The state of content marketing in Europe

AJ Huisman and Joe Pulizzi at our content marketing roundtable end 2010
AJ Huisman and Joe Pulizzi at our content marketing roundtable end 2010

Dutch AJ Huisman is one of several B2B content marketing pioneers in Europe. He was also one of the speakers at i-SCOOP’s Content Marketing Conference 2014 in Antwerp and marketing director at law firm Kennedy Van der Laan.

AJ was one of the participants at our content marketing roundtable in Belgium, early 2011, where we exchanged ideas with Joe Pulizzi on the why and how of content marketing. The ideas and underlying principles were familiar so it was interesting to see how this approach was seen by the person who coined the term ‘content marketing’ to start with, Joe indeed.

Since then, several years passed and AJ – along with other panelists from the round table and speakers at the Content Marketing Conference Europe (Ingrid Archer, yours’ truly, Clo Willaerts etc.) regularly spoke at conferences and “did their thing”. Clo started content operations for Sanoma, Ingrid often spoke about the topic and wrote several pieces, AJ spoke at Content Marketing World, etc.

While preparing for his talk at the Content Marketing World 2013 conference, AJ Huisman started looking for B2B content marketing cases from across the European continent. With cases, AJ mainly meant examples of companies using content marketing in an integrated and consistent way, not examples of campaigns, for instance. If we look at content marketing in the latter sense, there are many cases and even in the US, European agencies have been often awarded for their work.

However, after having looked for really integrated cases for his workshop on how European organizations are driving results and real ROI using content marketing, AJ came back with some conclusions regarding the way content marketing is used. He found (and showed) four cases at Content Marketing World, from Spain, The Netherlands, Ireland and Denmark (in B2B). Unfortunately he can’t share the presentation but below are some of his conclusions. Please do comment, add cases and share your views.

First a few personal comments. Is content marketing unknown in Europe? That’s certainly not the case. Furthermore, we do need to take some things into account: Europe is not what one could call a homogenous market, to say the least and some markets are far ahead of others (and the UK is again another story in that fragmented market). Getting businesses to share data about cases is not that easy in some European countries either, as opposed to the US. A long time ago I used to organize marketing awards and presided some juries and it was always hard to get the data that really mattered. Companies always were reluctant and hesitant to share results, even when they or their agencies entered marketing cases for a locally prestigious award show.

But there’s more and AJ detected some patterns. Here they are.

Content marketing in Europe: AJ’s Content Marketing World quest lessons

Awareness. In many European countries there is a lack of awareness about content marketing in general and about strategy and possibilities particularly. Of course no one needs to know what content marketing means (only the results matter) but an organization needs to understand what it can achieve with content marketing. And that awareness is clearly lacking. An example: in a particular case in a European country that has been heavily hit by the recession, it was believed that content marketing was not a good solution as it’s only about the long term while the organization needed to – understandably – focus on the short term. That’s a misconception. You’re in content marketing for the long run indeed but you can achieve very quick wins very…quickly too.

Maturity. The maturity level regarding content marketing and especially regarding an integrated marketing approach, using content (which is even more important) is low. Businesses respond they do have a blog, for instance, and now and then put some content on it. But often there’s no strategy and most of all no integration of content within the broader marketing and business context. However, that integration and maturity part is certainly not only a European matter, on the contrary.

Definition. A third element seems to be that in many European countries content marketing is often looked upon from a B2C, campaign, custom publishing and overall publishing approach, more than from a B2B, continuous and connected/integrated perspective. It already starts with the sheer definition of a content marketing case. Often what you really get are examples of micro-sites, videos, multi-channel campaigns or community platforms that are powered by content or examples of (custom) publishing projects. While all this fits in a broader content marketing picture, it is not content marketing as a strategic approach. It’s advertising and traditional digital marketing with a twist of social and/or content. At the same time, we do notice that such projects often get awarded as content marketing cases in, for instance, the US too.

AJ Huisman further found that:

  • Although he has a great case from Spain, the further you move south in Europe, the less awareness and understanding there seems to be regarding content marketing.
  • The perception regarding costs in writing, producing, collaborating (if at all), translations, etc. doesn’t correspond with reality. Many businesses seem to overestimate the costs.
  • Localization seems to be a major issue with poorly developed multilingual and multinational initiatives. Of course there are exceptions.

All these findings are based on AJ’s quest for cases at the occasion of the Content Marketing World conference, helped by several people, and for which he conducted quite some interviews. We’re certainly not claiming that there are no good examples of content marketing cases with properly measured outcomes and smart, integrated strategies.

Time for your thoughts and observations! This is your invitation to discuss how you perceive the use and state of content marketing across Europe.