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Why the content marketing backlash is getting it wrong

the backlash against content marketing

If every action has an equal and opposite reaction, we’re due for a MASSIVE backlash against content marketing.

It’s already started. More and more bloggers are finally getting fed up with all the hype and are pushing back. A recent post by Neil Hopkins (Interacter) is a case in point. It’s called “Content marketing is nothing more than the Emperor’s new clothes”, which pretty much sums up what most of the new batch of whistleblowers are so mad about.

It’s not the thing itself that is getting everyone so upset, it’s the hype.

This is a weird moment for me because I tend to be the guy who likes to stick a pin in the over-inflated. I’m a card-carrying hater and I especially enjoy hating the very things that everybody else has agreed to love. Group-think triggers my aversion to anything resembling a Nuremberg Rally, Red Scare, Witch Hunt or Chelsea Football crowd. So it’s distinctly uncomfortable to find myself riding on a bandwagon when the people throwing rotten tomatoes at it look so much like me.

In his post, Neil trots out the Google Trends graph showing the dramatic increase in mentions of the term ‘content marketing’. If you’ve ever seen a hockey stick, you’ll recognise it. He also brings in the CMI’s definition of content marketing and the Wikipedia history.  His conclusion: “Every time I hear the phrase “Content Marketing”, I want to scream until I puke.” (Given the Google chart, it’s a mystery how poor Neil keeps any food down at all).

So even though I have to suppress an urge to join the hecklers, I am a content marketer and I feel I ought to defend the discipline. With that in mind, here’s a summary of the arguments I’ve heard against content marketing. In each case, I hope to show that the argument is not with content marketing at all: it’s with some other obnoxious phenomenon that has attached itself to our fair art.

So here are the main objections:

“Content Marketing is not new.”

No, it’s not. Wikipedia (and Joe Pulizzi) traces it back to the John Deere magazine, The Furrow, published in 1895 (I’m sure that wasn’t the first example but it’s often cited as such and I can’t be arsed to track down an earlier one).

The first piece of content marketing I ever noticed was the excellent ‘Power of the Written Word’ campaign by International Paper in the ’80s. (1980s, wise guy). (You can download the PDFs from Lawrence Berstein’s post on the Info Marketing blog).  So I’m well aware it’s not a new thing.

But did anyone ever say it was new? What’s new is that now it has a name and the name has gone viral in an especially annoying way for those of us who do it for a living.

Of course content marketing is not new. But the web and and social media have given it a whole new life. Now anyone can play. And that’s kind of new.

 

“Content marketing is over-hyped.”

Of course it is. Nothing has all the magical powers that the Cult of CM attributes to it. But is that the fault of the discipline?

If hype rendered its object worthless, then Madonna would be washing dishes in a New Jersey diner. It’s not HER fault that a zillion zombies decided all at once to accept unchallenged the reported sightings of her talent. Okay, bad example. That is her fault.

But it’s not content marketing’s fault that it’s become the buzzword-du-jour for marketers everywhere.

The Internet itself was said to be over-hyped during the bubble days. As it turns out, all that hyperbole turned out to be understatement. The Internet really did change everything. Despite the hype not because of it.

So, yes, content marketing is over-hyped. But that will settle down when the next big thing comes along. (My money’s on Slinkies). (They WALK. DOWN. STAIRS.).

 

“Content marketing is a stupid name.”

Yeah, it really is. ‘Content’ is a dumb word. It means something like ‘that which is in a container’. Really helpful.

But once you get over that part, ‘content marketing’ is kind of descriptive. It’s marketing that uses content instead of just babble about product features.

So a new name will no-doubt come along. ‘Cloud’ used to be ‘Software-as-a-Service’ which used to be ‘Application Service Provision’ — the thing didn’t go away, it just burned through a few names.

 

“Content marketing is just another word for marketing.”

Well, not really. There is plenty of marketing that is not content marketing. Only the loosest definition of content marketing would include the movie billboard, perfume ad or ’10% Off for Valentine’s Day!” email shot.

