Robert Rose has become one of the truly unique voices in marketing today, especially when it comes to content marketing.
Rose was recently named #10 in the top 50 influencers in content marketing. He is a regular columnist for EContent Magazine. He co-hosts the podcast “This Old Marketing,” with Joe Pulizzi, of the Content Marketing Institute. And his book with Pulizzi, “Managing Content Marketing,” is widely considered the “owner’s manual” of the content-marketing process.
Amid all of this, CMO.com managed to track Rose down long enough to talk about his latest thinking on the state of content marketing. He will be speaking on this—and more—next week as Adobe’s Digital Marketing Summit, in Salt Lake City.
CMO.com: Robert, the title of your session at the upcoming Adobe Summit is “The 7th Era Of Marketing.” Can you tell us a little about what the other six were before we dive into the seventh?
Rose: Most classic textbooks will point to “The Five Eras of Marketing”—each encompassing about 20 to 30 years each. The five are “The Trade Era,” “The Production Era,” “The Sales Era,” “The Marketing Department Era,” and “The Marketing Company Era.” Then there is general acceptance that we are currently—starting sometime in the early 1990s—in what’s become known as “The Relationship Era.” Our contention in the new book [“Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing,” by Rose and Carla Johnson] is that, as we move into 2015 and toward 2020, we are evolving into a seventh era, which we are calling “Experiences.”
We believe this evolution is marked by the increasing complexity of what it means for a brand to have a “relationship” with a consumer. Customer loyalty is now to the experience created, and not to the product or service being offered. And at the heart of those experiences, of course, is content.
CMO.com: Most of the marketers I speak to have certainly become aware of the idea that content marketing is something they have to understand and employ. Yet many of them are still befuddled about what “content” means, and they don’t have a handle on what “storytelling” is doing in their campaigns. Can you set them straight?
Rose: Ha! Sure, I can explain it. Whether it sets them straight is another matter. Basically, the question is always, “Isn’t all marketing content?” And the answer to that question is yes. All marketing is content, but it’s not always content marketing. The difference is really one of purpose. We have been classically trained as marketers to describe value. That’s what we’re really good at. We know how to describe the value of our product or service. We know how to create unique value propositions, or features, benefits, reasons to believe, etc. And technology has helped us to wring every bit of efficiency out of that process.
What we’re not so good at—and, frankly, have never had the permission or remit to do—is to actually create value with content. In other words, marketers don’t currently create value with a content-driven experience that is separate and discrete from the products or services we sell. That’s what great content marketing is. It is valuable in and of itself, without regard to the product we are marketing.
When you think of brands that truly get this—such as Red Bull, or American Express, or Kraft—they are creating separate value with content for the express purpose of building an audience. That delighted audience, in turn, is an asset that can propel a business goal. I love the way Jonathan Mildenhall, when he was the worldwide VP of creative and advertising at Coca Cola, explained it to me. He said, “The more I can fill the emotional well of my audience, the less I have to trade on it.” What he meant is that the more value for an audience he can create through content, the less he actually has to discount his product.
CMO.com: I think the juxtaposition of storytelling with customer experiences is interesting. The customer journey has long been linear—or at least it was thought to be so—during which customers started at A and ended at B, for “buy.” How is this notion of the customer experience different from that, and how does storytelling play into it?
Rose: We’ve long known that the buying journey is no longer a linear experience. We’ve all seen the various models of the ball of string, or the circular seashell, or whatever. Also, the notion that any brand is going to create specific content to propel a buyer from one step to the next is simply flawed. I don’t care how big your business is: You’ll never account for content at every microdecision in a buyer’s journey across every channel. You just won’t. And even if you somehow could, you’d never create great content at every step. Instead, the idea is to create a portfolio of powerful experiences at major points. Simplify and create the experiences where you can truly be differentiated. The goal should be that your consumer will find those experiences and be impacted by them so that they want to share them and want to move to the next experience.
This is why it’s so important—and why we make such a fuss about it in the book—that marketing’s remit for these experiences must be strategic throughout the entirety of the customer life cycle. Our goal should not be to scale to every channel or every step along the buyer’s journey. It should be to create the minimal number of experiences that are so impactful that our audience wants to share them on all the platforms that we will never have the capacity to scale to.
CMO.com: One of the themes of this year’s Summit is transformation “beyond marketing.” How does this transformation from “subservient service department” to creator and manager of customer experiences affect the way the 21st century CMO does his or her job?
Rose: It’s simple—but maybe not easy. It fundamentally transforms the role into something it has never been. What if the CMO’s remit was not to simply figure out new and clever ways to sell product? What if the CMO’s role was to be the chief innovator and create a valuable profit center out of marketing? Yes. A profit center. It sounds outlandish, but it’s happening. The value that is contained in an addressable, engaged, and subscribed audience is huge. And there’s nothing stopping any brand from developing the skill set to be able to leverage both content and technology to make that happen. Real companies are creating real content programs that not only pay for themselves, but that could theoretically drive a profit for the company. The transformation of the CMO into a strategic leader that drives the innovation and creation of value in the company is very real.
For example, Carla and I were blessed to have Eduardo Conrado, who is now the chief innovation officer at Motorola Solutions, write the foreword to our book. He has expanded the idea of CMO into integrating the entirety of technology, sales, and marketing under one group—and leads what he calls in our book a “marketing renaissance.”
And, by the way, we’re not the only ones saying this. There’s a new McKinsey Report out on this exact topic.
CMO.com: So given all that, what’s the future of content in marketing? Where are we today, and where are we doing?
Rose: Every organization knows how to create content; however, almost none understands content as a strategic, repeatable process. It’s kind of amazing that we're 20 years into this experience of “the Web” and “digital,” and we still treat content as a by-product of the product or service we produce. Today, we’re as far away from the beginning of the Web as we know it, as we were from disco and bell-bottom jeans that were popular when the Web began.
Every single company produces exponentially more content today than it did last year—and will again tomorrow. Despite the advances of content technology, most businesses have actually less grasp on what they say and how they say it than ever before. Fifteen years ago, Phillip Kotler, one of my heroes in marketing, said in his book, “Kotler On Marketing,” that in the coming years marketing “will need to rethink fundamentally the processes by which they identify, communicate, and deliver customer value.” And it’s a wonderful sentiment, but, for most organizations, it simply hasn’t happened yet.
As I’ve said before, in the next decade, not every company will have a content-marketing strategy. But every successful company will.
See what the Twitterverse is saying about content marketing: