There is no doubt that content marketing-a branch of marketing aimed at giving current and future marketers entertaining, informative and instructional content instead in lieu of traditional advertising- is growing in prominance and importance. But is content marketing unsustainable?
First A Little Background
Google’s Panda Update in late–2012 was a bellweather indicator of the importance of high-quality, unique content for high-ranks in organic search results in Google searches. As social media has become more mainstream, marketers are quickly learning that the broadcast mentality of repeatedly blasting your audience with carefully crafted is a sure turnoff for customers wanting to engage with companies in a more open, spontaneous and conversational way.
This week an influencial Harvard Business Review blog post titled “Advertisers Should Act More Like Newsrooms” and additional commentary on the MediaPost blog extolled the virtues of content marketing as essential aspects of brand success in the years to come.
“For messages to be heard in 2020, brands will need to create an enormous amount of useful, appealing, and timely content.”
The second half of the phrase, an enormous amount of useful, appealing, and timely content, while true, cuts to the core of content marketing’s problem– creating the content. Generating any amount of useful, appealing and timely content is a challenge for all but the most well-funded marketing departments, yet generating an enormous amount of said content is virtually impossible unless companies rapidly cannibalize their traditional advertising budgets and place their bets solely on content marketing.
Why is this such a challenge?
Creating good content is part business strategy, part marketing acumen, part storytelling and part trendwatching. A company needs to have Web savvy storytellers at the ready to respond to news-worthy events with content tailored for an ever-expanding array of distribution platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Blog, Tumblr, Pinterest…). Writing for these platforms, by itself is challenging enough. But increasingly, words don’t cut through the clutter. Dan Zarella of HubSpot recently produced a compelling article demonstrating that photos on Facebook achieve more “likes”, shares and comments than text-only posts. Increasingly, companies are using video, motion graphics and infographics to help cut through the clutter. All these are valid strategies and are proven effective. The problem is, who’s going to create all this content?
Where are the visual storytellers? You mean Jeanine in accounting?
Here’s where the going gets rough. To create compelling content, you need expert storytellers; writers, photographers, designers, motion graphics gurus and videographers who understand the medium, the message and the metrics and can deliver on all fronts. Very few companies or agencies have the workload to retain these people full-time. Yet, as freelancers, hired for one-off projects, these professionals are prohibitively expensive. For many small-and-medium-sized businesses, the answer is to create their own content, with Web cams and smartphones, iPads and iMovie. The results vary significantly. This security tip video from MediaTemple’s support team works because it’s informative and humanizes the oft-unheralded staff members working behind the scenes. Other self-produced videos are, to put it politely, unwatchable.
What should we do?
The solution is two-fold. First, companies need to become more realistic about allocating budgets for content marketing, to ensure the dollars are there to produce high-quality content. I, and others also believe strongly that less content that is of better quality is more effective than a slew of poorly-produced crap slapped on social media sites.
Secondly, I think creative professionals need to become more creative in their business models and approaches to better suit the needs of content marketing campaigns. Can content be generated faster and less expensively than would be needed for print or a large-scale video project, without losing sight of the essential need to tell a great story? I believe so, and I think it is a large, untapped market for creatives. Harnessing inexpensive, yet powerful cameras, innovations in post-production workflows and a strategic approach to developing content to meet a client’s core business needs.
I hope that the rise of content marketing serves as a clarion call for companies to value the services of professional content creators and for content creators to find easier, more affordable models for selling their services. In the end, this will banish content marketing’s dirty little secret so we can focus on the core task at hand, connecting with our customers and building engaged, active audiences.