Starting today, Lukas Treu will be regularly covering all things content strategy for The Brew. Below are some big implications he came away with from last month’s Content Marketing World; AKHIA President Ben Brugler also covers the subject from another angle in today’s I’ve Been Thinking.

The bass-heavy music died down, the scintillating lights were extinguished, and the Cleveland Cavaliers Scream Team members headed for the back of the exhibit hall, having tossed the last of their t-shirts to an exhilarated crowd. Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, retook the stage. Content Marketing World 2015, themed “Bright Lights, Big Content”, was officially underway, and the electricity in the air was palpable.

It wouldn’t stay that way for long, however.

“We have crested the Peak of Inflated Expectations, and are headed for the Trough of Disillusionment with content marketing,” Joe stated, motioning toward a large on-screen graph depicting Gartner’s hype cycle for new technologies. “We will see the greatest successes and the greatest frustrations with content marketing in the coming months,” Joe posited, “and research results are showing only 30% effectiveness ratings for content marketing efforts in some cases. It is a time for reflection.”

A bleak reality had just been painted, and many attendees were caught off guard. Unexpected doubt crept into previously jubilant minds in the convention center as many of us found ourselves asking, “Is content marketing really a dumb idea, or are we just missing something?”


AKHIA Change Agent Amanda Vasil and I thought about the answer to this question in our initial reaction post during the conference, and if you read it, you know that we trend toward the latter perspective. Taking this position begs a follow-up question, however: “What, then, are we marketers missing?”

A few things, actually.

#1: There are still many marketers that do not understand what content marketing is… and isn’t.

Marketers are quite good at recognizing a trend when they see it; it is often literally our jobs to do so. A trend toward content marketing adoption in the marketplace is undeniable, and recognizing this, many marketers have leapt excitedly on the bandwagon. The problem, though, is that those well-intentioned marketers have little idea where said metaphorical bandwagon is going, how to read the music or which instrument they’re supposed to pick up to achieve their goals.

“Create compelling content that excites and amazes your audience,” they are told, but often no one explains that content marketing isn’t simply an extension of traditional campaign-based marketing. It is a fundamentally different pursuit, focused not on immediate selling, but on building relationships and brand attachment for long-term gains. Content marketing has to be orchestrated differently from the usual marketing communications pursuits, with content often developed by different team members, measured by different standards and organized in different manners than other collateral. Without this understanding, “failure” should hardly be unexpected.

#2: Marketers are often failing to develop and adhere to a robust content marketing strategy.

Content marketing may sound great, and it certainly can be. A strategy that serves as its guiderails, however, is essential at every step. Such a strategy should guide the mission, process, delivery and evolution of the content marketing program. It should also drive the substance, structure, workflow and governance of the content and content team in order for the endeavor to be fruitful.

Diagnosing where you are and where you are going before you dive into a content marketing program is a step too often overlooked. Take the time up front to determine your guiding principles, such as a mission statement, success metrics, audience identifiers and behavior, and the process by which your content will be planned, created, promoted and refined. Finally, define a coherent set of actions that will be taken by the team to give the program the best opportunity for success.

#3: Marketers may be looking for the wrong outcomes from their content marketing programs.

While many marketers have heard that their new content should promote thought leadership perceptions, be utilitarian in nature versus sales-y, and win fans on behalf of the brand, too often those marketers are still held to short-term, sales-related ROI goals. When this is the case, even the most compelling content program may be deemed a failure in light of an ill-fitting definition of success.

People form relationships with brands in the same way they do with people, at least neurologically. You can read this phenomenon in the latter half of this post. Good content marketing programs seek to foster these relationships by empowering audience members to make decisions about which they feel good. These relationships don’t form overnight, however, and thus content marketing has to be viewed as an investment that creates value over time, not a short-term expense that is expected to produce a quick sale. Patience can be highly rewarding: A very successful lead generation campaign might resonate with 5% of an audience, but a great collection of useful content could be beneficial to a far greater percentage of targets that may become brand advocates and customers.

Content marketing isn’t broken. It isn’t dead, either, as I am sure many clickbait-driven blog posts have proclaimed it to be. Content marketing is mostly just misunderstood. Such is the danger with trendy pursuits: They may be wonderful ideas at their core, but mass adoption without an equal degree of understanding can result in substantial disappointment.

Let me be clear: Adoption of content marketing principles is, in most cases, a great idea. We simply need to ensure the vision, processes, resources and expectations are aligned to ensure its successful implementation. The message from Content Marketing World this year was not that content marketing is doomed, but rather that it is time we brushed up on the basics for best results.

The “trough of disillusionment” isn’t the end of the hype cycle; it merely represents a temporary stop in the doldrums. In fact, Joe continued his opening speech to say that “2016 will be the year of the content brand.” Content Marketing World 2015 may have begun on a seemingly dire note, but it ended with thousands of participants filled with hope and excitement for what content marketing can do for the brands they represent.

You can implement a content marketing program and expect to achieve your goals as long as you are smart about how you define them. Keep the faith! Also, check back again soon as we delve more into how to make it happen in upcoming posts. Stay tuned…

Lukas Treu is Lead, Content Strategy at AKHIA, and he’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Or ask him questions on Twitter at @ltreu