Content Will Not Be King

Coronation crown of Louis XVNearly every marketer in every industry has heard the cry “Content is King“. Even the cover of Ad Age was emblazoned with Content is King last month, complete with a crown. Once a call for change and recognition of a new marketplace reality, Content is King has become conventional marketing wisdom.

The problem is, conventional wisdom is average. Following conventional marketing wisdom will not differentiate you.

Why is content king today:

  • Being customer-centric required moving away from creative executions as the primary way to deliver a message. Focusing on the customer requires providing something that meets their need, and content perfectly fits the bill.
  • Content marketing was not the norm. Companies embracing content marketing were able to provide unique value to clients and prospects.

Today, the situation has changed. In B2B and many consumer markets, content is now the norm and potential customers assume you will provide it. Soon, not offering content that supports the research and buying process may be the equivalent of not having a website, phone number or email contact for your business.

The most interesting question is “after content, what is the next major differentiator?” What will differentiate you when everyone embraces content marketing? Here are a few candidates, please add your own in the comments:


Will relationships, built on content, service or communications, be the new standard? A focus on relationships would improve almost all marketing activity, as it would focus on meeting each individual’s needs and on the quality of the interaction that builds each relationship.

Marketing Automation

Without increasingly sophisticated automation, marketing will not be able to establish and build relationships at scale. Successful marketing automation may be the next big differentiator. Although it may be a key way to develop relationships, educate or nurture, marketing automation will not be labeled “King”.

Customer Evangelists

Although creating evangelists is not realistic for many markets (ball bearing customer evangelist anyone?), a focus on developing loyalty and relationships may be labeled “developing evangelists”. Evangelists bring independence and passion, making their evangelism powerful for businesses.

Social Media

I am a proponent of social media, and I’m including it here because its absence would be notable. However, social media by itself will not be the next differentiator. If relationships are the next primary focus, social media will be a key way to create and maintain those relationships.

Alternatively, will content continue to reign? Content has managed to morph its definition of the last few years, now TV ads are considered content and tchotchkes are even referred to as content. (Really folks? Shirts and pens are not content!)

As content marketing becomes the norm, it will lose its differentiating power. New challengers representing greater potential differentiation and marketing opportunity will rise to prominence. I believe Relationship is a candidate to replace Content. A focus on developing relationships builds on the strides marketers have made with content marketing while expanding the horizon and focusing more clearly on the ultimate benefit. Applying all of the tools and resources to develop better relationships, not merely content, will differentiate you in the future.

Your Turn

Content is King has survived 15 years, will it survive another decade? Or will a new challenger replace it? Share your view on what will replace content as king or why content will continue to reign in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Recommended Related Reading: Content Marketing Needs More than Content by Ardath Albee (@ardath421)

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  • Eric,

    Great questions, all of them. I do think Content will continue to reign as King. I think that the other options may be false choices.

    For example, content IS king because it facilitates that buyer relationship that is so important. I think Marketing Automation is simply a technical enabler. Similarly, I think that it is social media and the connections we can make there that allow for relationships to blossom.

    To use a possibly tired analogy, I will say that relationships are like a marriage and they are the key, especially in B2B, to marketing and business success. As they say in a marriage it is “all about communication.” Communication in a marriage is just an exchange of information in the form of thoughts, feelings and common experiences.

    Well to me, content is just like that in B2B marketing. It is the “stuff” we say and express to the all-important buyer/customer. And that is why I think Content will remain King.

    I also think that Content Strategy and effective content marketing are not quite ubiquitous (not even close). And even when it becomes pervasive, brands will always be able to differentiate by being more in-tune with buyer needs, with being more creative in delivering effective content and in being more personable or more like-able in the way we communicate.

    Thanks as always for the provocative post! Keep it up…

    Best, Michael

    • Michael, I agree some of the others are false choices, they are just activities. Relationships, however, are more meaningful. Content can be used to develop those relationships, I certainly agree. The question is, what other paths will emerge to developing relationships and providing value? If relationships are the destination, content is the most common path B2B marketers take today, but I believe it will be just one of many potential paths.

