Content is KingWe’ve all heard the adage that “content is king” and some of us believe that. However, in a report released today by the Altimeter Group, it seems not many companies believe this and need to rebalance their efforts so that they have the content work for them. Written by analyst Rebecca Lieb and researched by Zak Kirchner and Jaimy Szymanski, this report helps shed some new light on content marketing and how emerging digital technologies, platforms, and channels can be used effectively to help a brand function as a media company and exploit it.

For this report, Altimeter  Group interviewed over 50 individuals actively engaged in what they call “the evolution of content strategy as it relates to marketing. These businesses were both B2C and B2B, with 45% representing 19 brands, 55% agency employees, consultants, and thought leaders from 23 content service providers were also interviewed. So now that the experts have been assembled, let’s look at what they have to say about content marketing. But before we can get there, we’ll need to define “content marketing”? The report defines it as the following:

Content marketing is a term that refers to the creation and sharing of content for marketing purposes. In digital channels, it refers to content that resides on properties the brand or marketer owns (e.g., a website) or largely controls from a content perspective (social media channels, syndication). Content marketing differs from advertising in that, unlike advertising, a media buy is never part of the equation.

And this type of marketing isn’t about one-off content either nor is it limited to just the marketing department. On the contrary, the report believes that content creation and distribution will place new and continual demands on the enterprise on the whole. Frequently, content demands operating in real-time and any time.

The problem here is that marketers and businesses are not yet in the state of being a storyteller. Traditionally, the role of marketing has focused on advertising, not sharing an experience. We, as consumers, are being bombarded with advertisers in almost a Kanye West style (“Imma let you finish…“) that turns us away from even paying attention to their product. No longer is the message about “me, the company”. It’s now about about storytelling and attracting, entertaining, and informing your customers. Companies will need to do, what Altimeter Group calls, rebalancing, which is realigning your resources, budgets, staff, company culture, and agency/service providers to help make the marketing more effective and able to meet the digital challenges. In order to do this, the Altimeter Group report recommends four major and fundamental steps to grow your content marketing strategy:

Understand that content marketing is not free.

Content marketing can definitely reduce the media spend that is used for advertising, but the more mature your company gets in its effort, the greater resources you’re going to need to invest to make your content initiatives more effective.

Implement broad cultural integration around content marketing.

When rebalancing, you’re going to need deep departmental integration and cultural shifts across the entire organization–improve education, training, and new digital skill sets for staff and beyond the marketing team.

Integrate content marketing with advertising.

By throwing your support behind content marketing, you’re going to cause marketers to reevaluate their spend on advertising and focus budgets on content production and distribution. But don’t disregard one or the other–the report suggests integrating the two together for optimal success and it will help tell a better brand story.

Avoid bright, shiny objects

Pay no attention to the flavor of the week. In their research, the Altimeter Group discovered that many marketers are distracted by channels and technologies at the expense of strategy and marketing fundamentals. Don’t try and go after something unproven only because it’s the latest and greatest. Focus on the things that will truly help you get the attention of your customers.

So how does one mature their content marketing strategy? Altimeter has identified five phases that when achieved, will help marketers determine just how advanced they are.

Altimeter Group content marketing maturity model

As you can see from the above model, the elementary step of this model is “Stand”. It’s interesting that they decided to go for a “walk before you run” analogy for this as when you read through the different descriptions for each phase, it makes perfect sense–take things slow when you’re developing your strategy. Within the Stand phase, this describes companies that haven’t really adopted content marketing nor understand its value. Sure, they’ve set up some social media accounts and maybe even a blog, but they don’t really pay much attention to it nor do they understand its applicability to the company as a whole. Marketing is a “push” process–everything gets sent out without caring about feedback from the customers being pulled back in. To help with this, companies need an evangelist or catalyst to kick them in the pants and get the ball rolling. This looks like a phase that will be pretty slow at first.

In Stretch, content marketing has been hovering around the organization for a while and now people want to build a strategy and support necessary to produce the content. An evangelist has been named and helping to run the show and help team members engage with early channels, build basic content and evaluate all agency relationships. This level of maturity is one that reassess the resources available and makes calculations on what’s needed to succeed further. The next phase, Walk, a stronger, solid strategic foundation is created within the company. Content channels no longer are specific in nature–it doesn’t matter where the content is placed, only that it’s created and shared across all channels. Formal processes are established and the team begins to take shape. This effort leads your company to Jog, where companies become seriously committed to content marketing–no more dabbling or dipping your toes in the water. It’s in for a penny…you have a strategy and it’s communicated effectively within the team and organization. Now content must be produced that is more experiential and engaging rather than simple. Begin to give it a life of its own and enable it to travel. It shouldn’t be about the brand, product, or service.

This all culminates with Run which is the most aspirational phase of this maturity model. Altimeter believes only a handful of companies have really reached this phase, but here companies will be bona fide media companies who are able to monetize their content by selling and licensing them on its standalone merit. Consumer-generated content will outpace self-created content and media shared between the company and all partners will be an important asset.

Altimeter Group confidence in future of online video, social, mobile

So now you have your content marketing strategy down, the next step is to figure out what’s the channel you think you need and which is more of a priority? We’re warned, in the report, that we shouldn’t ignore that each channel brings with it new technological and budgetary requirements. So we probably don’t want to say we’ll explore the blogging & podcasting channel without understanding its true implications. The preferences of the consumer and where they are, along with emerging trends, will put considerable pressure on what channels should be explored. In the Altimeter Group report, respondents were asked what content channels are important to them and what types of content do they hope to both deploy and de-emphasize in the future–a chart of their answers is shown above.

As it turns out, visual information will continue to be the number one channel to pursue. Overwhelmingly, marketers are planning on adding more video to their content marketing initiatives and increasing investment in both technology and production resources. Mobile and location-based marketing are next in line, perhaps highlighting the fact that most people are always on the go and more and more applications are being created on mobile devices instead of websites? Sadly, with the adoption of content marketing, marketers are slowly digging the knife deeper into the backs of print and broadcast advertising, and to a point, public relations. The web has provided more opportunity and channels for businesses to get their message across than simply paying several newspapers to bring advertisements.

There’s more useful information in the latest Altimeter Group report and you can view it on SlideShare by clicking here.

About the Author:

Ken Yeung

Editor-in-Chief of and an accomplished interactive producer in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area interested in all things in tech and marketing. Whether its gadgets or startups or related issues, he's eager to learn about it. From attending local and national conferences to appearing at events, parties, and other meetups, Ken is interested in sharing what he sees. Oh, and he's an accomplished photographer too, having been commissioned by Mashable, TechCrunch, TechSet, SXSW, BlogWorld, and many more.

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    Augusta Real Estate18 February 2012 5:59 am

    Nice post, will use this on my site