Content marketing is everywhere. The latest content marketing studies from CMI and MarketingProfs cite that 86% of B2B marketers (76% of B2C marketers) use content marketing, 28% of marketing budgets are allocated to it, and 51% plan to increase spending on it.
Yet in the rush to become publishers, I think brands sometimes neglect the importance of being editors. Many content marketing efforts seem to lack a quality filter. The emphasis seems to be much more on the channels than on the actual content published in those channels. I’ve heard marketers refer to content marketing as “feeding the beast.” As a result, we see a lot of undifferentiated, interchangeable content that is more about the brand than the audience.
I was struck by Dave Trott’s Campaign column last week, where he reminded readers of the Dictionary definition of content: “Content (noun): everything that is inside a container; the contents of a box.”
“Content is seen as just stuff. The stuff that goes into the space that’s there to be filled.
“Think of a lorry. A lorry has wheels, an engine and a cab. And a big space on the back to be filled up with something. It doesn’t matter what you fill it with, the lorry is the delivery system. The lorry will do the job of delivering whatever “content” you put in the back. It doesn’t matter whether it’s furniture, vegetables, sacks of cement, or paving slabs. It’s all just content to be delivered.
“And supposing someone invents brand new lorries: brand new delivery systems. The new delivery systems can get your “content” there faster, cheaper, more efficiently. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter what the content is, the new delivery systems are the exciting part.
“And there’s my problem with the word “content.” “It doesn’t matter what the content is.” The content is now just something to fill up the space; the delivery systems are what’s important, not the content.”
The lorry-oriented publishing model that Dave illustrates has created a commoditization of content. In today’s adolescent stage of content marketing, it sometimes feels like one size trying to fit all.
As content marketing grows up, I think brands will need to evolve from publisher to editor.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
14 CommentsJoin the Discussion
As an advertising and marketing professional who has come up the ranks, I have felt for a long time the lack of advertising and marketing background and moxie in the people whose hands are now on the steering wheels (of the lorries); they may be technically proficient, but they lack sense of what they are doing, why, and how best to do it — let alone what is their goal to start with.
Richard Warland says
Hi Naomi. Bingo! You have hit the nail on the head with “they may be technically proficient…” Malcolm Auld and I are “old fashioned”, “out of date” direct marketers who often bemoan the fact that today’s digi-geeks fail to recognise that digital marketing is just another channel for direct marketing – and all of the rules we learnt 20-30 years ago still apply! Malcolm is more vocal than I and I am sure you will get a laugh (and a sigh) out of his blog – http://themalcolmauldblog.com/2015/08/02/is-your-digital-marketing-leaving-cigarette-burn-marks-on-your-customers/
Bill Stiles says
You and Dave Trott have nailed something that has bothered me since the first articles and workshops on content marketing. I market health care, not content, and it seems fueling the second sometimes gets in the way the first.
When I consider the products and services I buy, and the content about them I am most attracted to, what wins is the stuff that feeds my self-interest. I don’t care about being informed nearly as much as I care about being fulfilled. That’s a terrible thing to admit, but its what being a consumer is all about.
I will usually invest my precious minutes only in the content that makes me happier, that reinforces my dearest beliefs, or helps me feel control over my future, work, income or personal life.
So perhaps we should think of what we are publishing not as content marketing, but as contentment marketing. When consumers associate our branded information with a higher level of contentment, then we are genuinely marketing something.
Martin Stewart says
I think this could be summarised as one of my favourite sayings: Eventually…bad marketers wreck everything.
Gartner’s Digital Marketing Hype Cycle 2015 shows content marketing is on the “Peak of inflated expectations” and ready to drop into the “trough of dissolutionment” (a lot of marketers are already asking “Why isn’t this working? Content marketing is supposed to be a silver bullet!”).
…most of it is just noise to fill a perceived silence; the signal-to-noise ration is low (or should that be “value-to-noise” ratio?)
I tend to think of content marketing along the lines of product marketing, in that good content is a product in its own right. It solves a *confirmed* customer need on a stand-alone basis, and it should be developed in the context of a competitive “content market”, where some content brands are good, but most content is just cr*p pooped out for the sake of it.
jeffrey Summers says
No..Marketers ruin everything. There’s no ‘bad’ needed.
Ori Pomerantz says
Content lives in the very competitive world of things that want our limited attention. Making good content requires both work and talent, and if you’re not in the top 10%, you probably aren’t going to do anything useful. Sadly, most people (in marketing or elsewhere) are not in the top 10%, so they have to either produce mediocre content and convince companies it is worth buying, or find a different job.
There are plenty of niches there, but they’re mostly in B2B where you need to create content that would be useful to a relatively small number of experts.
TOTALLY agree. There used to be gating factors standing in the way of getting a company’s messages out — skeptical reporters, the high cost of developing and placing ads, etc. Now every company is a publisher and it can cost relatively little money to communicate anything you want. But just because you can communicate, doesn’t mean you should. In the future, success will be defined by how impactful your communications are, not how much you communicate. As a PR guy, I think the PR skill-set is uniquely tailored to the job. PR people deal on a daily basis with paid skeptics — busy reporters who only have time for the best, most compelling stories. Facing this challenge forces PR people to be judicious and impactful with the stories that they choose to tell. Tom, you nailed it in an earlier post: all content is earned content.
Content is very much apart of the story a brand is telling. Thus, it should be packed with thoughtful meaning that the target audience actually gives a you know what about. Content without relevant meaning is exactly that, just content.
Richard Warland says
“Content” used to be called “copy writing”. It was done by professional, talented writers with the aim of selling stuff. “Content marketing” is a term invented by so-called digital experts who create new names for old practises in order to make money out of suckers!
Allen Roberts says
The “content bar” is now much higher than even just a year ago. The tsunami of stuff coming at us under the banner of “content” is enormous, so increasingly we filter much of it out.
The marketing challenge is the same as it has been for 100 years, how do you get noticed, and create engagement (another rapidly evolving cliche) from those to whose lives you can add some value.
For a few years the lorry has been the most interesting part – there were so many emerging channels where early adopter marketers and early adopter consumers would inevitably meet. The first time I saw a sponsored post, that was a big deal. Now, there are dozens of channels vying for attention and you have to get the channel and the content right. But the content is going to become more important as the channels all cross-link to each other.
I totally agree with Naomi. I have often said that you still must understand the fundamentals of marketing to be able to use the various channels effectively. However, on the flip side, I have also found that people who have been in marketing a long time and are used to other mediums (print especially), do not grasp the difference between a digital channel and a traditional channel. This has become the struggle as we fast-forward toward the age of digital-only marketing.
As an experienced writer and editor who learned the ropes in traditional direct marketing, I am disheartened daily by the garbage I see coming from brands I used to have respect for. They don’t understand how quickly they are eroding the value it took them decades to build, sometimes with a single, poorly worded blog post, or useless “white paper.”
Richard Stacy says
A bit late on this one – sorry.
We call it content because it is ‘contained’. The container, i.e. the channel gives content its essence (a point Dave Trott missed because channel is more than just the distribution mechanism). Water in a glass is content, water outside of a glass is just a spillage. The key feature of the social digital age is that information (better word than content) is liberated from a defined means of distribution (channel). In the world where information is liberated from channel, the very concept of content is itself redundant. The water is out of the glass.
Ths is why content marketing is basically a waste of time (in the digital space). Content marketing only works when you put it back in its dedicated channel in the same way that you can only get a drink when you put the water back in the glass – i.e. content marketing only works when it goes back to being advertising. In the digital space, brands don’t need a content strategy, they need a real-time information management strategy.