Recently, I was working on a story about a wave of new technology that could help publishers fight back against Facebook. I spent hours scouring the web for product videos about these new tools because I trust jargony brand press releases about as much as I trust Roseanne Barr to take over my Twitter account. I wanted to see the products in action.
But for many of the tools, finding a decent product video was hard. Way too hard. They either didn't exist or were generic animated explainers. (You know what I’m talking about. There’s always a waving cartoon white guy with an oddly-shaped head with a voice-over that sounds like the history teacher who put you to sleep every day in 11th grade.)
Unfortunately, this is something I see time and time again as a content strategist. The product video—arguably the most impactful piece of content a brand can create—ends up a total afterthought.
Naturally, I started wondering why so many brands fail to invest in decent product videos. Content investment has been on the rise for years. You think it’d be priority No. 1.
The truth, however, is that content marketing had an awkward adolescence, one that’s left it with some identity issues. For no good reason, marketers have come to think of “content marketing” as articles, white papers, webinars, infographics, “snackable social videos” (groan), and not much else.
As a result, the talented content creators inside many companies get siloed into a content marketing group shut off from the rest of the organization. Product marketing and sales enablement materials are off-limits, guarded by rival marketing teams. While the content at the top of the funnel begins to resemble the work of a modern media company, mid- and bottom-funnel content still looks like it was created in 2002. (And in some cases, I’ve discovered, it was created in 2002.)
The product video problem, in fact, is just a symptom of a larger issue—up until now, most companies have thought about content marketing all wrong.
The End of Content Marketing as We Know It
This year, Gartner released its first magic quadrant for content marketing platforms. It also predicted that “content marketing” as a term will be dead in three years—”because all content will be marketed as a way of attracting attention-limited audiences.”
This is right on … because it was the whole idea behind content marketing in the first place. Content marketing first took off in 2012. By then, it’d become clear that consumers were spending less time paying attention to traditional advertising because of the rapid proliferation of smartphones and streaming. Publishers, desperate to stay afloat, choked webpages with display units, until display had begun to feel less like a channel and more like one of the 10 plagues.
Then, along came content marketing, which posed a simple solution: What if brands just told stories that people wanted to watch, hear and read?
The early, inspiring examples that made Ad Age headlines were all top-of-funnel plays. Red Bull became a major sports media company, GE turned its image around with awesome science and engineering reporting, and American Express created a popular blog for small-business owners.
And so, companies created content marketing groups to give this new movement a try. But many never seriously tried to integrate great content into the rest of their marketing organization.
But the impetus for content marketing was never just a top-of-funnel problem. Great content is meant to grab people’s attention and change the way they think about a brand throughout the customer journey. No one wins when you show up as your cool, fun, best self on the first date, but then devolve into a boring egomaniac wearing a baggy funeral suit by the third.
Ultimately, bad product videos are more than bad product videos. They’re a sign that we need to evolve from content marketing to “marketing with content”—to putting systems in place that ensure every piece of marketing collateral a company creates is as captivating, helpful and on-brand. When that happens, content delivers real business results, building deeper relationships with customers, persuading them to think differently, and solving the problems it was meant to solve.
And if you’re looking for a jumping off point to spark change and prove your point? Well, the product video is a great place to start.
Originally published Jul 16, 2018 7:00:00 AM, updated July 26 2019