What you need to know about content marketing platforms

We explore to exponential rise in this category of martech and how utilising content differs to other digital advertising

It’s been more than 25 years since Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, penned an essay that reminded us content is king.

That’s a long time in Internet years, and many other predictions have proven false. But there’s no doubt the appetite for content has never been healthier. In 2021, the global content marketing industry was estimated to be worth US$66 billion in revenue, growing to US$76 billion this year. It’s expected to double by 2026 to US$137 billion.

All of that content demands tools and processes to manage it, and that, in turn, has seen a proliferation of new technology for the purpose. The 2022 edition of marketing technology landscape from Scott Brinker and Frans Reimers noted among the 9932 martech solutions featured, the number of content and engagement vendors grew from 1936 to 2592 in a single year.

Many are clumped together under the banner of content marketing platforms (CMPs). While the exact definition of a CMP varies, they generally include tools for creating, managing, distributing and measuring marketing-related digital content.

According to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for content marketing platforms released in March, the most comprehensive software offerings support capabilities such as content strategy, ideation, editorial planning, calendarisation, collaboration and creative workflows and approvals management, curation, metadata management and distribution of different content types and measurement and optimisation tools. The analyst firm also highlights integration into marketing systems such as Web content management, sales enablement, digital asset management (DAM) and marketing automation as a growing area of focus for these platforms.

Gartner director analyst for marketers, Jeffrey Cohen, says it is no surprise appreciation of content’s importance has grown as digital marketing matured, especially in business-to-business (B2B) marketing.

“It starts with the idea that content is critical to every revenue-driving organisation, whether it is marketing or sales,” he tells CMO. “If you are a B2B company, it is super important because that is how demand gen is run. But even if you are a B2C company serving consumers, you are trying to get your prospects and customers to engage with you and content is the thing they engage with.”

Cohen says appreciation of content’s importance has both marketing and sales leaders wanting to get better at its creation – a process which has traditionally been expensive and time consuming to get right.

“While we can’t necessarily improve the content people are creating, technology can improve the process,” he says.

Product capabilities now grouped into the CMP category is broad. Gartner’s Magic Quadrant includes providers as diverse as Optimizely, Seismic, Contently and Sitecore. Many competitors are still in their startup phase, and the category has been a hotbed of merger and acquisition activities as larger competitors seek to build out capabilities.

“Some have a social listening front-end, some have SEO inputs, and there are even some that look at competitive content keywords,” Cohen says. “But it has got to start with the voice of the customer and what are they interested in, and how we get better at creating ideas by focusing on that. Then it becomes an editorial planning process to turn that into a series of content pieces across campaigns with different themes for different audiences.”

A new generation of martech

Among entrepreneurs competing for a slice of this fast-growing opportunity is Aaron Macarthur and his team at Sydney-based startup, Convo Ink. Macarthur believes the path ahead for content marketing solutions was paved by social media platforms, which have done an amazing job of putting content in front of the right people.

“Those big social media platforms have given a lot of people better understanding of how you can use different forms of content to generate results,” Macarthur says. “It is ripe for further innovation, and it definitely needs some new tools to make it easier and simpler to create content at scale.”

Macarthur worked in numerous sales and operations roles with publishing and media companies before starting Convo Ink in 2021. The purpose of this new company is to bring many innovations that have driven the growth of digital advertising into the content marketing sector.

“Over the last three years or so, it has really become apparent the industry has started to catch on to the role content can play in acquiring or delivering customers,” he says. “But the industry just didn’t have the tools to create content at scale. So it has been incredibly hard to write and produce content then extend that across multiple publishers.”

Macarthur’s solution is to use programmatic digital marketing technology and other tools to create efficiency in content processes, coupled with a strong capability in data analytics to measure the performance of that content. Convo Ink created its own metric for measuring the attention given to each piece of content, so marketers can understand how each is performing in real time. This is achieved by analysing specific behaviours such as viewing or playing time and interactions like swipes and clicks, as well as examining the environment the content resides within.

“All these things add up to give us the clearest picture yet of how content is performing,” Macarthur says. “That has been one of the hardest things to measure within the industry for a long time.”

By understanding the performance of content in real time, Macarthur hopes to enable marketers to dynamically optimise content based on those insights.

“Instead of just having a static campaign, what we are looking to do is explore the different data signals and see what is happening with our attention scores and use those as clues as to what we need to do to evolve that piece of content,” Macarthur says. “Over time, we are able to make three or four different optimisations to that content that will basically increase engagement and increase attention levels over time.”

Up next: a new native content ecosystem emerges, plus how to go beyond advertising

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Creating content connections

Increasing interest in content is also opening opportunities for more traditional players, including native content network and marketplace, Avid Collective, which now provides access to 80 digital publishers. Managing director, Luke Spano, says his company is constantly enhancing capabilities by creating digital tools that aid the content creation and publishing workflow.

Spano notes the key difference between content and advertising is content is not an intrusive experience.

“Content is something someone is deliberately consuming, which is a very different experience,” he says. “Consumers are looking for more meaningful connections - they are looking for content and stories and brands that resonate - and content is a way to connect with consumers.”

Spano is not surprised by rapidly growing interest in content production given some marketers are realising the deficiencies of other advertising formats.

“What traditional advertising channels have helped advertisers achieve is scale,” Spano says. “Then you had the Web 2.0 evolution, with the Facebooks and Googles of the world, who bought both scale and targeting.

“But what is lacking is two other core pillars: Attention and trust.”

Spano also believes as advertising becomes more prevalent, trust declines. “That is why there has been a significant turn to content from brands. Within that is branded content,” he says.

Avid Collective’s platform aims to make it easier to work with writers, influencers and other content creators across 80 different communities who already have an understanding of their audiences.

“Structure enables talent, and the same thing can be applied to creativity,” Spano says. “Having a workflow platform that allows the people creating the content to do what they do best, and not get caught up in having to sift through 100 email chains, Google Sheets and tools that aren’t purpose-built for the work they are trying to do, means there is less risk of errors and more ability to get into flow state and create content they are really good at creating.

“It allows the creators to focus on doing what they do really well and engage with the brands in a way where brands are still getting the message that they want across.”

Beyond advertising

It is evident marketers continue to up their spend on content: This year’s State of the CMO research shows nearly half of all marketing leaders surveyed plan to increase investments in content production this year. What’s more, growing numbers are building in-house agency models to help cope with the exponential increase in content and creative required across digital channels and formats.

For those planning to increase content investments, Gartner’s Cohen advises taking a distinctly different approach to planning content campaigns from what they might bring to traditional advertising.

“In this environment it is not about product specs or features and benefits, it is about helping someone solve a business problem,” Cohen says. “Because at the end of the day, buyers do not care about product, they care about solving their own problems. And if you can create education type content that can help solve their problems, that is the first step of building trust. It is not new, but the explosion of it is new.”

As to which of the current crop of CMPs will still be in existence or independent in the years ahead, Cohen says the winners will be those that also focus on solving the true needs of their customers.

“They need content, they need automation and they need AI. It just makes sense to find the right technology to help manage this whole process,” he adds.

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