Ten years ago, the following would not have/could not have happened:
- A credit card would become the go-to source for all things small business management-related
- A software vendor would publish more articles (and draw more audience) than many B2B publishers, every day
- A respected CMO would write in a blog post “I had become…a “press release CMO” – pedigreed, gray haired, and no longer relevant in a marketing world turned upside down.”
- Dozens of business titles would consider it a priority to help advertisers produce compelling stories for them to publish
- The definitive guide to just about anything business-related would 9 times out of 10 be written by a business itself
- A random marketer would wonder how to publish 170 of their business line employees simultaneously
- More and more B2B businesses would consider the success of the content they publish as synonymous with sales success.
Go ahead. Cycle yourself back ten years. Look at the world through those lenses. Would any of the above have been possible, outside of the realm of wild fantasy?
Marketing’s undergoing a remarkable period of creative destruction.
It would be hubris for marketers to take the credit, like a figurehead taking credit for driving a ship through the waves.
A larger force was at work. The Internet was subverting every relationship that depends on information (which is just about every relationship, and particularly business relationships).
The web’s connectivity and tools like open source CMSs, YouTube and Slideshare gave us the ability to publish and distribute a message to the world’s entire population at zero incremental cost.
Bloggers were the first to take advantage of this. They started the disruption of the pre-Internet hegemony of publishers in the information economy. Reveling in their license to transmit and build audience freely, these dogged explorers cut the first turf in what we now call content marketing. (In fact, companies looking to do content marketing in a hurry are still best advised to find someone who blogged with any degree of success. Their brains are rewired to the new rules of the information economy.)
For a shortcut to those new rules, the Cluetrain Manifesto is a great place to start. Those four guys (as justified and ancient as you get in blogging) read the direction this thing was headed back in 1999. Some of the most salient of the manifesto’s 95 theses:
- Markets are conversations
- Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors
- Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
- The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
- Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
- People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors.
- Companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.
Content marketing was live-birthed right out of those ideas about how the buyer-seller relationship had been disrupted. That is, content marketing was the most appropriate vehicle for navigating this new environment.
So, whether you’re new to content marketing or you’ve been doing it for years, you’ve inherited something – something fundamentally different from what came before it. You inherited the disruption.
But how many of us have embraced the principles of the disruption that’s at the heart of content marketing?
- How many people practicing content marketing commission work with a greater focus on demographic targets than speaking to real live human beings?
- How many businesses’ blog posts are devoid of relevant hyperlinks (aside from hyperlinks to other parts of their own site)?
- How many pieces of content are published that still sound like a pitch? A dog-and-pony show?
- How many people have adopted the tactics and best practices of content marketing, but neglect its very foundations?
Not surprisingly, the latter – those following all the tactics of content marketing independent of the forces driving it – aren’t seeing the results they want. Why isn’t it working? Is content marketing just overhyped?
I think that there are a lot of people who wish content marketing would go away. Some of them work in advertising. Others, in publishing. Still others are just marketers who don’t want to change their ways. These are delighted when they hear when content marketing seems to fail.
But, you see, content marketing’s not just some tactics. It’s a response to the fact that the whole goddamned world has changed.
Imagine you could travel 100 years into the future, and you found everyone to be wearing shorts and tank-tops. You might conclude that it’s a fashion. A moment later, you might notice that it’s really damn hot. In fact, people wear shorts and tank-tops not because it’s fashion, but because it’s the only response to global warming.
Content marketing’s like shorts and tank-tops. The forces that drive people to do it are like global warming. They’re natural and irreversible.
Content marketing’s not going away. It’ll win out, of that you can be as certain as you can be that the Internet will still be around tomorrow.
In the meantime, however, many people will just do it wrong, and fail. And maybe they’ll go back to the old way of doing things. And see some success, or failure. And comfort themselves in not needing to change. Until they lose their job, or retire (probably both at the same time).
To extend the global warming metaphor, these people are building houses on Kiribati.
Returning to the idea that headlines this post: We must in fact change the world. That is, we must not only change ourselves, and our ideas of what marketing is. We must change our stakeholders’ ideas of what marketing is.
And, further, (the third big way content marketing changes everything) we must produce content that changes the world.
What do I mean by that?
Take SEO, for example. That’s a practice that’s changing at breakneck pace. And it’s the army of SEOs who are changing it, collectively. They’re using content marketing (blogging, tweeting, whiteboarding, infographics, etc.) to change it. They’re sharing ideas, discoveries, experiments, data and case studies at the same pace that SEO’s changing – because they’re driving the change.
If you call yourself an SEO and you’re not taking part in that transformation, if you’re not participating in the discovery and sharing, if you’re not changing the world, you’re a bystander. And your work will show it. Irrelevance is nigh.
The same issue cuts across all industries. If you’re not contributing to the changing of the world, you’re becoming irrelevant.
Information discovery, peer review, knowledge sharing, critique, rebuttal – all are taking place at the speed of online transmission (almost instantaneous). That is where content marketing is taking us: the simultaneous reinvention of business, by the people doing it, collectively, persistently and constructively.
We must in fact change the world.
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