Let’s Forget about Content Marketing

When asked what I do for a living, I usually say I work at an ad agency. I don’t doubt that laymen understand what content marketing means. I doubt my own ability to explain it in an interesting way – or at least briefly.

The fact that ghost writing a corporate blog is thought to be less sexy than Whisky-soaked planning sessions and trips to exotic shooting locations may also play a part in this.

In any case, I am a co-founder of a content agency, not an advertising agency. Why is that?

1) Content is the most essential thing

Very broadly speaking, you can say that the most successful products and services are designed to solve people’s problems. Why is it, then, that marketing communications is designed to solve the advertiser’s – not the customer’s – problems?

In the world of the customer the issue of bad indoor air can also be solved by opening a door or a window, not necessarily by buying an air humidifier. Since the paths to purchase are increasingly complicated, better customer knowledge is required of marketing communications as well. Content and services (although content is naturally also a service) that stem from the dreams, troubles, anxieties, and hopes of the customer hit the mark and thus bridge the gap between awareness and buying, and also effectively promote the sales of the humidifier.

2) The chance to focus on what’s essential

Advertising agencies thrive on contradictions. Problems are solved creatively when differing views and opinions are brought together. The client manager, the strategist, the art director, the copywriter, etc., spar each other in order to come up with the cleverest way to talk about a product or service insightfully. Unfortunately, when they fall in love with one idea, they are prone to forget the complexity of the real world. They don’t carry the customer from the insight to the purchase, but rely on the brilliance of their magnificent idea. This is when the service and the content are reduced to a footnote, to replaceable lorem ipsums. I’m sure the situation is slowly changing and fortunately you can find some good examples, too.

3) You can build anything around the essential

During the past year this agency, too, has done e.g. TV commercials, magazine advertising and direct marketing. When the path of purchase, the needs and channels of the customers are mapped out comprehensively, you will notice that functional solutions can be found in surprising places. Content that builds on strategy is essential, content marketing may not be.

In addition, offering your customers only your core services doesn’t befit modern marketing consulting, either. No matter how much we would like them to, real customers don’t necessarily act like the lines and arrows on a PowerPoint slide. So, why should we draw those lines and arrows?

The mission of content strategy

The mission of content strategy is to create the right conditions for content creation and content grouping. The strategy’s job is to clearly present how the content meets the needs of the customers and how they promote the business or other goals of the company or organization in question. This insight, also known as the core strategy, makes up the basis for content creation, or defines what we actually create videos, pictures and text about.

When creating a strategy, you should keep the context in mind, which can be, for example, changes in consumer behavior or actions taken by the competition. Figuring out the context usually gives companies the courage to talk about other things, too, besides the features of their product or service.

The functions of content

Roughly speaking there are two things you can do with content: teach or entertain. Teach a future or current customer something important about the product or the context, so that they subconsciously feel obligated to buy it, or commit them long-term by turning sporadic users into gurus. Entertain the customer, so that they have a nice mental image of the brand that hopefully will stick until the moment of sale.

Even though these functions aren’t mutually exclusive, the chosen context usually functions as a guideline in choosing the right function. It is often thought that entertaining is the job of consumer brands and teaching is for B2B companies. Even if this is most often the case, the most refreshing examples knock down these walls. See the classic examples REI and General Electric.

The role of content marketing

For me, content marketing is an in-betweener. It’s simply a general term for furthering sales with content. Without a strategy or concrete content, content marketing is only an empty term.

At its worst content marketing is reduced to soulless native advertising.

Content marketing can be a useful hype term for sales people. The rest of us could focus on creating content strategies and educational and entertaining content that is based on it.