Just before screaming until he puked, Neil Hopkins says that, “Every bit of tat given away by brands at trade shows or consumer sampling sessions could be termed content marketing.” No, Neil, that would be termed ‘bad marketing’.

Content marketing is a specific discipline within the wide, tawdry pageant that is marketing. It’s just eating up more and more of the budget (because it works).

I admit that the prospect of ‘content-free’ marketing is not a pretty one, but I’ll rest my case on this one.

 

“Content marketing is a fad.”

This kind of goes with the ‘over-hyped’ objection but it’s a bit different because it implies that content marketing will, one day soon, go away.

I really can’t see that happening.

What I can see happening is that content marketing will become the price of entry in most markets rather than the differentiator it is today. So it will become much harder to use content to leap out of the similarly-content-spewing pack. We moaned about this in our recent Slideshare rant called, “Crap: why the biggest threat to content marketing is content marketing.”

But we never concluded that content marketing will die.

How could using your expertise to help your prospects do their jobs ever be a bad idea?

No, it’s here to stay — it’ll just mature from Shiny New Idea to Marketing Staple.

 

“Content marketing is a lie.”

This one does worry me. Especially because the only place I’ve ever heard this argument is in my own head.

Content marketing is a lie because it pretends that there isn’t a hidden agenda when there is one: to sell stuff. The content in content marketing tries hard to sound neutral. To make like Fox news and pretend to be ‘Fair and Balanced’ (pause for guffaw). But it isn’t. It’s selling a world view that was designed to lead to the reader to the door of the brand that produced the content.

Ouch.

Okay, here’s my dignity-saving post-rationalisation: the best content marketing does not hide its agenda. It’s totally open about it. It just puts aside its sales agenda for long enough to bring some genuine value to the target audience (in the hope that prospects will like you more because of it).

This touches on the fear that dare not speak its name: the fear that we’re all really just in the business of producing advertorials. Or infomercials. (pause to run off and shower). But for now, I’ll overcome this objection with the well-worn rebuttal, “I know you are but what am I?” backed up by a chorus of ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” (a sing-song so annoying it always triggers a hunt for a handy stick or stone).

So that’s my defense against the inevitable, predictably shrill, Content Marketing Backlash.

The haters aren’t really rejecting content marketing. They’re rejecting blind hype, crappy names, bad content marketing and ignorance of marketing history. All worthy of approbation, if not hate. But nothing to do with the responsible, professional, humble practice of content marketing.

—————————–

A sampling of the recent Backlash posts

Not all are anti-CM, but they do share a suspicion that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be:

Interacter’s ‘Emperor’s New Clothes” post.

Positive Marketing, Why content marketing sucks.: “Longer term, Content Marketing, as we know it today is doomed. As always with marketing, differentiation, authenticity and innovation will win out.”   (This suggests that you must choose to make great products or do content marketing. But they’re not mutually exclusive. Do both.)

Geoff Livigstone, Customer experience trumps content marketing: Geoff says, “As a primary strategy content marketing is overhyped. Instead, brands should focus on customer experience marketing.”  (Feels like a buzzword-for-buzzword swap to me…)

And Geoff again with The Content Marketing Debate – “Content marketing puts a new name on an old discipline, making it more accessible to other professions…  In ten years, I’m sure it will be called something else.” (In ten years, bacon will be called something else.)

 15 Buzzwords to Stop Using by Veronica Maria Jarsky on Marketing Profs – guess who appears on the list.

Laura Ramos on the Forrester blog: Which comes first, content marketing or thought leadership? – “Four key trends converging on business-to-business marketers are driving interest in, and failure with, content marketing.”  (Good points, actually).

Christopher S Penn, How to Fix the Sad State of Content Marketing – “Content marketing. It was the darling of the marketing world in 2012, but it’s fallen on hard times lately. “  (I should fall on such hard times).

 

Added after posting:

Stephen Downes of the QBrand Blog posted The trouble with content marketing –  “Content marketing” is not a new kind of marketing. At best, it’s about some new communication tools; at worst, it’s putting the cart before the horse.”  He also says content marketing is emphatically not a strategy. (Not sure about that –  but I always get confused between strategies and tactics).

