Contrend’s founders tell the story of the world’s smartest content platform.
After nearly four years of development, Contrend—our SaaS MarTech platform—is ready for its public debut. It’s a pivotal moment, not only for the platform, but also for its co-founders, Peter Bakker and Richard Jones.
Peter and Rich sat down to reflect on Contrend’s history and envision its future.
What were each of you doing before you started developing Contrend?
Peter: “We’ve been in the content marketing industry for 12 years, ever since its inception really. We were both at King Content. King was one of the pioneers in terms of the content marketing world, and we helped to grow that. Before that, I was on the commercial side of publishing. I’m used to the written word, whether in print or digital. I had a front row seat to watch the transition into digital start happening in the ’90s and to see how that eroded the revenues of print publications. In fact, I helped to digitalize some of the traditional magazines and newspapers like The Economist and the FT, for instance.”
Rich: “For the last 10 years, I’ve been heavily involved in technology. Before working at King Content, I was running a mobile app development platform that provided mobile apps for small businesses. It was built out of Singapore, then franchised and white labeled around the world.”
From your backgrounds in publishing and tech, how did you come together as partners?
P: “I was approached to set up King Content Asia, so I was a part of that original expansion. But as a publisher of print content, I saw the writing on the wall. This was when the branded content started taking over in the traditional publishing environment, and I could see the opportunity of the commercialization of that. Then, Rich and I met in Singapore, and he clearly had a lot of technical expertise. He joined King soon after.”
R: “When I started working with Pete, I saw how much opportunity there was in content marketing. I saw how the role of technology could be an actual showstopper in the sense that it could transform what the entire industry was doing. There was a huge opportunity for transformation.”
How did the Contrend project initially form?
P: “When King Content folded, we started Immedia Content and adopted King’s operation model of outsourcing content creation to contributors who had the knowledge, industry expertise and language of each target market and topic. What we needed was a platform that could effectively manage our global contributor base. That was the original founding principle of Contrend.
“Then, we noticed that the whole MarTech industry, or the content marketing industry in particular, is very slow on tech uptake. So, we thought, if we have our contributor platform running on one side, we can create a content management system within that, so our clients can access it too.
“And then the thinking started going a lot deeper into measurements, analytics and reports. But measurement on its own traps you into only looking at how well your content is doing. So, we started thinking, ‘what else is happening out in the ether that we should also be measuring and incorporating in this process?’ That’s really where the whole evolution of Contrend began over the last four years.”
R: “The key thing is that we’re using technology to solve problems. The best thing to do was to deploy technology to make us more efficient with managing our clients and our contributors. But then, we saw content was being produced at ever increasing rates, and a lot of technology was being developed to pump out high-volume, lower-quality content. And we wanted to turn that on its head and focus on the quality and on what kind of content audiences are actually interested in. It was very clear that the technology that was available wouldn’t allow you to do that without significant bias, either toward social listening or toward keywords.”
P: “Yes. It’s also driven by the likes of Google, which constantly changes metrics like keywords and SEO elements. But, that’s just one aspect of content that Google analyzes. We wanted to be ahead of their game and not just focus on social or SEO. There are other elements to take into consideration in terms of the quality and the engagement of content. This is where we needed to be ahead of the curve, and Contrend will allow us to do that.”
R: “Content is way more complicated than just keywords and SEO. That’s why it’s taken us such a long time to build Contrend, because live content is complicated. It’s not just written content. It’s not just social media. It’s not just video. There are different elements that we needed to weave into Contrend to make sure the technology was picking it all up. So, we picked the right technology rather than picking the tools that we wanted to use and then shoehorning a solution.”
Why do you think no else has done this yet?
P: “I think the main reason is that it takes a lot of investment and time to develop. It’s taken us a good couple years to get to where we are now. I’m not saying Contrend’s a completed product. It will always evolve against what is out there.”
R: “I think one of the other things is that no one’s really challenged the status quo. They’ve just accepted what they’ve got as being good enough. And people in the industry have been pushing this approach, which we just never thought was watertight.
“When you’re creating the content, when you’re actually producing multiple different kinds of content for multiple different types of markets, it’s our responsibility to make sure that content delivers for our clients. You can’t do that if you don’t have a sound foundation of strategy that’s based on more than creating content that just seems like a good idea because some social media metrics indicated that some people might want it.”
P: “The other thing to add to that is also that digital content marketing in its current form has only been in real existence for the last 10 years. The initial push of content from a brand out into the ether was really well accepted. So, there was really no need for evolution, because that growth was built in automatically.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen this growth stagnating. Suddenly people are asking, ‘Okay. Do we need to produce so much? Can we produce more efficiently? Can we produce more engaging content?’
“And this is exactly where our timing came in. I don’t think people were looking at this for the initial few years of digital content marketing. But now the stagnation has started to kick in.”
R: “Exactly. People were pouring money down social media advertising and search engine optimization for short-term gains. But then that traction isn’t maintained, and there’s no momentum, no loyalty, no genuine engagement. I think people are just fed up with that approach of hemorrhaging cash for short-term gain. It’s not sustainable. You need to have a science, and you need to have data to justify what you’re doing with your content marketing spend.”
As you noticed this need for more comprehensive data-driven content creation, what specific problems were you trying to solve by developing Contrend?
R: “There was a risk that the industry was becoming homogenized. It was a single block of content production that was only focusing on social content. There was no differentiator. People were—and still are—devaluing the industry, which cheapens the position of the content marketer.”
P: “I think the main issue is with the navel-gazing measurements that companies have put on themselves—looking only at their own data but not evaluating it relative to the total market or competitive set. Now, we have a technology platform that automatically demonstrates where you are in the overall content landscape and how you can improve it.”
R: “Exactly! And the information that you can get from understanding an audience, and understanding what they are interested in, is so powerful. And not just to the marketing team in a company, but to the product developers, to the sales team, to the HR team, to the brand, to IT, to the C-suite. It’s really, really valuable information. If you can start positioning content marketing as providing that, then you’re putting value and pride back into the industry.”
After the four-year journey of developing this tech, what excites you the most about Contrend today?
P: “I think the new innovations we’re continuing to discover through our work with our board of advisories and our innovation lab. There’s so much we can add to the platform, if not for its initial launch, then in the future. The exciting thing about working with our board is that none of them have seen anything like Contrend out there. Yes, NASA is using similar tech on their spaceships to Mars, for instance, but that’s not related to content marketing. And that really excites me.”
R: “On that same note, one of the things that excites me the most is where we’re getting our inspiration. If you stay focused on your own industry, your perception of what you can do becomes quite limited. So, when we look at other related worlds and seeing what ideas that we can take from them.”
“For example, one of our biggest clients works in computer vision and image recognition. So, we started thinking, ‘Why don’t we introduce computer vision principles and techniques into content marketing data analysis?’ We never would have thought a couple of years ago.
Like Pete said earlier. Contrend will never be a finished product. It’s constantly evolving and constantly changing. And that’s really exciting.”