In a recent B2B Huddle event in the UK, I was asked to speak about The Future of Content Marketing.
It's a great brief: Content marketing has come such a long way in the last year or two and it feels like a good time to press "pause," spot some trends, and project them forward.
After putting aside all my Buzz Lightyear predictions ("Content Mind Guns!" "Google Implants!") I came up with Five Beyonds: five big trends that I really believe every content marketer should be planning for or exploiting right now.
Here are the slides from the session:
When Ann Handley saw those slides, she asked me to write an article that explored any one of the Five Beyonds. And since I want to be Ann Handley when I grow up, I waited a dignified period (3.2 nanoseconds) and accepted the challenge.
So here's my take on the first trend in the presentation: "Beyond Gutenberg."
The ink has dried
Gutenberg's invention has had a fantastic run.
It changed the world more profoundly than any other invention in history (with the possible exception of penicillin and the Internet). It democratized literacy and increased by many orders of magnitude the number of people with direct access to knowledge.
His basic invention—movable type—lasted more than 550 years almost unchanged. (Can you think of any other technology you can say that about?)
Not bad for a guy who died bankrupt and unknown.
So, OK, now you know I'm a book guy. But even I have been forced to admit an inescapable fact: The writing on the wall isn't writing, and it's not on a wall; it's digital type, and it's fizzing across a touch screen.
In short: it's time for content marketers to cut the ink-stained umbilical cord.
The Internet as we know it has been with us since the mid-nineties—more than twenty years. Broadband has been with us for more than a decade. The first iPhone is five years old, and the first iPad is three. And yet...
- We're still producing dense white papers that people are supposed to download, print out, and read.
- The blog is the core of every content marketing strategy and the e-book eats up most of our budgets.
- Most infographics are really just magazine-style editorial graphics that are best consumed on paper.
- SlideShare is still full of documents instead of stories designed for the screen.
OK, I understand that every new medium takes a while to find its place in the human communications ecosystem:
- The first TV shows were radio guys reading radio scripts on camera.
- The first search engines tried to be directories (how quaint is that idea?).
- And, yes, the first movable type looked an awful lot like a scribe's handwriting.
But, eventually, people figured out what each new medium was especially good at, and we were able to let go of the old paradigm. The new medium didn't replace the old; it just found its sweet spot and settled in.
Well, for content marketers, the new medium is the Internet, and though we don't yet know what that really means... we can be pretty sure that it's more than one big, distributed pile of text.
Gutenberg has left the building.
Let's become digital content marketers
We need to start telling stories that are made for the screen, not just ported over from the page.
We need to start mastering scrolling sites, tablet experiences, smartphone apps, and personalized content. We need to get to grips with microformats (once we figure out what the hell they are) and start to turn e-books into fully interactive content toolsets (the fourth of the Five Beyonds).
When we do that, we'll be telling stories that play to the strengths of their delivery medium instead of taking what was made for ink and paper and shoving it onto a screen.
Keep the baby, ditch the bathwater
Of course your content marketing playbook still has a place for e-books and even whitepapers (though, to me, the very term signals "Do Not Read This").
Words—and the ideas they carry—still matter most. But you have so many ways to inject words and ideas into the minds of your target audiences; yet, you'll discover them only if you let go of the print mindset for a while and explore other approaches.
Print will make a comeback
The good news for us Gutenbergians: print will be back. Not as a mainstream medium, but as a special treat.
Already, printed marketing pieces are getting pretty rare. And, when things get rare, they regain their power to surprise and delight.
Once we all get used to living in digital land, we'll be ripe for some new spins on old-school print. (At Velocity, alongside our scrolling sites, we're working on a project that involves woodcuts and hand printing.) What goes around, comes back to hit you in the back of the head.
But remember: When print does make a comeback, it will be on paper, not as a bastardized, screen-based pseudo-book.
Bottom line? Embrace digital
Unless you're 12 years old, the transition to a totally digital mindset won't come naturally.
But it will come. As long as you get out there, play in the digital sandbox, and let go of the printing press.
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