Rise of the Content Distribution Space

This morning’s announcement by OneSpot – a company that helps marketers place their content in front of relevant buyers through display advertising – of series A financing to the tune of $5.3 million may pale next to recent multibillion IPOs and valuations, but it says a lot about a new space opening up: content distribution.

While OneSpot and Resonance HQ (which offers a similar service) drive content engagement through banner ads, native advertising or sponsored content puts branded content straight into digital publishers’ editorial mix (often with “sponsored by” or “sponsor content” next to it). Vendors like Outbrain, Taboola, AdBlade, Sharethrough, LinkSmart, Nativo, Media Voice and AdsNative are vying for a $2 billion per year native advertising market that’s growing by as much as 20% year on year.

Add to this the plays by Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter that allow marketers to purchase visibility for their content in certain users’ timelines. For both Facebook and twitter, this is their only source of revenue for a growing proportion of mobile users, and it looks like Wall Street may be rewarding them for this mobile-driven success.

Other players crashing this “help brands put people in front of their content”-party include just about every publisher you care to mention, with BuzzFeed.com as the biggest poster child. Federated Media, too, is rethinking content distribution via what John Battelle calls “peanut butter cup marketing” – that is, the matching of content to programmatic retargeting.

This brings us back to the series A announcement by OneSpot, which has created something akin to Battelle’s peanut butter cup. Bryan Stolle, General Partner with Mohr Davidow Ventures (which led the round), said: “We believe the market will continue to see a shift of brand dollars to both content marketing and programmatic advertising as brands increase their reliance on content-centric programs and look to scale those efforts.”

He’s right on the money there. Many brands have content down, but few manage to scale what they’re doing. Brands that invest upwards of $40 billion per year on custom content have an immediate incentive to think about how to put that content in front of more, and more relevant, buyers. This clear need is powering what I call the content distribution space.

Provided content distribution becomes a discipline in its own right, it spawns a number of follow-up questions: How does paid content distribution relate to organic distribution (i.e., search and social-driven)? How does a brand invest in content distribution? Which forms of content distribution respond to user data?

It’s like any new space – each answer brings a bevy of new questions.

(If you’d like a primer on how to approach content distribution from a strategic perspective, have a look at my latest report, which looks at paid content distribution in a broader context).

Comments

The Right Stuff

Ryan hits the nail squarely on the head with this blog post and his recently published report. Good quality content is less than half the battle and that is not going to change. Focus on distribution and promotion and monitor your results for success.

Follow-up questions...

Ryan,

First, great post. As someone in the organic content promotion space, it's incredibly job-affirming to have someone at Forrester reporting on happenings in the industry.

Second, in regard to your line: "provided content distribution becomes a discipline in its own right," I'd point to the traditional PR industry and their media outreach strategies and tactics as a starting point for answering the questions you've proposed. Obviously, the answers can't all be found there; however (and here's the beginnings of a new question) it will be interesting to see how the PR industry adapts. With that in mind, what do you see old-school PR companies doing at the moment to address client needs related to digital content promotion? Do you forecast a smooth transition? Is there room for a major disruptor in the organic promotion space?

Anyway, your insight on the above would be really great to hear and I hope to see you in the comments.

Phil

On PRs approach to content distribution

(First off: Thanks, Patrick. Appreciate the +1)

To your points Phil, I think the qualifier "old school" pretty much kills involvement in content marketing. Old school PRs are about gatekeeping, press releases and antiquated ideas about who is and isn't media. Old school PR is still in old school PR land.

That said, you don't want to judge a group by its old school practitioners. Many PR agencies are producing and distributing branded content. As such, they're pretty much on a level playing field with content agencies, SEO agencies and others. Their typical advantages: They understand how to craft a great media-friendly story and they have relationships to help drive that story into a broader agenda. Their typical weaknesses: They often have a poorer grasp of SEO, contribution to marketing value and - in general - technology. But even these differences are quickly being whisked away as companies address their soft spots.

Is there room for a major disruptor in the organic promotion space? Yes. That would be someone who combined excellent SEO, social, analytics and marketing automation skills with strategic acumen. Few do all of those well.

Great to hear

Ryan,

Affirmation continues. Thanks for the response.

One final point and observation: considering that traditional PR agencies are producing and distributing branded content, and your report due out next month is titled "Activate your brand with content marketing," I'm super interested in how non-branded (or minimally branded) content feeds into the mix. In my mind, brands are maybe too focused on producing content that is heavily branded and not balancing that focus with strategies that attract prospects with content that doesn't immediately force them deep into the brand's marketing funnel. Blogs.forrester.com may be a pretty good example of this.

Anyway, looking forward to your next two reports.

Phil