      Yes, I agree we are a long way from content marketing being ubiquitous, but I think we are close to it being the norm among the category leaders in many B2B enterprise technology categories. 10 years from know, content will be assumed, and great content, just like great advertising, product or service, will be potential ways to differentiate. I would argue though that isn’t about content, that is about greatness, in any area you compete in.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and continuing to push me, I appreciate it!

  • Eric – Thank you for the thought-provoking post. Great way to start my day!
    I think content will reign for a long time – and would kindly argue that most companies HAVEN’T figured out how to do this well.

    A key ingredient to an organization’s success will be ensuring that it’s not just about great CONTENT….but that CONTEXT has to be at it’s side (which you do reference with Customer-Centric Marketing). The context piece (yes, behind every good KING is a strong QUEEN) will be a key enabler.

    For organizations that have not yet mastered (or even embraced) content marketing (based on key audience personas….CONTEXT), I offer you some perspectives on how to start this journey with a post I wrote earlier this year.

    I also believe that relationships (and the other “candidates” you mentioned) are critical components – social and marketing automation are great channels for disseminating content…and relationships/customer advocates are the result of great content and communications.

    As always, thanks for your thoughts and insights!
    Market Well – LaurenOnDemand

  • Hi Eric,

    Nice post. I’m getting a little tired of the content is king stuff, too. I think you’re on to something with relationship. I think we’re still very far off from the time when companies become good at converting a marketing relationship (an arm’s-length relationship based on content and thought leadership) to a sales relationship (person-to-person). I think marketing automation and a good lead management process can help. The idea is to be able to predict the behavioral signals in the marketing relationship that mean that a prospect is ready to move to a person-to-person relationship–and then make that transition happen seamlessly. I’ve never experienced it. Have you? All I’ve ever experienced is relentless pestering from salespeople after downloading a white paper or listening to a Webinar. I think that seamless hand off is “king.”

    • Chris, thanks for commenting.

      No, I have never experienced that either. The handoff is happening at the wrong time, we are still in information mode, and the company has switched to sales mode. Making the handoff feel like it is serving the audience, instead of the marketer, would be welcomed.

  • One candidate for the next King is co-creation.

    What is more powerful than good content? Good content that you can alter to your exact wish.

    Relationships and social media have a part to play in this, but I don’t think they will play the main role, even though a progression path from content to relationships to co-creation would make sense as well.

    Technology already enables many types of mass customization. We can already manufacture batch size one products at a reasonable cost. Fully utilizing this capability is not only a marketing operation, but it will provide marketers with unprecedented possibilities.

    • Ville, content like this elevates content to be much closer to a conversation than it generally is today. Content is still the delivery mechanism, but the real magic is then in the system, rules or Watson-powered logic that makes content a highly tailored response.

      Cool idea, thanks for sharing!

  • Let me be a bit of a devil’s advocate here. I question whether the “king” metaphor will continue to be the right one. Behind it is a certain assumption on the part of us marketers that we are the “ruling family” and will designate which royal figures reign. Customers have already been stepping in on what we used to consider our kingdom of demand creation.

    If what will change is the “governance” structure, then I agree with Ville. Crowd-sourcing and co-creation may be parts of the next major change in marketing. Does that make marketers uncomfortable? I think it does.

    It won’t happen soon. I do agree with Lauren that a lot of companies still don’t quite “get” content. But when the next big change occurs, we may not even call the shots. Perhaps it will be a “Marketing Spring.”

    • Mary, I love this perspective. Content is Servant might be content’s more valuable position to attempt to claim.

  • Hi everybody!
    In my opinion, the next phase of content marketing will stress greater interaction. Rather than pump out content like a firehose, B2B marketers will entice their prospects to describe themselves in order to direct them to the most suitable and relevant content.

    This kind of content marketing doesn’t have to mean volume. It can simply be a question of functionality – that is, a web app that asks a few basic questions, places the recipient in a taxonomy and returns some relevant results, or relevant advice.

    For me, that’s the next content marketing leap.

