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Revisiting "The Future of Content Marketing is Already Here"

Woman sitting in coffee shop creating content on her laptop computer to illustrate the idea that the future of content marketing is already here

Earlier this year, I responded to my good friend Mark Schaefer’s post the other day about the future of content marketing, noting that "…across the board, Mark nailed it."

That’s not the whole story though. Because, as I stated at the time, "the future of content marketing is already here." More importantly, if you want your content marketing to succeed in the future, you need to start right now.

So, what is the future of content marketing? How will it affect your business in the future? And what must you do today to be ready no matter what the future brings? That’s what this episode of Thinks Out Loud is all about.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Revisiting "The Future of Content Marketing is Already Here" Headlines and Show Notes

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Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud

Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 25m 20s

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Transcript: Revisiting "The Future of Content Marketing is Already Here"

Well, hello again, everyone and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is Episode 350 of the big show. I can’t believe we’ve done 350 episodes and I say it all the time, but I wouldn’t do it if you didn’t listen so I really appreciate that you do. I think we’ve got a really cool show for you today. Though I’m fully going to admit, it’s a little bit of a weird one.

My good friend, Mark Schaefer wrote a brilliant piece on his blog the other day, talking all about 10 ideas for the future of content marketing, and you should read it. It is great. Seriously. I might quibble a bit about specific ideas he has in there, but overall, I agree with Mark, basically, a hundred percent, like just hugely. And since content is king, as I’ve said many times—”Content is king. Customer experience is queen. Data is the crown jewels.”—I thought it would be worthwhile to kind of dig into Mark’s piece a little bit to add some additional nuances that either reinforce Mark’s thoughts or in a couple of cases, provide an alternative viewpoint to Mark’s vision for the future of content marketing. Not because I think he’s wrong, but because I think there’s some additional arguments in favor of what he’s talking about that we should be thinking about.

What is the Future of Content Marketing?

There are several key things we need to talk about:

  1. The first is, why the new content formats that are likely to emerge matter and what you should be doing today to be ready when they do.
  2. We should be talking about why those new content formats will likely make it easier for gatekeepers to gate instead of harder and again, why you should be taking steps today to make sure that you’re in good shape regardless of what they do.
  3. I’m going to touch briefly on why the AGFAM—Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft—probably aren’t the gatekeepers you need to worry about down the road, plus a couple of ideas of who you might want to think about.
  4. I want to talk about why “when you build a ship, you build a shipwreck” is going to get increasingly important in content and in terms of what we do.
  5. I’m going to talk about one more reason why community matters
  6. And why the brands of the future are brands—whether they’re personal brands or business brands—are going to matter so much.

Let’s dive in and look at these one by one.

What are the Content Marketing Formats of the Future?

First, I thought Mark made a great point when people were talking about, "What are the formats of the future?" And he’s like, "People talk about video as the format of the future, and they’re not right." And I agree with Mark. Video is not the future; video is the present.

Video is where we are today.

Yes, we have text. Yes, we have images. Yes, we have audio. Those are all important, but video also plays an enormous role for most businesses and that will be more true over time.

But if we talk about the future of content marketing, we are going to be looking at more interactive, more immersive content. I mean, that’s where we’re going to get to next.

New Content Formats Will Make it Easier for Gatekeepers to Gate

I think the likelihood of those new content formats make it easier for gatekeepers to gate. You’ve heard me say many times, "Gatekeepers going to gate." That’s going to be more true in the future.

The rise of creators from bloggers to Instagram celebrities, to YouTube influencers, to podcasters, to Twitch streamers, emerged due to the democratization of content creation. In the famous words of Clay Shirky, "Publishing used to be an industry. Now it’s a button." And the buttons to create and publish text and images and video and audio and live streams exist today. They’re very robust.

The buttons to create metaverse experiences, again, as I discussed last week—whatever those turn out to be—kind of don’t yet. I want to be fair. There’s some good tools out there for doing things on Roblox and there’s some good things there if you’re doing things on Meta Quest, but they’re not as robust and not as well formed and not as simple yet as they are for the things you might do if you’re doing a YouTube video or an Instagram Story or a blog post.

Whatever platform emerges that provides simple publishing tools for new content creators, likely wins the attention of those creators and of their audiences.

New Content Formats Will Require Diverse Skills—and Teams (Probably)

And given the relative complexity of creating a deeply immersive experience, the kinds of content I think we’re going to see in the future. I suspect that it will be closer to the process of making a movie or developing a video game than writing a blog post with one huge caveat that I will come back to in a little bit.

It’s not that the tools won’t democratize development production and publishing, it’s that it’s likely to require a broader set of skills than just any one person will possess. It’s going to require larger teams, probably. And it’s probably not going to be as easy for teams to move between platforms and as easily and seamlessly as we do today with text or images or audio or video or streaming. That is a huge point in favor of a “winner take most” outcome, a place where a gatekeeper can emerge.

And I suspect that’s going to be true regardless of whether you create with a team or you create as an individual.

I mean, think about it.