Tom Albrighton, An honest look at content marketing – “It’s strange to see something you’ve been doing for aeons suddenly trumpeted as the Next Big Thing.” — See Tom’s excellent comment below.

Arjun Basu, Contentextual Drift: The Content Industry Needs a Dose of Reality on the Sparksheet blog. “Why is content marketing experiencing a backlash? Because there’s too much content out there, and too much of it is about content itself.” (ouch!)

—————————–

 

Photo: courtesy of Matt Groening and his fine pack of top-notch lawyers, who, incidentally, have never looked so marvelous.

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34 Responses to “Why the content marketing backlash is getting it wrong”

  1. Sarah Mitchell

    Wow, Doug. You’ve hit that nerve right on the head. I was going to write something similar after seeing the mob on Twitter get angrier by the minute. I won’t bother now. You’ve done a much more comprehensive post than I would have. In true content marketing spirit, I’m going to curate this baby and share it around.

    One thing traditional marketers are forgetting is content marketing isn’t just about content. It’s also about harnessing new technologies to publish, distribute and get discovered. That’s another post though.

  2. Kimota

    Just brilliant. Yes CM is over hyped. Yes content marketing is a dumb term. Yes it’s not new in exactly the same way social marketing wasn’t new just because Facebook came along (it’s word of mouth people, and that’s been here since two guys first swapped shells for fish thousands of year ago!)

    A lot of the hype is blinkered thinking, trying to squeeze CM into a neat box that suits someone’s personal agenda (every crappy SEO agency saying that CM is about SEO, I’m looking at you). And a lot of the backlash is similarly blinkered in selectively looking at the worst of the industry (see above) to criticise the entire concept.

    Markting has often sought to compartmentalise each discipline. Search, email, social, event, print, broadcast, etc. But to do so devalues each. The best marketing understands that each is part of a much bigger whole and that together they can be extremely powerful indeed. Content marketing at least tries to place an integrated layer above many of these otherwise individual tactics by bringing the message and the content to the forefront – where it always should be.

  3. Mark

    Great post. Funny that the likes of Geoff Livingstone somehow see customer experience and content marketing as entirely separate things. Personally I agree that the enhancement of the customer experience is absolutely key to any brand. But good content marketing can play a part in doing exactly that, by being useful, informative, entertaining and inspiring.

  4. Susan Oakes

    Except for providing content on my own website etc I am not involved in this area so here are my thoughts. I have not read much of the blacklash, but I think what some are getting hyped up about is the perception that all you need is content to get great success. What many forget is I believe and open to discussion that content is a tactic to support a business’s marketing strategy to achieve objectives.

    Because of this some businesses are forgetting all the other elements of marketing that matter and must be considered, such as what you actually sell, your market conditions, customers, price, customer service etc. Without taking all into consideration especially today with the increased competitive world some are blaming a tactic when in reality I think is their business decisions.

    Finally content has a role to play and perhaps those involved can simplify it and put it into perspective for businesses. My 2 cents

  5. Tom Albrighton

    Great post.

    Regarding ‘content marketing is a lie’, I covered the ‘contradiction at the heart of permission marketing’ in my post ‘An honest look at content marketing’, which you commented on:

    http://www.abccopywriting.com/2013/02/04/an-honest-look-at-content-marketing

    My point was that, with permission marketing, you get the audience’s permission to give them content, but not really to market to them. However, your basic agenda is still to sell. So eventually you have to come clean and start pushing benefits. Hence content marketing is a sort of cognitive bait-and-switch, and ‘a lie’ in the sense that it obscures or omits its own motive. It is based in bad faith or deception in a way that ‘traditional’ advertising isn’t. None of which necessarily means that either type of marketing is more effective than the other.

    I have seen some content that explicitly tells the audience why it has been produced, but I’m not convinced this actually adds value or credibility. In fact, it comes across as a little creepy.

