A few years ago I wrote a piece on the commoditization of content (marketing) in a social jungle. Last year I took it a step further with what you could call a rant about the ‘big content marketing fail’. I was pleasantly surprised to see that many people using content marketing (as I do) wrote similar posts taking a critical look at the evolutions in content marketing. I added a list of some below.
I like these attempts to ‘look beyond the obvious’. It forces us to ask the right questions. Of course, all these opinions and posts haven’t changed the world. There is too much noise for that. Many people still use content marketing without a clear purpose or just for the sake of it, usually influenced by someone who says that without content marketing you’re nothing. The same phenomenon happens in social media (marketing). There are even almost religious fights over who’s right and who’s wrong about this or that in content marketing or social media marketing. Allow me to give you an answer why these fights often happen.
The role of content and social media: everyone is right
It’s hard to believe there are still so many views on the role of content and social media for marketing and business purposes. It’s about PR, reputation and social capital. No, no, it’s about sales and lead generation. OK, but what about engagement and conversations? Hey, did anyone look at customer service? Social sharing, inbound traffic, branding, the customer experience,…
Same thing in content marketing: it’s about storytelling. Oh, no, it’s about giving buyers the information they’re looking for. Yeah, but what about traffic, links and SEO, we need traffic, right? And isn’t social often about traffic too? Well, if it wasn’t, then why would we share all the time? Just because we’re so empathic and caring? I don’t think so.
Why this confusion? Who is right and who is wrong? The easy answer: everyone is right. The whole fight over what exactly is the role of content and social media for marketing and business goals has nothing to do with what you – and your colleagues, customers, connections and networks – can actually achieve with content and social.
It has everything to do with the fact that both content marketing and social media marketing are umbrella terms that by definition can be used for a broad variety of reasons. And the big debates simply happen because many different people with many different backgrounds, experiences and roles are active in those very broadly defined fields (and now and then because it serves other, hidden, goals).
I don’t know who ‘coined’ the term social media marketing nor do I care knowing. I know who coined the term ‘content marketing’ however: Joe Pulizzi. When we first met, after an interview early 2010 and at a round table I organized later that year where it became clear Joe had similar views (and which would result in my helping with the launch of the European version of Chief Content officer magazine), Joe explained how he “saw” content marketing. It was not the same way as it has evolved. Joe also told the little story of the term ‘content marketing’ which he was trying along with many others to give a name to what we knew was coming. Content marketing seemed to be the most popular term (it could have been something like customer publishing as well) so that’s what it was going to be. Why do I mention this? Because we’re far away from what content marketing was supposed to mean and since virtually everyone started using it for their own benefit and siloed activities instead of in a strategic and integrated context as it was meant.
Content marketing: who’s involved?
So, let’s take a look at content marketing and the same silo effects we always see happening just because they are there, whatever form of marketing or business we talk about. Who is using content for marketing and business purposes? A few examples:
- Demand generation and sales people.
- Conversion optimization experts.
- Brand marketers.
- Campaign builders.
- PR people.
- The website folks.
- Social media teams.
- Support & service crews.
- Comunity & relationship marketers.
- Product marketers.
- Email marketers.
- Copywriters and content producers.
The list goes on. Content plays a role in the work of all these people as far as it improves what they do – and thus to which degree the goal is achieved. You need manuals to support customers. You need brochures to inform prospects. You need papers, eBooks and other content (be original please) for each important touchpoint. But you also need good content to turn visitors into customers. You need it as a social object in social media. And you need a good narrative and storytelling (not the same as telling stories) for branding. Finally, without some good personalized content, there is not much to email or tweet, is there?
The problem? Navel gazers and silos
The problem is that most of these different people don’t speak the same language and don’t understand each other. Someone who is specialized in direct response marketing or website optimization is not per se a branding expert or good at community marketing. And, in case you doubt, branding still matters a lot, even if it’s mainly about experiences and perception.
Many of the similar fights and debates in the area of social media marketing can be brought back to the same – human – challenges. Bloggers with a PR or media background are no sales experts. Social customer service people don’t necessarily understand what the branding impact of a good ongoing story via a mix of social and other channels can be. And setting up loyalty programs is entirely different from acquisition campaigns.
So, again, who is right? Everyone. Except if they start defending “their” views on the role of social media or content in marketing because of their backgrounds and personal context (industry, expertise, prior experiences, etc.) instead of their goals.
Who else is wrong? Everyone having an opinion about the role of social or content as it is approached from the perspective of the “other side”, a side he or she doesn’t know. The navel gazers that can’t get out of their specific niche activity. You can’t expect everyone to be a generalist-specialist. But you can respect the expertise of the ‘other’.
If you don’t know branding or PR, don’t say social is just good for sales. If you have no experience in demand generation or sales, don’t say social is just good for brand- and relationship-focused goals. You can find a gazillion more examples yourself.
The really sad thing? The ongoing debates show that there are still way too many silos standing in the way of a collaborative, customer-centric and properly planned and integrated approach. That’s really sad. The navel-gazing and lack of focus on overall goals, taking into account what can be achieved by a mix of efforts revolving around the customer and purpose instead of the own island of expertise and division.
Smart decisions are easy
The value of content and social nor their role are defined by what you do for a living or in which department you sit. It’s defined by 1) goals, 2) ‘target group’ and 3) results. So, use content and social where it makes sense. And don’t use it when it doesn’t make sense and is just done for the sake of it.
A recent flagrant example I saw was the launch of a website/blog filled with tips on healthy eating by a local yoghurt brand. They even mentioned it in their TV ad. Nice, I bet many people will look for healthy eating advice there, especially as there is just content and nothing more. It’s just another useless ‘content platform’ that serves no purpose, isn’t updated, follows the pure campaign mentality and has been oversold by an agency saying how cool content marketing is. I’m sure it will sell lots of yoghurt. How hard is it to make a smart decision? Purpose, customer focus and common sense, that’s all it takes.
Look around you for more examples and feel free to share them. We can all learn from cases.
Some of the promised content marketing (debate) blogs:
- Content Marketing New Year’s Resolution: Give Up Shopping at the Content Mall
- The Content Marketing Echo Chamber
- Customer Experience Trumps Content Marketing
- Let Me Wave my Magical Content Wand
- There Is No Wasted Content
Well, there have been many more and even big debates on Forbes. Feel free to suggest more links.