The marketing world has finally discovered that honest and valuable content makes a difference when interacting with consumers. Not surprisingly, marketers had to name and define this activity. We call it “content marketing” — and definitions abound — but it is meant to encompass all marketing formats involving the creation or sharing of content for the purpose of engaging current and potential consumers.
It begs me to ask the question: Is there any non-content marketing?
Beyond my healthy skepticism, the intent of this practice is to provide high-quality, relevant and valuable information to prospects and customers to drive brand awareness, consideration and purchase. Content marketing can take many forms, such as custom magazines, print or online newsletters, digital content, websites or microsites, white papers, webcasts and webinars, podcasts, road shows, roundtables, interactive online, email and events.
The big difference between content marketing and historic or traditional marketing is that it shares proprietary information with specific audiences. If the content is not unique, valuable, relevant and tailored, it is the equivalent of a mass-market sales brochure.
I have practiced what we now call content marketing for two decades. I recognized early on that marketing had to be focused and specific, provide something that captured attention, gave people information they could use to change their behavior and make informed decisions. Content marketing is based on the premise that educating the customer and engaging them in dialogue results in the brand’s recognition as a thought leader, expert and provider of value.
For the organizations I have worked with and consulted for, the benefits include: brand awareness, thought leadership, lead generation, increased sales and improved customer retention. It can also help attract and retain talent and improve public relations by gaining media attention.
There are two prerequisites to successful content marketing: authenticity and credibility. Established brands should already have permission to engage consumers; however, the actual content has to be completely factual, transparent and the language and aims of the communication entirely honest. Consumers are sophisticated and can identify a thinly veiled sales pitch.
I get incredibly turned off if I read a company’s white paper and find it is nothing more than a brochure instead of the educational piece it was promised to be. The same goes for attending a conference. I attend to learn and network. I do not go to hear a speaker deliver a 60-minute sales pitch.
Social media has given rise to increased activity and interest in content marketing. Tweets are 140-character points of view, Facebook enables quick and influential brand critiques in trusted circles, YouTube enables videos of consumer experiences, and blogs have given rise to over 200 million critics and quasi-journalists.
On that note, a legal case late last year in Oregon explored the question of whether a blogger fits the definition of a journalist. According to the news report, “Crystal Cox, a Montanan who calls herself an investigative blogger and produces several blogs about the law, was sued in January by the investment firm Obsidian Finance Group over several opinionated blog posts that were highly critical of Obsidian and its co-founder, Kevin Padrick. The firm sought $10 million in damages. Although the judge threw out several of the firm’s claims, he ruled against her on a single post and ordered her to pay $2.5 million in damages.” One post = $2.5 million.
The lesson from this is that authenticity and credibility are critical to content marketing — especially in the era of social media and blurring lines of authorship. I pay no credence when I read comments submitted online to news stories if the commenter does not provide their real name. It is analogous to protestors who wear masks and goggles – if you are not willing to identify yourself, you have zero credibility.
Back in the world of marketing, social media has produced incredible means to share information. We now share more, more often, to more people and at faster speeds than ever before. We share our lives, interests, biases, beliefs, attitudes and our opinion of brands — good, bad, and sometimes, inaccurately.
New technologies have given voice to many, but this does not mean there is value or truth in everything being said. In the next decade, there will be an increasing focus on the quality of content and the credibility of its source. We will listen and be influenced by like-minded peers, but we will train ourselves to screen, edit and aggregate information as never before — so much so that the most important metric in the coming years will be how many messages consumers choose NOT to engage with on a daily basis.
I believe in content marketing, but only if it shares proprietary thinking, comes from a credible source and is open and authentic. In the short term, we will all be inundated with more communications, but it will be quantity over quality. With time, we will come to know the credible sources — whether they are individuals or brands — and we will ultimately engage with them for their ideas, creativity and value.