What Is All The Content Marketing Fuss About?

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?

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16 responses to “What Is All The Content Marketing Fuss About?

  1. Wim,

    Thanks for starting this conversation.

    I agree the focus of “Content Marketing” could be largely misplaced. As you indicated, the systematic focus should be instead on Customer Marketing: helping customers achieve their purposes, helping customers succeed, preventing customers fro failing, or removing the barriers that prevent your customers from buying from your company.

    All the best,

    Arie.
    @ariegoldshlager

  2. Thoughtful piece, Wim. Thank you. I encourage you to remember that customers’ journeys are wildly different. Some want simply to get across the bridge as quickly as possible. Others prefer to dance across. Content is their music. :)

    Best,

    Tom
    @tomasacker

  3. Hi Tom,

    I’m not denying the power of content.

    We all consume a lot of it for the purpose of dancing, crawling, flying, walking, wandering or whatever way we’d like to pursue our goals, day in – day out. If only it’s creators created with all these differences in preferences, context and sequence in mind..

    I’m denying though the mystical powers attributed to the marketing of it..

    Thx for taking the time to read and comment!
    Wim

  4. Hi Wim

    Another interesting post. And another long comment.

    Content has always been critical in marketing, whether a 30-second TV ad, a long-copy infomercial in a magazine or an HTML email. It is the marketer’s tool of choice to talk to the customer about what they have to offer and to persuade them it is exactly what they want. And as the Content Marketing Institute’s case studies show, good content works. We can all think of great marketing content that motivated us to look up something on the internet, to buy something when we were walking down the supermarket aisle or to click through to an enticing offer.

    Great content is all well and good. But it is not a viable alternative to great products, services or experiences. The now apocryphal Bain & Co study on the ‘Closing the Delivery Gap’ illustrates this only too well; although 80% of managers thought they delivered a superior experience, only 8% of their customers agreed. The challenge for marketers is that all too often it is someone else upstream of marketing that decides what the product and proposition will be, and some one else downstream that is responsible for delivering marketing’s carefully crafted promises. Get it right and you appear in inspirational books like Smith & Milligan’s ‘Uncommon Practice’, but get it wrong and you are the talk of the social town as United Airlines discovered when it broke Canadian musician Dave Carroll’s guitar.
    Digital has the potential to change all of this.

    As customers migrate towards the mobile internet their smartphones and even smarter tablets will become the new content battleground. Through the judicious use of ambient data collection tools like cookies, marketers can gather reams of data about customers, their surfing habits and their online behaviour. And through the developing use of content display technologies such as real-time bidding and retargeting they can not only get their content in front of individual customers but make it follow the customer around the internet as well.

    As content becomes increasingly dynamic and better targeted it will change its character. Rather than being something that is targeted at whole swathes of superficially similar customers at the convenience of the marketer, as is the case with targeted email, it can now be targeted at individual customers during just those touchpoints in their decision journey when they are most susceptible to the marketer’s content. Powered by detailed data about the customer, where they are and what they are doing, marketing will finally become contextually relevant, not only to the marketer, but also to the customer.

    Some will look at the development of contextual marketing and see it as the latest weapon in the marketer’s armoury of interruption, hard-sell and exploitation. And many, perhaps even the majority of marketers will abuse its power to do exactly that. But marketers should be careful. As law professor Ryan Calo suggests in a recent article on ‘Digital Market Manipulation’, this may well lead to aggressive market regulation to protect customers from being exploited by unscrupulous marketers. There are already tentative signs of pending legislation in recent announcements by US and EU data protection regulators.

