Being a 'publisher' ≠ 'content marketing'

As a follow-up to Wednesday's link post, I present to you a great piece by Mark Higginson (via @braintraffic) titled Closing your eyes and wanting it to be true won't make it work.

...content marketing on the web does not work and will not work for 'brands'. No business can make the expenditure on the quality and quantity of content required to win significant attention pay a decent return on their investment...

Mark's point is well taken and I think he's right to a degree but he misses an important distinction between 'content marketing' and using content to attract, educate and convert customers. The type of content marketing and 'storytelling' that brands like Coca-Cola and Nike are doing is very different from what happens to smaller companies and organizations when they start thinking like publishers. 

Most big brands who have the money to invest in large-scale 'content marketing' hire a bunch of writers and bloggers to produce large volumes of mostly meaningless content so that their brand gets exposure through social media and search. The content they produce has little educational or persuasive value, it exists simply to keep the brand in front of consumers. This is a new version of traditional media advertising, not very different from TV or billboard ads. 

The kind of 'content marketing' that Mark is (rightly) criticizing is all about creating demand for commodity products that no one really needs. Cola, shoes, credit cards and more. Putting it differently, this type of content is trying to create demand for something in a consumer who isn't actively seeking to solve some kind of problem.

I believe, as do others, that there is a form of content marketing that can have tremendous ROI. It takes advantage of the incredible levels of interconnectedness that the Internet has created and also tries to solve the discoverability problem created by all of us broadcasting at once. Brands or companies who create products or provide services that solve problems are using content marketing to successfully:

  • Be found in the sea of the web by potential customers who are actively seeking a solution to a problem in their life or their business.
  • Provide value to that early audience through education, entertainment or both.
  • Build credibility with their audience to convert a small number of them into customers. That probably doesn't happen right away, and that's ok.

Mark's view of content marketing as monkeys banging on typewriters is depressing, but not necessarily the only way to think about it.

Keep on publishing people.