  6. Joe Pulizzi

    Doug…absolutely loved this post. Will share at will.

    This is my favorite line: “the best content marketing does not hide its agenda. It’s totally open about it. It just puts aside its sales agenda for long enough to bring some genuine value to the target audience”. So true.

    Fad, hype or not, content marketing has always been hated by the powers that be. We’ve been fighting these battles, since, forever. But good storytelling lasts the test of time (and advertising), and whatever we call it, we need to do more of it.

    Cheers!
    Joe

  7. Pontus Staunstrup

    Hi Doug, brilliant post. Thanks for coming up with this kind of comprehensive arguments. On the point about lying, I feel that as long as the content provided (tips and tricks, advise, insights, inspiration etc) are true and provide value I don’t feel that there is a hidden agenda. As a consumer I’m perfectly fine with companies trying to sell to me through providing useful content. I understand where they are coming from, and in the end it is still my decision to buy from them or not.
    But once again, a really well-argued post! Thanks

  8. Neil Hopkins

    Hey Doug

    Great post – I thoroughly enjoyed it and, I think, we agree on the fundamentals.

    Before I head into the Content Marketing debate, I’ll also agree with you about the trade show consumer crap. That is bad marketing. My organisation pumps out enough of the stuff despite my frequent objections and frank recommendations against it.
    However, if you take the CMI’s definition of “valuable”, then some of the trade show tat is valuable. For example, I now have some rather handy USB sticks in my bag which I use knowing that I’ll never bother to phone their originators for a quote. Mugs are another helpful addition to my office cupboard.
    You get my drift, even if I am pushing the metaphor somewhat.

    My beef is not with the CM discipline itself, but with the hype surrounding it.

    That’s what makes me want to scream until I puke.

    To flesh out my position, let me share something. This is a really exciting website from which I purchased the top nut for my dishwasher: http://www.espares.co.uk/part/dishwashers/indesit/p/1083/805/0/0/492697/dishwasher-top-spray-arm-.html

    You can feel the thrill now, can’t you?

    But look at the video they’ve posted. The “How to replace the dishwasher spray arms…” one at the bottom of the page.

    Bloody brilliant. I watched it twice to make sure that there weren’t any silly little seals I needed to worry about or clips that I’d break when taking my old arm off and fitting the new one.

    Do I think that the company sat down and said: “We MUST do content marketing and we MUST have video and we MUST strategise it?”

    No. I don’t.

    I think that the company sat down and said: “Our customers might be a bit worried about fitting basic parts to their dishwasher. Let’s help them out, save them dishwasher repair person call out charges and tell them that they can buy all of the bits on this website.”

    Was this even in their marketing strategy? I don’t know. I’d like to think so (because it’s damn useful and valuable).

    My point is that the hype around content marketing is obscuring, or runs the risk of obscuring, the simple fact that a properly thought-out, customer-centric marketing plan SHOULD already have this stuff within it.
    It should naturally answer the question “How can we help our customers to achieve their intrinsic [or extrinsic] goals and how can we position our company to be the enabling partner in this?”

    The video posted by the company was content marketing of the best, most valuable and useful kind. However, it was posted in June 2010 before the hype really started to happen (which, hopeflly, reinforces my position that they didn’t have to Do Content Marketing, they just got on and did it).

    So, don’t get me wrong. I scream until I puke because I always wonder what companies did with their marketing strategies before this shiny new thing came along. And I despair of the shiny object syndrome which so many marketers are drawn to, and are doing, just because it’s the Done Thing.

    I don’t think that CM is a lie. I don’t think that it’s a fad. I hope that it’s here to stay – but as a part of a solid marketing strategy, not an adjunct, which is what it feels like at the moment.

    Thanks again for the post, and for the chance to comment on it.
    Neil

  9. Doug Kessler

    Wow — what a great thread. I’m enjoying this conversation.

    I’ve replied by email to most of these (I didn’t want to clog up the thread with my responses) but I do want to pick up a few things here:

    @Pontus, Tom and Joe: the issue of the hidden agenda will be with us for a while, and rightly so. As marketers, I think we all need to keep an eye on this — from an ethical perspective and simply to defend the effectiveness of our discipline.

