By Allen Plummer
Head of Editorial and Creative Operations, Participant Strategy and Development



I was recently asked to shift into a new role on our team; content marketer. We’re fortunate in that we already have a solid content strategy, but there are opportunities to grow and oversee that space. Right now, no one owns it. (Sound familiar?)

As recently as 16 months ago, it seems content marketing was The Next Big Thing. Now, we’re hearing that everyone is doing it. No doubt, content marketing has gone mainstream (much to the chagrin of marketers like myself.) Some are claiming that content marketing has already “jumped the shark*.”

I get it. As marketers, we all want to improve our content, develop great stories, and find ways to stand out from the noise that bombards us every day. But in doing so, we’re all moving in the same direction; using storytelling to give brands “all the feels” (as the kids say). And in the process, we’re getting better at tying emotions and the human experience to inanimate objects and services. In some ways, we should be proud of ourselves.

But is there already a glut of content marketing?

Maybe, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Good storytelling and content is a necessity, not a trend. And anything that makes us better storytellers, writers, and communicators is a good thing.

As a writer I’m biased, but let’s be honest. With the recent technological advances of the last two decades, the human race is starting to lose its natural storytelling ability. From smartphones to streaming video, to YouTube stars to Facebook, we’ve become a society of instant gratification. Advertising now consists of “micro-moments” (God, I hate that word), we skip through commercials on our DVRs (guilty as charged), and books are slowly dying.

Pessimistic? Yes. Accurate? You bet.

“But what about movies,” some of you are thinking. Sure, movies are still one of our most important methods of storytelling, but compare the plot and character development of that film you watched last weekend to popular films of the 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s. Film noir detective stories, science fiction, even period films. Right or wrong, films have transitioned to reflect our shortened attention spans.

There are certainly examples to the contrary, and I could continue to rant, but that’s not the point. Still, if you stop and think about how entertainment and communication have changed over the past few decades, you’ll quickly notice the evolution.

Content (real content) has suffered as a result of this shift, and it needs some TLC. We all could stand to relearn the art of storytelling; no matter what the medium. So maybe it’s okay if there’s a glut of content marketing. If we’re telling better stories, connecting with others, and making the human experience a bit better in the process, then it’s worth it.

Besides, in 6 months we marketers will be chasing the new Next Big Thing.

(* – The phrase “jump the shark” originated from the 1970’s TV show “Happy Days.” In one of the final seasons, a major character, Fonzie, jumped over a shark while water skiing. Television fans point to this episode as when the long-running sitcom began its decline, and the phrase evolved to describe anything that has surpassed its peak popularity and is on a downward trend.)

In his current role at Vanguard, Allen leads an organization of cutting-edge creative professionals and project managers who are committed to helping 401(k) participants have their best chance at investment success. Previously, Allen led digital marketing efforts for Vanguard’s Institutional business, where he was charged with creating and leading a team that introduced content marketing, social media, content advertising, and digital innovation to the business. 

Allen’s passion project is Head, Heart & Hustle, a podcast about creativity. Each episode features interviews with real creatives about their side projects and pursuits outside of work. Allen is also a financial writer and author who has published over 300 articles for various companies, including Bloomberg, AOL/Time Warner, Thomson Media, and Primedia Business Magazines. Connect with him on Twitter at @MktrAllen.

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