Content marketing is hot. Underneath its attractiveness though are three inherent issues, says Matt Rowley, managing director of digital customer engagement company, Thirteenth Floor.
1. Those two words ‘content’ and ‘marketing’
It’s too easy to use them as meaning ‘any content created in the service of marketing’. This is what enables both the old style advertisers and the John Olivers of the world to confuse poorly disguised interruptive advertising with true content marketing. Media agencies get to protect their budgets and the reactionaries get to have a rant.
Real content marketing is the idea that instead of pitching products and services, you entertain or inform your customers over time, building a depth of connection that results in their business and loyalty. It’s non-interruptive marketing. Native advertising has nothing to do with content marketing and yet the two terms are being used interchangeably.
The irony of content marketing is that if it’s done right, the audience doesn’t feel marketed to. The content is good enough to seek it out on your own time, and potentially even pay for it – regardless whether it’s branded. An excellent recent example is the Lego movie, which has taken $500 million from people happily paying to watch it.
2. So many businesses suck at it
The trouble with true content marketing is that it relies on us engaging our customers, rather than being the stuff that’s stopping them getting to content they actually want. We need to be thatcontent – the destination content. If we don’t have content interesting or useful enough to engage customers, we’d actually be better off heading down the interruptive route, living off some other content that has engaged.
Real engagement is a frikken high bar. That 50% of companies create their content solely in-house (and only 3% solely outsource) tells me a majority have no idea how high that bar is. Those companies aren’t competing with their category or industry when it comes to engagement, they’re competing with everyone else vying for attention in their customer’s content feed; ice bucket challenges, Buzzfeed quizzes, Richard Branson on LinkedIn. Their real competitors are a mixture of publishers who do nothing but this, and the daily adventures their customer’s friends and family.
How does Brian from marketing’s blog post he knocked out over a lunch break, and since disembowelled by legal, stack up against that?
There’s a mis-placed concept doing the rounds called ‘Content Shock’ that illustrates this. The idea is that there’s so much content out there that we can’t possibly engage with it all – which is why, it says, content marketing is such a scam because the vast majority will be wasted.
You can tell this idea comes from a mindset stuck in disruptive marketing; ‘if I buy a slot, I get the interruption, but with content you can blow your cash and get nothing back’. What it all comes down to is good old fashioned competition – can your content grab a slice of your customer’s life on it’s own merits?
3. It’s old school
You know what the standard content marketing setup looks like; a company blog, email newsletter and drone social media accounts. Maybe some video if budgets stretch to it.
This is legacy print media transitioning to digital all over again; just another way to push out content, except with comments. Done well it will still create value, but if the name of the game is engagement, so much opportunity is left on the table.
For an example I once again turn to Lego (note – other than having acted as a supplier to my son, I have no relationship with the Danish toymaker). To engage with their most committed of customers, they partnered with cuusoo.com to create ideas.lego.com. This is where super users can go to share ideas for new Lego sets, have them voted on by the community and if then accepted by Lego, turned into a product for which they share the royalties. The levels of engagement on the site are off the charts.
Ultimately content marketing holds nothing to fear from the audience’s perspective as it lives or dies by whether it can engage them, not how often it can be shoved down their throat. Real engagement is toughest test of all though – companies and agencies need to be honest with themselves on whether they’re even truly trying to pass it.