If you’re reading this then you’ve probably read the arguments surrounding Mark Schaefer’s Content Marketing Shock article. To recap, Schaefer’s argument is that as a publishing strategy, content marketing is unsustainable—the cost of creating content will quickly outstrip the return of investment. Which is true, if cheap content is what you’re selling. But that point undermines the premise of content marketing.
The Content Marketing Institute defines the practice as:
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.
In other words:
Find and retain customers by providing information people actually want and can use.
It’s really not a radical way of thinking, but the term “Content Marketing” has become a bit of a buzz and so naturally there is some debate around its value as a marketing tactic. Schaefer’s post is the latest and has generated some heat (and dare I say it—traffic!). So let’s play along and look at his argument.
Your marketing isn’t free
The first point made is that ultimately you are “paying people to read your content.” Yes, that might be a problem if the core of your business is focused on content as a revenue generator—like a magazine, book or music publisher. But we’re talking about content creation as a marketing tactic and all marketing tactics require investment. The question is whether the return on the investment makes financial sense.
ExactTarget (a Salesforce company) has 50 stats that seem to back it up. Here are five:
- B2B companies that blog generate 67% more leads per month than those who don’t. (Social Media B2B)
- 61% of consumers say they feel better about, and are more likely to buy from, a company that delivers custom content. (Custom Content Council)
- Interesting content is a top 3 reason people follow brands on social media. (Content+)
- Organic search leads have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound marketing leads have a 1.7% close rate. (Hubspot)
- Content creation is ranked as the single most effective SEO technique (Marketing Sherpa 2013)
So, like all marketing tactics, you need to evaluate the value of your business expenses, but you also need to be ahead of your competition and their tactics. Think about the number of ads you see in a day and how many stand out. Now think about the number of actionable leads you can track to those ads. Those numbers are based on the old ‘interrupt, repeat” dynamic of advertising. Imagine those numbers if what you were communicating had value.
Cream rises to the top
Schaefer’s second argument focuses on the fact that we’re increasingly inundated with content, which reduces the effectiveness of content marketing while increasing the cost to produce something that will cut through the noise. He sees it as a pure supply vs. demand dynamic.
Again, this is true…and always has been…kinda.
There’s been competition for our attention since we started banging sticks on stones, and it’s been increasing exponentially ever since. From VCRs and Nintendos to iPads and Xboxes…the glut of content hasn’t affected our interest in consuming more. It’s made us focus on what we want and seek out new sources of that information.
Or, as Shel Holtz says in his response post, Six Reasons There Will Be No Content Shock, we are now mainly consumers of niche content – Look at how many niche magazines there are, never mind websites. This is the dream of the long-tail realized. Netflix provides the perfect case study.
Know thy audience and thy content!
While content may not be core to your business, it makes sense to look to those for whom it is so we can learn a thing or two. Netflix is a great example because they are not only disrupting their entire industry while building a massive audience, the details around how they organize and create the content that allows them to do that are available for public inspection!
The most important aspect of Netflix’s content approach is that they understand what they have and what their customers want. They do this by assigning attributes to their content. In their case, those attributes are genres—some 76,897 of them, as The Atlantic reported this month. This helps serve up their catalog, but more importantly, helps guide the creation of Netflix original content. House of Cards wasn’t a hit by accident.
This doesn’t mean you need to slice and dice your content to the point of oblivion. It means focusing on your audience and your content in ways that allow you to create something people actually care about. That’s the whole point of Content Marketing.
But most of you already know this. Otherwise, we’d all be working on our Superbowl ads right now.
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