New Content Marketing Formats Will Drive Lock-In… at Least for a While

You can write a blog post and easily distribute it to your audience across your website and your blog and Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter. You can record a podcast and essentially share it the same way. And the same is true with images and video; you can post them to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, whatever you want to do.

Do we really think you’re going to be able to move immersive metaverse experiences from Facebook’s platform, to Apple’s platform, to Google’s platform or whomever else exists in the future? I don’t think so. I mean, today, can you create materials for Roblox or Meta Quest and expect to experience it on the other platform easily? Not really. You, as a content creator are more likely to be locked into the single platform that fits your team’s skills best or your individual skills best—if it’s easy enough for a single creator to develop content—or most importantly, where your audience wants to find you. And the platform or platforms that attract the most popular and largest share of creators stand to own that gateway to customers.

Gatekeepers Gonna Gate. Just Not the Ones We Know

And as we’ve noted, gatekeepers going to gate, it’s just baked into their model. I also strongly suspect that it’s unlikely that it’s the same group of gatekeepers.

I talked about this a bit last week, but I want to go into why each of the incumbents has some obvious weaknesses.

Apple. For example, let’s take Apple. If the metaverse becomes a thing, there’s no guarantee that their hardware is the winner, they are already a fairly hit-dependent company. They gain market share and mind share only when they introduce new iPhones or iPads that folks want to own, and we’ve seen them stumble a little bit here and there. If they stumble in their ability to make products people want, whether in existing device categories or new ones, their ability to control the app marketplace could erode or could disappear.

Google. Google’s biggest issue, by contrast, is product quality. Google is among the most brittle members of the AGFAM. Their customer loyalty is built around the quality of its search results and the user experience people have with those search results. Customers could easily switch to using Bing or DuckDuckGo or Neeva or some nascent competitor in a heartbeat. If they didn’t find the results useful, or far more likely, became frustrated with the volume of ads shown in the search results. I talked about this a couple weeks ago, about how much their revenues are tied to advertising in search and they’re sort of obligated towards turning over a larger and larger share of their search results page to advertising. That just may not be sustainable.

Facebook. Now, if you look at Facebook, I mean, where do we begin? And I like Facebook, I’ve done work for Facebook, but probably none of the AGFAM has a worse reputation at the moment. And with no disrespect meant to any of them, that kind of takes some doing right now. Consumers don’t have tons of trust in Facebook. They’re struggling to attract younger users. They’re not making any money from anything other than their core social platforms and increasing privacy moves by Google and Apple are putting real constraints on their ability to continue to grow those revenues. Now, maybe they can bring their vision of the metaverse to pass, but if they can’t, they might be very likely to stumble.

Amazon. If we look at Amazon, like Google, their choice to increase monetization of their product search pages is starting to hurt the customer experience. I’ve talked about this in recent episodes, but customers could, in theory, start shopping elsewhere fairly easily if they found they weren’t getting the experience they expected from Amazon.

Microsoft. Now with Microsoft, I have to be very fair. They’re the ones that I track least day-to-day. I do certainly pay attention to them, but I might be a little more off base here. So if I’m wrong, please tell me in the comments, please drop me an email. I’d love to hear from you. But Microsoft don’t seem to have a clear product strategy beyond cloud computing for whatever follows mobile. They might be the safest, but again, that assessment suffers on A.) the level that their general product categories, cloud computing and operating systems are the ones that I pay the least attention to. and B.) they’ve generally flown under the radar compared to the rest of the AGFAMily. I always talk about AGFAM, lots of people talk about FAANG, and Microsoft doesn’t even get listed. I might be missing what their weaknesses are. I might be missing strengths that they possess. What I do know is that I have the lowest confidence in my assessment of them compared with the others on this list.

Strong Regulatory Environment Could Hurt All of the AGFAM

The other thing I do know that’s true, of course, is that all of these folks face the threat of regulatory oversight, whether it’s Europe, US, or elsewhere that it comes from.

Who Might Become the New Gatekeepers?

I think it is more likely that a TikTok or a Snap or a Discord or a Slack or an OpenSea or a Roblox or old media players like Disney or Discovery, Warner, or new search engines or new customer experiences like the metaverse from somebody we don’t even know about could completely upend the world as we know it just as social did, just as mobile did, just as the internet did, just as computing itself did. All of these folks were nobody once upon a time and all of these folks are huge today.

We shouldn’t assume that couldn’t happen again. I’d rate the likelihood of gatekeepers emerging over whatever comes next, pretty high, probably 70% or higher if you ask me to make a wager on it. I’d rate the likelihood of any one of the AGFAM being those gatekeepers a lot lower, probably no higher than 50% for any one of them and as low as 20 or 30% in a couple of particular cases, though I’ll leave it to you to guess which ones that might be.

Building a Content Marketing Machine… by Machines

Now, the one thing that might, might blow some of this up, of course, is what Mark Schaefer referred to as “robo-content,” and he also talked about deep fakes. I would put those in the same category and refer to them as on-demand content. There is a difference there; it’s the intent of the creator to do it for something beneficial or do it for something terrible.

But fundamentally, it is creating content using technology where the technology creates the output. This is a huge, huge opportunity where we are creating content on the fly. If you talk about GPT-3 or OpenAI systems, OpenAI has something called DALL-E and Google has something called Imagen that generate images on the fly from a sentence you type in text. That’s an enormous, enormous shift that we’re going to see as we go forward.

Automating Content Marketing

Think about content that is created as needed in response to customer interactions. That’s an enormous opportunity to create content quickly and readily and personalize it for customers as needed. It doesn’t always need to be the richest, deepest content depending on where your customer is in their journey. It needs to be something that helps people where they are in that moment.

Obviously, we want most of our content to be as rich as possible and as deep as possible. So I don’t think it’s going to get rid of all content. I do think that automations is going to play a huge, huge role though in many contexts.

I also think it could prove my “you need a team” theory from earlier wrong. Maybe you won’t need a team because the tools, the machines, will be able to automatically create the bits that you don’t have the skills to do yourself. I’ve talked in the past about how AI won’t take your job, but smart people who use AI will. This could be a classic example where that does in fact come to pass.

“When You Build the Ship…”

Now, obviously when Mark talked about deep fakes, we’re talking about people using these tools to create content with ill intent. Have a celebrity say something they never would’ve said, have a politician say something they never would’ve said. That is a very real threat. That’s a very real risk.

Why Community Matters to the Future of Content Marketing

You’ve heard me say many, many times, "When you build the ship, you build the shipwreck." So the ability to pull this content apart and know what is real and what is fake and what speaks on your behalf and what doesn’t is going to be increasingly important. That’s why I think Mark is absolutely correct that one of the key factors in the future of content marketing is the community you build. You’re not building an audience. You are building a community.

I have said for years that “social is people,” dating back to the second episode of this podcast. It’s a core tenant of social itself. Deep fakes aren’t going to hurt you near so much if people try to do things that hurt your brand if your community understands and says, "Wait, that doesn’t sound like these guys. That doesn’t sound like the people I know and I love and I trust." And so being able to connect with people as people, being able to build and create a community is going to be critical in a world where content could be weaponized against you.

Plant a Tree Today

That’s hugely important and something you need to be building today. When we talk about the companies that people trust and the companies that people love, they can make mistakes and have their community back them up. I’ve seen this. It’s not always easy, but it’s built on common values. It’s built on trust. It’s built on transparency that your community understands who you are and what you stand for and likes to work alongside you.

That’s why community is going to be so powerful and so important along with their ability to attract other users and other people just like them, who also want to be part of what you do. But it’s in inoculation, it’s a vaccine, if you will, against the fakes.

Why the Future of Content Marketing Depends on Brand

And of course, you cannot build a community if customers don’t know who you are, if they don’t know what you stand for, if they don’t know your values. Now, Mark talks about this as “personal branding.” And he’s right. I’ve shared that point of view with Mark since, golly, 2006 or possibly earlier. I wrote a piece in 2006 when Danny Sullivan left Search Engine Watch, all about “What do you do when people are your brand?” That’s something that will be true, continues to be true. I can’t ever see that not being true.

What’s also true is that, as I said last week, that the way that you beat Google or any gatekeeper is to have people look for you by name. Building a brand, whether it’s your personal brand or your company’s brand is one of the few ways around the reality of gatekeepers going to gate. That’s the way you’re going to win in the long run, regardless of what happens in the future. That’s why it’s so important that you take steps today to be ready for all of this.

Conclusion: The Future of Content Marketing is Already Here

There’s an old cliche you’ve probably heard a million times that the best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today. And if we think this is where the future is going, you’re not going to get there 10 years from now by starting 10 years from now. You’re going to get there by starting today.

Whether it’s new content formats, whether it’s new gatekeepers, whether it’s people we haven’t seen before, whether it’s bad actors who are building shipwrecks while you’re trying to build a ship, whether it’s a community that you want to gain, or whether it’s a brand you want to build, the future of digital, the future of content marketing starts right now.

Show Outro

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes of Thinks Out Loud by going to timpeter.com/podcast. Again, that’s timpeter.com/podcast. Just look for Episode 350.

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Sponsor Message: SoloSegment

As I do every week, I’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment offers search as a service to help customers of large enterprises find the content that they need. When we think about the future of content marketing, we need to think about, is that content serving our customers? Well, SoloSegment uses AI and machine learning and natural language processing to power your search results and drive business results by directing customers to the content that works for them and for you.

You can learn more about SoloSegment and all the wonderful work that they do by going to solosegment.com. Again, that’s solosegment.com.

Show Outro

Finally, and I know I say this at the end of every episode, but we are 350 episodes in. I would not do this if you didn’t listen. The fact that you take time out of your day, out of your week, out of your life to listen to the show means more to me than I can possibly say. We live in a complicated, messed up world and it means more to me than I can say that you choose to find a little time with us every single week.

So with that, I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week. I hope you have a great weekend and I will look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well, be safe. And as always, take care, everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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