Despite my obligatory early resistance to the notions of brand journalism and content marketing—and my criticism contains caveats that I continue to clutch—I have concluded that this is the third of three major trends I've seen in the communications 'hood since I started slouching around here in the early 1990s.
The popularization of the Internet in the mid-1990s was completely nutso. Desperate communicators were flocking to conferences to see what the Internet actually looked like. "Is that the Internet?" they'd ask, pointing to the big screen. And in the bar later, the speakers used to fantasize about replying, "Does it look like the fuckin' Internet?" Communication pundits who I dismissed as "Internet geeks" actually engaged in public arguments over whether the Internet was as important as the invention of fire, or just the Guttenberg Press.
Then came social media a decade later, which I greeted with a Ragan Report column whose headline I still remember: "Blog wonks need chill pill." I said social media would proceed at its own pace, and didn't need blogging boosters to whip communicators in the direction of the inevitable. I was right—except I didn't see Facebook or Twitter or YouTube coming like the Arab Spring. (Look, somebody has to be the ballast.)
And now one more decade on, we have content marketing. I'm on this one. Not only have I come believe content marketing is the third megatrend of my career … I've embraced it as a practice that, in theory, can make organizations more human and less institutional, can force corporate leaders to be more frequently familiar with the truth, and most importantly for us, can transform communications from a cost center to a profit center.
That, for professional communicators, would make the advents of the Internet and social media look like hula hoops and pet rocks.
So content marketing is more than a "thing." It's a good thing.
That's why I'm the program chairman of the first annual Content Marketing Awards! When a trend is so profound that it gets through to me … yes, you want to be able to call yourself a content marketer, and you want to be able to distiguish yourself from all those bandwagon jumpers.