In the ever-changing world of content marketing, it’s all about creating experiences

Jon Davie is UK CEO at Zone, the digital marketing agency which counts Coca-Cola GB, Tesco, Barratt Homes and Prostate Cancer UK among its clients. Jon writes a monthly content marketing column for The Drum.

It’s been nearly a year since I started writing this column about content marketing.

During that time, dear reader, we’ve covered a lot of ground – from football and futurology to elections and innovation. But if I’m honest, there’s one topic I’ve been avoiding. Something quite important, given the subject matter we’re here to discuss. Something that people outside of the industry ask me about quite frequently. What do we actually mean when we talk about ‘content’?

The idea of content marketing has been around for ages. Rather than simply telling people what you want them to do (advertising), content marketing aims to give people something they might want: entertainment, utility or information. By being useful, the theory goes, brands earn the right to exist in the mind of the customer, which translates into greater awareness, consideration and loyalty.

While TV is a great medium for delivering entertainment, it was also the dominant channel for advertising – which meant budgets and creative effort focused on the 30-second TV commercial. That meant the dominant format for content marketing was the printed page. And so the skills required for content marketing closely resembled those of traditional newsstand publishing – commissioning, writing and editing.

In the digital world, however, these skills are no longer enough. Brands can distribute content across multiple channels – websites, emails and social platforms. Lower production costs and higher customer expectations mean that high-quality video is no longer the preserve of the advertising agencies.

But I think there’s a more fundamental shift at work – because digital isn’t just another channel for brands to deliver content to customers. The internet provides a platform for running applications and services, and if you’re supposed to be in the business of making brands more useful, that’s a transformational opportunity.

As a consequence, the skills brands and agencies need in order to realise that opportunity are much broader. A content marketing team in 2015 is likely to have as many developers as designers, and UX experts sitting next to editors. And once you’ve got a team capable of creating branded experiences in a digital world, you’re moving into the world of product development and service design. Are you still doing content marketing at all? Does it matter?

At Zone, we’ve just created a new role to oversee the output of the entire agency – a job that covers everything from managing social media channels to managing high-traffic server infrastructure. There is no title in the traditional agency world that covers such a wide-ranging remit – in the end, we settled on chief experience officer (CXO).

Interestingly, our new CXO has a background in traditional publishing. I still passionately believe that an intuitive understanding of both brands and customers is at the heart of what we produce, regardless of what we call it.

When we try to define the elusive concept of ‘content’, maybe ‘experience’ is the word we should reach for. And what do we mean by experience? That’s a topic for another day.

Jon Davie is UK CEO of digital agency Zone. He tweets @JonDavie

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