to collaborative content, co-created content will see brands increasingly involving their customers in content creation
  12. Mobile utility will see consumers using apps as content to solve problems and bypassing the Internet altogether
  13. Search and social integration will increase in pace as concepts like Google Authorship take hold and companies compete to hire authoritative personal brands

With all that said, Lee underscored the importance of the basic principles that drive content: attracting, engaging, and converting your customers. To put it into action, try this experiment. Take a persona you care about, take some things they care about, and think about how you would talk to that person at each step in your sales cycle in a way that answers their questions and helps them solve their problems.

Remember that content is more than just information, it solves problems and inspires. Keep that in mind, and your future will be bright.