If You Cannot Do Content Marketing, Do Not Do It

This past week, MarketingProfs, in collaboration with the Content Marketing Institute, release a report called B2B Content Marketing: 2013 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America. The report represents two very particular, very important trends that I find extremely disturbing in the online world today, so with respect and no bashing, I want to talk about this report a little bit and tell you what bothers me about it.

First, some background. It’s hard to go to any blog site these days without encountering a post about content marketing. More than Pinterest even, content marketing has grabbed the hearts and minds of social media practitioners. In fact, content marketing has become such a focus that it has continued the trend of marketers drowning out anything that is NOT content marketing. Content marketing, if you read most of these blog posts, is just about shoveling out stories and using those stories for your blog, your Facebook page, your e-newsletter, and more. If you are not doing content marketing right now, it seems to be insinuated that you are really missing the boat.

The first few slides of the report seem to support the fact that content marketing is an increasingly powerful tool in the B2B world. The first slide notes that 91% of marketers polled are doing some kind of content marketing. The fifth slide shows that 87% of marketers polled use social media while only 3% use “content marketing” in print. A few slides deeper and you find out that 54% of marketers polled plan to increase their content marketing over the next year. This all looks pretty good for the content marketing fan club.

However, when you get to slide 19 out of the 23 total slides, you find something quite shocking. Of the marketers polled, only 36% felt they were using content marketing effectively. To me, this should be the headline of the study, and it certainly adds a different aura to the information already cited. Marketers want to invest more time and money into content marketing but they aren’t sure that what they’re doing now is working? Marketers want to continue to increase usage of social media to distribute content marketing, but they aren’t sure their content is good?

What is going on here? To me, this seems like a breaking news problem.

If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that these marketers probably read a lot of the same blogs I do. They read about how stories regarding their company, their corporate leadership, their products, and more would entice customers to get to know them better. They listened to the folks who said that content marketing is about relationships and how it’s not transactional. I would guess that these marketers felt the urgency of jumping into content marketing and just started writing without any plan as to how best to distribute that content. Maybe these marketers started blogging but aren’t getting a lot of comments or shares because they are writing about things that their audience doesn’t care about. Just like social media, I would hypothesize that these marketers heard that content marketing was the big new thing and they jumped into the swift tides without a plan or a life jacket.

This brings me to my other concern about the report. There is no mention, really, of integrating content marketing as a tactic into anything else. Interestingly, it is noted that marketers found in-person events most credible – that would be trade shows and conferences among other things. Social Media may supplement those events but it is not the core of the issue. There is no talk about how increasing an investment in a tactic you aren’t good at may impact you negatively if you are leaving behind things that have worked. There is no indication that the marketers were asked if they were integrating their social media/content marketing efforts into other areas of their marketing campaign. It’s all content marketing, all the time. Again, this is all the more disturbing if over 70% of marketers polled feel they’re not even doing content marketing well.

Writing good content has ALWAYS been important to marketers. Marketing master David Ogilvy was all about content. In fact, he developed ads that looked more like editorial pieces because they were so full of content. Case studies, press releases, radio spots – all of those have depended on strong content. If the content was not strong, the effort would fail. Nothing has changed but where content is placed and how it is approached. You still need to figure out what kind of marketing materials are most likely to attract future customers. You still need to figure out what kind of content they like. While talking about storytelling is popular these days, some companies may find that their customers find that sort of content too fluffy. They want “how to” hard information. Conversely, perhaps you are providing solid “how to” information when your audience really wants to see a more human side of your company.

You MUST do the work. You MUST have a plan. And you should not be wishy-washy about whether what you are doing is working or not. Slapping blog posts onto a site and then sharing those posts via Facebook and Twitter is not a strategy. It will not work unless you plan it out, and you will not know it’s working for you unless you have a methodology for tracking it.

I know it is tempting to jump on to whatever the hot topic is amongst social media practitioners. A few months ago it was Pinterest. It’s been content marketing for awhile now. If you can’t do it effectively, whatever it is, do NOT do it. Either ask for help or stick to what does work for you. Just because content marketing is a social media darling does not mean your company will shrivel up without it. It does not mean it’s a perfect match for you. You must be the advocate for your own company. Do not throw money at whatever the bloggy tides tell you is hot now.

