State of Content Marketing 2017: The 3 Traits That Will Make Brands Truly Successful

The zombiefication of content marketing has already started. First, the content marketing industry is starting to get saturated. The movie was literally garbage. Brands need to start creating incredible content or else consumers are going to tune out completely. TV shows cost a lot of money, and this one in particular—between Spacey, Fincher, and the rest of the cast—was billed at $100 million for two seasons. Because viewers watch through Netflix’s apps, the company knows exactly how many people make it all the way through its movies and shows. With this data, it didn’t seem so crazy for Netflix to make the new House of Cards. This is the way the future will work in every content medium, not just television. The exact technology you use and the data you pay attention to is part and parcel of the third area that will make the difference for content marketers of the future: rigorous content strategy. Or will we use technology, strategy, and creative storytelling to capture that 90 percent of attention that the zombies will never get?

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In 1956, a dust of mysterious plant spores blew into the town of Santa Mira, California. That’s when things started getting weird.

Big green pods started growing around town. Even stranger, local psychiatrists suddenly had an influx of visits from people who lived in the community. Each patient suffered from a condition called Capgras delusion—when you believe someone you know has been replaced by an impostor. Soon, the doctors started panicking too. Their own friends and family were acting weird. They walked mindlessly, staring blankly like zombies.

Before long, an epidemic of mass hysteria broke out. People believed that their loved ones weren’t really their loved ones anymore. It turns out that the patients were right—their loved ones had been replaced.

By aliens.

The plant spores had come from outer space, and the pods had consumed people while they slept, regenerating identical copies of them in the night. In no time, almost everyone in Santa Mira had turned into a “Pod Person.” A thousand versions of the same empty shell wandered the streets.


This story never actually happened. It’s the plot of the classic movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But it is exactly what might happen to the content marketing industry if we aren’t careful.

The zombiefication of content marketing has already started. Millions of smart marketers have been infected by the content bug. They’ve bought into the idea that stories and customer education build relationships in ways that commercial sales pitches and calls-to-action do not. While this realization is a good thing, many brands have started drifting asleep and flooding the internet with the same generic zombie content as everyone else.

This might sound a little dire or pessimistic. A lot of great storytelling exists in the business world. But the warning signs are clear.

At Contently, we get thousands of inbound requests each month from businesses that want help with content marketing. We help hundreds of the world’s top brand publishers run their content marketing programs. Our blog and print magazine report more regular news coverage on the content marketing industry than just about any other publication. With this view of the landscape and what’s coming up on the horizon, we see zombie content marketing as the biggest challenge for brand publishers in 2017.

Two forces are causing this crisis. First, the content marketing industry is starting to get saturated. It’s like when technology made it so any of us could record our own music and publish it for free online. Before long, an insane amount of music had flooded the internet, most of it bad or boring. (I’d include a link to my own band’s old Myspace page if it wasn’t so embarrassing.) After a while, it became hard to find a good new artist among the Myspace zombies.

Second, vendors that aren’t that good at content are selling zombie pods. Agencies that specialize in traditional tactics are just throwing the word “content” in their same old offerings. “Me too” tech vendors are pitching end-to-end solutions that promise brands the world but fail to help them create content worth watching or reading. Publishers are leveraging their editorial reputation to launch content studios, but the content often falls short. The result: branded content that looks like it might be worth consuming but is ultimately just an empty shell.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The future belongs to those who get the following right:

1. Breakthrough storytelling

At the turn of the 20th century, Thomas Edison unveiled a brand new invention that would change the world. It was the kinetoscope, the first practical device that could display moving pictures. Essentially, it was a film projector.

Following the release of his kinetoscope and its subsequent updates, Edison hosted events to screen motion pictures. Some of these early films can be found today in online archives. They are crude by modern standards, but back then, they were miraculous.

On one such occasion, in 1903, people in New York City dressed up and gathered for a special Edison film—the latest and greatest. They put on tuxedos and gowns. They stood in line outside the theater house. Then they sat down as the lights dimmed. As the moving pictures began, people gasped. It was so lifelike.

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The black-and-white film shows three men on a trash barge, shoveling. That’s it. Just shoveling trash for five minutes.

The movie was literally garbage.

Can you imagine? People bought furs in anticipation of this screening. They argued about who would babysit the children. They drank brandy and champagne and sat in fancy seats… to watch garbage. They were willing to do so because the medium itself was so novel. Motion pictures were so cool that people would show up to watch anything. Even garbage.

But that didn’t last long. In the first decade of the 20th century, the U.S. film industry produced 23 films. In the next decade, it produced over 4,000. In the 1920s, over 7,000 films were made.

However, after the apex of the twenties, the number of films made each decade dropped sharply. By the 1960s, only a couple hundred movies were coming out each year. That’s because garbage isn’t really that interesting unless it’s new. After a while, people stopped watching average movies, so fewer investors backed them.

content marketing 2017

The film industry learned that it wasn’t enough to just make a movie. In order to entice people to come to the theater, there had to be a good story.

Things really turned around in the 1970s with the birth of the blockbuster. Movies like Star Wars and The Godfather gave people compelling stories that broke through the noise of everything else competing for their attention: the news, TV shows, films, screaming kids, etc.

This is, not coincidentally, exactly what happened with the whole Myspace music scene we talked about earlier. Once anyone could produce music and put it online, the internet exploded with…