A new study, "CMOs' Attitudes Toward Custom Content," underscores how important custom content has become to marketing.
The study, based on a phone survey of 100 CMOs conducted in January and February by RoperASW for the Custom Content Council, found that:
- 83 percent of CMOs are "very" or "somewhat" receptive to custom content (up from 67 percent in 2006).
- 87 percent of CMOs view custom content as "very" or "somewhat" valuable (up from 72 percent in the previous study).
Looking to the future, the survey responses were even more dramatic. Asked if "custom content is the future of marketing," 35 percent of this year's respondents said they "strongly agree," up from 19 percent in 2006.
Before proceeding, it might be worth discriminating between "custom content" and "content marketing," two terms that some people use interchangeably. I like the way Andrew Boer, president of MovableMedia, a custom content agency, walks through the difference in his blog post.
In my view, there is a simple and fundamental difference between [Custom Content and Content Marketing]: one is internal, one is external... Custom Content is the creation of "branded content" for a customer. And, for the most part, Custom Content is created for the client to communicate with their own existing customers.
There is some overlap, but Content Marketing for the most part is a different beast. Content Marketing is predominantly outward facing -- it is about creating content that will attract new customers for brands.
The use of "journalism-like" content in the service of a marketing objective -- often to strengthen the relationship between the sponsor of the medium and the medium's audience -- is not a new idea. In-flight magazines, sponsored by airlines, helped inaugurate the tactic a half century ago.
The difference today is that custom content can be found in virtually every corner of the information ecosystem: print publications, Websites, blogs, email newsletters, online and offline events, and video. Most recently, of course, marketers have begun posting on social media channels like Facebook and Twitter.
As traditional journalism struggles to find a workable business model amid a plethora of digital outlets, diminished advertising revenues, and a bad economy, custom content's use has grown steadily. Moreover, traditional media have joined the bandwagon and acknowledged that marketing services, including the production of custom content, must be a part of their future.
Just last week, in fact, the trade association for B2B media, American Business Media, and the Custom Content Council entered into a strategic alliance to share expertise and to cooperate on content and events.
Even at the end of 2008, when the US economy was falling off a cliff, custom content activities represented, on average, an astonishing and under-reported 27 percent of total marketing dollars.
Although the Content Marketing Council hasn't published its 2012 report yet, my contacts there tell me it will report that 60 percent of marketers plan on increasing their content marketing budgets over the next 12 months.
Inevitably, any conversation about custom content or content marketing prompts a discussion of its impact on traditional journalism.
Joe Pulizzi has a ready response. Pulizzi is the Content Marketing Evangelist at Junta42.com, a portal that connects clients and vendors through its matching service, and the outfit that put on the recent Content Marketing World event. Pulizzi said:
It's funny how people focus on this so much. Just because a brand starts to communicate with audiences using journalistic techniques or feature journalism, that does not mean that they are 'news' journalists. Brands need to be a relevant part of the customer conversation. In order to do that, they need to develop content that is useful and interesting to customers. This does not mean that Intel is going to cover the war in Afghanistan, but it may mean that they cover the technology space, giving their expert point of view.
Indeed, if producers of custom content or content marketing have learned anything in 50 years, it is this: Audiences want relevant, interesting, targeted material -- not marketing copy. Failure to deliver that will undermine engagement and might, even, hurt the brand.
— Ellis Booker is a freelance journalist with extensive experience with business-to-business marketing.
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