    There is another way; one that enables mutual value to be created by customers as well as Cos. Rather than just seeing touchpoints as just opportunities to offer crude sales prompts, marketers could use them to offer a blend of contextually appropriate support, service and sales prompts, or even to block contact with the customer. In other words, for marketing to become synonymous with service. This will require marketers to understand much more about the individual touchpoints in the customer’s decision journey and what value customers are looking for at each one. The recent growth in a more ‘designerly’ approach to customer experience development suggests this has already started. It will also require marketers to take a longer-term view of customers as valuable assets and to become custodians of the evolving customer relationship, one touchpoint at a time. As Rust, Moorman & Bhalla suggested in a recent article on ‘Rethinking Marketing’, there are tentative signs of this too.

    These are early days for contextual marketing. It is up to people like us to ensure that it doesn’t go down in the annals of history as just another chapter in the tragedy of the marketing commons, but rather, that it heralds a new era where marketing = service = marketing.

    Marketing is dead, long live contextual marketing.

    Graham Hill
    @grahamhill

    Further Reading:

    Bain & Co
    ‘Closing the Delivery Gap’

    http://bain.com/bainweb/pdfs/cms/hotTopics/closingdeliverygap.pdf

    Smith & Milligan
    ‘Uncommon Practice’

    http://customerthink.com/uncommon_practice/

    Ryan Calo
    Digital Market Manipulation

    http://data.over-blog-kiwi.com/0/55/29/63/201309/ob_376c62_digital-market-manipulation.pdf

    Rust, Moorman & Bhalla
    ‘Rethinking Marketing’

    https://faculty.fuqua.duke.edu/~moorman/Publications/Rethinking%20Marketing.pdf

    • Graham, get a blog! LOL

      “It is up to people like us to ensure that it doesn’t go down in the annals of history as just another chapter in the tragedy of the marketing commons, but rather, that it heralds a new era where marketing = service = marketing”

      Human nature will have to change before this can possibly come true. I just don’t see the majority ever taking the time to do the right work when there will always be easy offers for the “secret” path to success. Please like me ;)

      • Hi Mike

        I don’t need a blog. I’ve got a life! :-)

        You may be right. But there are good reasons to hope for the best.

        I talk to a lot of marketers in my work and I have rarely met one that isn’t pretty passionate about creating value with customers. But marketers often have to do the best job they can from a weak, piggy-in-the-middle position stuck between Product Managers that decide what products are to be sold and Operations that decides how they will be delivered. If your job is to sell someone else’s stuff and not to worry about what happens afterwards, that can produce a lot of boundary spanning conflict.

        Digital platforms and big data are the key technological platforms for contextual marketing. There is a growing recognition amongst marketers that they have to become relevant to customers at the touch points after the point of sale as well as those that lead up to it. It is the post sale touchpoints that create most value for customers and that lead to their retention, loyalty and advocacy. That means understanding the customer decision journey, the value they want from each touchpoint and organising to deliver it through contextual marketing, irrespective of whether the ‘marketing’ is a support, service or sales prompt. All marketers know the TARP statistics about the cost of selling to a retained vs a new customer. But few Product Managers apparently do.

        The problem isn’t marketing per se, but Product Managers and their P&Ls. It is Product Managers that decide what communications marketers should create. If Product Managers want communications that drive sales, it is a career-limiting move for any marketer to focus on anything other than the touch points leading up to the point of sale.

        Contextual marketing is relatively straight-forward, it is in offering contextually adaptable products where the real challenge lies. We are working on that one too.

        Graham Hill
        @grahamhill

        • It really *does* matter what you measure, then. And we all experience the lack of interdependence between these groups; who are all measured along conflicting dimensions. I believe you tweeted another article that touched on this today.

  5. Wim,

    The problem with terms, memes, and trends is that they are almost always over-hyped, and over-weighted. This post (and many others you’ve authored) are helpful to bring balance to the conversation.

    The key point is here:

    “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 elements are the building blocks of each touch point along the customer’s journey until some form of tangible exchange happens. It also plays a critical role “in use” and during the ongoing relationship.

    Without appropriate content, there may be a “touchpoint gap”, where the customer is trying to take an appropriate step but cannot for lack of content. As more of our lives are conducted in the digital realm, contextual content becomes more important, as Graham points out well in his comment.

