Robert Rose, author and founder of The Content Advisory gave us his thoughts on the state of content marketing today.

As one of the original thought leaders in the content marketing movement, how would you rate the use of content marketing today? Is it heading in the right direction or has it gone off the rails?

Content Marketing is a tale of two cities right now. Most organizations are seeing early results from their focused experimentation – but are struggling mightily with scaling the function. The challenge is that most organizations continue to look at it through the lens of campaign-based marketing – and thus see content as a series of campaign destination assets. But content is, inherently, less efficient and more expensive than creating campaign-based assets so it must work harder.  So – this is where building a foundation of strategy and scale become such an important piece of long-term success.

The recent B2B Content Marketing Institute study reported that 91% of marketers are using content marketing but only 35% are measuring the ROI. Why do you think so many marketers are not measuring the ROI of their content?

Most businesses measure exactly the wrong thing when it comes to content. Because it is mostly being treated as the alternative to advertising, catalogs, or brochures. Thus, businesses judge content success by how successful the promotional campaign supporting it is, rather than the impact it had on an audience. The true measure of content is by measuring how much more the audience wants after consuming the first. There is no better way to measure that than by measuring by subscribers to your content.  But, of course, the implications are then that we create something more substantial in our process and strategy than producing a series of assets.

What do CMOs need to understand in order to use content marketing more effectively?

That it must lead, not follow. The rise of the internal agency is all the rage these days.  And, for many larger organizations, bringing production, media, creative and parts of the more traditional agency services in-house can be a productive way to create efficiency.

But content should not be treated like this.  Content should be treated and organized like a strategic function – like accounting, legal, marketing, or sales. It can be an institutional differentiator – but only if it is treated as such.

In your latest book Killing Marketing (To Save It), you talk about innovative businesses that are turning marketing cost into profit. Are you seeing this trend accelerate?

Slowly. And that’s to be expected. What we are seeing is that due to the pressure of scaling and the emergent talent gap, we are seeing acquisitions increase rather dramatically.  And this doesn’t have to happen at the tectonic scale either (e.g. Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub). We are seeing smaller acquisitions, where blogs, digital magazines and other digital media companies are being acquired by brands in order to give them a jump start in creating a content marketing oriented focus.

How do you see content marketing driving consumer behaviors?

This is a fascinating question. Certainly, consumers don’t care about developing deeper, more intimate relationships with brands.  But that doesn’t mean they won’t become more trusting, loyal, or change their purchase behavior because of what a brand does or doesn’t do when it comes to content.

At a macro level, I think there’s, no doubt, a change in the expectation of B2B consumers.  We have to realize that not only has the selling process changed but that it’s changed because the shopping process has changed.  This means that today’s B2B buyer has both more pressure and different expectations about what they will have available to them as they make big purchase decisions.  Content (and specifically content that educates and delivers value) is certainly a core piece of that expectation. And they will judge brands accordingly. For B2C, or more transactional buying journeys, I think it’s a bit fuzzier. I do believe that the expectation for content is there – I’m just not sure that consumers are expecting (yet) the brands to provide it. But, I do believe, that the evidence shows that both B2C and B2B companies that are making this move are seeing their consumer’s behavior change in positive ways.

Bonus Question: What’s your favorite brand and what do you love about it?

My favorite content marketing brand strategy right now is what Arrow Electronics is doing.  Over the last two years, Arrow Electronics has watched as electronics publications that they heavily advertise in struggle. And for their customers, electrical engineers, these publications were not only how they kept up with what was going on in the industry – it’s how kids became enamored and inspired to actually become electrical engineers. Over the last two years, Arrow Electronics has established itself as the largest media company in Electronics. In February of 2015, Arrow purchased 16 engineering web sites, e-newsletters, inventory access tools and databases from Hearst’s United Technical Publications. One year later, the company acquired the entire electronics media portfolio of UBM, including the brands EE Times, EDN, SEM, Embedded, EBN, TechOnline and for $23.5 million.

Arrow is playing the long game here. By transforming a part of their marketing into an editorially led strategy, they are doing more than just focusing on describing the value of Arrow’s products.