“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