Make sense?

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/o5com/4912022499/ via Creative Commons

 

20 comments
rskin11
rskin11 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Content marketing, like anything else (relatively new), is in the hype cycle. Question is: Where is it at? Is it still an expanding bubble? Or has the hype peaked? (And it will soon crash down). Or, to put forth a new metaphor, I think content marketing's probably finally leaped the chasm from early adoption to early mainstream (leading to a lot of light and noise, but little results). What does this all mean? It's headed for professionalization - so much the better, or worse...

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

 @rskin11 Well said. My fear, based on this report, is that people are just jumping into it. Another telling portion of the report notes that the marketers said their biggest obstacle was finding the time to create content. So, you enter a rat race where it's, "Oh crap, I need to send out 17 blog posts, 2 e-newsletters, 3 vlogs, and 14 Facebook updates today!" No plan, no time to finesse your words - just a flurry of content. Of course that's not going to work well for you.

donatommm
donatommm like.author.displayName 1 Like

That makes total sense to me. If marketing's goal is to make selling easier (keeping stakeholders in business) then good content is key to use the (social) web to guide the "live human contact point" down the "funnel". In other words, let the buyer discover, learn and purchase - because you are uniquely qulalified to solve his business problem - vs. the 4P's stuff (selling and placing). Nothing new, but then you really need to work along two directions: (1) create compelling content for specific buyer personas and (2) connect that with those buyers. Both require  direction (vision) , a way to get there (strategy, plan) , and the attributes that you need to have for that. In other words, if you cannot do it, don't do it. Do I get it right?@manadv

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

 @donatommm  @manadv You're definitely on the right track. It is possible to write content that is not promotional yet also relevant. But you need to find out what kind of content your target base is looking for. A lot of people are simply too busy to want to sit down and read your blog...and your e-newsletter...and your Facebook updates...you need to prioritize, be cognizant of what your audience needs and wants, and then go from there, while also balancing what could most benefit you at the same time.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Calling it content marketing is the first mistake. You use content to market something - you don't do a big promo campaign about a blog post, for example. It's marketing, pure and simple - the content part is just another discipline. Take away that confusion and the numbers will be higher as people understand it better.

barrettrossie
barrettrossie like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @Danny Brown I like the term "marketing assets". It makes the "assets" part of the marketing, rather than a new kind of marketing people have to learn.  It may not be a precise term, as it includes things like design elements, but I think it's easier for non-professionals to grasp.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @Danny Brown Yeah - I really do not like or understand this trend - marketing has always required content. It's NOTHING new. The whole thing is very "Emperor's New Clothes" from my perspective :) 

Marcus_Sheridan
Marcus_Sheridan like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

 @margieclayman  @Danny Brown This isn't about Emperor's New Clothes because if you talk to someone like Joe Pulizzi he'll come right out and say it's nothing new. I've told many people Content Marketing started about the time of the bible....or earlier. I don't have a problem putting a name to a technique. As for how the technique is performed, that's another entire story. My premise is that content marketing is the art of using great teaching and communication to build consumer trust. But that's mine.

 

And I do think people should "try" content marketing, even if they can't necessarily do it. Just like folks should "try" riding a bike, or "try" starting a business, or anything else.

 

Yes, a plan is important, and the work is key, but to me, one must we willing to fail, as with everything in life.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

 @donatommm  @Sean McGinnis  @Marcus_Sheridan  @margieclayman That's if you take the simple, defined view of 4P's. Even then, though, it's much more than just "Placing a Product".

 

How do you define a product? If you're an artist, it could be your painting; or brush style; or signature stroke. If you're a bike builder, it could be the bike; the design; the way your brakes work versus competitor. Product is much more than a simple piece of solid "content".

 

Additionally, like you say, a product is made to solve a problem - so that immediately discounts just looking at the initial P as a product.

