Over the last few years the number of companies offering content marketing for brands raised up high. The digital market is flooded with content production offers, but how can you tell they are a real deal?

Seeing the popularity of content marketing many digital agencies added this service to the list of their offers “in a desperate move to stay relevant”, as Mark Traphagen senior director of marketing for Stone Temple Consulting says. However, one of the biggest clients’ misconceptions is that all of them really know how it’s done. Don’t get me wrong, they can actually create content in different forms as ads or branded media, but if you just look closer to the work they do online, you’ll see that large part of what they deliver has little to do with content marketing per se.

Nevertheless the money keep flowing into agencies pockets. According to PQ Media Global Content Marketing Forecast 2015-19, value of global content marketing grew 13% in 2014 and will accelerate at 15% in the period of 2014-19 to over $50 billion. From a search perspective the level of interest around content marketing is growing as well, leaving behind TV, radio and newspaper advertising. It jumped 20% in the fourth quarter of 2015, growing as much in two months as it did over the past two years, according to Google Trends.

Content Marketing Trends. Google Trends

However, “content marketing” is not just a buzzword, which popularity soon will fade, it’s one of the current marketing forms that B2B will continue to invest in. For instance, 72% of marketers produce more content in compare with the previous year, according to B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America report.

With the budget dedicated to content marketing increasing in the next 12 months marketing executives are about to hire more talents. The enormous 350% growth of the number of job listings over the last 5 years on Indeed.com only proves that demand for content marketing skills is getting bigger.

72% of B2C marketers are producing more content that they did one year ago

What does these numbers really say? Digital marketing landscape is seriously changing and will continue switching in favor of content production. What is more, the prevalence of another type of companies on the market – the content marketing agency – becomes clear as more brands lean towards creating owned media.

 

How does the new content marketing landscape looks like?

As mentioned before, not all of the players are content marketing agencies per se, some grew out of businesses in related fields, wishing to create a new revenue stream.

  • Web Studios & SEO Agencies. With continuous upgrade of search engine algorithms website optimization goes further than just fixing bugs, playing with keywords and buying links, so pure SEO services don’t attract clients anymore. Thus SEO firms are making its attempts to adopt an entirely new approach by implementing content marketing and giving up meaningless keyword infused writing.
  • Production Studios. Video and photo production guru with all the massive digital assets they have are also quickly moving from advertising campaigns that coerce audiences into buying to executing engaging content, seeing more use in it.
  • PR Agencies. Companies responsible for public relations now focus less on placement and more on owned channels. What is more, they’re actually starting to turn hosted events into content for social media and blogs to make it more engaging.
  • Digital & Marketing Agencies. Digital companies are acquiring content marketing as their new business tool, linking it with their interactive services and building sequential production.
  • Advertising Agencies. Estimated loss of advertising companies because of ad-blockers is going to raise up to $35 billion by 2020, and it’s disturbing. As president of PepsiCo’s global beverage group Brad Jakeman said, “advertising has gained the reputation of pollution content”, so many firms seeing their shares shrinking are shifting from paid media to content production, hoping that consumers won’t skip it.
  • Technology Marketing & Software Companies. Tech firms quickly understood that providing brands with the tools for successful planning, creation and distribution of content can be very monetary now that brands are willing to invest in it and try to figure it out themselves.
  • Media companies. In order to survive on a quickly changing digital market old media companies like The New York Times and The Guardian are launching their own content marketing studios/labs or even agencies for “telling brands stories” aka creating custom content for their partners and vendors.

To be honest, the list is far longer than that, but it’s enough to see that many of digital agencies saw some sort of salvation in content marketing to their problems in reaching consumers. They’re shifting their budgets “to get their share of the lucrative content marketing dollar”, as Craig Hodges, the founder and CEO of King Content, says, and willing to battle for every clients’ penny.

At the same time the pressure for brands to choose the one and only agency to trust content creation and distribution gets significantly greater. In a quite crowded digital field there’re only a few firms that can actually execute and deliver great content, not just proudly claim they do.

The main question is how to differentiate “gold digger” posers, willing to cash in on you, from real pros that actually know, what they’re doing? Which metrics to use to evaluate the provider’s qualifications?

 

How to choose a content marketing agency and not fail

  • See the work that a content agency perform to promote itself

“The agency’s content initiative helps ratify and perpetuate the decision-making of clients”, thinks Jay Baer, the President of Convince & Convert. So, when considering a digital agency services not their experience in advertising and marketing campaigns, but self-promotion efforts are crucial. They can be sales beasts when it comes to cold calls, but complete losers when it comes to creating a high-quality and relevant content for their own customer base. This means they’re not putting out to promoting their own agency and don’t see content creation as a way of customers’ retention.

  • Ask about their approach to content marketing

As Robert Rose, chief strategy advisor for the Content Marketing Institute, explains, “successful content marketing is not supercharged campaign marketing, it’s a different kind of marketing activity”. Thus successful firms see content as a marketing strategy, not a tactic, and they’re willing to invest their efforts in continuous content planning, creation and distribution. So, what really distinguishes real-deal agencies from moneygrabbers is that they will not instantly give you a magic pill, the “one hit wonder” that can have an immediate impact. Instead they’ll offer you a long-term partnership, because content marketing doesn’t have an end date.

  • Gauge subject matter expertise and client-agency relationships

As Lucas Miller, audience acquisition manager at Manifest, saysBrands should always look for familiarity with their industry. If an agency doesn’t know how to navigate the vertical = bad news”. You need to make sure that a content agency you choose know what challenges your customers face, because without clear understanding of the market it just won’t be able to create top-notch content for you. What is more, check if the agency previously had any troubles delivering results by asking its clients. Check Linkedin, Twitter and other social channels: are there any red flags?

  • Find out how they evaluate success

“When evaluating the best content marketing agency for your needs, look at how their KPIs align with your goals”, says Kelsey Libert, a marketing VP and partner at Fractl. If all you hear is preaching about “guaranteed high rankings”, “marketing business at no cost”, “cheap directory links”, you’re dealing with SEO scam artists, which don’t have a clue about content marketing. According to B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America report, sales lead quality, sales, and higher conversion are on top the list of the most important metrics agencies use.

In conclusion, all that boom around content production and distribution is good for the industry development in the long run, but what we have to deal with now is blurring of a true concept of content marketing. We’re in a stage of so called “The Trough of Disillusionment”, a point of frustration, as Robert Rose noticed, remembering Gartner’s Hype Cycle. It’s “where the backlash begins, the “gold rush” and diffusion of the solution reaches its peak, and practitioners are left to succeed or fail”. Thus the content marketing game has only just began, and the progress is beginning to take its shape.

How do you see the future of content marketing agencies and their place in digital market landscape?

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