Why You Should Unlearn Everything You Knew About Digital Content Marketing

The first era of content marketing is coming to an end.

In the early days, “lead generation content” generally meant e-books, webinars, and not much else. Marketing teams could rely on organic social feeds for engagement, and lead and content libraries seemed built for volume. The second era will change that.

It is not the feverish warning of an alarmist that the end of content itself is imminent; it’s not. The types of content and channels we know best — blogging, SEO, and business social accounts — are still powerful when used strategically. Shoppers will continue to spend their waking hours online. And content marketing remains a core standalone function for high-growth brands.

But the appeal of the main formats of that time seems to be shrinking, giving way to the next era.

What caused the change?

It’s not just one thing that has pushed us into a new era. Many factors have.

For starters, we’re all better marketers. First era content marketing best practices have become widely available, leveling the playing field. We content marketers now know the basics of keyword strategy, we’ve memorized the workflows for creating a perfectly positioned ebook, and we’re ( painfully) familiar with the ever-changing demands of an engaging organic social media strategy.

Tools and templates from companies such as HubSpot and Canva have also contributed to the transition. They broke down the barriers to produce the main assets of the first era, like e-books, flooding the flooded market with largely undifferentiated content.

And let’s not forget the audience. The decision makers and influencers who drive B2B purchases are more and more digital natives. And although this cohort consists of recreational readers, their multi-tab diet arguably varies more than that of any influential pro before. It includes websites, emails, social media, personalized newsletters, chatbots, subscriptions, podcasts, digital content and search engines. Just as products evolve to meet market needs, content must evolve too.

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Communities, platforms and many voices

The first era of content marketing was largely a solitary sequential experiment based on a supply and demand model.

For example, a brand may find that every year 6,000 searches are performed on a particular topic. In response, they create the most authoritative post or well-researched ebook about it, which they promote through social media, search, and email. As a prospect, I find it, download it, and skim through its contents, learning enough to decide whether to move on or move on.

The next era will likely look something different: closer to the online communities driven by today’s multi-sided platform economy. At this time, single-voice authority probably matters less, while multi-voice authority and sharing – such as can occur in cities and markets – matters more.

Like a manager at a growing digital health company told me recently, “In the age of democratized content, I’m less and less interested in what a person — who we’ve sort of considered to be more ‘right’ than anyone else in other — has to say, and I’m more interested in what a lot of people have to say.

Take Drift, which offers conversational marketing and sales tools like website chatbots, for example. The company recently launched its membership-based sales and marketing community, Drifting initiate. While they offer first-era mainstays like eBooks and blog posts, Drift Insider is much more than just an impressive library. It’s a platform that connects two different audiences: sales and marketing professionals who are both looking to learn and share their expertise.

The market validates this idea: At the time of writing, Drift Insider has acquired 30,000 subscribers (and therefore 30,000 sales opportunities). This result rarely happens with an ebook, but it can happen more regularly through platforms.

Rethinking content for the next era

This development can be destabilizing.

It will force me to abandon one definition of content marketing and adopt a new one that we are building in real time. For example, in the early era of content marketing, I would research a high-demand topic, create authoritative and engaging content around it, and showcase brand voice and credibility. In the second era, I will have to think about the network that can help me create authoritative, angle-focused content around the topic – not just who will want to read it.

Despite the new demands this era will demand, I am optimistic. It will be shocking to abandon some of the practices that I have learned for years. But as this new era gathers momentum, I’m energized by the promise of using content to create something exponentially smarter, more truthful and more diverse, something more closely aligned with the momentum of internet. That is to say: the community.