Not Everything Is “Content”

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As the concept of “content marketing” has gained attention as the buzzword du jour, we’re seeing the emergence of a disturbing trend: the tendency for marketers to call anything communicated digitally “content.” That includes tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn status updates, blogs, YouTube videos and other communications disseminated via social media, as well as more traditional material housed on a company’s website. In fact, at one conference we attended, we heard numerous variations on this theme that “Anything is content,” with some speakers encouraging attendees to “put as much content out as possible” (without regard, we presume, for quality and usefulness to target buyers).

This sentiment often is the result of objectives set by traditional ad agencies and PR firms: generate as much reach and frequency of mention as possible to maximize visibility and number of followers. However, this advice does a disservice to marketers by blurring—or in some cases, completely eliminating—the distinction between true content and what is often the electronic equivalent of someone standing on the street corner with a megaphone. Eventually, recipients of these communications will discover that “there’s no there there” and wind up ignoring them altogether.
In our view, tweets, status updates, blogs and their ilk, on their own, have little power to influence current and potential buyers. In many cases, they are simply additional non-value-adding noise clogging the channels. It’s only when they are tied explicitly to more substantive content—for instance, compelling stories that educate, inform, or otherwise enlighten current and prospective customers—do they gain heft and weight, and the ability to generate interest in a company’s offerings.

Consider the recent experience of a large global consulting firm. The firm spent considerable time and effort to conduct a comprehensive research study of industry trends and develop a meaty report that told a powerful story about where the industry was headed. This report served as the foundation of a marketing and media relations campaign done in conjunction with the industry’s flagship annual trade show. The results were impressive. For instance, one of the leading US business magazines published a byline article, written by one of the firm’s lead consultants, on the results of the survey, as well as two other articles referencing the firm and its insights. Those three articles alone generated in one week nearly 15,000 online views and 750 mentions on Twitter. A popular online media outlet covering technology trends published an article on the research that generated nearly 500 tweets in the first week. Other articles on the research study were published in major technology and business publications and a major news agency, leading to hundreds of additional tweets and recommendations on Facebook and pickups in dozens of other media outlets.

What would the firm’s experience been if it had simply tweeted its opinions on where consumer electronics are headed? We would argue the firm would have gotten only a sliver of the attention had it not used the research study as the basis for its social media outreach and conversations with the media.

In short, the lesson from this example is clear: Not everything is content, nor is all content good content. The most effective marketing campaigns are still those built on substantive, informative content—typically, powerful narratives—that educates and enlightens target buyers and effectively differentiates a company from its competitors.