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How To Stop Failing At Content Marketing

2014 August 6
by Greg Satell

When asked about what makes a great ad, advertising legend Leo Burnett advised, “Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.”  He wanted his work to cut through, because as he also said, “If you don’t get noticed, you don’t have anything.”

And no one was better at getting noticed than Leo Burnett. He created legendary icons such as Tony The Tiger, the Jolly Green Giant and the Marlboro Man that transformed mediocre brands into dominant market leaders.

Now that digital technology has revolutionized how we distribute information, marketers are trying to apply many of the same principles to content.  Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t work that way.  The truth is that in a content driven world marketers need to start thinking less like advertisers and more like publishers.  Here’s what needs to be done.

Stop Trying To Grab Attention And Start Trying To Hold It

After decades of creating advertising, many marketers have built up strong skill sets in some content related areas.  They have learned their way around the design studio and the video production set.  Many are familiar with web development and user experience concepts.  So longer form content doesn’t seem like it should be much of a challenge.

The problem is that content is not a long-form version of advertising, but an extension of publishing.  The goal isn’t to grab attention, but to hold it.  Instead of always trying to “cut through the clutter,” marketers need to build an ongoing relationship with consumers and inspire them to advocate for their brand.

So brands have to learn how to do publishing right.  They need to start with a clear mission and think seriously about the experience they want to create.  The best way to engage with consumers is not a catchy slogan or a clever stunt, but to provide consumers with something they will value.

Don’t Join The Conversation, Lead It

Marketing has long been a top down affair.  Brands would spend months researching consumers, crafting and testing messages and devising massive media campaigns for maximum effect.  Everything was shaped and scripted.  Nothing was left to chance.

Then social media came along and brands lost control.  Consumers, long seen but not heard, began to speak out about Dell Hell and how a 10-cent pen could render an expensive lock worthless.  Before long it became clear that the lunatics had taken over the asylum.

So brands decided that it was time to join the conversation, which inevitably lead to embarrassing disasters.  McDonald’s, for example, asked consumers to share their #McDStories, which led to a collection of horror stories and complaints.  Volkswagen’s request for New Year’s resolution suggestions was met with a barrage of criticism.

The truth is that consumers aren’t looking for corporations to be their friends.  They expect brands to provide them with something of value.  So, instead of trying to join the conversation, lead it.  Share your expertise and use your brand’s clout to provide resources consumers can use.  Great publishers are givers, not takers.

Put Your Mission Over Your Metrics

Marketers live and die by ROI metrics.  They want to measure everything and understand how each element affects sales.  They optimize, analyze and then reoptimize.  This is a great way to manage campaigns, but a horrible way to publish.

Publishing isn’t metrics driven, but mission driven.  The Economist is a guide to what’s going on in the world.  Vogue is a fashion bible.  Martha Stewart helps women take care of their families and Oprah helps keep them sane.

That’s why many publishers don’t allow their journalists to look at traffic numbers, because they want them to focus not on chasing readers, but fulfilling the editorial mission. Sensationalist headlines wouldn’t work on The Economist, hip technology memes would only diminish Vogue and snark would kill Oprah’s brand.

So while metrics can be helpful to optimize performance within a particular context, they should be treated as secondary, not primary.  The mission always comes first.

Publishing Is A Value Exchange

Marketers often take it for granted that you should start with the customer.  Finding needs and meeting them is at the core of what marketers do.  So it shouldn’t be surprising that marketers tend to look at metrics as a basic measure of performance.  That’s the way they’ve been trained.

Yet in this new socially dominated marketplace metrics like brand awareness, reach and frequency no longer suffice.   We have to create a true value exchange.  The good news is that most brands have a lot to offer— vast resources, deep expertise and important insights to share with the world.

So don’t think of content as “buzz,” think of it as a contribution.  Great publishers make the world a better place.  They inform, excite and inspire.  Content marketers should strive to do the same.  By sharing knowledge, expertise and resources, you not only provide a service to your customers, you also enhance your brand and motivate your employees.

And that’s how you lead the conversation.  You pay value forward.

– Greg

5 Responses leave one →
  1. August 9, 2014

    Hey Greg!

    Thanks for some great insights about content marketing. Your item about publishing as a value exchange really hit home for me. Content marketing is clearly about providing value in the marketplace. Being a problem solver for your niche market is key to success.
    Also key in social media is being relevant and reputable. This is an exciting time for content marketing!
    Lately I’ve seen a lot of abandoned blogs out there. I think people gave up too soon while they were on the verge of hitting their stride.
    Thanks again.
    Have a great day.

  2. August 9, 2014

    Thanks for letting me know Lisa! Good luck to you.

    – Greg

  3. August 12, 2014

    Couldn’t agree more that marketers need to start thinking less like advertisers and more like publishers. We are losing the importance of actually creating content. Yes, we get it content is king but quality content is king. Just publishing to publish could actually hurt your efforts in the long run.

  4. August 12, 2014

    Thanks Diana. However, just to be clear, I don’t believe that content is king. In my mind, content is crap.

    – Greg

  5. August 19, 2014

    I have to agree. Leading conversations is what is key. Content is just a means to an end. It is the way you show knowledge so people want to join in conversation with you.

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