    The challenge is systemic at the institutional level. Most marketers have to justify their investments based on impact and don’t understand, not can they justify, customer journey / experience thinking. It’s all too fuzzy. But they can show that a piece of content had some level of impact – so that is what drives behavior today.

  6. Gents (where are the ladies in these debates?), what a great discussion! To begin with, I suppose I am an avid non-marketer: I had to work for 10 years as an industrial designer to finally understand what marketing actually did, and another 10 years as a service designer/customer experience researcher to finally understand its value ;-).

    I guess as a designer you are so focused on creating explicit value for customers (obviously I’m not talking about the Philippe Starcks of this world here) that marketing may seem to be something that shouldn’t be necessary when you’ve done your job well. I kid you not, this is how many designers I know perceive marketing.

    What excites me about your conversation is the apparent evolution taking place where marketing and the design of great valuable customer experiences are slowly becoming one. ‘Finally’, he grunts. But doesn’t it strike you as a bit odd that there was a dichotomy between product/service and marketing in the first place? I understand Graham’s point about the reality of product managers vs marketeers. But still, isn’t it strange that organisations have products/services developed by one group of people, then throw them over some kind of organisational wall to another group of people that then have the honour to somehow push these products/services to the market? I’m not naive, but I do admit to quite a bit of eyebrow raising when it comes to ‘traditional marketing’ -like my equally traditional designer colleagues.

    So Wim’s observations on content marketing hit a sweet spot with me: as if you could market without content. And as if your content is now all of a sudden relevant to me as a customer in my journey. Why don’t you provide me some good service instead? Why would I be interested in your stories when your core value proposition so obviously lacks empathy, insight, quality, seamlessness, experience?

    And I couldn’t agree with Graham more when he says ‘There is another way; one that enables mutual value to be created by customers as well as Cos. Rather than just seeing touchpoints as opportunities to offer crude sales prompts, marketers could use them to offer a blend of contextually appropriate support, service and sales prompts, or even to block contact with the customer. In other words, for marketing to become synonymous with service.’

    All I’m saying is: what took marketeers so long? ;-).

    But it does raise a very serious question for me, and I guess for you as well: can we, in principle, focus all our attention on designing a great customer experience throughout the journey, pre-, during and after, with value propositions that simply work well, are relevant to whom we serve, and distinguished in the crowded market? Is that where the future of marketing lies? Creating brand-product-service-technology eco-systems that do as they promise and are a joy to use and provide real means to complete my job as a customer, no, as a human being?

    That would mean that there is a lot of work to do for enlightened marketeers like you. And I will gladly join your ranks. (or you mine maybe ;-) ?). But it would also mean that ‘traditional’ marketing’s role would be condensed to one simple task: bring in the first 1000 customers. Because the rest will organically snowball and social media its way to heaven. Simply based on the intrinsic quality of the proposition. Is that where were heading? Is that what people mean when they say marketing is dead? Because then I don’t think marketing (good marketing) is dead. To the contrary, it’s just seen the light.

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  9. After the introduction of Google latest algorithm update Hummingbird people started predicting SEO in 2014. No doubt it is difficult but content is the king. It is all about how effective are your content creating and marketing strategies. Different people are making description about this in different ways but after reading your post I come to know what is content marketing is actually. It is pretty good to read your post and I recommend all people who don’t know about content marketing to read this :)

    • Hi Stephanie,

      Thx for reading & taking the time to comment.

      I really don’t mind what marketing you call it ;) as long as it is aimed to serve Customers in a way that helps them meet their (sub)goals in each stage of their journey..

      Wim

  10. Considering today’s trends online content is heavily associated with how reputable you are, your business and/or your opinions. User-generated content gave way to multiple opportunities of creating, connecting, attracting, exchanging and even getting shared which made every good stuff (online content) rank. It’s a good thing google found ways to eliminate clutter and unwanted contents thus, only useful content are found online.

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