Don’t look now, but your content marketing omission is showing

6781243032_ac5775f16f_mThe Content Marketing Institute, established in 2011 as the center of the content marketing focus that began in earnest a couple of years ago, defines content marketing thusly:

“Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

The CMI goes on to state that “content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent.”

There are several inherent problems in defining this particular marketing tactic in this way, especially if you are marketing for or with a company that has not familiarized itself with newer jargon like “thought leadership.” Our most serious concern is that companies may visit the CMI website and note that companies like John Deere and Proctor & Gamble are engaged in this kind of “non-selling” marketing. Companies may get the idea that what works for extremely powerful, well-known brands will also work for them. We are not so sure.

In fact, it seems like the CMI’s definition of content marketing would make this tactic one that small to even medium-sized companies would not find possible. How many companies that aren’t the size of John Deere have the personnel, budget, and time to create valuable, objective content with no expected monetary ROI? The more one ponders these obstacles, the less feasible an aggressive content marketing strategy appears for your average company.

A dose of the real world

We are not basing these sentiments on hypothesis. We understand the importance of white papers, blogs, webinars, and other tactics now incorporated under the “content marketing” umbrella. We have been working with our clients to build their libraries of content not only to increase “thought leadership” but also for brand awareness in general and SEO boosts. One of our clients said something last fall that stuck with us, however. They said, “We totally understand the importance of educating our customers and being a resource for them. We get it. But we need to get back to selling our product, not just selling the industry.”

If we follow the CMI definition of content marketing, our client would effectively have to forego any more “content marketing” efforts because those tactics are non-promotional in nature.

Does this make any sense to you?

Don’t make “Marketing” more complex than it is

In 2007, the American Marketing Association approved this definition of marketing: “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

That word “value” is important. As we discussed on Monday, your customers ultimately may not care that you have become a “thought leader.” If you provide the product or service they need, that might just be enough. Indeed, it seems to us that what is today called “content marketing” is really more akin to ego massage for the company producing it. Perhaps it is intended to be non-promotional because billing yourself as an expert while also promoting products would seem uncouth. If you are not talking about your products, if you are not promoting anything, and if you are bombarding your customers and prospects with regularly scheduled e-blasts, webinars, blog posts, and 20-page white papers, are you offering value to them? Do your customers have time to read and absorb all of that content?

This is not to say that content is unimportant, but we think it is unrealistic to expect companies to produce the amount of content discussed today with no intention of using that content to increase sales. There is a level of nuance that is not being discussed here. Content can inform and can incorporate a soft sell without being obnoxious. Content can be used creatively to convert long-term prospects into sales, or it can be used to nurture relationships with existing customers. Painting with a broad brush carries its risks, however, and we hope that companies are cognizant of those risks as they plunge into this new era of marketing.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8185675@N07/6781243032/ via Creative Commons


9 comments on “Don’t look now, but your content marketing omission is showing

  1. Blasphemy! Seriously…huge sigh of relief here…I thought I was the only one but glad you had the courage to say it out loud. Personally I think you can do both…that is…provide valuable content and sell your product/service at the same time. Yes, it’s important to educate your customers but who ever said they didn’t want to be educated about your product/service and how it will make their life better? If I’m in the market for a widget I already know I need a widget and why…what I want to know is which widget I should get. I WANT you to sell me your widget!

  2. Margie. Bravo.

    This bit you’re highlighting re content is a trend I’ve seen for two decades where Marketers get on a sexy bandwagon and … party. One size does not fit all, all B2Bs are not IBM, not all buyers know they have a problem and thus aren’t searching, so many colors shapes and sizes.

    If marketers continue to blindly follow, and the loudest ‘thought leaders’ continue to take advantage of the biases of their targets, and more folks aren’t brave enough to call them out on it as you’ve done here – then I lose hope for our global economy.

    What you’re fighting for here are healthy bottom lines for global business. Enough with the silliness!

  3. Wow – do not forget your wordpress.com password – I’ve never worked so hard to comment!! LOL.

    Anyway, I was saying…. This is great, Margie. In fact, I’m giving a workshop this very afternoon to a room full of small business owners on content planning. I think I’ll use the word “realistic” a lot.

  4. Hi Margie…I just wanted to follow up on a couple of your comments.

    – We use John Deere and P&G as examples because one of the core tenants of content marketing is consistency. John Deere has been producing The Furrow magazine since 1895 (which is now the largest circulated magazine to farmers in the world. P&G was one of the founders of the soap opera. Content marketing is not new (brands have been telling stories to sell product since, well, forever).
    – It sounds like you are saying you either content market or you sell. Content marketing works with your other marketing initiatives, not against. Coca-cola is pushing hard to integrate content marketing processes into their organization…but they don’t stop advertising. CMI leverages lots of content initiatives, but we still advertise and promote our products traditionally when it makes sense to.
    – There are countless small business examples that have worked with little or no budget that have been successful employing content marketing strategies…check out River Pools & Spas and OpenView Venture Partners. You can put CMI in that mix as well.

    Just a final note – inherent in the definition of content marketing is that it “creates or enhances a customer behavior”. If it doesn’t do something to help the business, it’s just content (and not content marketing). It sounds like what you are talking about in this article in content creation WITHOUT a strategy. If that’s the case, then you are right…but that’s not content marketing.

    Finally, a good example of content marketing is the content you curate on Facebook. That content intrigued me, and when you released your new eBook, I purchased it, based on the story you were telling.

    Thanks for your comments.

    • Hi Joe,

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

      My statement about content marketing *vs* selling is based on how many seem to present the concept today, and as we mentioned in the post, your own website notes that content marketing should be non-promotional in nature. While there may be a nuanced facet to that statement, I fear that companies new to this world exploring what content marketing is really all about may be misled by that definition.

      I appreciate your support of the little e-book I put together last year. Thank you again!

  5. I had a debate with someone about the need to convert our site over to WordPress…and to start generating non-promotional, relevant content. His side of the debate was that our typical clients do not login to Chrome with credit card in hand to put $100k or better of professional services in the shopping basket.

    My argument is that a director/VP level person will decide they need custom software development…or executive reports/dashboards…etc. They will then have one of their more junior resources go research alternatives.

    First stop: Google. And when they type in “what do I use for executive dashboards”, I want them to find our content. Not to sell them, but to prove we ARE the thought leaders thru knowledgeable instruction and case studies.

    Still working on the execution part of that little debate…more later.

    • It’s of course a catch-22, right? When you first start blogging you’re not getting a lot of incoming links or tweets so you may not show up towards the top of the Google search results. You have to not just start the blog but you have to stick with it. That can be the really tricky part!

  6. […] Don’t look now, but your content marketing omission is showing, claymanmarketingcommunications.wordpress.com […]

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