Content Marketing: Bad, Fad or Something Else?
June 9, 2016
As I write this, I've been in the web industry for just about 12 years.
In that time, I've seen the rise of various industries spinning out of “web”: SEO, AdWords, app development, social media marketing and so many more.
I've also been able to chart the palpable shift that has taken the World Wide Web from a source of consumption, to a viable world within which to trade, build a business and create anything that we can imagine.
As time progresses, our businesses and our lives become more & more dependent on this intangible network of information and as we consider the future, it's hard to believe that this is going to change.
As a marketer and digital denizen, it is becoming increasingly difficult to stay at the bleeding edge of so many different things.
Where being a digital marketer once meant using the limited number of tools at our disposal to create positive impact on our businesses, being a digital marketer today simply isn't enough.
We have so many different niches, tactics & channels available to us that even the term “digital marketing” doesn't give us enough detail to be able to ascertain where we sit in this evolving mix of opportunity.
Rather, we're finding ourselves moving further and further into specifics: social media marketing, SEO et al; with businesses frequently working with a team of specialist partners to create a digital marketing strategy that works across all available technologies, mediums and media.
When we add into the mix the ever-expanding range of social networks that businesses are using to great effect: Instagram, Snapchat, Vine and then bolt on the nascent live-streaming movement that has brought us the likes of Facebook Live, Periscope, Meerkat and Blab, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand what we need to do as business owners; where we need to be.
And the jargon doesn't stop
I first heard the term “content marketing” a few years ago. At that point, I parked it up in my consciousness as another “web progression” to keep my eye on, all the while producing my blogs and working with clients as I had been for years before.
In its early days, content marketing was one of those terms that didn't have a tangible outcome unlike, say, the responsive web design (RWD) movement pioneered by Ethan Marcotte.
RWD delivered a very specific, visual and measurable outcome that we mere agency folk could see, that our clients could see and that we could attribute a real-life value to.
Content marketing, which sprung up not too long after the RWD movement gained pace, remained the exact opposite of those things for a long time and as such, often became something that unscrupulous agencies and those pesky directory cold-callers used to “frighten” businesses into spending money on yet another completely pointless endeavour.
The sad thing is that I saw so many businesses invest “a couple of hundred pounds per month just to try content marketing” because of this fear. This is a pattern I'd seen so many times before, with businesses ploughing a few hundred pounds per month into half-baked SEO, social media or email marketing projects.
These were really all just a way of patting themselves on the back for doing something that they felt was positive, regardless of the outcome.
The trouble was that back then I didn't know how to help these people: I personally considered content marketing an important movement to be a part of whilst honestly, not really knowing how best to apply its principles to real-life marketing, business or sales.
When I was a kid…
Content marketing, like me, had a rebellious few years as it grew up.
Becoming a buzz word for marketers who had sadly lost touch with marketing best practice, perhaps due to not being able to keep on top of the pace of change, content marketing became a worthy ideal and a fabled place that marketers aspired to move in to, without anyone really knowing how to do it or what content marketing event meant.
I remember vividly the first content marketing company that set up in town here. I followed its progress for a year or so, watching the business create its branding, its website and then keeping an eye on the clients it worked with.
Being honest, as a business it didn't seem to do too much. In fact, it always seemed like a side project so when I had the chance to see the founder of the business speak at a local event to discuss content marketing, I jumped at the chance.
The talk went well and although the content of the talk looked very different to how we see content marketing today, the delivery was great and the audience enjoyed a look behind the curtain at something that, up until that point, they'd only heard about from sales people and “that friend in marketing”.
Opening up the usual post-talk Q&A session, the speaker fielded a few questions about various platforms and revealed how they worked on those platforms, but then someone asked a question that changed the entire mood of the room:
“How do you make money from content marketing?”
to which the speaker, looking uncomfortable for the first time, responded:
“I'll let you know when I find out.”
Digging a little deeper, the attendee who had asked the question managed to uncover that not only did the the speaker not know how to make money for his clients using content marketing, but that he wasn't making any money himself by selling the content marketing services he'd just so confidently delivered a talk on.
Did I say wow?
This happened in 2012, at a time when the term “content marketing” was becoming the spearhead of a movement, but at a time when even marketers were struggling to understand the term, or it's place in the ever-expanding digital landscape.
Ok, so content marketing is just a bullsh*t jargon term, right?
Not quite… in fact, not at all.
I often take calls from SEO companies telling me they can guarantee that I'll be at the top of Google if I just work with them for £100 per month, and that it'll transform my business.
It typically ends up as a fun little conversation that really begins when I say something along the lines of:
“Sweet, I'd like to be #1 for the keyword ‘insurance' and for £100.00 per month I'd love to take you up on that.”
Sure, they hang up.
The point I'm making when riding these guys is that the tactics that are used by respectable digital marketers are used as part of a suite of channels tied together by a quality marketing strategy, and that preying on businesses with false positives dressed up in cheap labour simply serves to give each channel a bad name.
I've lost track of businesses I know who are completely unerring in their opinion that SEO doesn't “work”, because these cheap and nasty SEO companies are taking their £100 per month and landing them at #1 in Google for search terms so pointless that of course they don't generate any traffic.
I have also lost track of businesses I know who are convinced that email marketing doesn't work simply because no one cares about their weekly, sales oriented newsletter.
Back in 2012, when that speaker so eloquently gave away all of his credibility, content marketing was seen just like these two channels to many business owners: as a tactic.
Content marketing has grown up
One of my goals for the next 12 months is to do more public speaking. In order to achieve that goal, I recently invested in a day workshop with my friend Brad Burton, the UK's #1 motivational speaker.
During the day, Brad delivered advice that covered how he approaches his very successful public speaking career and one thing became very clear: Brad is a story-teller.
His story-telling approach delivers an emotional punch that creates ties between Brad and his audience and ensures that as he closes in on the takeaways from each segment of his talk, the audience feels the blow so much harder thanks to that tie.
As a marketer and someone running a business, those punches are our profit centres – they are what people want from us and it is those that transform a prospect into a customer; a customer into an evangelist; a lapse to a reactivation.
To paraphrase Gary Vaynerchuk, this “jab, jab, jab, right hook” approach is what content marketing has evolved into: a collective mindset centred on telling your story with the under-lying goal of long-term profitability.
Content marketing has evolved from a movement into a marketer's mindset, informing both strategic and tactical marketing decisions with the goal of positioning the creator as the very best in his / her field; the trusted source; the only viable option for a solution in that field.
Content marketing isn't something that should be done for you. Content marketing is something you should educate yourself on. It is something that continually evolves and provides a framework for every piece of marketing that your business decides to invest in.
Right now, marketing is content marketing. And content marketing is unique to you.
Content marketing is not about the channels you choose – Instagram or Snapchat; Periscope or Meerkat – content marketing is about the story that you tell using the channels that your audience uses.
One of the biggest issues that small businesses in particular struggle with is that of content creation: “I just don't have anything to say“.
The evolution of content marketing into a story-telling movement and a mindset that marketers can adopt, affords us the chance to overcome that issue swiftly and decisively: we all have a story to tell, and one that is unique to ourselves and our business.
Without doubt, content marketing is not a fad, it is simply a label used to tag the evolution of marketing into a collaborative, more personal endeavour that involves prospects and customers rather than simply selling to them.
If we approach content marketing as such, we earn the right to sell to people with whom we have a bond and who trust us implicitly thanks to the deep, meaningful relationship we have crafted through the creation of content that tells our story.
And the really powerful thing?
To get started, you only need be willing to tell your story.
Hey, don't forget: the more you expect from yourself, the more you WILL excel!