Author   |    Speaker   |    Chief Content Officer


This is part 1 of my 2017 take on the State of Content Marketing and content marketing trends. My 2016 take is here.

I originally wrote this post as an open letter to Content Marketing that began: “Congratulations on making it another year…”

But that sounds somber and a scooch melodramatic, doesn’t it?

Maybe. But the end of an old year and the start of a new always make me a little somber—and that’s been especially true this year.

Maybe it’s because 2016 felt more warped and wounded than many.

Or maybe it’s more personal than that. Maybe it’s just because my beloved little dog Abby is showing early signs of senility. She just asked to go outside for the 8th or 9th time today and as I type this she is barking her head off at some goblin or shadow or (more likely) tree branch that threatens our happy home.

Which is both sad and hilarious, as aging is for all of us.

Abby isn’t too far gone to not know that it’s probably a tree branch. But she doesn’t want to assume as much, either.

Which seems fitting. If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s this:

We need to challenge our biases and assumptions.

That isn’t just a lesson for Marketing. It’s a lesson for us all.

2016 tweaked some over-rambunctious beliefs, like a choke-chain correction delivered to a wound-up Labrador retriever getting a little too rowdy at the dog park.

That jerk comes as a surprise to the dog, as it was a bit of a surprise to more than half of the US who voted in November, too. It was a good reminder that we need to occasionally rein in our own thinking and biases.

Even in business, we need to pause from peddling whatever it is we’re peddling to look at things from different perspectives.

Your assumptions are “your windows on the world,” Alan Alda once said. “Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.”

Which is why I read many of the predictions and the trends and retrospectives on the Marketing Year That Was (some of which I was asked to contribute to), to ask myself:

Am I challenging my own marketing assumptions?

Is Content Marketing really the thing we believe it is? Is it really a game-changer? (Like, really?)

And if I believe it is: Would I believe that even if my livelihood and ego weren’t all wrapped up in it?

Would I think that even if Content Marketing and my professional raison d’être weren’t locked in a cuddle-puddle?

Some doubted Content Marketing would come this far. Some still doubt it’s actually a thing.

So harsh have been critics that 10 months ago my friend Robert Rose offered a template for how to write a “content marketing is dead” article. (A literal LOL in an insider-basebally kind of way.)

So let’s address this head-on: are you really a game-changer, Content Marketing?

Yes. I believe you are.

Here we are at the end of the warped, wounded year that was 2016. And it’s not the end times—either for us or for you, Content Marketing.

You are still subject to small miracles and flashes of genius that signal just how much you’ve grown and changed. You’re not a child any more, that much is clear.

But you aren’t quite full-grown and financially independent, either, as I’d predicted a year ago.

Change happens “gradually and then suddenly,” Hemingway wrote.

You’re still gradually evolving.

And I’ve come to understand that there’s a reason why you haven’t quite grown up: It’s because we marketers haven’t. We haven’t challenged our own assumptions quite enough.

We all know that any company with a website is a “publisher,” but only recently have we begun to understand what that really means.

Only now are we able to glimpse how “publishing” can empower marketing and marketers in more fundamental, important ways—beyond checking the box on a bunch of tactics. It can take us deeper into unmapped territory, to help us to flush out the richer story of our businesses, our purpose, our Why.

Only now have we begun to see you, Content Marketing, as more than just a top-of-the-funnel tactic; you have the strategic chops to empower Marketing to think differently about its real value to an organization. (That “strategic” tucked in that last sentence is key, by the way.)

Only now are we beginning to think more broadly about Content Marketing’s role in a business to see its value beyond generating leads. This is a long game, people!

And only recently have we begun to understand that being a “publisher” means acting like one: Putting the audience above all—creating value for it first, and selling stuff second.

Which leads me to my wish for all of us in 2017: Let’s challenge our assumptions.

Challenge what you think you know. Poke holes in what you’ve always done and the way you’ve always done it.

Challenge yourself to think of alternatives.

Simplify your marketing by putting quality above quantity.

Say no sometimes.

Aim for sustainability over the quick-hit.

Ask What if…?

Challenging our Content Marketing assumptions starts with slowing down. I spoke and wrote about slow marketing  a few times in 2016; I’ll do more in 2017. The gist is this: There is such a thing as a bad slow in marketing, but there is a critical need for a good slow, too. In 2017, the smartest companies will slooooowwww down at the right, necessary moments.

2017 Content Marketing Trends

So what does this actually mean, in practical terms?

I have a lot of thoughts for us. But Abby is still outside barking—yup, still!

So right now I’m debating whether I forge ahead and share the specifics now or whether it might not be better to pause, pull on some boots, and skid over the icy lawn to shuttle Abby inside to reassure her:

There are no goblins in our yard today.

Nothing lurks in the shadows.

And the only threat to our happy home is assuming the dopey tree branch we see is always just that. Because it might be something more.

Part 2 to come: Content Marketing Trends and Specifics

Header image credit: Gareth Simpson


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28 Responses to 2017: The Year to Challenge Our Content Marketing Assumptions

  1. Wendy says:

    Hi Ann, great read thanks. And I hope Abby is more relaxed now!

