Tressa Sloane

In his Leading Edge blog series, Brafton CEO Richard has been exploring the evolution of content marketing and how it has shaped both businesses and their marketing departments. But we wanted to get more insight into what he thinks about the industry, what it takes to stay on top of the game and where content is headed in the years to come. So we asked him.

This year is the year that digital content marketing enters adulthood. Richard believes that 2017 will be an explosive and important year for content and for marketers as companies continue to invest more in the digital landscape and adapt to how it has significantly changed the marketplace.

Over the past 15 to 20 years, there has been a content transition, from widespread printed forms to a predominant digital sphere. And while this may seem like slow but steady growth, Richard, who took the CEO helm of Brafton in 2013 after serving as its Editor in Chief for five years, believes you have to look at it in the context of how content has evolved.

“For it to take a decade or two for content and its potential to establish itself in digital form may seem like a long time if you’re in the thick of it,” he explains. “But when you compare it to the fact that the written word has been around for millennia and the printing press for centuries, the pace of change is electric.”

Creating a content experience with integrated marketing

“To say there is a proliferation of content is an understatement,” Richard states.

But you can no longer just create quality content in order to stay competitive and bring in new business. You have to use it to create experiences for prospects. This is why Richard believes that an effective content strategy, and how it fits into an integrated marketing campaign, is more important than ever, and it’s what will propel businesses forward.

Richard says that brands must provide an overall immersive content experience for prospects and customers. And marketers need to make this the focal point of their goals.

“When you’re on a client site, you need to feel fully engaged by a multitude of factors: UX, brand messaging, what the site is about … it all needs to be very simple, consistent and intuitive,” he explains. “But achieving that level of simplicity is hard, so you need to be obsessing over this, all the time.”

Content marketing touchpoints

So how can brands maintain that consistency across all channels? It’s all about communication and how you want to connect with prospects and customers. Richard believes communications is at the heart of marketing. If businesses can get content marketing (and communication) right, then everything else will be simpler.

“There are lots of different channels and platforms to leverage, but if you have an underlying brand and messaging in line, it helps to deliver unified communications whenever a person comes across your company, whether on your website, through a search query or even further down the funnel.”

This goes back to the first point of having a robust content marketing strategy – instead of only having a focus of creating quality content – as part of an integrated marketing campaign. Communicating your message and brand across all touchpoints is the key to moving forward in this digital world.

Establishing trust with your content strategy

Another crucial component that marketers should focus on is building trust, whether it’s with prospects just discovering their brand or existing customers who have made multiple purchases.

“Trust is at the heart of all relationships,” Richard says. “People are cynical, but they want to know where they stand when they start a conversation with a company. If you can overcome the trust hurdle quickly, then you’ve come a long way at securing a new client or retaining current customers.”

He offers Uber as an example. When the ride-sharing app was first introduced, it experienced explosive growth due to several factors – mainly that it had “first mover advantage” and it disrupted the marketplace. However, recent unforced errors and increasing competition, as well as the brand’s inability to respond to these situations as agilely as it should have, have led to significant trust issues around it. Ultimately, it has hurt Uber’s bottom line.

On the other hand, Airbnb has seen a rapid growth curve over the past few years. And while the homestay platform has run into some problems, it has worked very effectively to stay ahead of any trust issues.

“This goes back to how a brand positions itself and how is communicates with prospects, customers and the community,” Richard states. “Trust drives the bottom line, so companies must be sure they are establishing that key element from the very beginning in their brand messaging and content strategy.”

Content audits address the gaps

If an integrated approach and building trust are vital components of today’s content marketing industry, then Richard believes content auditing is a strategy that will drive content in the future.

“Over the next year or two as businesses continue to invest in content architecture, there’s going to more of an emphasis on revisiting existing content and collateral to make sure it’s refreshed and renewed,” he explains. “I highly expect – and recommend – brands perform an outside audit of their content.”

This includes companies looking at what their competition is doing, and examining what they are or aren’t doing in comparison. An audit gives businesses insight into how to align, and realign, their strategy to address any gaps in their own content. He suggests brands also beta test their content to figure out how to be helpful to prospects.

Framing your content in the marketplace

At the end of the day, Richard believes that how a brand frames its content is just as important as the actual content itself.

“The intention behind content can be good, but the scaffolding is missing, weak or flawed,” he says.

Valuable content often gets overlooked because it hasn’t been properly prepped or promoted, but marketing teaches you how to be more pragmatic, more hard headed and less sentimental about the creative process.

As content marketing continues to evolve, the same tactics and methods that were used only a short while ago may not necessarily work in the future. This is why Richard, and Brafton, believes brands must make a concerted effort to constantly revisit, revise and adapt their content strategies to the industry of the future.