Content is definitely the new hype on the marketing block, rapidly closing in on the peak of inflated expectations. There is a ‘Content Marketing Institute‘ with infographics that says 92% of marketers already use content marketing and more than half of all marketers will increase their budgets allocated to the trend in 2014. It could be a consequence of ambiguously broad definitions but it could also be a way too low number, for basically anything marketing (communication) produces is to be considered content.
In its pure and original form Content – in relation to Content Marketing - is aimed to provide helpful information, service if you will. At least that’s what many content marketeers claim. Which is a compelling touch, but considering the cases presented in the inevitable Top-lists, whether that intention holds true is highly debatable.
The Balance Has Shifted
More importantly, we cannot deny that a company’s capability to be noticed in a crowded (digital) marketplace is extremely challenged. At the same time we see that (traditional) content platforms (i.e. magazines, newspapers etc) are challenged to the core of their business model and others (i.e. curators, social platforms etc.) are taking over. Anyone is a publisher now. A publisher with unprecedented and unlimited channels, media, devices and connections at his/her disposal. These are just a few of the tectonic plates in the Big Shift sweeping us of our feet in optima forma. Leaving some in obvious despair and others in ecstasy.
Like Social Media marketing, Content marketing can be considered another attempt, or iteration, to overcome these challenges. That’s a good thing. We need to experiment new ideas to see what works now and learn from it for tomorrow and the day after. I doubt though Content Marketing will live up to its promise. Content has been at the core of marketing communication for ever. (Creating compelling) Content is probably the one thing marketing has been good at. Of course it’s appearance has changed over time, as has the message, but content is well, content.
Old Logic Digital Marketing
The renewed interest in Content should also be seen in the light of a clear trend of diminishing returns from “old logic digital marketing”. This is digital marketing in which gaming the (Google) algorithms is at center stage. Search keys are rapidly becoming (or have become) too expensive and trying to crawl your way up into organic search-results is nearly impossible with hundreds of reasonable customer alternatives aiming for the same. And, as I discovered in my own research on the Consumers’ Decision Journey, search only plays a relatively small role in it, and for sure not in a way that many marketers think (eg. as the starting point of their journey).
Nevertheless, Content (creation) will always play an important role in any marketing (communications) strategy. And like it has been for ages it needs to be distinctive, relevant and consistent across touch-points regardless whether it’s supportive of branding, sales or service goals and purposes. Nothing new, nothing exciting, necessary though.
Hoping For a Like
The big issue I have with most marketing generated content is that it’s aimed to support company goals and KPI’s, not Customers’. Content marketing is becoming just that: marketing content. Trying to find as many possible ways to push content in the face of a consumer, hoping for it to hit a nerve. Hoping for a like, retweet and and/or click as a sign of engagement.
For content to be able to hit that nerve it needs to be distinctive, which it is mostly not. Even if you can come up with great content, the one that truly is helpful, the likelihood that someone else can (and will) come up with something just as good or even better, is very high. You should never forget it is you against a couple of billion others, specifically in this age of high connectivity. A strategy trying to beat that is a guaranteed fail in most markets. Besides distinctiveness most Content lacks relevancy in the moment of its consumption. It hardly ever arrives at the right Consumer at the right moment, addressing the Consumers specific contextual needs.
Experience Drives Engagement, Not Content
And in there lies the core of the problem I have with Content Marketing. Regardless of any good (service-minded) intentions it is never just content that will do it. Content is but one element of a touch-point. And a touch-point is just one stop on the Customer’s journey towards their destination. Content marketing is, at its best, interfering with Customers lives in a way that makes them stop for a moment. An interruption, based on good intentions maybe, but still and interruption in their busy lives. Not a contribution, nor an aid to their journey on the way to their desired outcomes.
Good marketing (communications) is about designing end to end experiences (a series of consecutive touch points designed/orchestrated to facilitate the Customer’s journey) that help customers getting their jobs done and meeting their desired outcomes. That’s the engagement Customers want from you. Good content is paramount to that, but is not the goal, nor the only mean to the end.
Content can’t just sit on its own and thus it should not be marketed as such. So, what is all the content marketing fuss about?