The 4th Wave Of Content Marketing: Marketing Apps

Last month, I introduced the concept of marketing apps — more interactive features that marketers could deploy across their websites and campaigns to better engage prospects.

As a follow up, I’d like to share some ideas with you about how such responsive web marketing apps can have a tremendous impact on the evolution of content marketing in particular.

I propose that we’ve seen three waves of content marketing on the web, and that marketing apps may herald a fourth wave of interactive content on a mass scale.

4 Waves of Content Marketing

The First Three Waves Of Content Marketing

The first wave of content marketing was how it began: companies publishing as much as they wanted on their websites (and eventually on blogs and social media platforms, as well).

Granted, most of this content was text. But text was easily indexed by search engines, which made that content discoverable. Companies would publish pages, search engines would ingest them, searchers would find them with keyword queries, and good content would earn links and rise in rankings. Content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) were joined at the hip.

The second wave of content marketing moved from text to richer, more visual content, such as videos, infographics, slide presentations, and beautifully designed e-books and white papers.

While not always optimal from an SEO perspective, this rich and visual content was often much more compelling in the eyes of its human audience. This second wave corresponded with the growth of social media marketing. Content was increasingly produced to encourage “shares” on Twitter and Facebook.

But as more companies have jumped on the content marketing bandwagon, the river of content has become a flood. For marketers, it’s ever more difficult to gain visibility for any one piece of content in this torrent. And for audiences, wading through all of this content can feel like a slog.

The third wave of content marketing, on the rise now, is about using personalization technology to try to filter the right content for the right people.

Personalization holds much promise, but it requires data about prospects in order to make educated guesses about which content is right for them. That’s more feasible in bottom-of-funnel nurturing and sales enablement programs — when we truly start to know someone — than it is in top-of-funnel marketing campaigns.

However, all three of these waves of content marketing have had one major constraint in common: they revolve around passive content. The audience had to patiently read, watch, or listen to try to absorb the information as if they were reading a textbook or sitting in a lecture.

The Fourth Wave Of Content Marketing: Marketing Apps

The fourth wave of content marketing, now emerging, is the proliferation of interactive content with responsive web marketing apps.

Marketing apps are participatory, not passive.

A marketing app might be an assessment tool, to help someone understand which stage their company is at in a maturity model for a new technology. A marketing app might be a game-like quiz show to debunk popular myths around a product category. A marketing app might be an interactive e-book that embeds real-time polls, adjustable data visualizations, and an ROI calculator.

Content Marketing: Engagement Models and Business Models

Marketing apps often deliver the same material as passive content, but they deliver it in a more engaging way. They take inspiration from the two-way conversations of great salespeople and the active learning techniques demonstrated by great teachers. That’s the “engagement axis” in the graphic above.

They also enable marketers to experiment with different “business models” for their content, too. Passive content has typically been either free (i.e., anyone could access it anonymously on the web) or gated behind a lead generation form (e.g., if you wanted to download a report or attend a webinar, you had to fill out a form with your contact information).

Each end of that content business model spectrum has its downsides: free content may not directly generate leads; but, gated content is often not “bought” by most of your audience.

However, marketing apps can blend these models to provide “freemium” content. A prospect can begin interacting with a marketing app for free on the web, to get a sense for the value embedded in it. Then, once they’ve found the experience to be useful, they can be offered extra features or bonus material in exchange for their contact information.

For instance, that assessment tool example mentioned earlier might let anyone take the assessment for free, to learn what factors contribute to the maturity model and determine what stage they’re at. Then at the end, they could be offered premium content, such as a ranking with their peers or a guide of next steps tailored to their current stage, gated by a short lead generation form that’s built right into the app.

These four waves of content marketing are not mutually exclusive. In fact, when orchestrated well, they can reinforce each other’s strengths. For example, observing prospects interact with marketing apps can feed valuable data into personalization algorithms to better tailor other content offers to them.

P.S. Future-thinking readers may wonder what the fifth and sixth waves of content marketing will be. I don’t know. But the seventh wave… (autoplay video)

Graphics provided courtesy of ion interactive.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Analytics | Channel: Content Marketing | Content Marketing | Content Marketing Column


About The Author: is the president and CTO of ion interactive, a leading provider of landing page management and conversion optimization software. He also writes a blog on marketing technology, Chief Marketing Technologist. Follow him on twitter via @chiefmartec.

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  • Mike van Hoenselaar

    Interesting perspective. Interesting to see that a lot of (big) companies do this naturally. They don’t need the trend. They do it from a sharing is caring perspective. They already have a sharing knowledge culture.
    To provide help is the best I can describe it. In whatever way possible.

  • Elliot Suiter

    I wish i hadn’t but i did fall for the seventh wave. Nice addition to an interesting article. I think flipboard has done a fantastic job introducing ads into its business models. It’s extremely native and usually very on topic with its readership.

  • Guest

    Danny, great explanation of the how all of this comes together.

    But the reason marketers need to jump on the app train (soon) is simpler: mobile apps are stealing attention from the web.

    Apps today consume >80% of user attention on mobile devices, and that share of attention increasing. The mobile web gets the rest.

    So… if you care about reaching your audience on mobile devices – and in many countries the only digital channel available is smartphones – then you have little choice but to compete in the app economy.

    As a result of this attention shift, your traditional web-based content may soon start losing its punch.

    Content marketers should watch their markets’ use of mobile apps for signs of a tipping point.


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