Tagged: Content Marketing

The content delusion: why almost all content marketing strategies are a waste of time and money

This excellent piece by Mark Higginson has galvanised me to write this post. I have done many posts previously on this, but they have tended to be too long, too short or just dealing with a specific aspect. So here it is – my shot at the definitive post that punctures the content delusion.

1. Consumers don’t want it

Find me the consumer who is saying “what I really want right now is another piece of content from my favourite brand”. That consumer does not exist. Ask consumers what they want from brands and they will certainly give you a list – but content will not be on that list. Don’t believe me here, believe the global PR agency, Edelman. They asked consumers what they wanted from brands and they came up with a list of 8 things. In essence what consumers were saying is “we want information (not content), we want responses, we want answers to questions, we want you to listen to us and give us an opportunity to be heard, we want you to demonstrate to us that you actually strand for something other than marketing b*** s**t.

2. The value creation model is fundamentally flawed

Let’s look the theory first. We have an industry that has been around in excess of 500 years that specialises in turning content into cash. This is the publishing and media industry. The model this industry has developed for doing this most efficiently involves creating revenue in two ways: subscription/purchase or advertising. Neither of these options are available to brand ‘publishers’ and in any case, this model is dying on its feet. So, as a toothpaste brand, if you think you can do a better job at creating value from content than the guys who have been doing it for 500 years, without recourse to the two most effective tools these guys have developed and in the face of an economic environment within which the ability to create value from content is collapsing – go ahead: make my day (and clean my teeth).

Now for the practice: it just doesn’t scale. The ability to create cash from content is dependent on the ability to build an audience for that content. But audiences are not native features of the social digital space, it is very hard to build an audience in social media. This means that you may be able to ‘reach’ people with your content, you may even be able to reach enough people to say you are achieving ‘cost effective reach’, but no matter how cost effective it might be, it will almost certainly struggle to move the needle against any sensible business metric, such as increasing sales or improving brand affinity metrics. This is for two reasons: first, you are probably reaching only a tiny fraction of your audience (even if you are reaching them cost effectively); second you are not reaching them with a piece of content specifically designed to build sales or brand affinity metrics. Instead you are reaching them with stuff that tells them how to make cups out of coloured pencils (sorry Coke, I always use this one, but cups from crayons? Why?)

3. It is yesterday’s response to today’s problem

The media environment within which marketing developed is a distribution environment. The medium itself is expensive, which is why we need to reach audiences, rather than individuals. The marketing challenge has therefore been all about channel and message (content), measured by reach and frequency. The social digital environment is different. It is a connection environment, not a distribution environment. If you care to take a look at how people (consumers) are using the social digital space, it is all about connections. It is not a world of the audience, it is a world of the individual. Facebook was not designed as a platform to distribute messages to a billion people, it was designed to help geeks get girlfriends.

In a connection environment, you create value through behaviour identification and response, not channel and message. You are never going to reach that many people at any one moment in time and even if you could, you are not going to be able to create relationships with them of any significant value. In a connection environment you create value by having a very small number of relationships (at any one moment in time), but by making those relationships hugely more valuable than anything you could create by pushing bits of content at people. No matter how ‘engaging’ a piece of content is, it is no-where nearly as engaging as an organisation that listens and responds to you when you decide you want to be listened and responded to (see earlier points re Edelman’s findings).

Channel and message, reach and frequency – those are the old challenges and content evolved as a way of meeting those challenges. The new challenge is behaviour identification and response – and content just can’t rise to this challenge.

4. It is not the right answer, but it is the answer we all want

If you are facing a new problem and you don’t know what to do about it, you will do one of three things: you will either do what everyone else is doing, what some expert tells you to do or whatever looks the easiest and cheapest thing to do. Usually these all work out to be the same thing. Content is that thing. Rather than face up to the difficult challenges inherent in being the sort of brand Edleman has shown us you need to be, it is much easier to sign a cheque for the agency and get them to produce a whole load of content, while chucking a load of money at Facebook or Twitter to then promote that content so that it stands a half decent chance of reaching enough people to be worthwhile. Your agency is happy, Facebook is happy, you are happy because you have solved the difficult ‘social media’ problem. Everyone is happy (except your consumers) who are either bored or totally indifferent.