    @Neil — Thanks for the thorough response. A few notes of my own:

    – For me, USB sticks and coffee mugs are the opposite of content marketing. They’re trying to buy affection with goodies (or smuggle your logo on to people’s desks). Real content marketing is giving them the benefit of your expertise. I think you’re agreeing with me on this but I have heard people discuss this promotional gifts stuff as if it were content.

    – I also don’t think of the dishwasher repair video as strictly content marketing — more a customer service play, and a very good one. If a company marketed its library of easy self-repair videos as a reason to buy their products, that would start to cross over into what I think of as content marketing. But I guess it’s all blurring together a bit.

    In general, your puke-inducing screams seem to be aimed at the hype rather than the discipline and I feel that’s well-aimed. Over-hype doesn’t help anyone.

    Thanks again.

  10. Neil Perrott

    Great post Doug, wish I’d written it! What is perhaps most surprising is that those fuelling the backlash don’t see through the hype…it’s not like this is the first time a methodology has been er…branded by the marketing community at the early stages of its er…life cycle. Maybe what’s required is a reminder on some of the more fundamental marketing concepts?

  11. Jeremy Knight

    Hi Doug, another great post, and a fantastic deck on Crap – the challenge to content marketing. Loved it!
    It occurred to me reading this post how (to your point on ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction), Chris Brogan said, some several years ago now, of email: “The best of all the online marketing tools is also the most maligned and the least understood. Email marketing isn’t dead. BAD email marketing is dead”. The same will soon be true true with content marketing. The Michelin Guide and those coveted stars are still as valuable to publisher, reader and restaurant over 100 years after first hitting the road. Good content, even if it has an ulterior motive, will surely rise above the crap, find its market/community and continue to inspire, educate and entertain.
    Thanks again Doug and keep it coming.

  12. Ryan Skinner

    Excellent example with eSpares, Neil.

    I think we’re on to a new definition of content marketing: Giving enough of a shit about your current or future customers to write or produce stuff that makes their life better or job easier.

    I wish there were more businesses doing that (and fewer spamming me or pushing ads in my face). If evangelizing a new and hot thing makes more people do that, then I can live with the hype.

  13. John Miller

    Doug – Great stuff. Content marketing is here for the long haul because the audience now has control. They don’t buy your product or service until they trust you, and content is the surest way to build that trust. Giving them trinkets won’t do it, buying Super Bowl spots won’t do it, and having a website that talks about your great widgets won’t do it.

  14. Vince Giorgi

    Great post, Doug. No, content marketing is not new. And yes, there might be a better name for it. But in the end I think the essential point is whether marketers go to work each day focused solely on pitching products and services, or do they also earnestly seek to cultivate and earn long-term, win-win relationships with customers and prospective customers.

    If the latter, then those marketers will find themselves exploring ways to surround their products and services with additional offerings of value, relevance and utility. Information. Interactions. Experiences. Dialogue. Service. Community. Tools.

    So even if a corporate marketing team never utters the words “content marketing,” if their call to purpose includes engaging, serving and satisfying customers — not merely selling them — they’re probably on a pretty smart and sustainable path. A path that should transcend lots of ebbs, flows and backlashes when it comes to marketing buzzwords and technologies.

  15. Ann Handley

    Interesting conversation here, folks. A few comments:

    1. Content as a part of marketing isn’t new, as many of us here readily recognize. We published some highlights of the history here:

    A Brief History of Content Marketing
    http://www.marketingprofs.com/pics/2011/5513/a-brief-history-of-content-marketing-slide-show

    But what is new (and fueling the “hype”) are the tools and technology and shift in the behavior of the people we are trying to reach online, who are using Google and social networks to research well before they reach out to you specifically.

    2. Content marketing, as I see it, is a tremendous opportunity above all. And I don’t use that word — opportunity — lightly. Never before in the history of history have brands been able to connect directly with people, and vice versa.

