Ah, now this is very interesting. By way of NetWeave, I have come across an article in AdAge on the future of content marketing. I may not have written about content marketing in Shadowy Silk land before but I have thought about a good bit. I’d suggest reading the article in full, because it’s not very long. It’s valuable because it hits a lot of things I’ve considered.
First worthwhile point:
“I do think we’re in the early stages of a “content bubble,’ which is being inflated by the idea that brands should be publishers,” said Kyle Monson, content-strategy director at JWT, New York. “It’s a good idea, but now we’ve got a rush of people calling themselves “content strategists,’ though they may not have any idea how to create compelling, strategic content.”
I go back and forth on this. Is content marketing and social media presence in general something that’s going to have legs or is it just the newest shiny object that the larger business community thinks is a great idea and latches onto, only to drop in a few years? I dunno and neither do you. I used to be a lot more partial to the latter. Less so now because
I’m going to enter a profession that’s going to revolve around content marketing I’ve done social media work at places where they’ve been genuinely happy with it and it’s produced more awareness about the organization.
Second point I like:
“There are a few really great content campaigns out there, and loads of terrible ones,” he said. “The balance is such that, eventually, CMOs might not want to hear about clever content campaigns anymore, because they’ve traveled that road before and didn’t see the ROI. That’s how bubbles pop.”
The other perspective is that this is just the beginning of solid investment that can drive business. As experimentation gives way to systematization, the metrics — soft now — will firm up.
Gets at so much of what’s trite and ultimately pointless about content that focuses on marketing advice. I’m not saying that all of that advice is bad stuff, because I read a lot of it and there’s a good amount that’s actionable and useful. At the same time, though, so many of the basic communication principles (don’t be an asshole, don’t lie to people, solicit advice, etc) are so screamingly basic to regular interpersonal interaction that repeating them over and over again isn’t really instructive. Case studies can be better for that, but at the end of the day, it’s about putting those principles in practice. And you won’t know they’ll succeed until they do.
In other words, people can talk ’til they’re blue in the fact about ‘remarkable’ content, can study what sort of content goes viral, can investigate when is the best time to share and all that. That stuff’s all quantifiable. But ‘remarkable’ isn’t. ‘Remarkable’ is subjective and qualitative. How do you know if content is ‘remarkable?’ When the actions of other people tell you so. Game plan and do all the research you want (it’s useful!). But when push comes to shove, you know ‘remarkable’ from how people receive it and nothing else.
It’s “a transformation in which brands truly become publishers,” Mr. Murdock said. “They produce substantial volumes of content — a minimum of five pieces a week — that are not about their own products but about the interests of their customers. Only such substantial operations can produce real results.”
The “not about their own products” part is key to content marketing success.
Quality comes from understanding that creating content isn’t the same as PR, and it certainly isn’t advertising. Seems like an obvious point, but wade through the deepening thicket of content programs and you get mixed results. For every American Express Open Forum or Red Bull Art of Flight, there are many more crap ones, graveyards.
This sort of crystallizes one of my previously (and probably still) incomplete thoughts. Good PR, obviously, is when you don’t have to lie to people. It’s about mutually aligned interests (yours and your client’s and those of the general public). If I’m repping a company that makes tax software which is cheaper than its competitors products and intuitive to boot, that’s perfect. Persuading you to buy their software is my interest, buying the software is in your interest and selling the software is obviously in my client’s interest.
A huge part of good content marketing is research. Producing your own stuff is useful, of course, but sifting through everyone else’s stuff (of which there is a lot more) is paramount. The good stuff that you find is informative, actionable, relevant or useful in some other way to people who have a relationship with your client. The angelic intersection of content marketing and PR is when the majority or best-sourced content backs up your argument. If so, you can find the best content, demonstrate to the public that their interests are served by you and your organization and it’s smooth sailing.
The more devilish side is when those two practices don’t overlap. That leaves the you in a position where you either have to sacrifice the client’s interests or bullshit people. I think we can all guess which one of those will happen more often.
Content marketing fits into this dynamic, which has always been true regarding information, but is more important than ever because more information is available and better channels exist to promote that information. As to whether content marketing is a bubble, I don’t know. It’s pretty clear, though, that some businesses (Citi, which is referenced in the article, being one of them) can’t do good content marketing because a huge part of their business practice is premised on fucking people over.
So, looking at it another way, content marketing might pose a clarifying question: in this day and age, where it’s increasingly harder to bullshit people, what percentage of businesses with enough money to earnestly pursue content marketing will succeed? The number of those that do might tell us something interesting. But that something interesting will be more about the businesses rather than PR or content marketing.