You hear a lot of talk these days about the deluge of content that’s being published online. Every day, for example, more than two million blog posts are published, 294 billion new e-mails are sent, and over 58 million Tweets cross the Internet.

As staggering as these numbers are, the real story isn’t about the quantity of content out there, it’s about how and why content has emerged as one of the most important tools companies use to drive their business. Given the incredible scale and increasing importance of content, it’s safe to say that we have entered what we like to refer to as the “content era.”

Of course, it hasn’t always been like this. Some of us can still remember a time before the Internet when product information was tough to get, available only by telephoning the company and waiting for someone to send it through the mail or for a salesperson to deliver it. Access to information was limited and, as a result, consumers had far less power than they do now. By contrast, today the information people want is only a few clicks away and consumers are able to get it whenever and however they want.

Growing your business in the content era

What does all of this mean for business? According to Forrester, B2B buyers progress through up to 90 percent of their purchasing decisions before engaging with sales. That’s a huge shift from the pre-Internet days, when information gathering would start by contacting sales.

So where do buyers get their information prior to talking with a salesperson? They get it online by reading and viewing content that comes from companies and other sources. If a company fails to produce content that buyers can find and understand, some of them will go elsewhere. On the other hand, if a company produces content that works well, it can build relationships through that content. That’s a profound shift and it means that content has become more important than ever before.

But that’s not all. As content’s role continues to morph and grow, we’re seeing some other far-reaching consequences. For starters, an increasing number of companies are recognizing content’s ability to give them a competitive edge. One consequence of this recognition is that some companies have moved their technical documentation departments to marketing, so that they can present a more consistent face to their customers.

A few companies have gone even further by elevating the control and importance of their content to the executive level. IBM, for example, has named a senior executive to have all of its customer-facing content under a single point of leadership.

Plus, content plays an increasingly important role within companies that want to differentiate themselves from their competitors (or just hang on to the business they’ve got) by delivering superior customer experiences. And with good reason. Those that offer customer-friendly content have been shown to reap a variety of benefits, including a 64 percent increase in customer profit margin, according to recent research from the Aberdeen Group.

Content trends to live by

With this backdrop in mind, we’d like to call your attention to three trends that will help to shape the future of the content era:

  • Content is the key to building relationships with prospects and customers. As we have seen, today content plays a large role in influencing buying decisions. It’s the only factor that shapes how customers and prospects perceive your company’s brand, its product, and the quality of its service — in short, your company’s reputation — for the vast majority of your buyers’ journey.
  • Competition is stiff, so you’d better make your content stand out. Given how much content there is online, people have become incredibly determined to sidestep anything that might waste their time. In addition to creating content that’s relevant for your audience, the best way to help ensure your content gets consumed is by making it really good. That means creating content that’s easy to find, simple to read, and even enjoyable (which we usually describe as “engaging”).
  • The increasing globalization and diversity of employees and customers are affecting both how we create, and how we need to create, content. As companies expand, they move into less familiar markets. At the same time, the Internet brings your content to every doorstep, regardless of where you think you do business. Today’s global audiences need clear, accurate, and compelling content in their native language. If you can’t deliver it, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be blogging more about the content era and its implications for businesses. The bottom line is that content is no longer a nice to have, it’s mission critical. If you don’t want to get left behind, you need to figure out not only how to put content at the center of your sales and marketing initiatives, but also how to make that content as effective as possible.

How is the rise of the content era affecting your business?