Der Kessler spricht – The Content Marketing Deluge

Everyone here in camp Velocity is really excited about tomorrow’s Content Strategy Hangout. It’s the first time we’ve organised a Google+ Hangout – pretty exciting stuff. So, fingers crossed. (What? You haven’t heard about it? If your life involves content marketing you’ll want to check it out and register now.)

The Content Marketing Deluge

As part of our “Der Kessler” series, I thought it would be a good idea to look “behind the scenes” of our Crap slideshare and ask Doug (who wrote it) a bunch of questions around content and the imminent content marketing deluge. Here we go:

One of Velocity’s biggest fears is that brands won’t invest in quality content, thereby cheapening their brand and underperforming. What should they look for? What are good signs, and bad?

The big rush to content marketing means a lot of brands are running before they learn to walk. My nephew tried that and he fell on his face and got snot on our new rug.

Content marketing is a long game.  Even though I’m impatient by nature, I think it’s critical to do one thing well; then the next; then start to string things together and build a strategy. In B2B, content doesn’t just touch every other marketing discipline, it drives everything – search, social, outbound, marketing automation, lead nurturing – I defy you to try to practice any of these without strong content.

That creates a huge, hungry monster and B2B marketers are scrambling to feed it.  The challenge looks like a process challenge: how do we build a content machine that can deliver consistently and continuously.  But it’s even more of a quality challenge: how do we create authoritative, useful content that our prospects will gobble up and share.

It’s a good sign if your content meetings are full of talk about the issues your prospects are facing.

It’s a bad sign if your content meetings are all about ticking boxes on editorial calendars.

What was the most stand-out/distinctive piece of content marketing you’ve ever seen (non-Velocity), and why did it work?

Back in the late 70s, early ’80s, (yes, I was a sentient creature back then, get over it you whipper-snapper) International Paper did a fantastic print campaign called The Power of the Printed Word, featuring long copy ads written by famous writers.  All about the power of words.  The Kurt Vonnegut one is here. I loved that campaign for so many reasons. It’s content marketing at its best and it happened back when HTML was short for Hot Meal.

There’s a PDF of the entire International Paper Power of the Printed Word campaign here. (Thanks to Simson L. Garfinkel for posting this).

We’re all huge fans of marketing automation as it helps us target our audiences with specific content that’s relevant to them. But this ultimately means creating a lot of different pieces of content for different audiences. Doesn’t this development support the deluge? How can we maintain the quality of each piece?

Great point. Lead nurturing can get really granular really fast.  As you plan out the nurture flows, you start drawing a lot of empty boxes with labels like, “Middle Funnel piece for Purchasing Professionals who DON’T have spend management software but HAVE clicked on our email”.

Yes, this is one of the forces feeding the Content Deluge.  But there are ways to restrain the content proliferation a bit.  A single, well-conceived piece of content – with some judicious versions and spin-offs – may actually serve in five or ten of those boxes in your nurturing flows, for instance.

The plumbing is important.  But don’t let the plumbing dictate the story.

And how do you feel about Content Marketing being seen as the next fad?

It does worry me. I know in my heart that it is not a fad. There is no value in content-free marketing. But as content ceases to be a differentiator and becomes the price of entry into a market, it will start to become commoditised. I don’t like the sound of that. That way lies Crap.

In general, fads fade because people discover something we really shouldn’t have to discover any more: that there are no magic wands; there’s only hard work.

What makes a Great Content Brand? Why do you think this is the way forward?

As the Crap piece argues, building a Great Content Brand is really the only way forward. It simply means building a reputation for creating useful, authoritative, fun, easy-to-consume, thought-provoking, cool-looking content. If you’ve got that behind you, your next piece will fly off the shelves and ripple through Twitter. If you don’t you’ll be pushing it uphill and watching it roll back down. Which is discouraging.

Does truly great content need promotion? How can you tell whether you’re effectively promoting content, or flogging a dead horse?

All content needs to be promoted. Some then takes off and needs less help. Other pieces need diligent pimping. If a piece falls flat, I want to know if it simply didn’t get the views or if it got the views but didn’t earn shares and comments and engagement. If it’s the former, maybe it’s just a bad title or cover or it’s being promoted in the wrong places. If it’s the latter, the piece has probably missed its target. If the piece is getting no traction out there, it may be time to move on.  Maybe it’s too early of the market and it will come back as a hit piece.

It’s really important to try to figure out why. You’ll never know with 100% certainly but if you don’t try you won’t learn and improve. But as the Deluge hits, we’ll all spend more time, money and effort promoting our stuff.  Outbound is back!

How would you characterise a mature content marketing scene? Is content marketing soon to be disrupted by the next fad?

Content Marketing will probably dissolve into marketing in general so people will wonder what other kind of marketing there is. If the Deluge depresses ROI, marketers may move on to the next thing or back to traditional broadcast-style marketing. But the great content will continue to move markets.

And what will happen the day that content marketing doesn’t work anymore at all?

I just can’t see that happening. Up until now, even mediocre content could succeed. That won’t be true any more. But good stuff will always work because it serves prospects and gives them what they’re looking for. I guess my biggest fear is that people will start to ignore content because so much of it is crap. What will we all do then? I’m thinking interpretive dance.

You’re encouraging all B2B marketers out there to show a bit of attitude. But expressing a strong (sometimes polarising) opinion is a bold undertaking. What about the risks – what if it fails and damages our brand?

People think that injecting a bit of attitude and energy into a piece is risky. For me, being boring is far riskier.

Having said that, we’ve all seen content that’s trying to hard to be edgy or controversial or funny – and it falls flat. I guess the key is to find an authentic voice rather than putting on a mask. It’s hard to nail tone of voice if you’re reading your own writing.  Sometimes it helps to get a few other people and ask them to be really honest about finding anything that goes ‘clang’.  My own writing can stray into ‘cute’ and I’ll only see it a few weeks later. I loathe cute.

Against all odds, the crap presentation turned out to be a huge success. What’s the secret? Did you worry at all that it could turn into a huge disaster?

I didn’t worry it would be a disaster – the downside of a content flop isn’t horrific as long as it doesn’t alienate or disappoint terribly. It will just disappear. But I never thought Crap would do as well as it did.  It’s been a total surprise and a really fun ride.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why it went viral on us. Getting on to the Slideshare home page was obviously the main booster.  As for the piece itself, I think it turned out to be timely – it talks about something every marketer is worried about right now.  The design (thanks Hwasoo) is terrific and that’s a huge part of it.  And the word Crap in the title didn’t hurt.

And, of course, luck plays a big part in the success of any piece of content.  Never underestimate luck.

What was your favourite comment on the Crap deck?

I really loved how warmly people took to it and how generously they shared it. And it was WHO not just what they said – just getting on the radar of people like Rand Fishkin, Ann Handley, Ashley Friedlein, Jon Miller, Michael Brenner and the folks at Hubspot is exciting. I also liked the few who said “This is crap” – it’s refreshing to get an honest blast when everyone’s being so nice. Keeps your feet on the ground.

Velocity is about to run its first content strategy hangout. What can we expect?

I have no idea – it’s my first too. I can’t wait. I know the panel is excellent so expect a great conversation.


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