    • Thanks for the perspective. I like the idea of less content for each person, but increasingly relevant to their specific situation.

  • Mike Brown (@mikeyb95)

    Great thought “content is now the norm and potential customers assume you will provide it. Soon, not offering content that supports the research and buying process may be the equivalent of not having a website, phone number or email contact for your business”

    We all need the content to be in the game – but agree it is just a starting point… People make buying decisions (B2C and B2B) because of a connection… The connection could be that the content spoke to them – but more likely there is a deeper emotional connection…. Agree that relationships are the way to build upon awesome content – but the challenge for people selling lower-priced point products and services, is how do we maintain the intimacy of those relationships and still scale??

    • Good questions and observation about connections.

      Here is an interesting question: if you are selling lower price-point / shorter decision process products or services, do you need as intimate of a relationship? As the complexity of purchasing decreases, the depth of the relationship you need to develop and maintain decreases as well, right?

      Thanks for commenting!

  • Great post and conversation. I’ll cast a vote for Conversion as King. B2Bs need results, and the point of content, relationships, conversation, etc., is to generate some type of action. I think this gets short shrift or completely overlooked in many aspects of Internet marketing.

    • Thanks Brad. Yes, this would certainly focus our efforts on the reason we do all this work!

  • A lot of great thoughts here. A more apt phrase would be “content should be king.” In our rather isolated world of social media marketing, we hear the buzz and yet if you look around, most companies are not enacting even basic content marketing schemes. We keep hearing the same tired case studies over and over. So while you may think this is old news, for most of the world it isn’t. Content’s reign as king has not even started!

    And content is only part of the issue. In addition to having a content strategy, you have to have a network strategy. Together, that is power on the Internet. People are only beginning to understand the meaning of this.

    • Mark, thanks for the comment. As a colleague pointed out, the category I spend the most time in (Enterprise B2B Technology) is one of the earliest adopters of content as well.

      Would love to hear more about your network strategy, what you mean by it and how it is developed. Will be watching your blog for that…

  • Generic content may be normalizing; but individual content that is substantial has not. In fact if you design content around a specific problem that people have, and can solve that problem; your content is relevant, timely and appreciated.

    Content is a window into the soul of your business, and good content always lets in the light.

  • The idea of “content is king” predates 15 years. It’s been the mantra that has driven the media industry since the invention of the printing press.

    Content being king is the differentiator between the distribution platform and the catalyst that drives the demand for the distribution platform.

    If there were no content, the internet would be worthless. If there were no iTunes, the iPhone would be pretty lackluster.

    Same analogy for business. In this era, where media has proliferated every nook and cranny of connected life, mobile, internet, etc… a website is simply a distribution platform. The content that gets provided through that website is the reason people would go.

    WHAT the content is, becomes the differentiator. Just like network TV shows… the ones with crappy ratings are the ones that get axed, because if they don’t the network ratings suffer. If a company puts out garbage, lackluster, boring, non-engaging content… well… then it’s going to suffer a ratings plunge.

  • Eric, I support your view and I think Michael hits the nail on the head with his comment that “WHAT the content is, becomes the differentiator.”

    The way people search for information these days means that if you don’t have content you are not even in the game. Content these days should be a given but I believe to differentiate yourself there are five questions you should ask:
    1. Does it address a particular challenge or issue faced by your audience?
    2. Does it change perceptions?
    3. Does it stimulate new debate on the topic/issue?
    4. Does it influence?
    5. Has it been backed by some sort of empirical research or is it merely opinion?

    Some, if not all of these, point to what is the key content differentiator – thought leading content. Thought leadership content will always win the day because it is new and it excites people and stimulates debate. Arriving at a thought leadership point of view thought and then generating sufficient content to underpin this is the challenge.

  • Great post and comment conversation.

    For me, content is still the core of B2B marketing and I think it always will be.
    I agree that a bit of content used to differentiating and that’s no longer true.
    Now it’s about the quality, relevance, authority and digestibility of the content.

    As the content arms race escalates, it will be harder and harder to earn those downloads and views.
    That’s why having a great content brand will be more and more important.
    The cream will rise.