    At the same time, never before have we had the imperative to communicate in human terms – with clarity, and real empathy – because social networks won’t tolerate Frankenspeak, and you will be dismissed.

    3. Brands who squander that opportunity will miss out. If we don’t respect that opportunity — if we don’t view publishing as a privilege — then we deserve what we get.

    The best content marketers don’t “lie” about the real motive behind their content. Instead, they educate their audience (like Neil’s dishwasher video example, above) or they offer content packed with clear utility, seeded with inspiration, and that is honestly empathetic, as we wrote (quoting Len Stein) in “Content Rules.”

    You might have an agenda — everyone does, so does Fox News, so does the Boston Globe, so does my local hometown newspaper, as is pointed out above. But the key is to respect your audience — just like journalists do. Think of them first. Ask yourself: If my customer signed my paycheck, what would our marketing look like?

    Be customer-centric before you are corporate-centric. That’s what brand journalism and content marketing really means: Above all — put your audience first.

  16. Ann Handley

    Interesting conversation here, folks. A few comments:

    1. Content as a part of marketing isn’t new, as many of us here readily recognize. We published some highlights of the history here:

    A Brief History of Content Marketing
    http://www.marketingprofs.com/pics/2011/5513/a-brief-history-of-content-marketing-slide-show

    But what is new (and fueling the “hype”) are the tools and technology and shift in the behavior of the people we are trying to reach online, who are using Google and social networks to research well before they reach out to you specifically.

    2. Content marketing, as I see it, is a tremendous opportunity above all. And I don’t use that word — opportunity — lightly. Never before in the history of history have brands been able to connect directly with people, and vice versa.

    At the same time, never before have we had the imperative to communicate in human terms – with clarity, and real empathy – because social networks won’t tolerate Frankenspeak, and you’ll be dismissed as a corporate tool.

    3. Brands who squander that opportunity will miss out. If we don’t respect that opportunity — if we don’t view publishing as a privilege — then we deserve what we get.

    The best content marketers don’t “lie” about the real motive behind their content. Instead, they educate their audience (like Neil’s dishwasher video example, above) or they offer content packed with clear utility, seeded with inspiration, and that is honestly empathetic, as we wrote (quoting Len Stein) in “Content Rules.”

    You might have an agenda — everyone does, so does Fox News, so does the Boston Globe, so does my local town newspaper, as is pointed out, above. But the key is to respect your audience — just like journalists do. Think of them first. Ask yourself: If my customer signed my paycheck, what would our marketing look like?

    Be customer-centric before you are corporate-centric. That’s what brand journalism and content marketing really means: Above all — put your audience first.

  17. Andy Brown

    The debate among my marketing peers is not whether content marketing principles are good are bad, old or new, or whether the name is stupid. The backlash is because the most ardent voices for content marketing are terrible models for “quality” and “relevance.” When CMI was Junta42, content marketing was exciting to me because Joe has a publishing background, but the community seems dominated now by software companies and traditional ad agencies trying to reinven themselves. The result is a lot of people talking about content marketing who have no professional experience in publishing, no experience or training in journalism, and no skill or talent as writers, designers, etc. My hope for content marketing is that it return to its publishing roots and emphasize the primacy of content produced and packaged by trained and/or experienced professionals.

  18. Kim Brebach

    Andy Brown is right on the money when he says ‘the most ardent voices for content marketing are terrible models for “quality” and “relevance,” and that ‘the community seems dominated now by software companies and traditional ad agencies trying to reinvent themselves.’

    These agencies have built content production machines that need feeding daily, even twice daily. The result is that 4 out of 5 pieces of content they serve up are not valuable, not original and not needed. It’s the deluge of CRAP you’ve talked about, Doug, that will give CONTENT and CONTENT MARKETING a bad name.

    How about taking your own advice, good people, and produce less content of higher quality?

  19. Lisa Larranaga

    Hi Doug!

    I found your post through Ann Handley, who linked to it in her similarly compelling article on content marketing.