    I think you have a small typo in the line towards the end. ‘ Simplify marketing by putting quality about quantity’. About should be above I’m thinking.

    No need to publish this comment. All the best for 2017.

    Cheers

    Wendy

  2. Hi Ann:

    What a tease! A well-written tease, but I wanted at least one prediction for 2017!

    I hope you are going to talk about analytics and speaking directly to each real known prospect and customer in part 2?

    We’ll see!

    Best for the New Year!

    Scott

  3. John Cooke says:

    Thanks Ann:

    Really been finding your posts educational and inspiring. So glad our paths crossed, if even virtually in Cape May.
    2016 was good to me. Picked up two significant content management contracts for local businesses and organizations.

    More to come in 2017 I’m sure.

    I’m a sponge for your stuff.

    John

  4. Tinu says:

    Happy New Year my friend. Love the way you laid this out. I believe content marketing is a thing. I believe it’s been a thing before the web, and just needed a name. I also believe that if more companies would fully and truly embrace it as both a concept and a strategy, rather than a gimmick or a ploy? It could be so much more.

    This year we’ll have to deal with the content and tone of our bots, our push notifications, our mobile marketing tools and micro content, just to name a few. Vant wait to hear your advice on this.

    • Ann Handley says:

      Yep. It’s a complex world. But at the same time I still believe that a good story well told with clear empathy and understanding of your customers is the root of it all.

      Happy new year, Tinu! Hope to see you in 2017.

  5. As a consumer, I wish every marketer would read this. Thanks for improving my user experience on both ends, Ann. Your suggestions could help everyone involved. Looking forward to more.

  6. Dee Boling says:

    My basset hound mix would (loudly) tell you that it’s zombies, not goblins, that are threatening the landscape. Apparently, we have quite a problem with them here in New Orleans. Thankfully, she has a 100% record of keeping them from invading our backyard. Thank God for Cassie.

    • Ann Handley says:

      Please thank Cassie for the clarification. Abby has one eye and she is mostly deaf. So she might be confused about the exact nature of the threat. (She’s still the best dog ever, however.) 😀

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  9. Chris Marr says:

    Hey Ann, thanks for sharing your thoughts with the world.

    I’ve kicked myself recently as I felt like I was getting a little cynical about some elements of content marketing and social. I feel like I can overcome this by challenging my own assumptions and ‘scrubbing the window to let the light come in’.

    I think you are completely correct in your prediction here – in that if we [marketers] do not change our attitudes we won’t grow up. We can be a bunch of moody teenagers sometimes and be unwilling to get out of our own head.

    • Ann Handley says:

      Thanks for chiming in, Chris. I don’t blame marketers for refusing to grow up. To me the issue is that the industry has evolved slowly.

      It’s now a given that content is tremendous lead gen/top of funnel fodder. Now we are seeing implications and uses beyond that. We are only now able to see the richer power of content, in other words.

  10. Amar kumar says:

    Hey Ann,

    It’s no secret that content marketing has become standard practice for businesses today. Yet many marketers still struggle with how to do it effectively. With content marketing’s rise in popularity has come a slew of false assumptions that are detrimental to success.

    As content marketing has evolved, greater emphasis is placed on building an extensive digital footprint that engages customers beyond your own digital assets. A robust content marketing strategy is greater than the sum of its parts. Eventually, thanks for reveling a light on this topic.

    With best regards,

    Amar kumar

  11. Mich Chavez says:

    Hi Ann,

    Happy New Year! This one is a firework, base on the headline I thought that it will have some kind of analytical trends but it’s truly a great tease but I just want to add that 2017 is indeed a challenge to us writers, since last year we have heard about Google’s rank brain ( http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2016/04/content-google-rankbrain/ ) and even this year I am expecting lots of developments cause we all know that everyone of us wanted to achieve success and that’s why there is a need for continuous improvement and challenge is part of the game. Hoping to see your part 2!

  12. Jack Vincent says:

    I love the Hemingway quote, Ann. Hemingway’ gifts to the world are that they’re timeless.

    I also like the your (tactfully put) reference to the election result. As a liberal, I’ve also been pounding the drum for liberal introspection as to what “our team” did wrong, as opposed to how screwed up “their team” is.

    Great lessons, as always. Thanks!

    • Ann Handley says:

      Yeah. Thanks. I do think that questioning our assumptions regularly is great to do in most every part of our lives… but as you noted, it’s especially relevant post-November!

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  14. Hi Ann!
    Thank you so much for this (beautifully written) article. I completely agree with you that Good writing is like good teaching, making sure that it educates the readers.

  15. Anja Skrba says:

    How old is Abby exactly – if you don’t mind me asking Ann? 🙂

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  18. Neil says:

    Hi Ann,

    I like the advice to challenge ones assumptions. I think many of us get a little too comfortable with assumptions that over the years we have converted into fact and then we get disappointed when they stop delivering. I also agree that it should be about quality and not quantity, quality definitely wins out these days.

    Thanks

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