Automation Comes to Content Marketing

Content marketing, the catch-all phrase for brands becoming publishers, has created a new set of tech startups looking to cash in by bringing efficiency to the process.

A raft of technology companies has sprung up to help brands automate pieces of brand content. There are companies like Contently and Percolate, which want to apply technology on the content-creation side. Contently taps freelancers to help brands create content. Percolate helps brands create and find content to share across the social Web. Then there are the distributors, such as Taboola or Outbrain, that let brands generate traffic to a brand’s piece of content via other sites. The bet all are making is that some degree of tech is needed to make this scale.

“People are really starting to believe the banner will die, which is interesting to debate,” said Michael Brenner, vp of marketing and content strategy at SAP. “But the fact of matter is it will evolve from something that’s useless to something that’s useful. That’s the evolution these companies are trying to help brands navigate.”

That’s the point. The banner ad has 99 problems, but scale isn’t one. Content marketing is by definition a craft activity, not a scale one. But that doesn’t mean that tech can’t bring efficiency to the creation and distribution process.

“If you look at current landscape of agencies and their skill sets, there isn’t historically a lot of focus on this area,” said Paul Marcum, director of global digital marketing and programming at GE. “Look at media buying or distribution rhythms; there’s not a tremendous amount of growth there. What’s emerging now are startups looking at platform plays to eat into that space.”

But there’s certainly more rigor and data analysis needed. According to Mastercard’s vp of global digital marketing, Adam Broitman, many marketers start with the goals of ranking in search and getting their content to go viral. This a backwards approach. Given that so many brand marketers are still walking blindly through the forest of owned media, startups are swarming. They’re ready to lead those marketers who lack the type of vision it takes to make and distribute content.

“Automation of content curation can create significant efficiencies, though content curation alone is not a robust content-marketing strategy,” said Broitman. “It will not ultimately lead to the types of results that a 360 content-marketing strategy can yield — some of the pitches from content-marketing startups would lead you to believe otherwise.”

When brands evaluate these types of startups, they tend to focus on how they will add value. That value is connecting a brand’s commercial efforts with its audience or it’s helping to surface a brand story in a way that’s perhaps unserviceable in other channels like TV. Marcum said this is why GE has been so active in the content-marketing game. GE uses Percolate to find content for its Tumblr.

While these startups are filling a need for brands in the content arena, it’s still early days. Most important, brands still need to create the content. And that takes humans, not machines.

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