Are we due for a massive backlash against content marketing?
Some folks seem to think so—though most of the critics are railing against the hype and not the actual notion of content marketing itself. (And you might argue that railing against the hype further fuels it… Are we hyping the hype? But let’s set that one aside for later.)
Frankly, I’ve been worrying about a so-called content marketing backlash for a while now—or at least since September 2011, as I wrote here, when content first started to gain traction with brands and I returned from the hugfest that was the first Content Marketing World. As I said then:
The truth is that I do believe—deeply—in the power of Content. But at the same time, it’s important to keep things in perspective. I worry that the current breathless cheering and hearty slaps to Content’s back ignores its already rich and storied past as a key part of Marketing. I worry that the hype will undercut its solid foundation when more sobering realities of Content come to light and strangle what’s an exciting and important evolution in Marketing. But most of all, I worry that folks won’t really take the time to support Content fully in their organizations—because full support is what it takes to succeed.
Content isn’t just another channel. It’s a mindset.
In other words, what “content” really represents isn’t just more text or pixels, posts to write, and buckets to fill.
Instead, content is a new model entirely: one of exciting and interesting opportunities that allows for true innovation. To me, “content” doesn’t just mean stuff we create. It means creating unprecedented opportunity.
Does that sound breathless and hype-y? It’s not. Because here’s the grounded truth:
1. Content as a part of marketing isn’t new, as many people (Joe Pulizzi, Doug Kessler, Joe Chernov, Lee Odden and many, many others) readily recognize. MarketingProfs published some highlights of the history here in a slide show over on the main site: A Brief History of Content Marketing. Go ahead over there and flip through the slides. See what I mean?
But what is new (and fueling the “hype,” I suppose) are new tools and technologies, and a 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 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. Publishing is a privilege, as my friend Tom Fishburne says. Brands who squander that opportunity will miss out or (more likely) be dismissed by a savvy audience. If we don’t respect that opportunity (if we don’t view publishing as a privilege) then we deserve what we get.
Some suggest that content marketing is dishonest—because we are masking our real motives (to get people to buy from us). But that’s a specious argument.
The best content marketers don’t “lie” about the real motive behind their content. Instead, they educate their audience (like Marcus Sheridan or the Louis E. Page fencing company or countless others do). They offer content that is packed with clear utility, seeded with inspiration, and 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. But the key is to content marketing 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.
Note: Part of this post appeared as a comment to Doug Kessler’s post on his Velocity blog. It’s a good read with interesting discussion in the comments.