John Bethune recently interviewed Paul Conley for his B2B Memes blog, in which Conley laments the way in which content marketing has devolved into self-serving marcomm crap from brands, and much the same from publishers.
This mess is to be expected, because there are a lot of people who have devoted their professional lives to the ideas of traditional advertising and marcomm. Content marketing proceeds from the assumption that useful, engaging content will fill your sales pipeline more reliably than ads, and generate far more repeat sales in the bargain.
So while CMOs may want to do more content marketing, the marcomm folks tasked with execution are simply not equipped for the job. They then hire out of work journalists or a marketing services agency to create authentic content, but can’t resist the marcomm urge to control the message. Yes, copy and journalism can both generate business, but they are not the same thing.
Here are 3 possible paths to success for marketers who are serious about leveraging content marketing:
Build (or buy) your own stand alone media company
American Express publishing does this, serving their customer base in ways that subtly (not explicitly) encourage use of credit cards and services. If you have Amex-level budgets and a product that lends itself to this, it’s a pretty good option. You can also outsource this to a content marketing/custom publishing firm. Completely separate from the marketing organization, this approach can complement traditional marketing efforts rather than be diluted by them. That said, this is not a realistic option for small or medium-size businesses.
Subject matter expert blogs
For companies that sell a service in a competitive marketplace, being generous with internal expertise is an excellent option. Companies that resist this approach are worried about giving away intellectual property that is the foundation of their business. If your IP is that easy to replicate (and execute), your business isn’t viable anyway. If your IP is real, you can give away a lot of it confident in the knowledge that prospects serious about executing on it are going to need to hire you to do it. Junta42, FutureNow, Story Worldwide and many others excel at this approach.
Go guerrilla and create content that people will consume and share
I’m speaking mainly of video here. Most brands are reluctant to build themselves a YouTube channel because they believe it will embarrass them or have no impact. They are mostly correct. However, those with courage and vision are finding that taking the advertising as entertainment route can succeed brilliantly. Orabrush has conclusively demonstrated this, and on a shoestring budget. Most 20 year marcomm veterans can’t do this for you. This is but one great example of the shift to the “attention economy”. Check out the Orabrush story if you haven’t already: