Marketers who say their biggest challenge is lack of resources to create more content are giving the industry a bad name.
You know that feeling when you read a blog post and you think: “Thank goodness, I’m not the only one who thinks that!” Well this post by Jason Miller, which I read last night, elicited that response from me. And I got gradually more excited as it led me to this well-considered piece by Christopher S. Penn and another one by Tom Webster.
I suppose, being part of an agency that has been doing content marketing for over a decade, I should be glad to see content marketing become so popular. It feels a bit like with every SEO agency and PR firm that jumps on the bandwagon, or each time a brand starts publishing content, I should do a happy dance that what we’ve been doing for so long has pretty much become mainstream. (“See, we’ve been right all along that content is the future!”)
But the reality is, while their intentions may be pure, a lot of these companies are publishing terrible content, engaging in the most cringeworthy of ways on social media and giving out rubbish advice.
I still get frequent – and unsolicited – emails from SEO consultants telling me my site falls short of the five per cent keyword density “required by Google”. There are many tumblrs and Facebook pages (like Condescending Corporate Brand Page) dedicated to the stupid things brands do to get likes.
But the bigger issue here is the sheer volume of poor content being produced. I’m talking shoddily put-together white papers, bland blog posts, poorly researched infographics, pure linkbait … all in the name of “doing content marketing”.
I’m not saying every piece of content you publish as a brand will always be groundbreaking stuff. But if your ultimate goal is engaging your target audience and influencing their behaviour, then you need to have a long, hard look at the content you’re publishing and ask yourself if what you’re publishing is original and amazing enough to do that. If your goal is producing content for the sake of content, then you probably won’t care that gradually your content will become less and less effective as a marketing tool.
“If 2012 was about the power of content marketing, then 2013 has to be about making content that doesn’t suck if we want content marketing to remain a viable method of reaching and acquiring new customers,” warns Christopher S. Penn, and I agree. So how do marketers ensure they are feeding the insatiable content beast but getting heard above the noise created by thousands of brands adding their voices to the mix?
If your strategy is “produce content for marketing”, you will fail. You need a solid understanding of your target audience – specifically, you need to know what makes them tick and what their pain points are – and what they need from you. You need to be realistic but ambitious with setting targets for your content marketing programmes, and you need to know which metrics to analyse and how to be agile enough to adjust your strategy when the time is right.
2. Never run out of ideas
I know, it’s like saying “win the lottery” or shouting to a footballer “just get the ball in the net!” (hi Mum!). But a good content marketer ensures their well of ideas never dries up. This usually means surrounding yourself with a creative team or taking some time out every week or so to brainstorm ideas. But an intelligent content marketer does more than take responsibility for coming up with content ideas. They inspire what Rebecca Lieb of Altimeter Group describes as a “culture of content” in their organisations. When everyone in a business understands the story you’re trying to tell as a brand, and they buy in to the objectives you are trying to achieve, you will never be on your own an hour before a publication deadline, scraping the barrel of content ideas. Tall order? You betcha.
3. Ditch the deadline
Tom Webster is right when he says “the tyranny of the content calendar is responsible for a lot of weak content on the web”. I’m not suggesting a content calendar doesn’t have a place any more, but I do think a lot of businesses become slaves to poorly thought-out content calendars and churn out content for the sake of it as a result. A good content calendar, as any solid strategy, needs to be two things: realistic and flexible. It needs to be realistic in terms of resources – not just for creating content but for coming up with ideas, promoting it and generally integrating it into wider marketing goals. Secondly, it needs to not be so rigid that it is impossible to tweak. This is a fast-moving industry and what seems like a good idea on January 1st may no longer be effective three months down the line. So keep your strategy fluid.
That’s my theory anyway. We know more is going to be spent on content marketing this year than ever before, and I think we’re in for seeing big budgets being blown on an avalanche of unoriginal and uninspiring content as brands scramble to jump on the bandwagon. I look forward to seeing which ones rise to the top in 2013.