    In my opinion, I think hype is what ‘kills’ a trend and forces all the nay-sayers to come out. I felt that way about ‘influencers’ but it’s not about the concept – building relationships, following key players in your industry and sharing your business insight with like-minded people is smart no matter what you call it – I became sick of hearing the word influencer. The same just happened with The Harlem Shake. It blew up huge over night and didn’t retain its star appeal for more than 3 weeks before I saw tweets coming through saying, “So sick of Harlem Shuffle!”

    I think that is what drives people to become so annoyed with a concept that they can deconstruct it. In some ways, this is good – it can help us find holes and repair issues. And it’s good that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all marketing approach. Sure, content marketing might not have worked for some of the people above, or they may have found elements of it that doesn’t work for their needs, but that’s OK.

    Sure, a CM strategy might seem like a lie. However, I would say that while the end goal is to increase revenue, it’s about reputation building and trust. It’s taking an honest look at the community you service and what challenges they have and how you can share your knowledge to help them, even if that knowledge isn’t tied to a product or service you have.

    Of course, the goal is to increase the business over time, but if it’s done right – ‘with the responsible, professional, humble practice of content marketing’ – it’s about helping both your customers and your business. It’s not bait-and-switch; it takes time to win someone’s trust and business and/or referrals but if content marketing is done by the ‘responsible, professional, humble’ marketers out there, the relationship between the customer and the brand will be long-lasting and mutually beneficial.

    That is my two cents. Or my 4894541641 cents! Oh, and I will put my money on Slinkies with you :)

    Best,
    Lisa Larranaga
    Social Media Manager
    Cision US

  20. Steve Seager

    Great thread!

    Grumpy comment ahead :) To be frank 95% of content marketers deserve the backlash – including almost all of the biggest names.

    Using content as a marketing tool is not new at all. (Duh!) But content marketing in social IS, of course, new.

    And therein lies the problem: I haven’t yet seen a single model that explains the value proposition of content marketing in social – in strategic terms. Almost every content marketer talks about opportunities, how to execute etc – barely a one ROI or the strategic process etc.

    Until that happens, I fully support a backlash – it will help sort the wheat from the chaff.

    How’s this for a step in the right direction? http://www.steveseager.com/the-anatomy-of-great-content/

    - Steve

  21. Barry Feldman

    Great, great article. Great, interesting commentary feed. Now, can we can the CM conversation and talk some more about slinkies? They go down stairs? That’s cool.

  22. Alan Langford

    Your slide show was one of the inspirations for this post http://www.ambitonline.com/nextrelease/2013/01/on-content-marketing-its-about-content-stupid/. The trick with content marketing is that if you’re marketing vacuous content, it’s not going to work. That whole “let’s make a clever ad and hope our brand/product stick at the same time” approach — the one that’s been nearly completely discredited now that we can measure results — is gone, done. So all the people who used to do that are piling onto content marketing, except without the content.

    Soon enough they’ll either change their ways or move on to careers as creative parking lot attendants. Then the hype will settle down and we can keep working.

  23. Arjun Basu

    Well said. It amazes me how many “eureka” moments exist in this field, a field that is NOT NEW! If the industry spent more time doing good work and less redefining words and concepts that already exist, the world as a whole might be a better place.

  24. John Malecki

    This is one of those situations where everyone is right, to a degree, and everyone is wrong, to a degree. What seems to be at issue is the amount of degree on either side.

    Being an advertising copywriter, marcom writer, b2b strategic writer, and b2b content generator for more years than I like to count (hence, the morphing descriptives), here’s what I believe is the bottom line: ‘Content Marketing’ is a label cleverly and, basically, fairly used to sell something that any b2b professional worth their salt should have been doing–at least in part–their entire career.

    It’s a marketer’s marketing term, and a good one, that tries to delineate and communicate a mindset and approach to customer and prospective customer relationships. Is it new? Who cares? Is it overhyped? Who cares (except people who get attention or get paid for writing business articles about things that may be overhyped)?