    • Doug, thanks for taking the time to read and comment, I always appreciate your insights.

      The idea of developing a content brand is interesting because it goes beyond content. Great information /resource provider could then be one of your core measured brand attributes and you become one of the companies people are looking to for information.

      Way more than just content, and I love it. Thanks again for adding your insight here!

  • 1. Content will remain king as long as the content provides a clear an effective solution to a customer’s self defined problem.

    2. Online content marketing needs to produce measurable marketing results, which you can act upon to improve your content – it is more than just lead conversions.

    What is missing from this article is some explanation of how to measure the effectiveness of your content marketing.

    Here is one example of how the IAFD does it for their key partners, who are B2B providers to franchise systems.

    I would be interested in other examples.

    • Michael, thanks for the comment. I agree content marketing, like any marketing activity, needs to be measured.

      I don’t believe there is a one size fits all solution to measurement. Your measurement plan needs to start with your goals, requirements and assumptions, then you can identify metrics, your measurement method and potentially benchmarks.

      This is a bigger topic that deserves its own dedicated post (or two). Something to add to the never ending list. 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, I appreciate it.

  • The problem I have with “Content is king,” is that the gurus make it sound like it’s something new and fabulous – whereas companies have been developing content for over a hundred years (hello Sears Roebuck catalog).

    I agree with you, Eric, developing strong relationships with customers – and not through 140 character posts- is key. Great post.

  • The problem I have with “Content is king,” is that the gurus make it sound like it’s something new and fabulous – whereas companies have been developing content for over a hundred years (hello Sears Roebuck catalog).

    I agree with you, Eric, developing strong relationships with customers – and not through 140 character posts- is key. Great post.

  • Pingback: 4 B2B Marketing Myths — B2B Digital Marketing()

  • Wow, some really great comments here Eric, from some very smart people…many of whom I agree with completely!  I also believe that content will continue its reign as king indefinitely, but agree mostly with @640f1f6f57951966ba61e37043c77c4c:disqus  that the key differentiator will become the context in which the content is delivered and how well companies match that context to the desires and needs of their audiences (prospects and customers).  

    I believe we are at a significant crossroads in marketing, one that many other people have also identified and discussed.  In short, marketing is the new sales.  More specifically, the process that marketers are responsible for today is replacing much of what sales has done for decades.  You can see it happening all over, with the discussions about marketing’s new role in generating and maintaining revenue – this was always a sales function.  This shift is most certainly the result of technology’s proliferation and the effect it has had on access to information (translates, content).  Technology has empowered buyers with more information than ever before about the products and services they are considering.  They “engage” with brands much earlier and often long before the marketers or salespeople know they are even a prospect.  They have access to volumes of information, often more than they can possibly use in their decision-making process.  And so, for this same reason, I believe technology and the access it provides, is also a great frustration for many buyers, as they are now charged with sifting through all the information to find the most reliable data on which they can base their final decisions.  This is where marketing plays its most important role, and one that is welcome relief for buyers.  By engaging with the buyer early in their “buying journey” (without being invasive), matching them to the right persona, and delivering the most relevant content, marketers initiate the relationship with a solution.  Not a solution to buyer’s business challenge mind you, but a solution to the challenge of finding the information that helps them make the right decision.  Take it a step further by delivering the content in the buyer’s preferred context and the marketer becomes the “invisible hero”.  Think now how the buyer feels as they begin to gather data about the product or service you are selling.  Not only was the information easy to obtain, but comfortable to consume.  Marketers talk a lot about relationships, and you have raised the topic here as well.  A key ingredient in any relationship is comfort. Buyers have to be comfortable in their interactions with your company before they commit to buying.  Gone are the days of “being sold” on a product or service.  Buyers today are “selling” themselves, and therefore, it is up to the marketers to ensure they have all the information they need, when they need it, and in the format they prefer.  To me, this will be the key differentiator in the future.  The companies whose marketers get this process will be the ones who win the business, gain the trust of the buyers and earn the potential referral business that follows.