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Content Marketing - Holy Grail or Emperors new clothes?

Content marketing – we are all doing it; we’re all publishing and posting, but why? Because we are all being told that content creation is the name of the game – constantly. Marketing magazines, articles, conferences; digital, advertising, web agencies all tell us its what we need to do; social media feeds are full of advice as to how to do it better. We are told that Google’s algorithms mean we won’t get found in searches unless we do it, yet there is so much ‘content’ out there will we be found with it?

How is content marketing different from ‘old fashioned’ marketing? Don’t the definitions of content marketing really just describe marketing communications? Are the buzzwords associated with content marketing – curation, core assets, intelligent content – new concepts or just jargon to make us believe it’s a new discipline? Infact, Bob Hoffman – the Ad Contrarian described content marketing as “a meaningless term invented by bullshit artists to add gravitas to mundane marketing activities”. Is it?

A recent study by Beckon found that the average number of content pieces brands created and posted had tripled, but consumer engagement with that content had not increased. And of that, only 5% of the content gained 90% of the engagement – in other words, 19 out of 20 pieces of content had little or no engagement.

The reasons: quality and media. On the quality issue, Beckton found some brands without central control and brand guidelines had autonomous local teams publishing content – this could be leading to lower quality content which at best drives low engagement metrics and at worst hurts the perception of the brand and ergo sales. Their second hypothesis as to the lack of engagement was the low level of media spend driving traffic to the content. Marketers they concluded were focused on content volume not content performance, with many brand teams having goals around quantity not effectiveness.

So, do content marketers think that their reason for existence is to create content, rather than communicate with clients and sell their products? How many brand teams and social content creators have a KPI of “number of pieces published” instead of being outcome focused – consumer engagement, site traffic, reach and/or attributable sales revenue? How many brands also measure consumer-initiated mentions as well as brand-initiated mentions?

Many companies also view social media as free media, yet many companies don’t factor in the content creation expenditure of employee’s time, agency fees and studio costs into their ROI models.

Is content marketing the Holy Grail or the Emperor’s new clothes? It is neither but is simply a new tactic in the armoury of marketing.

Marketers need to go back to the bigger picture of marketing – the ideas, the brand, how you communicate, the design, print process, measuring effectiveness, market research and the psychology of consumer behaviour.

An understanding of what customers need and value is central to marketing. Marketing needs a strategy, and objectives to support the aims of the business and allow those aims to be achieved.

Content marketing is useful for all of the disciplines within marketing; particularly for research and communication, when delivered in parallel with other communication channels.

To succeed though, there needs to be clear content marketing objectives that align with the overall marketing strategy. These could be to:

Improve SEO and Traffic
Raise Brand Awareness and Recognition
Increase Engagement
Improve Brand Perception
Generate Leads
Build strong relationships
Maintain mindshare with decision-makers
Increase Sales/Revenue
Improve Loyalty and Retention
Become a Thought Leader
Raise marketplace visibility (globally and locally)
And many more…
For content marketing to become the Holy Grail is to know what you are aiming to achieve. You’ll then be able to pinpoint which metrics to measure and set benchmarks to establish the impact of your campaign. If companies continue to push out content in volume, without clear objectives, content marketing will quickly become the Emperor’s new clothes.


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