Did it happen?The central prediction in Crap was pretty simple (and not especially clever or brave): that when content marketing went mainstream it wouldn’t work so well anymore. We weren’t the first to worry about this and we sure as hell won’t be the last. (In 2014, Mark Schaeffer hit a major home run on a similar theme with his Content Shock post. In it, he said we’d just passed a critical point beyond which the amount of content in the world exceeds our ability to read it all. I disagreed with the science but could hardly argue with the sentiment.) So let’s look at the main ‘sky is falling’ statements made in Crap, one neurotic whinge at a time: The days of easy wins from content marketing would soon come to an end.
The content bell curveLooking at the content created in the last five years, how much of it is total crap? Not a lot, actually. Like almost all other human endeavor, content quality falls into a bell curve. My AI-enabled fake-statometer has determined that about 4% is amazing. About 6% is utter shite. And about 90% falls somewhere in-between. Credible but nothing to make you jump up on your desk and belt out La Marseillaise. (Spontaneous French National Anthem Renditions—SFNARs—are a critical KPI for members of the Content Marketing Surrealist group on LinkedIn). Marketing is full of smart, professional people who learn fast. When content marketing arrived, we all jumped on to the learning curve and started to figure this thing out. (That’s still happening and it’s still one of the most rewarding parts of this work). To learn about it, marketers looked around and imitated what they saw. They didn’t necessarily imitate the best content marketing, they just imitated things that were content marketing. “See that hamburger-centric infographic? Let’s do an omelette-based one.” The result wasn’t total crap. In some ways, it was worse: it was mediocre. (If we’re going to steal—and I, for one, am— let’s steal from the very best.) Five years on and we’re looking at a LOT of mediocre content. Because—and this is the part that hurts—the teams that created it weren’t even aiming for great. They were aiming for the mean. For credible. For something that would survive the slings and sabres of all those internal ‘stakeholders’. And they hit the target. (SFX: pfffffft…)
The bar keeps rising.The problem with aiming for the mean is this: the mean keeps moving. Rising. As a discipline, content marketing has matured incredibly quickly. Last year’s Content Marketing World was as different from the 2013 event as a primary school art fair is from the Venice Biennale. The list of conference tracks from CM World 2017 (not sessions, tracks) tells the story: Content Creation • Demand Generation • Social Media • Content Strategy • Tools & Technology • Sales • Advanced Measurement • Email • Intelligent Content • Native/Interactive • Process & Workflow • Content Distribution • Performance/ROI • Findabiity • Multi-channel • Visual Storytelling • B2B • Conversion • Global Strategy… This a discipline that’s inventing and iterating and advancing on twenty different fronts, all at the same time. Last Wednesday’s average is next Tuesday’s piss-poor. One more prediction from Crap: Most marketers would see diminishing returns from their content marketing efforts.
What about the Crap advice?If the central predictions in Crap came true, the central piece of advice still holds, too. To defy the diminishing returns from content marketing going mainstream we all have to do one thing: build a great content brand. A great content brand is a killer advantage in any market. It tells its audiences that if this piece comes from that company, it will be worth their time. It will be smart, informative, entertaining, fun, helpful or all of the above. Weirdly, every marketer knows how valuable that would be. But great content brands are still incredibly rare (far less common, even, than great product brands). I’m sitting here struggling to think of any in B2B (a fragrant blend of modesty and look-in-the-mirror honesty forbids citing our clients here). Maybe GE? Definitely a16z.
- Every piece of content, even the lowliest BOFU data sheet, shouts brand messages. And every experience with our customers and prospects is an important opportunity.
- When we honour their experience and value their time, they are more likely to come back, welcome us into their Inbox or click on our bait.
- When we don’t, we deserve what we get: the disappointing metrics of the ‘me-too’ merchant.
Building a great content brand: the Crap adviceCrap suggested Six Tips for building great content brands. Do they hold up? Mixed bag:
- Be the buyer – Not really debatable: empathy is the foundation of everything great in marketing (and probably in life).
- Be authoritative. Stay in your sweet spot. – Never bad advice but not exactly a silver bullet. (Still, lots of brands stray from theirs).
- Be strategic – True but too obvious to call out any more.
- Be prolific – Well, prolific enough. But not so prolific you’re churning out mush.
- Be passionate – Duh. (Actually caring about the content’s topic is still rare, though).
- Be tough on yourself. – More true than ever: laziness in content marketing is so ubiquitous you’d think someone out there is actually teaching it.