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Why “Content Marketing” is Actually Old News

It’s interesting how “Content Marketing” has come to infer some new-fangled strategy which owes its existence to web gurus and wouldn’t even have been possible before we all started communicating in cyberspace.

It’s talked up brilliantly – a bit like the old days when agencies would present flow charts, media lists and a monitoring analysis plan in support of a complex “Media Outreach Strategy”, desperately hoping that no-one in the conference room would put their hand up and say “do you mean you’re going to get something in the newspaper?”

Great “content” is presented as if it is something that is somehow turning the media model upside down. Yet it isn’t.

One well-followed digital media expert recently described content marketing as “the ability to produce useful and entertaining information that is worthwhile on its own, but that might also be useful towards a sale or subsequent action.” He was quoted, tweeted and cooed about as if he’d revealed some extraordinary secret. Yes, ok, we get it; it’s what used to be called an “angle”.

What’s new, of course, are the multiple channels available to distribute and leverage content. They’re a blessing and a curse because you need a great online strategy to ensure your message makes it through the maelstrom of competing content.

Not so long ago – when self-publishing meant little more than a corporate newsletter — the challenge was different but called for no less creativity and expertise. The earned option – and there was virtually only one — was to pitch an idea to journalists and hope they either wouldn’t notice the sneaky sales message hidden within or wouldn’t care because the story’s broader content offered an interesting perspective on an issue. With just a handful of print media out there – a vast contrast to today — the competition for space was intense and without a truly creative angle you couldn’t hope to get published.

The angle/content strategy then, as now, was the same: Presenting a client as a relevant “expert” within an issues-based story; a “delayed drop” where a client’s product or message can be relevantly introduced within the body of a broader article; a by-lined opinion piece which demonstrates a client’s knowledge and understanding of current affairs.

Without applying this litmus test of “journalistic integrity”, content becomes irrelevant and uninteresting. Effective non-paid marketing – whether in the past through “traditional media” or today via social media – is not achieved by annoying people or boring them or interrupting them as they search for interesting stuff to read.

The ability to create a compelling Message has always been at the disposal of creative marketers. The Medium of the digital environment means great content can have a swift and exponential impact (virally, word-of-mouth) and that in many cases real-time reaction can be measured – which together certainly beat sitting around with a sheaf of media clippings wondering what the sales figures or market research are going to tell you.

The opportunities created by harnessing the power of word-of-mouth are what is truly different and exciting; meaning that something that’s always been a marketing requirement – i.e. superbly-crafted and credible content – now can have significantly more influence and impact.

One of the challenges today is that, with the empowerment of self-publishing, can also come the temptation to be blatantly self-serving.

So, in an environment in which the decision to ignore and move on is taken in seconds, what matters more than ever is to establish compelling relevance to stakeholders — with content that resonates. Just as we once glossed over printed advertorials or a captioned photo in a newspaper’s “new products” column, we can now be even more instantly dismissive of marketing puff on the web In that respect, nothing has changed i.e. if the Message is worthless then so too is the Medium.

January 02, 2020

Bryan Matthews