The year ahead will be challenging for anyone in the content business. We asked top marketing and editorial leaders what they expect from brand publishing in the coming year.
Key themes included finding ways to become more efficient, proving their worth to their broader organizations, and, of course, the impact of generative AI.
- Molly Ritterbeck – editorial director, Tonal
- Franklin Morris – vp, marketing, Alloy.ai
- Benjy Hansen-Bundy – editor, A.Team
- Bennett D. Bennett – Principal Consultant, Aerialist
- Adam Kleinberg – CEO, Traction
- Natalie Mendes – head of brand content, Atlassian
- Emily Anne Epstein – President, Decopop Agency
- David Berkowitz – founder, AI Marketers Guild
- Tracy Middleton – editorial director, Hone Health
- Ken Beaulieu – evp, Content, and Center for Brand Purpose, Association of National Advertisers
- Ann Marie Kerwin, Americas Editor, WARC
- Chandra Turner – editorial recruiter and founder of The Talent Fairy
- Jennifer Parker – editor-in-chief, Huge
The year of efficiency
Molly Ritterbeck – editorial director, Tonal
With macroeconomic climates evolving, content marketing will need to be as efficient as possible for brands. That means brands may seek to create high-quality, low-cost content that can scale across multiple platforms and be repackaged and repurposed to get the most bang for their buck. This also presents one of the bigger challenges: Budgets continuing to shrink for brands and marketing teams post-pandemic. The media industry has been battling back against trust issues for years now and branded content is no exception. If you want your content to stand out amongst the noise, building and maintaining the trust of readers and audiences will be paramount. Brands may explore more editorial partnerships, and invest in transparent editorial practices or fact-checking mechanisms.
“You’re going to see content organizations get cut.”
Franklin Morris – vp, marketing, Alloy.ai
In this economy, programs get cut. People get cut. Content gets cut, especially top-of-the-funnel content without the attribution tie. You’re going to see content organizations get cut. This goes back to trust with CMO and CEO. We know content builds relationships with customers. But without that direct attribution, it’s harder to prove.
The weird thing about marketing is what works changes really quickly. Channels become saturated. So much of how you get in front of customers is not in the hands of the marketer. You’re at the mercy of the Facebook algorithm. Cookies. Inbox rules. You see a lot of brands doing this but smarter brands will build their own community.
The other thing is AI: It’s going to wreak havoc on SEO. It floods the market with crap content. It drops the marginal cost of producing crappy content to zero. Everyone can produce the same SEO-bait type of articles at scale. What sets you apart is now really good strong content narrowly targeted.
“Events come back.”
Benjy Hansen-Bundy – editor, A.Team
With the firehose of content gushing at max speed now that every marketing team has a GPT-4 login, live events are going to be more important next year. This is pure subjective speculation, but I’m feeling this already in tech media in New York City. Execs and buyers want to get out of the house for sleek conferences like the Fast Company Innovation Festival or private executive roundtables. Developers want live virtual workshops on the latest in prompt engineering. Hell, people are just going out more to live events of all kinds—comedy shows are mobbed, forget about nabbing Taylor Swift tickets, and people still show up to watch whatever sport it is the Jets claim to be playing.
Bennett D. Bennett – Principal Consultant, Aerialist
I expect more brands to embrace the community they build through their content ecosystems, and more opportunities for live events, curatorial projects and unique storytelling to take shape—and hopefully, mature enough to demand larger and long-term investment.
A skittish market
Emily Anne Epstein – President, Decopop Agency
Brand publishing is a longer-term play, so we will see the number of companies investing in high-quality content contract. The market is just skittish right now when it comes to investing in content without immediate ROI. Leaders are looking to curb spending, understandably. However, the organizations that use this time to invest in building publishing arms will be way ahead of everyone else in a year or two. They’ll have full-fledged owned media platforms with loyal, engaged pipelines—unencumbered by algorithms. Anyone chasing AI to replace writers or still trying to game SEO is going to be very disappointed; your content is a reflection of your product. Crappy content is only going to convince customers you have a crappy product.
The biggest myth is that content doesn’t directly contribute to dollars and cents. So many marketing metrics are focused on the last touch—but so-called “golden pages” are only doing a fraction of the work. People need to be familiar with a brand, a category, a problem, etc. before they’re ready to buy. All it takes is connecting systems to show the value of a thought leadership post. Connect your Google Analytics to Marketo and Salesforce. Get ContentSquare, Knotch, or AudiencePlus to track user journeys. Look at the companies reading your content with Demandbase. There are indicators everywhere that customers need to engage with several pieces of content before they are ready to buy. Content leaders are just so often fighting an uphill battle when it comes to analytics resourcing. Good content can, and absolutely does, make good money.
