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Content Marketing Part III: Land of Opportunity

July 7, 2011

Brad Svrluga

I’ve written a couple of posts recently on the rise of content marketing and my point of view as to its importance as a critical marketing opportunity for virtually any business. In my last post on the topic, I mentioned that this is a sector that I’m spending some real time looking for investment opportunities that play into this trend. A few thoughts here on that front.

Most companies today are not actively embracing content marketing. Most just don’t see the opportunity. Many others do, but sit stymied by an inability to overcome one or more of the following barriers:

  • Most managers aren’t natural writers, lack true social media facility, and just don’t have the time.
  • Very few companies can actually justify hiring internal writers to do the work for them, on a full time or part time basis.
  • Managing freelancers is a lot harder than it looks, and a major cause of hair loss.
  • Content marketing is a “hits business,” so volume matters – there’s a lot of randomness to what sticks in social media and content marketing. As a result, producing a steady stream of content is critical, which only exacerbates the prior challenges.

And that’s just the barriers to getting content produced. There are higher order skills that are necessary for true Jedi status. The best content producers use heavy analytics to understand what types of content best meet the interests of their target customers. And they’re smart about content distribution, knowing the best ways to get their posts syndicated to the places that will put them in front of the maximum number of potential new followers, friends, and customers.

All of this, in my mind, equals investment opportunity. We have a new platform that is applicable to all, but being exploited effectively by a tiny subset of companies. It’s an egalitarian, playing field-leveling platform. When done effectively, it doesn’t require big media buys or expensive hires. In fact, one of the real poster children of content marketing, Mint.com, has only one employee focused on their editorial work. But that one woman, managing a team of low cost, outsourced bloggers, has built a media property that now drives over one million unique visits a month. On the strength of the associated display advertising, Mint’s blog is a wildly profitable business line that must be the envy of SmartMoney, Forbes, and the like. Mint was nothing when she started that effort, and today the blog is the single most efficient customer acquisition channel that the company has.

So where does that lead vis a vis investment opportunities? I’m looking for a variety of things, and would love to hear ideas on others:

  1. Content creation.  Someone has got to create a super-agency to help folks in need of content access top quality producers of content. We need an ODesk or 99designs for content marketing, for sure. It’s tricky to make this into a really scalable, highly profitable business that doesn’t get bogged down operating more like a traditional agency. But somebody will get this right. Contently is one who’s off to a really good start on this front.
  2. Content syndication. There’s a ton of good content being created out there, and way too much of it sits lost on sites that get no traffic. At the same time, other higher traffic sites sit out there starved for content. It’s complicated, both for rights management reasons and because reuse of content impacts SEO negatively, but there’s gotta be a scalable, automated content syndication marketplace play in this somehow.
  3. Analytics.  The blogging platforms are so-so at this. Google Analytics can provide a lot of what you need. HubSpot offers powerful web analytics tools that address pieces of this. But I still think we’re waiting for a specifically tuned set of analytics tools focused on the small business content marketer. Now that said, I worry that this is a place where trying to carve a spot on the dance floor between Google and HubSpot might be an invitation to getting squashed. But I’m very interested in the idea of how to make it simple for businesses to feed directly from analytics into content ideation and then, in a utopian world, feed those ideas directly onto a content creation partner. Lots of people will tell you they do this well now, but I’m quite sure we haven’t seen anything approaching the killer app in this space.
  4.  New platforms. I’ve focused mostly here on text-oriented content marketing (read: blogging). But many leading marketers are finding that other media can be even more effective, especially video. But the process and formality barriers to video are even greater than blogging, in the eyes of most, and distribution can be a challenge. So there will need to be tools and services developed to help make video more accessible and cost effective. We think our investment in VYou is a great example of a non-traditional approach here, going a long way to simplify and make casual a unique flavor of web video – asynchronous conversation. But there will be others.

And on and on. In short, there’s a whole world of white space out there still waiting to be filled. I’d love to hear other ideas on areas of opportunity, as well as meet companies doing interesting things in the space. Give a shout and let me know.

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