While my first love is email marketing, my second is most assuredly content marketing. For me, the two have always gone hand in hand. During my 17-plus years in the email marketing industry, I’ve written nearly 4,000 blog posts and articles about email and digital marketing, posted about 20,000 social media updates, given more than 100 webinars, done dozens of podcasts, and presented and keynoted at dozens of events. Oh, and sent a lot of emails promoting all of that content.
All of that is to say that I really love content marketing—which is why I was excited to read the second edition of Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi and Brian Piper. The book concludes with a look at the future of content marketing, which inspired me to share the five trends I think will drive the next 10 years of content marketing.
1. The Continued Democratization of Media
Blogging has challenged print and online media companies. Self-publishing has challenged book publishers. Podcasting has challenged radio. YouTube has challenged TV.
I’ve personally benefited tremendously from those first two shifts. I started and later sold a top-100 marketing blog, and I’ve self-published four editions of Email Marketing Rules. In both cases, I see the primary benefit of going the do-it-yourself route as being control—the opportunity to create the exact kind of experience you envision without having to appease gatekeepers.
For example, I feel confident in saying that no traditional book publisher would publish a two-volume book on email marketing that’s nearly 700 pages long. And yet, all I did was write to the length that the topic deserves, which is a cardinal rule of content creation. For me, the ability to create an experience I feel 100% great about is worth the additional production work and financial risk.
In the years ahead, I see only increased opportunities for organizations and individuals to grow their brands by creating content across the media spectrum. The movie industry is probably the only one that’s safe from this democratization trend.
2. Web3 Will Be Niche
The shine is off Web3, which has had its thunder utterly and completely stolen by generative AI. Interest in Web3, the metaverse, and NFTs have all plunged since early 2022, and it’s now clearly in the Trough of Disillusionment portion of the hype cycle.
However, it’s hard to see what would pull it out of its slump. The metaverse real estate market is crashing in places like Decentraland. And cryptocurrency also seems unlikely to provide any good news as financial regulators increase their scrutiny and FTX’s leaders go on trial for fraud. If more Web3 marketplaces go belly up, it may be a good long while before all the organizations and people who were burned would consider giving it another shot.
All that said, social tokens and NFTs may still represent an opportunity to create premium loyalty programs and premium loyalty rewards, especially if your brand appeals to young, tech-savvy consumers. But brands should be prepared to pivot if their audience’s appetite for these Web3 elements shifts, given the high costs associated with them.
Thankfully brands can offer many of the same rewards and experiences through a traditional loyalty program or reward—just without the ownership and secondary marketers associated with social tokens and NFTs. Most organizations will likely find that’s for the best, as those Web3 elements create additional complexities for consumers, and inflate costs and introduce unpredictability and new risks for brands.
3. AI-Generated Content Will Raise the Bar
Generative AI is all the buzz. Even though marketers should have lots of concerns about its abilities, there’s little doubt that it holds great promise long-term. After all, companies like Microsoft and Alphabet are investing tens of billions of dollars into development efforts. That should yield major improvements by the end of this decade, making generative AI an even more useful tool for copywriters, graphic designers, and coders.
For content marketers, generative AI’s ever-improving skills will create a “new floor,” as SparkToro’s Rand Fishkin argues. He says, “If your content isn’t better than what AI can produce, it’s not worth making.”
I think the situation for content marketers might be even a bit more dire than that. That’s because generative AI seems poised to generate a LOT of fairly decent content about well-trod subjects. To be successful, content marketers will need to rise well above that fray—with timely content, unique examples, original research, novel ideas, and compelling, authentic, and trustworthy voices.
Of all of those factors, trust will be the most powerful. If your brand isn’t trusted more than the amalgamation of sources that generative AI pulls from, then you’ll be in trouble.
4. Generative AI Will Replace Some SEO Traffic
Another complication caused by generative AI is that, instead of getting their questions answered by searching and then going to various websites, consumers will increasingly get answers directly from ChatGPT, Bard, Bing, and the like. As search traffic falls, that will undermine some of the allure of content marketing, especially for brands that do it casually.
However, it will remain powerful for brands that invest enough in creating unique and valuable content that they become a trusted destination for their audience. In addition to becoming so well thought of that people go directly to your website for information, brands can protect themselves from lost SEO traffic by building strong first-party audiences via email and other channels.
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5. Email Marketing Will Remain Strong
One of the pieces of advice from Epic Content Marketing that I couldn’t agree with more is their advice to build your program on platforms where you can “control the data and content distribution.” That means hosting content on your website or blog, and then focusing your audience building around membership, email subscribers, and print subscribers.
Podcast subscribers and all of social media are secondary because it’s all “rented land,” where the channel owners can change the rules whenever they want or go out of business, taking everything you built with them. The dangers of building on that rented land has become quite evident lately, with Facebook slowly declining, Twitter cutting 80% of its staff to avoid bankruptcy as its value plunges, and TikTok facing growing bans around the world. Some are even claiming we’re witnessing the beginning of the end of the age of social media.
I wouldn’t go that far, but brands certainly have lots of reasons to focus more on those channels they have much more control over, including the web, loyalty, SMS, and, of course, email. Because it’s likely to steal considerable market share away from search, generative AI is a new reason to build strong audiences across those channels.
While email marketing is constantly maligned as old and as having not changed in decades, the truth is that it has evolved dramatically. If anything, the complaint from email marketers is that the channel has been changing too quickly—new privacy concerns like Mail Privacy Protection, new data and targeting opportunities around customer data platforms and AI, and growing pressures to better integrate email into broader omnichannel customer experiences.
While a lot has changed over the past decade and there will be many more changes in the decade ahead, I have no doubt that email marketing will remain a safe and productive investment for brands. I also have no doubt that email marketing will remain a great career and skill set for those who invest their time in learning about its growing sophistication and unique quirks.
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Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Digital Experience Agency and the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the ANA's 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Mastodon.