 

It's easy to disagree with the 4P's if you're just using the standard Wikipedia definition; but there's a heck of a lot more to simple acronyms than letters. However, the basics remain the same.

donatommm
donatommm

 @Danny Brown  @Sean McGinnis  @Marcus_Sheridan  @margieclayman  Well, I strongly disagree with Danny and the 4P's "believers".  The 4 P's are all about Placing a Product. It assumes everything starts with a Product, not a Problem that your potential buyers have. Moreover, it ignores the fact that potential customers today talk to each other (social) and get to know you way before someone in sales is even aware of them -- this is why we try to educate them about us with "content marketing".  It's about the internet and the social web, that arrived well after the 4 P's. That is not an opinion, is a fact. Things have changed, so marketing has changed. Today we can easily *connect* people with content that relates to them, that create their attention. This was impossible or extremely expensive before the social web. Content is not enough if you don't have a good way let people discover, connect and follow a stream of content (not a monolithic whitepaper). The only thing that has not changed is that, at the end of the day, marketing is useful only when it makes selling easier, regardless how it does it. If the 4P's works for you, then good for you. I wish it worked for me too. It would make everything far simpler.

Check what the thought leaders say, like pragmaticmarketing.com, Seth Godin, David Meermann Scott.  Talking about P's, the 1st P should be "Problem", not Product.  Source: pragmaticmarketing.com (with whom I have no affiliation whatsoever) "Since 1993, our team has trained more than 85,000 product management and marketing professionals at 7,000 companies on six continents"

Sean McGinnis
Sean McGinnis

 @margieclayman  @Danny Brown  @Marcus_Sheridan I agree with your last statement, all marketing requires content. But, not all marketing is content marketing. In my mind, the "ethos" of content marketing is the inherent "non-promotional" aspect of it. ULTIMATELY, it is designed to lead to a sale, but it is much more about education and building trust and then feeding into a more traditional marketing funnel on the customers' own timeline. I'm not expert (and don't pretend to be one), but that's never stopped me from commenting before. :)

Latest blog post:

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @Danny Brown  @Marcus_Sheridan Right. I see people going off course, trying to describe content marketing as something that is new (whether the CMI does that or not, it is omnipresent). There is this idea that content marketing is more about relationships and that perhaps it should not even be transactional. To me, if the aim of your content is not ultimately to somehow have an impact on your business, you aren't really marketing at all. You're just writing stuff. And then it becomes more about you as an individual versus your company, your products, or your services. I think a lot of social media practitioners/bloggers have fallen into that trap in fact. They started blogs that were intended to be for their businesses but then they got enticed by the idea of a badge or what have you and got off track. 

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @Marcus_Sheridan  @Danny Brown I hesitate to support the "try everything" approach these days, to be honest. People are getting laid off and if done right, content creation should be done by someone who knows the company and who has some writing skills. There is a lot of risk in trying something that gives a verbal "face' if you will to your company. What if it doesn't work? What if you are left making impossible decisions like deciding whose job should be cut? Are you going to emphasize the person who is doing content marketing if you aren't sure it's going to work?

 

I think 'trying things" in terms of marketing is a luxury a lot of companies these days can't afford. Approaches need to be more carefully plotted out and more accountable, too.

Sean McGinnis
Sean McGinnis like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @Danny Brown  @Marcus_Sheridan  @margieclayman That's all well and good until you ask a group of 50 people to "define" marketing and you get back 50 different answers. I agree with you both about the main premise though. I'm having similar discussions with a local guy here in Chicago who I have a LOT of respect for, but more on the SEO v Content Marketing front.

Latest blog post:

Danny Brown
Danny Brown like.author.displayName 1 Like

 @Marcus_Sheridan  @margieclayman Hi mate,

 

I know we've already had this convo over at my post a couple of months back about content marketing. There's nothing wrong with putting a name to a technique/discipline - unless the name confuses and it's simply another way to describe something that's already being done well.

 

Get a client that says, "So, I don't understand content marketing and what it is". If you simply say, "But you understand marketing, right, or the basics of why a business needs marketing?", they'll say of course. To which you say, "We're going to market you and we'll worry about the terms and the tools".

 

Avoids confusion, keeps the gutter snipers from taking advantage, and doesn't fudge the issue with something it's (more than likely) not.