The Emergence of Content Marketing 3.0

In this module, we discuss:

  • The first and second iterations of content marketing
  • The future of content marketing (Content Marketing 3.0)


  • Content Marketing - a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action
  • Brand Identity - the mission, values, purpose, positioning, voice, tone, look and feel of a business
  • Demographics - statistical data, including age, gender, income and education
  • Geographics - physical location
  • Psychographics - beliefs, attitudes, interests, aspirations, problems, challenges, concerns and motivations

Even though content marketing seemingly became an emerging, commonplace practice among digital marketers, advertisers and communications professionals during the last decade or so, the approach has been around since the turn of the 20th Century.

The thesis of content marketing rejects "traditional marketing and advertising approaches that [focus] on a single, repetitive message in favor of a 'content stream approach,' involving multi-dimensional messages via multiple channels to multiple audiences," according to Larry Light, the former global Chief Marketing Officer of McDonald's.

"[It's] the same way an editor approaches the creation of a magazine, with its array of different content aimed at a variety of interests — but with a coherent editorial framework."

Content Marketing 1.0 & 2.0

While the term content marketing was used as early as 1996, the first wave of mainstream content marketing (circa 2008) was mostly a free-for-all, trial-and-error approach (Content Marketing 1.0). Since social media and other digital publishing tools were so foreign to the average business, no one really knew how to strategically leverage them for systematic growth.

Then, as social media started to mature circa 2012, content marketing did so as well (Content Marketing 2.0) — becoming dominated by blogs, infographics and other types of graphic design, photos, videos and other forms of media. During the last handful of years, content marketing by most businesses has primarily consisted of this three-prong approach:

  1. Create content that helps solve consumer problems related to the products, services and industry of the business behind it
  2. Create content that emphasizes traditional marketing messages, like features and benefits of products and services
  3. Create content that tells stories about people related to the business behind it (known as brand journalism)

While relatively successful and even good-natured at the outset, Content Marketing 2.0 has become ineffective for four main reasons:

First, most content that helps solve consumer problems is only relevant to a particular group of consumers who are at a particular phase of the sales funnel process at a particular point in time — therefore irrelevant to a potentially large group of other consumers. Certainly, you can create enough content for each phase of the sales funnel process, but most businesses are not doing so because it is too costly and time-intensive. Plus, most businesses do not have distribution methods that are sophisticated enough to isolate and hone in on specific groups of consumers.

As such, it should come as no surprise that only 35 percent of consumers say marketing messages they receive about their favorite companies are "usually relevant," while 21 percent of consumers say marketing messages they receive about average companies are "usually relevant," according to this report by Econsultancy and IBM.

Second, content within Content Marketing 2.0 usually includes sales and marketing tactics ranging from explicit to subliminal. Consumers are becoming increasingly adept at recognizing these tactics, no matter how subliminal, which prompts them to automatically put up a guard when interacting with businesses online. Even though social media is theoretically supposed to enable better relationships between consumers and businesses, the latter party has not kept up its end of the bargain.

"People don't want to be sold to, they want to be spoken with," says Bruce MacLellan, Chairman and CEO of Environics Communications.

Third, content within Content Marketing 2.0 is not engaging on a daily basis. In other words, most consumers do not want to learn about how businesses can help solve their problems, and about the features and benefits of various products and services, day in and day out.

"Consumers reject pure brand messaging," says Michael Brito, former Senior Vice President of Social Strategy at Edelman Digital. "Red Bull never talks about their energy drink; they just talk about Shaun White."

Even when storytelling (brand journalism) evolved into a focal point of content marketing, the stories that businesses were telling — or at least trying to tell — sorely lacked any real, memorable value, instead becoming a quickly worn-out marketing tactic.

"The adjusted marketing paradigm has important ... implications," Karel Jan Alsem and Erik Kostelijk write in the research paper Identity Based Marketing: A Newbalanced Marketing Paradigm. "The key message is that [marketers] should better realize what brands do with the human mind."

Fourth and finally, because the Internet and social media eliminated the barriers of entry for any business to produce, publish and distribute content at scale, everyone and their mother started hitching their wagon to the content marketing train.

As a matter of fact, $145 billion was spent on content marketing created in 2015 (a number that is projected to exceed $300 billion by 2019).

"For context, that's more than [global spending] on cancer medications [in 2015], and 17 times what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will spend to protect the environment [in 2016]," writes Thomas Butta, Chief Marketing Officer at Sprinklr.

As a result, content within Content Marketing 2.0 has effectively become a commodity, which has little (if any) value in the Attention Economy.

Cue: Content Marketing 3.0

Unlike the first two iterations, Content Marketing 3.0 challenges businesses to produce content at the intersection of their brand identity with the day-to-day, multidimensional identities of their target customers (their demographics, geographics, psychographics and behaviors).

"Effective marketing now stands on its audience's shoulders," according to this Altimeter Group report. "What resonates most with the audience is what maximizes the impact of the investment, both short- and long-term."

After all, that's how the New York Times and every other successful media company operates: They do not publish content about their business, their products and services, their staff and their customers.

Instead, these media companies exclusively publish content that combines relevant, relatable themes, topics and subjects which are fundamentally rooted in the day-to-day identities of their audiences.

"The key to great marketing is remembering that, even though you're all about your [business], your customer is not," says Gary Vaynerchuk, co-founder and CEO of VaynerMedia. "As with any first date, getting a second date depends on you doing your best to learn more about what the other person is interested in, and directing the conversation in that direction."

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