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How Digital Marketing has Changed

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The content marketing industry and digital marketing sphere have changed quite a bit over the past decade, and there’s no sign of the change stopping. Take a look at the history of digital content marketing, as well as where it’s heading in the next few years. Two things are certain: the only way is up, but innovation will be pivotal to any business that wants to succeed.

The Old Days

Image via Flickr by telepathicparanoia

The history of content marketing goes all the way back to certain events in the 1800s with John Deere and the first ever branded magazine, but where did digital, online content marketing first take off? It began in 1994, as soon as surfing the web started to become mainstream. O’Reilly & Associates created the first ever commercial website and a book called “The Whole Internet User’s Guide & Catalog” that described more than 529 websites that existed at the time. While not digital, this book was the first real case of marketing around the digital realm.

Thanks to this smart move, people just getting started online visited O’Reilly & Associates’ website and the sites the firm recommended, drawing tons of traffic and sowing the seeds for what would become Netscape Communications. It’s fascinating how even back in the beginning, the basic tenets of content marketing were the same, even if they were nowhere near being codified into theory. Have a paid product or service based around giving value, and free things as well, and use them together to grow a business.

The Godfather of Free eBooks

At the turn of the millennium, marketing guru Seth Godin created the first ever freely distributed eBook called “Unleashing the Ideavirus.” The basic concept was that instead of using digital marketing to help your business, put helping the customer at the forefront, and the rewards will be far greater.

This brilliant work practiced what it preached, as Godin released it to anyone who wanted it, skyrocketing his brand of digital entrepreneur products. The success of Godin, his ingenious reputation, and his countless other successful books published since then proved that he knew the potential of the internet as it continued to balloon in size. Even today, free eBooks are a tremendous form of digital content for any business.

Entertainment And Engagement

While Seth Godin displayed the potential in offering informative content for free, it wasn’t until 2006 and onward that businesses got really creative and found the best way to make their products interesting: content designed to entertain as well as inform. Blendtec’s “Will It Blend?” videos were entertaining, clear displays of their product’s power, and viral hits all at once.

From there, businesses like River Pools and Spas started blogging the answers to common, frustrating questions that customers had, making it easy for uncertain prospective buyers to get answers on the same website where they could make a call or place an order. Other businesses soon followed suit from these examples. Instead of just aiming to inform potential customers, create content that entertains, engages, and otherwise leaves people better than when they arrived.

Content Hubs and Curation

What do you do if your business just isn’t one that has any natural way of creating content? In 2013, Hubs found the answer: organize other content that your audience would like, all on your website. By then the world wide web was colossal, and searching for one thing after another, while an expected convenience, still wasn’t as great as searching for one collection of the sort of content you needed. Sites like Canva have design schools, daily-updated hubs of tutorials, articles, photos, and more designed to help designers and content creators.

Content hubs aren’t quite as viable as they were four years ago, as the next point in our story soon usurped them. Still, content curation on a smaller scale is highly valuable. If your business aims to help public speakers, for instance, you could create a blog post or eBook with more than 50 must-visit websites to beat stage fright.

Personalized Content Funnels

In current years, we’ve seen a rise in the opposite of content hubs or curation: personalized content streams or funnels. For example, if you provide a wide range of content, you could allow mailing list subscribers to adjust their settings at any time to receive only the content types that interest them most.

This could be especially valuable with account-based marketing in the B2B scene, where a single customer is valuable enough to be treated as an “audience of one.” There are many approaches being developed for personalized content marketing, but one effective strategy is to create a wide amount of content serving specific needs, and then to develop a feedback system so that customers can state what pieces of content most interest them next.

Artificial Intelligence On The Horizon

So, now that we’ve covered the digital content marketing’s past, what’s next? The simplest answer is artificial intelligence. AI has been used and tested for the past few years to create simple forms of content en-masse. Content marketing AI combines the current skills in content creation with programming and true composition expertise.

Artificial intelligence is currently being used for creating automatic news articles when a bot discovers relevant data, automatically generated animated videos, or messages for individual customers, and vastly simplified procedural generation for things like product descriptions. The processing power of AI could easily make the work-heavy tasks of account-based marketing simple enough to apply in grander numbers, making it applicable outside the B2B sector. Some day, every business could have an automated system that delivers a curated, organized, easily changed sequence of content for each individual customer.

Among all of these history-making moments, the content mixed innovation with impeccable quality and devotion to the customer. It’s still true today: digital marketing requires great content. These, days, however, you need lots of it, all delivered on a reliable schedule and targeted to people who are interested enough to keep coming back. It may take looking outside your current team or yourself to get the quality and output you need, but if you consider what’s worked before and then think of your own customers, the cost will be worth it.

About the author

Shane Hall