You just don’t need a content strategy, you need an information management process that ensures your consumers are getting answers to questions in real-time (i.e. consumers time, not brand publication time). Marketing is fast becoming a real time management process. The new consumer touchpoint strategy is not about who people are and where they are (channels they are in), but what they are doing (right now). The consumers you need to ‘reach’ will identify themselves by their behaviour – hence why the challenge is behaviour identification and response. In this situation content is almost never going to be the right response. It is also why mobile is important – because a mobile is the device most closely aligned to real-time behaviour and, through things such as augmented reality and algorithmic insertion, can be made even more so. Mobile is not a channel, that is simply an old-fashioned media planner’s way of looking at it, a mobile is actually a behaviour detection device. Channels are dead along with the CONTent they once CONTained.

Organic social media is dead: but was it ever alive?

It appears to have become an article of faith that organic social media reach is dead. The reason for this, so the idea goes, is that the social space has become so cluttered that achieving cut-through is now too difficult. From this it proceeds that the way forward is to look at paid for solutions, or at least to ensure that any organic activity has paid for boosters attached.

My question though is this. Was organic social media reach ever alive? OK there may have been some examples where brands have managed to get themselves in front of a large number of people in the social digital space, but I would contend that these were, and will remain, the exception. I don’t think the social media space has ever delivered reach on a consistent basis and all that has changed is that we are waking up to that fact. For example engagement levels, on average, with brand Facebook pages have always been abysmally low. This is not a recent phenomenon, it is simply that we haven’t wished to believe this.

It has nothing to do with the fact that the space has now filled up, or, as has been suggested, we are arriving at an impending content shock. The trouble with this type of thinking is this leads to the conclusion that we simply have to make our content more engaging / competitive in order to achieve sufficient reach when, in fact, what we should be doing is abandoning the idea of reach altogether. Continue reading

What next after content marketing?

(Way) back in 2008 I wrote a rather lengthy paper on the theory of social media.  Interestingly, it has become the blogging equivalent of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in that it has hung around in my list of current popular posts ever since.  Within this I suggested that the key assets for operating in the social media space were content, conversation and community.  I also proposed that we were likely to move through these in sequence: content being the easiest thing to deal with, followed by conversation and ending up with community.

Well – we certainly have embraced the content thing.  So, if my theory holds – could the next big thing be conversation marketing?

Presentation1So I turned to Google Trends.  What this showed (see blue line in the diagram above) is the extent to which content marketing has exploded over the last two years (albeit four years after I proposed it in my paper).   Interestingly, this is plotted against Facebook marketing (green), which we can see peaked as a subject of interest in late 2011 and Facebook engagement (purple) which peaked a little later.  We now talk more about content marketing than we do about Facebook engagement (at last).

As an aside, the content marketing that brands are doing, doesn’t really correspond to the type of content marketing I envisaged.  I was proposing an approach to content that was about creating a network of information threads within a brand’s relevant digital space, not simply ramming the channels with stuff.  However, I think we will come around to my way of thinking in time – possibly as brands become more conversational, and thus more in tune with what content (information) consumers want, as distinct from the content brands want them to have.

However, Google Trends didn’t really turn up any evidence to suggest that conversation or community might be the next things.  In its (or my) defence, this is probably because we haven’t yet created ‘the word’ for what conversation or community based marketing might be.  Key to the birth of any new thing is christening it with a name.  So I guess we have to look elsewhere for evidence.  Here I would return to the post I wrote a few week ago about Edleman’s Brandshare Report.  Here we see very clear evidence that consumers want to have conversations with brands, albeit conversations that start with the issues consumers want a response to, rather than the issues brands might want to have conversations about.

