Content Marketing is the latest area of marketing communications being promoted as a new opportunity for brands.
‘Content is King’ is a phrase now being used in this area, but what is Content Marketing?
Definitions of Content Marketing vary, but let’s use the Content Marketing Association as a starting point:
Content Marketing is the discipline of creating quality branded editorial content across all media channels and platforms to deliver engaging relationships, consumer value and measurable success for brands.
Content Marketing: How does it work and what’s new?
How it works is similar to every other brand ‘touchpoint’ Content Marketing, aka ’sponsor created messaging’, creates, grows or sustains perceived values in a brand. It’s a great tactic, when done properly.
More than that Content Marketing is now at the heart of effective Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Social Media Marketing (SMM). E.g. Google ranks brands’ web pages on the quality and relevancy of the content of the page. Facebook’s Edgerank displays content that is ‘engaging’ in the organic timeline of a brands’ fans.
Quality engaging content is therefore a very highly valued currency in the marketing investment for success.
Content Marketing: Is it new?
Well for anyone that has worked in marketing for more than 5 minutes, it’s not. In fact forms of Content Marketing have been around for years.
Once upon a time this was called ‘sponsorship’. Sponsors paid for or supported the creation of valued content as their association with it brought awareness, improved perceptions and elevated authority.
These older forms of brand-sponsored messages included the serial dramas on radio and TV, now known as ‘Soap Operas’. So called because the popular daytime dramas were produced by soap manufacturer brands as a vehicle to advertise their products to housewives. Soap sponsored TV continued right up until the 1960s and 1970’s, when the market shifted into less subliminal tactics, like advertising because of changes in legislation. Legislators were concerned for the consumer. They were worried that paid for content might unfairly persuade consumers into buying into marketing magic. They wanted clear lines drawn between entertainment and advertising.
In the 1980s, ‘Sponsored supplied’ or ‘Advertiser funded’ were the terms used to cover all formats of content paid for by a brand owner. When the ‘brand bandwagon’ rolled into town this became known as ‘branded content’.
With the rise of social media’s popularity ‘branded content’ became established as an area of marketing special interest.
The birth of the Internet and the rise in dis-intermediation meant the producers of Content Marketing fragmented into individual or micro producers, unlinked to the Ad Agencies that created the activity in the first place.
Many Ad Agencies failed to spot the threat (or opportunity) and by the middle of this century’s first decade Ad Agencies had lost the argument. The prevailing global economic conditions ensured that clients could pick and choose supply based on being closer to the creative.
Since the arrival of Web 2.0, writers, photographers and videographers of all capabilities were now able to legitimise this new revenue stream. In fact anyone with a keyboard or camera (phone) and a little knowledge of SMM or SEO can try to make content for brands, and can call themselves a Content Marketing specialist, with many believing that any content production skill is valuable to brands and their marketing departments.
Many of this new breed of ‘Millennial Marketers’, have endeavoured to capture the zeitgeist of Web 2.0 as a miracle cure for businesses with limited budgets, a propensity for ‘free’ PR, and little experience or expertise in solid brand building. Some have christened themselves ‘Content Marketing Agencies’.
However, some agencies and marketing practitioners did see the opportunity and built content into the overall marketing activities for their clients. Integrating the expertise of brand communications into the tools required for effective messaging, no matter the channel.
Reading this article you’ll probably think I’m dismissing Content Marketing and the specialist agencies producing content. I’m not. I’m professing that effective communications messages need to be strategic.
I believe that ‘Content Marketing’ is a tool, and some tools are better for some jobs than others.
Here’s an analogy: If you wanted to grow vegetables you’d need to begin looking at the gardens available, deciding what kind of vegetable will best grow in the garden, and how to do it effectively (vision, evaluation and strategy); you’d prepare the soil (product development); produce a hole for a seed using a dibber (planning), plant the seed and water it (launch). You’d then need to keep watering and fertilising until ready to harvest the crop (marketing implementation).
Some Content Marketing agencies understand well the role they play in the marketing mix, but many are too focussed on the tool.
Marketing isn’t rocket science. Telling the truth well is the purpose of communications professionals. Whatever the channel.
To conclude, if your vision for carrots needed some external support it would be best to engage a gardener who understands soil preparation, can sow seeds, can water, can fertilise and ultimately knows when and how to use a fork to harvest the veggies. Not a ‘watering can expert’ or a ‘fork specialist’.