    The big question is, is it important? I say, yes. Consider. Useful or informative (or even any) content in almost all advertising has pretty much left the building. Marcom materials are most often seller-centric and not prospect-centric. And most b2b writers, as they have since time immemorial, continue to have a tin ear for tonality and a sociopath’s ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Content Marketing, almost by default, has become the last, great depository for the indirect sell, the empathetic bent, the useful or thought-provoking prospect-centric idea.

    Sometimes hype is deserved, no matter how annoying it can become. In this case, I think we have an Aretha on our hands rather than a Madonna.

  25. Jeff Simmons

    Nicely done post Doug. I wouldn’t be too worried about a content marketing backlash coming from other content marketers. The only backlash that would concern me is from a client who says “The content you are producing for us isn’t helping drive sales”.

    As far as the name goes, blame the copywriters who never could come up with a better word for copywriting ;) I find it’s much easier to explain “content marketing” to people than “copywriting”. So I tip my hat to Joe Pulizzi!

  26. Graham Charlton

    Great stuff Doug, started an interesting debate. I despise industry jargon and buzzwords as much as the next man (I will never write omnichannel for one) but it’s no denying that these terms can be useful. Content marketing is essentially a catch-all term which takes in blogging, video, infographics and other other type of content which can be used for promotion. In that sense it is useful.

    The Econsultancy blog is in part a piece of content marketing for the wider business, and one which has worked pretty well. We’ve been doing it since 2006, but have only applied the term to it recently because it fits well (and, yes, the term means more pageviews).

    Overhyped or not, CM can be a great tactic, and it can work.

    Just wait for the next load of hype about native advertising, which is infinitely worse…

  27. james gurd

    Hi Doug,

    Thanks for penning your thoughts. I’m with you – denigrating something due to its hype misses the point. Does it work? Do customers respond to it? Does it add value to businesses? The answer – yes, no, maybe! And that’s the key thing for me – content marketing, as you point out, is simply a catch-all phrase to neatly encompass quite a range of activities. By itself it doesn’t deliver anything, it all depends on how well planned and executed the activity is.

    A poorly produced and targeted piece of content is highly unlikely to deliver results. That’s not CM fault, it’s the person executing it. Same with any marketing, the art and skill is in the ability to translate customer needs/interests (both implicit and explicit) into a communication that pushes their buttons, whether that’s by solving a problem, educating or simply inspiring and entertaining.

    I know from experience the impact of good and bad CM. One client i worked with insisted on producing buying guides because ‘everyone else is doing it and we want to get better SEO’. However, they wouldn’t invest the time in researching customer needs and using data to inform the plan, instead simply picking a list of topics based on what other brands had done and outsourcing to a freelance copywriter to ‘give us something similar’. The end result – nobody gave a toss about the content and tumbleweed rolled. On the other hand, i’ve seen a digital team put a lot of effort into measuring customer needs/interests, using simple data analysis plus tapping into social channels for crowdsourcing, and then carefully planning out a CM plan to underpin their comms plan. The key point here is that content was being used to support a highly targeted comms plan based on customer segments and personas. It was focused and content was created to support campaigns and communicate key messages. The result – higher than expected consumption of content assets, big spike in social sharing, jumps in # followers on key social networks and more traffic to the website.

    So my conclusion is this – who cares if it’s hyped or not, learn what works for your audience and don’t automatically do or don’t do something simply because people in the industry tell you! I’m now off to unpick all my SEO work because SEO is dead and it’s all about social…

    Thanks
    james

  28. Jonny Rose

    I think a lot of the backlash against content marketing has been misplaced – the practice itself isn’t bunkum it has just found itself in a rut where it hasn’t innovated since its inception over a century ago.

    We wrote recently for Econsultancy and our blog on five ways ways in which content marketing should change in 2014; http://www.idioplatform.com/why-is-the-future-of-content-marketing-in-2014-so-damn-boring/

    If brands were to employ even one of those ideas, the ‘backlash’ would be quelled.

  29. Scott Valentine

    This post really pissed me off. It irked me in slew of intolerable ways and kicked me in a host of unmentionable places.

    I only wish I’d had the balls to write it.

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