Content marketing, even when you do it right, is actually very easy.  It doesn’t involve changing the model of marketing or actually involving the consumer too much.  That is why I suggested content would be the first big thing to arrive (once brands had got over their initial obsession with Facebook and Twitter).  Conversation marketing is harder because it involves seeding an element of control, if only in terms of letting the consumer decide what conversations they want to have.  It involves changing the configuration of marketing resources with a shift towards investment in people and processes, rather than agencies and media.  It also involves recognising that you can’t have a conversation with everyone all at once – and thus you only create positive ROI by extracting much higher value from a much more limited ‘reach’ (subject of the e-book I wrote last year).  In fact it involves abandoning the idea of reach as a sensible metric altogether. It also corresponds to what I am calling the concept of ‘Hot Marketing’ – the creation of genuinely valuable (hot) relationships, albeit much fewer of them at any one moment in time than when were creating (cold) relationships with entire audiences.

This additional level of difficulty is the reason I think it is going to be a couple of years before brands really get to the place where they understand how to create value from conversation.  I also think brands will need to get over the current obsession with ‘brandfill’ content strategies before they will have the operational space to move onwards.  I guess this puts the concept of community marketing back to at least five years’ out.  This is a shame, especially since I have spent most of this year banging on about forms of community!  However, effective communities involve creating a much greater level of shared interest and collaboration between brands and consumers than most marketing folk are prepared to countenance.  In fact, we will probably only get to the community phase by reinventing the concept of marketing as we know it.

Looking back at my 2008 piece, I am still pretty happy with its core conclusions.  I would stand by everything I said within it and I think what I predicted is basically panning out – although perhaps not as quickly as I thought it might.  But there again, I am aware that one of the features of any revolution is that one tends to overestimate its impact in the short term, but underestimate its impact in the long term.

 

 

Content marketing: reaching for the stars (but reach is yesterday’s game)

16245948997364302024I am content marketing’s biggest fan.  I am content marketing’s biggest sceptic.

As a fan …

In May 2011 I gave a presentation to finance directors from major communications agency groups for the EACA.  It was about how agencies could survive in the world of social media.  I concluded the presentation with six (slightly tongue in cheek) recommendations, one of which was “hire a bunch of journalists and get them to do outsourced content creation and editorial management”.*

Before that, my mantra was (and remains) that conversation, content and community are the three platforms of any social media strategy.

Looking back at my presentations from seven years ago I see I was encouraging brands to drive a network of content threads into their relevant digital space with the exhortation to “get it a link, get it out there, get it working for you”.

One would therefore have thought that on reading this cover story about the rise of content marketing from the Columbia Journalism Review, I would therefore feel vindicated.  (Incidentally, I was sent this piece by Stan Magniant, fellow social media traveller from way back, who now heads up Coca Cola’s digital and content operation for Northern Europe).  But I don’t feel vindicated, I feel disappointed. This isn’t the sort of content I was talking about.

But as a sceptic…

First there is the whole issue of ‘independent’ journalism being replaced by ‘sponsored’ journalism.  But I am not too worried about this because journalism was always sponsored and all that is happening is that the sponsor is becoming more apparent.

My main issue is with the concept (and value) of reaching consumers in comparison with the value of being reached by consumers.

The justification, and measurement, for most of these mega brand content operations is primarily reach.  As the CJR article highlights, some of the content that brands are producing is matching (sometimes exceeding) the reach achieved by traditional media channels.  But there are two issues here.  One is consistency.  A traditional media channel, generally speaking, guaranties a particular level of reach, whereas brand content is much more hit and miss.  But the bigger issue is that reaching someone is the lesser part of the game.  What really matters is what happens when you reach someone (or what happens when they reach you).

