For a handful of years, content marketing was by far the most exciting thing in B2B.
We were assaulting the barricades of old-school marketing and replacing it with a whole new approach.
And we were all in it together.
But somewhere along the way, as content marketing dissolved into just… marketing, something happened.
Content got put in a box.
And the box got stored in a silo.
And the silo was given to a department.
And the department started codifying “best practice”.
And the best practice locked processes down.
And the processes specified roles.
And each role created its own workflows.
And, before anyone knew what was happening…
We turned something exciting…
…into something dreary.
Something easy to approve.
We turned a sandbox in a playground…
…into a machine inside another machine.
And we called that machine “Lead Generation”.
(Most B2B content is used for this. All too little is for proper demand gen much less (god forbid) building a brand.)
Yes, we all made some important wins when we industrialized content marketing.
We got predictable programs.
And budget-able plans.
And standardized processes.
But we lost some important things too.
We lost the energy of experimentation.
The vulnerability of discovery.
The fun of fucking about.
And the sheer joy of finding new ways to tell stories, serve audiences and express ideas.
Because overly predictable processes lead to inevitably predictable content.
(And no prospect will ever give a damn that you delivered a given turd on time and under budget).
So, sure, let’s celebrate the professionalization of our discipline.
Let’s learn from past mistakes and document ways to avoid them.
Let’s embrace growing up.
… let’s also try to remember something.
Let’s remember that sandbox in that playground.
Let’s remember how we felt on the steep, scary, exhilarating part of the learning curve.
And let’s add some of that mojo back into our message maps and matrices.
What you do is still important.
Learning to operationalize content marketing doesn’t have to mean sucking the soul out of it.
There’s still enormous scope for experimentation, play, discovery and, occasionally, just plain winging it.
Fresh, smart, crisp, compelling, confident content is as powerful a force as it’s ever been.
But to make it, we need get back to why we all went into this work in the first place.
It wasn’t to tick all the boxes on the persona/buying stage matrix.
Or to count form fills and call them “MQLs”.
It was to move markets by moving people.
To deliver something relevant, useful and, with any luck, delightful to the people whose trust we’re trying to earn.
To make sparkly, crackly, beautifully crafted, intelligent content with integrity and maybe the odd wink or two.
Let’s use our new, operational super-power to do that.
Because, as content marketing dissolves into just… marketing.
That’s what works.
Five tricks for getting that revolutionary mojo back into your content marketing
Reserve 10% of your budget for experiments.
Ring fence it (or it’ll be plundered). Insist that it’s spent every quarter.
Establish completely different rules, metrics and workflows for your experiments than for your normal work (or simply remove all three).
Put stupid constraints on a project.
Like our “Done-in-a-Day” projects, where we brief a piece at 9am and publish it by 6pm. Or like Georges Perec who wrote a 300-page novel without using the letter E. (A Void). (That’s the name of the novel not a review of it).
Send a small team to a weird place. With Sharpies.
Like riding the entire length of the Bakerloo tube line (Elephant & Castle to Harrow & Wealdstone). Or a grassy island in the middle of a shopping mall parking lot.
Take the budget for your next five or even ten pieces and use it to make one great thing.
Remove all time/budget excuses and aim insanely high.
Steal from geniuses.
Collect the best work in the world in any discipline or medium. Tear it down to figure out what you love about it. Now apply those things to the story you want to tell. (We practice this particular preach in our “Let’s Steal From…” series).
Go forth and rattle some cages.
And do report back.