Content Marketing Imperative; But…

Note:  this is one in a series of impending posts about challenges as we think about “content marketing”

sandcastlesContent marketing; it is all the rage.  Beyond being all the rage, organizing for it has become an imperative.  In fact, the recent Altimeter report notes “the average organization is responsible for continual and increasing content demands of 178 social media properties,  to say nothing of a myriad of other owned media properties, from websites and blogs to live events.”

Organizing a business for content is a tough nut to crack.  Altimeter offers you a great road map.  Go read the report.  And then the hard slogging to “get it done”.

Content as part of a marketing mix is not new – billboards, television advertisements, websites, print advertisements and advertorials, point of sale materials, etc. have always been about content.   Content to catch your eye, interrupt your life, bring meaning, showcase brand values and more.

Oh, and by the way, when I think of content, I think beyond “content marketing,” to include “content communications or public relations,” as content impacts news releases, speeches, corporate reputation and stakeholders beyond the traditional marketer focus of customers and potential customers — but for simplicity we will stick to “content marketing” as a generic term.

Smart social content has been defined by one of the masters of the trade, Lee Odden as using “customer insight, interests, goals and pain points to create editorial plans and that provide utility, not noise. It’s meaningful storytelling, not just mechanical spray and pray.”

It’s a great definition and getting there takes a laser-like focus on customers and other business stakeholders needs, as well as your connections with them (i.e. niche) versus broadcasting content everywhere and anywhere, just hoping to get clicks or eyeballs.

Lee has pointed out  that “Content Marketing means creating content and media around a certain topic for a particular audience that will inspire action. What many companies are doing is simply creating “more” content and calling it content marketing. That’s where the disconnect lies. Lee also offers some ways to really make sure your content “sings”

Another one of my other favorite people with a savvy perspective on content is Anne Handley.  She noted:

“the truth is that I do believe—deeply—in the power of Content. But at the same time, it’s important to keep things in perspective. I worry that the current breathless cheering and hearty slaps to Content’s back ignores its already rich and storied past as a key part of Marketing. I worry that the hype will undercut its solid foundation when more sobering realities of Content come to light and strangle what’s an exciting and important evolution in Marketing. But most of all, I worry that folks won’t really take the time to support Content fully in their organizations—because full support is what it takes to succeed. Content isn’t just another channel. It’s a mindset.”

You got to love the last two sentences!  And I too believe in the power of content.  Afterall, the social Web is premised on you and me, us, sharing information which takes the form of content…so, Great content is imperative and maybe even just plain old table stakes. Agreed.

But, what is that “full support” and what does that look like to make content marketing thrive?  But….and Here are the “buts” (or things I ponder and wonder about as we rush to “content marketing”):

  1. sandcastleThis is a forward looking statement:  Let’s assume everyone and every brand produces great, indeed even perfect, content…as outlined above.  Over time, everyone perfects content and is generating it so proficiently and effectively that we then turn “content marketing” into just another commoditized way to do business?  How do you actually differentiate when we commoditize content or commoditize the “content marketing” category?  Is content marketing heading for commoditization and therefore less valuable…..It’s a thought that deserves attention? In the meantime, before that future state, if your content marketing is already GREAT, you have a first mover advantage and a differentiation in the market.
  2. As Mitch Joel has suggested, if branded content is a commodity and so readily available and so integral to your marketing, it is just as easy for the savvy Web citizen to turn it off as it was to turn it on.   Mitch goes a step further or course and notes: really content is just a single component of larger marketing equation related to “design of the brand, the value it brings beyond the actual sale of a product or service, how it contextually adds utility to the consumer and how it operates in a world where consumers are getting ever-better at regulating, monitoring and throttling these messages.”  Important that this not be lost sight of.
  3. The Web is not a firehose, it is “an avalanche, of information”…how does your content not get lost in that avalanche, especially if number 1 is true — that content has become a commodity. If “content” and “content marketing” are commodities lost in an avalanche of information, then how do you really differentiate? Here are some stats about the avalanche of information:

This is just a thought starter (with several other pondering posts coming) about how, what, and why we may need to think beyond “content marketing” – perhaps for a more inclusive concept, like “content marketing + XYZ” because while content marketing is important and yes, we need to organize for and deliver great content ….but content marketing to thrive has to be something more. Context and connectedness are part of that, I think, but are they enough?

Don’t we really need to think ahead and start to understand the “content marketing” road on its own may lead to a dead end: content as a commodity; where there is also an overabundance supply; the value in turn declines;  and, it is easy to shut off (like we learned to tivo through TV ads)….so then what? or am I missing something?

Next up: Content & Filters (all kinds); and Content + Connectedness…as I mull and ponder them through