Kickin’ It Old School: A Back-To-Basics Approach Will Save Content Marketing
A return to rigor and marketing discipline will go a long way toward improving quality and performance and establishing content marketing as a meaningful tool in the marketing mix.
Less than a year ago, a managing director at a major media agency turned to our chief revenue officer and said arguably the most offensive thing you could say to someone from a place like The Economist Group.
“The content doesn’t need to be great,” he claimed. “It just needs to be good enough.”
“Good enough” is not good enough for a variety of reasons. This attitude has led us to a content marketing landscape that is rife with mediocrity. And people have a limited appetite for the mediocre. A great meal leaves you with a desire to return for more. An average meal, if it’s even remembered, has you pushing away the plate and pushing the restaurant down your list of places to eat. Good enough is not what helps you break through the clutter to garner people’s precious attention. Good enough leads you to making noise with a logo on it.
No one wants more noise in their lives.
Making truly good or even great content marketing takes more than good writers, editors, and directors who come up with creative ideas and craft compelling stories. Good content marketing takes discipline.
You know what’s great about content marketing in today’s marketing landscape? As marketers, we’re no longer hemmed in by the 30-second spot, the cost of a traditional media buy, a postcard-sized direct mail piece, or a 15-second radio commercial. You know what’s terrible about content marketing? We no longer have the rigor of a 30-second spot, a postcard-sized direct mail piece, or a 15-second radio commercial. Those time and space limitations forced us to be precise about our message, to prioritize the most important points the audience needed to hear.
Now we use content marketing, and the lack of space and time limitations, as an excuse to flout the underpinnings of good marketing and say far too much about too little of what interests our audience. If we’re not careful, this will kill content marketing as a communications discipline.
Marketers talk ad nauseum about their products and services, as if simply having a product or a service is a differentiator in the marketplace. We have forgotten that the most important element in our marketing equation is, in fact, the person to whom we are marketing, not the thing we are selling. Pitch someone a product and they will probably get annoyed; offer someone a genuine solution to their problem and you’ll be their new best friend.
While discipline is really required through the entire program life cycle, there are a few key questions we can ask ourselves early on that can help us start things off in a focused, thoughtful way:
- What are you trying to achieve?
- Who are you trying to connect with?
- What are their steps to buying and brand loyalty?
- What do I want them to do?
Now, I know what you’re thinking as you’re reading this: “Wait a minute. Is she trying to trick me? This just looks like:
- Marketing objective
- Target audience
- Customer journey
- Customer goal
There is nothing new about this! What kind of flim-flam artist is this woman?”
You’re right–not about the flim-flam artist bit, but about these looking like tried-and-true, foundational elements that have helped us get to good advertising and marketing for decades. But somehow we’ve forgotten about them or think they are less important in the current marketing environment.
Think of this post as reminder advertising for marketing’s basics–a nostalgic longing for the tools that help us be more focused in our messaging and a reaffirmation that our audience and their needs matter most. Brands should not do content marketing because they can be lax with text length and self-promote without constraint (or restraint). Brands should look at the full range of communications tools at their fingertips, their objectives, and their audience insights and decide whether content marketing is the right tool in their arsenals. Then they should use that same information to shape their content to deliver on their objectives by addressing the needs of their audience. This will lead to improved program performance and more favorable brand perceptions. And that will help ensure that content marketing doesn’t die a quick but painful death as “failed long-form advertising.”
Content marketing isn’t a double-blind, decade-long medical study. But a return to rigor and marketing discipline will go a long way toward improving quality and performance and establishing content marketing as a meaningful tool in the marketing mix.