by Jeff Pundyk
Senior Vice President, Global Integrated Content Solutions, The Economist Group

Content marketing has clearly taken center stage for brands, for entrepreneurs, and for investors. The industry is on track to generate $313 billion in revenue in 2019, according to PQ Media’s “Global Content Marketing Forecast.” On the path toward that number, venture capitalists have invested more than $1 billion in content-marketing technology startups since 2006, reported NewsCred, a content-marketing startup, in a recent article.

So, with all of this money, interest, and technology at our disposal, how are we doing?

If you ask the people the content is intended for, decidedly mixed.

There is clearly no shortage of content marketing. Our own study at the Economist Intelligence Unit found that 93% of companies planned to maintain or increase their investments in content this year. The technology and the glut of talent has made that part easy. What’s harder for companies to embrace is an approach that puts their readers’ needs ahead of their own, to engage with each reader not as a consumer but as somebody who is grappling with a complex problem.

When we asked business executives the main reasons they sought content from brands, they said they were looking for fresh ideas, new perspectives, and a balanced and timely view of complicated industry issues. When we asked marketers what drove their content marketing, the overwhelming majority said connecting directly to their products or services.

And what was the No. 1 reason executives said they were turned off by content marketing? It seemed too much like a sales pitch.

Since we did that study in the beginning of the year, more and more brands have taken up content marketing. But as content marketing moves from the margins to the middle–and as more and more money moves from traditional advertising to content programs–the stakes get higher. Marketers need to justify the growing expenditures to their CEOs, and they need to show results. This is where things can easily go astray. Too often we see marketers apply metrics from traditional ad campaigns to content programs, and too often we see those metrics point marketers in the wrong direction.

Good content marketing is not a one-off transaction. It is about building a relationship over time–often a very long period of time. It is about projecting a brand that is both knowledgeable and trustworthy. The measure of successful content marketing is not reach or CTR or CPM. It is credibility.

Credibility does not come from cranking out “me-too” content; it does not come from crowing about your products or industry awards; it does not come from being glib; it does not come from going viral. Credibility can only come from a deep understanding of your readership and a true desire to help them make difficult decisions in an increasingly complex world. Credibility comes from a selflessness that often has no short-term ROI.

Content marketing done well can create a valuable long-term asset–a loyal audience–some of whom will become customers, most of whom will become advocates. In a world where consumers have unlimited choice, where reputation is the key differentiator, and where the level of noise is ratcheting ever upward, credibility is the key to longevity. Great content marketers are building their brands’ future.

Originally published on cmo.com