From unknown to niche tactic to established component in any digital strategy, having founded a content marketing agency in Sydney four years ago (time flies!), I’ve witnessed the growth of the content marketing industry firsthand.
The growth in Australia and throughout Southeast Asia was thrown into sharp relief when I attended both Content Marketing World in Sydney and Content Marketing Asia in Singapore last month.
Following this whirlwind of content marketing conferences, I’ve been giving some serious thought to the similarities and, more importantly, the differences in each market. As an open admission, King Content has offices in both cities, so I have a vested interest in making sure content marketing is front and centre in the minds of those who spend marketing budgets.
Here are the main differences I’ve noticed in content marketing in Australia and Singapore.
The first thing that stands out (and it has been like this for a while) is that Australia is ahead of Singapore from a budget and uptake perspective. This is reasonably unique because it’s normally the other way around in digital disciplines, with Singapore leading the innovation charge.
So what’s different with content marketing?
Firstly, for the past six months Australia has been the epicentre of a content marketing media cyclone. Clearly on the minds, tongues and keyboards of media and marketing commentators, marketers, journalists and anyone else near the digital space, content marketing has become the ‘hot new thing’.
Most major agencies now have a content team, SEO agencies have followed suit and custom publishers have become content marketing agencies overnight. It’s a pity this didn’t happen about four years ago when I started the business as I could have done without the sleepless nights and the ongoing emails with my accountant over cash flow! It would have meant a far more educated and committed marketplace.
The Australian marketplace is a little more mature than Singapore and, as such, content marketing often enjoys more budget allocation.
The accelerated adoption rate isn’t the only reason for this increased market maturity. The strength of the Australia custom publishing industry for the years preceding the digital migration has definitely facilitated the leap into a broader content marketing spend. There have also been some interesting quirks such as Australian professionals’ crazy love affair with LinkedIn, which has catapulted it as a B2B play within the segment.
From an Asian perspective, there is no doubt that things are on the move. We are seeing the purse strings being loosened and major brands redirecting funds into digital content marketing. One thing to note, however, is that this content marketing adoption is largely being led by worldwide brands with regional offices. Only a handful of local brands (SingTel, EDB) have fully embraced content marketing and, most notably, no banks! This is a stark difference from Australia where the Big Four are well and truly utilising content in their digital strategies.
At both events there were some great perspectives offered by brand marketers who had already started to spend on content marketing in the region. Those who particularly spring to mind from Content Marketing World Sydney include Bradley Smith from SEEK, Tim Washer from Cisco and Helen Livesey from AMP. All offered unique insights for brands starting out on their content marketing journey, from ensuring you have a solid plan and strategy through to trying a bit of improv comedy in your content calendar, which I’m sure is much easier for someone like Tim Washer than any of us!
All in all, after the Australian event I felt reassured by the growth of the Australian market in the last 12 months, and I think there is now a significant level of maturity entering the market – an attitude that it’s time to just get on and do things and stop talking about them.
One of the signposts for this maturity has been the continued recruitment of quality journalists and editors by brands. I’ve always felt this is a solid barometer of how the market is evolving, and I have noticed that more of our clients are beginning to hire editors and journalists to assist in the development and execution of their content strategies.
I’ve also heard the conspiratorial caution that agencies like ours will become less relevant once this starts happening. However, we’ve found this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, once a brand invests in journalists and storytelling, we invariably become more relevant to our clients.
How does Singapore compare?
In Singapore, there is a defined sense of cautious optimism. While I believe the Singaporean market is moving in the right direction and will meet (or exceed) the level of interest and adoption Australia is currently seeing, it is doing so in its own unique way (and pace).
The quality of conversation and understanding around what content marketing is and how content strategies should be executed is very advanced. There are some quality brands and agencies leading the industry and a newly formed association: the Asia Content Marketing Association with foundation members from Yahoo, Mindshare, Outbrain, BBH, Google, FleishmanHillard and King Content.
One area that undoubtedly adds a level of complexity to the Asian market is language. Most major content marketing programs require multiple languages in multiple countries, bilingual and sometimes trilingual editors and sub-editors, and also the ability to orchestrate a content strategy while understanding the intricate details of each country’s cultures, marketplace, seasons and major news developments.
I think the size and weight of the agency networks in Asia compared to Australia also reflect their say in the content marketing industry. For the best part of four years in Australia, we’ve enjoyed predominately direct conversations with brand prospects and clients where we’ve worked collaboratively with them to develop and execute content strategies across multiple online assets. In Singapore, we’ve had to develop relationships with major agencies from the start to ensure we could procure content marketing budgets.
While this layer could have easily complicated the process, it has actually led to the formation of some very solid partnerships with the larger creative agency networks. There have been few competitive issues and the level of trust flowing both ways has been good. I think this collaboration augers well for the market.
It’s certainly been interesting to witness the growth of the content marketing industry in Australia. As one of the first content marketing agencies to launch in Australia, we certainly had it our own way for a few years but knew this would change as the market developed.
In fact, we knew the minute we brought Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose to Australia for Content Marketing World Sydney that our secret would be out. This growth wasn’t something that concerned us too much as I am happy to share the education load with others, and everyone knows that a high tide raises all boats.
I was surprised, however, by the amount of agencies that attended and sponsored the event this year. I counted over 15 agencies that were positioning themselves as content marketing agencies, and I’d wager a guess that on a per-capita basis this far outstrips the US and Europe.
It was interesting that they mostly came from a segment that have seen better times such as custom publishing, PR or search, and this certainly evidenced itself in their varying approaches. Some of these agencies have totally disregarded their history or original background, while others have altered their business to meet demand. It goes without saying that there are some very good operators in the space including David Pembroke from the Content Group in Canberra and Bobbi Mahlab from Mahlab Media in Sydney. I think that the teams from Edelman in both markets are particularly solid.
In Singapore, we’re seeing more ‘pure-play content marketing agencies’ popping up (defined as those that have launched as a content marketing agency and not morphed from another skill set like PR, custom publishing, SEO) as well as some of the major networks throwing their hat into the ring. I have no doubt there will be some consolidation (and acquisition) just as there was in the search segment some 10 years ago. And I think the other parallel that will certainly add to the search industry is the agencies that did well had a technological methodology and platform, which certainly made them more attractive to brands and acquirers. I have no doubt this will also define the haves and have-nots in the segment.
I’ve got no doubt that both markets will continue to grow rapidly with more budgets being allocated to the space.
I’m looking forward to the increase in content marketing measurement methodologies and technology actively being used to analyse content marketing programs, not to mention the fact that the content marketing industry is itself beginning to grow other markets. We’ve certainly witnessed an explosion of parallel markets in content amplification, a spurt in content marketing technology platforms and some great industry training up for both journalists looking to transition and brand marketers looking to drive digital outcomes.
I feel the last word on this opinion piece should be a hat tip and a thank you to the journalists and editors who have helped enable brands to tell amazing stories and, more often than not, let the consumer have a quality engagement with the brand. Without these guys, none of the agencies and markets above would have been able to breathe, let alone prosper. Long live the storytellers.
By Craig Hodges – CEO
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