The communicative environment of companies and consumers has changed dramatically since the mid 90’s: The changing media use of consumers as well as the growing diversity of media have led to a fierce competition for the attention of consumers and stakeholders (Kannan and Li 2017, p. 22 ff.).
Especially the new technical opportunities have led to disruptive changes in generating, organizing and spreading media content (Pulizzi 2014, p. 139 ff.). This leads to a significant loss of importance of traditional journalism, the classical media and advertisements: They lose their formerly exclusive role as information broker. Journalists and companies are no longer able to simply push their messages into the public. Instead, they have to hope that the generated content attracts recipients, consumers and stakeholders who pick the information being considered most attractive: As consequence push strategies are increasingly replaced by pull strategies, and the marketing of products and services by means of content-related concepts plays an increasing role. Due to this CM has become a “buzz word” (Bertling 2016, p. 4), but from a scientific perspective, the concept of CM is not clearly defined. The different origins in Corporate and Marketing Communications as well as the importance for both disciplines are the major reasons for this, leading to a diffuse understanding especially in communication practice.
The central research question examines the effects of these different definitions on the way CM is perceived and performed. Additionally the goal of the study is to get a comprehensive picture of how CM is used by companies, agencies and publishing houses in the German-speaking area.
In order to answer the research questions a quantitative online survey of 263 marketing and communication managers in the German-speaking area has been conducted, initially differentiating between companies or agencies/publishers.
Strategic and conceptual aspects (e.g. definition, objectives, responsibilities) of CM as well as the operational implementation (e.g. channels, formats) and ex-post evaluation (e.g. success measurement) of the various concepts are inherent to the question in how far companies and agencies use CM. The results are interpreted by means of descriptive statistics and correlations/significance testing.
The results confirm the definition problem since both, the PR-oriented definition and the marketing/advertising definition, were selected by the respondents. However, the results lead to the assumption, that despite of this there are no complete different ways of perceiving and performing CM caused by these different basic understandings. CM is understood primarily as a PR technique which is usually used in brand communication thus being a threat to classic advertising without sharing the “hard selling” aspects of advertising – this seems to be a widely spread consensus among professionals irrespective of their background and the definition chosen. This result as such as well as the fact that there are only slight differences between the two groups point into one direction: The edges between the different communication disciplines are increasingly blurring.
Though the study has quite a broad basis (263 respondents) for a survey conducted among professionals, the reach of the results is limited and cannot be transferred to companies or agencies as such. Due to the sample size differences between industry sectors or the size of the companies could not be investigated. The sample size also limits the possibilities for statistic testing. Furthermore, the results just refer to the German-speaking and area and therefore cannot directly be transferred to the situation in other regions or countries.
CM seems to have the potential to replace traditional advertising at least partially. In most companies with special budgets for CM, consequently this is at the expense of the advertising budget. There is clear evidence that CM attacks classic advertising not only in the perception of professionals but also in the financial dimension. This leads to the assumption that large budgets might be reallocated in the future.
Due to the growing importance of CM companies are changing their working methods, and agencies are responding with a content-oriented range of services. Traditional advertising revenues are likely to be eroded and once again, traditional media will suffer. The social and economic consequences of this development will be one of the most exciting tasks to which future communication research should be devoted.
The study described in this article is the first comprehensive study shedding a light on CM in the German-speaking area and dealing with the question if the different basic definitions and understandings of CM have an influence on how it is perceived and practiced. It furthermore is the first study which directly offers possibilities to compare results for companies and agencies.