Brands will be upfront about their AI use
Natalie Mendes – head of brand content, Atlassian
In 2024 brands will finally figure out how to use AI in their publishing efforts. In 2023 there has been a lot of hesitation about usage, quality, and legality, but I think 2024 will see brands taking a stand on how they want to use AI for publishing, and why. And I hope we see brands be upfront and honest about which of their content is AI-generated (even if published with a human hand).
A myth about brand publishing is that it “just happens”. A lot of companies believe that if they just give their executives a pen, or a platform on social media, that the audience will flock to them. But it doesn’t work that way. Brands truly need a journalistic lens upon all of the content they want to create and a channel-first approach because at the end of the day, our audience are busy consumers just trying to get through their days, eking the most value that they can out of the content they bump into online. Brands need to make it easy and relevant to these audiences, and that takes an outside-in approach.
Brands will need to work harder to build trust
Adam Kleinberg – CEO, Traction
Generative AI will upend the brand publishing world in 2024. This will create a huge proliferation of content. On one hand, this will be a welcome change for brand publishers who are constantly being tasked with doing more with less. On the other, will anyone read it? Audiences will be deluged by content, and much will be undifferentiated because it is written by the same robots. The amount of content to sift through will make it harder to use traditional tools like search to make sure your content gets seen. Publishers will need to work harder to build trust, so people actually seek your content out.
A tight year ahead
David Berkowitz – founder, AI Marketers Guild
Brand publishing will continue to face the challenges of doing more with less. It’s tough monetizing audiences through ads or getting viewers into a purchase funnel. Social commerce, meanwhile, is driven largely by social platforms like Instagram and TikTok. How will brands keep the lights on with their publishing initiatives, especially during a time when businesses will still be cautious with their investments? Enter AI. There’s the promise that brands will be able to create effective content with fewer resources especially as some of the leaders among AI tech companies continue to rapidly improve.
AI will impact traffic
Tracy Middleton – editorial director, Hone Health
I think a challenge for all content publishers (brand or traditional) will be AI search. Google appears to be giving less prominence to SGE in some regards while pushing it to more and more countries at the same time. But if and when it fully rolls out, it could hugely impact traffic. Even if it cites the original source (the direction it looks like it’s moving in), there’s no guarantee readers will read full articles.
AI will be used for content development
Ken Beaulieu – evp, Content, and Center for Brand Purpose, Association of National Advertisers
We anticipate continued growth in video consumption, specifically with short-form products as attention spans further wane. To that end, “micro content” will continue to dominate with the continued rise of TikTok and similar social media channels, which could affect every aspect of brand publishing. That includes mobile as brands look to create seamless experiences across screens of all sizes. We also expect brands to rely more heavily on artificial intelligence for story ideation, headline optimization, artwork creation, even content/script development. The big challenge, of course, is using AI in a safe and ethical manner and ensuring the content fits the brand. Our concern is the potential rise of “forgettable” branded content, meaning that it neither challenges nor adds value to the existing discourse. We believe content creators must tread carefully with AI and double down on improving the quality and efficacy of their work.
Personalized content comes to the fore
Ann Marie Kerwin, Americas Editor, WARC
More brands will experiment with creating their own personalized content using Gen AI, and will likely look closely at the talent they need to produce brand content. The challenge will be the standing out among an expected wave of new content being unleashed by all the Gen AI experiments. How much personalized content can consumers pay attention to?
AI is going to affect the entry-level job market.
Chandra Turner – editorial recruiter and founder of The Talent Fairy
AI is going bring rates down for freelance writers and make the full-time writer positions more competitive. Writers will need to be highly specialized and experienced in a particular subject area (in health, science, news, politics to name a few) to be worth paying for. There will be a higher expectation for editors to know how to use AI and feel comfortable and skilled at it. AI is also going to affect the entry-level job market — a lot of junior-level folks start out writing copy that now can easily be written by AI. And a lot of the original assistant work (scheduling, note taking, basic team managing and communication) has long been replaced by software. So what will be the new entry-level job? I worry about that.
ROI becomes critical
Jennifer Parker – editor-in-chief, Huge
Return on investment was, is, and will be paramount to brand publishing in 2024. That means brand publishing will be increasingly data-driven, given that we all have tools to track key performance indicators (KPIs) and see to what extent we are connecting with our target audience.
The biggest challenge is monetizing long-form — ask any newsroom out there how they do it. Despite the fact that storytelling remains the most powerful way to share ideas with the world, the nature of our digital lives forces us to masquerade in short attention span theater. That’s why I’m on a mission to prove long-form has a place in the business world, and can directly generate significant leads.