In ‘the old days’ we tended not to think about this too much because we knew we were putting messages in the channel that had been specifically designed to trigger a valuable response (i.e. advertising).  If we were reaching people, we were therefore creating value: reach was therefore a proxy for value creation.  Or alternatively, our PR messages had the benefit of carrying with them third-party endorsement conferred on them by the channels which adopted them.  But brand channels don’t carry this endorsement and their availability means brands can easily fill them up with huge amounts of stuff, in the quest to ratchet-up the reach score.  When it is easy and cheap to pour vast amounts of content into a space, it is not difficult to accumulate high aggregated levels of reach.  But should that not indicate to us that reach is becoming a devalued currency?  Reach is a function of distribution, and the social media revolution is all about the separation of information (content) from distribution.  Being a channel, being the distributor, creating reach, carries less and less value (as the traditional media is discovering).   Reach, in and of itself, is yesterday’s game.

Chasing reach is simply a new variant of the (now belatedly discredited) exercise of manufacturing Facebook likes and Twitter followers.  You may have reached a whole lot of people, but so what?  What does this actually mean for what these people think about your brand and how does this translate into improved sales or reputation scores?  How much credit is the brand actually getting for being seen as the supplier of this content?  Is supplying this sort of content what your consumers are saying they want you to do?

I keep coming back to the recent Edelman Brandshare report, which is a crystal clear manifesto for brands, presented to them by consumers.  There is no ambiguity here about what it is consumers want from brands.  In terms of content, they want answers to their questions.  And they also want brands to demonstrate that they stand for something in addition to the generation of profit.

It seems to me that brands are at a crossroads.  They can decide to jump on the content bandwagon and pour huge amounts of stuff into the ever-expanding content universe, collecting their ‘reach points’ as they go in the belief that they can redeem these for something worth having.  Or they can decide to give consumers what consumers are telling them they want – which is a content strategy which matches brand answers to consumers’ questions in real-time.  And a marketing strategy that is designed to convince consumers that they are a brand worth reaching.

 

* The other five were: fire all creatives over 30 and put a £45k salary cap on the creative department, fire all your planners and hire social data analysts (and sell social data analysis as a product), sell your independently branded digital and media businesses (while you can still get a premium price) but pull the function in-house so it becomes a facilitation function not a client facing specialism, buy a change management / innovation agency and get it to develop a brand socialisation product, recruit some “Baby Bells” (i.e. people like Tim (Lord) Bell who can act as CEO counsellors).  So, a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I would still stand by them.

 

Convening an audience: the new challenge for marketing

sermon_mount2I believe there are now two consumer worlds: the world of the audience (the world of ‘traditional’ media and marketing) and the world of the individual (the world of social media). These worlds are very different, not least because in the world of social media consumers will expect to be treated as an individual and will tend to resent or ignore attempts to treat them as just another member of an audience. This doesn’t mean that consumers don’t ever want to be treated as a member of an audience, just not when they are in the social digital space.

This presents two problems for brands. First, almost everything we know about marketing (including digital marketing / media) comes out of the world of the audience. Marketing, to date, has essentially been audience-based marketing. But putting audience-based approaches into the social space just doesn’t work, because it can’t support the potential for creating high-value relationships with individuals. Traditional marketing is a high reach but low engagement business and there is no point in putting the low engagement techniques of traditional marketing into the low reach environment of social media.

Audiences are very hard to find or create in the world of social media. This is because when people are in this space they are looking to create connections and you can’t create connections with an audience, only with individuals or within groups. The social media space is a medium of connection, not a medium of distribution. When a brand operates within the social space it has to accept that it can realistically only talk to very few people at any one time so it therefore has to (and can) create relationships of far higher value than anything that is associated with traditional marketing. But you only do this by recognising what it is that people want from you in this space, which is real-time individualised response and recognition, answers to questions and information.

However, this fact is not stopping many brands from trying dump audience-based, low engagement approaches in the social digital space. Content marketing is the latest iteration of such an attempt. Continue reading

How do we measure the value of content? A look at Coca-Cola.

How do we measure the value of content?  Given the amount of money many brands are currently sinking into content, this would seem to be a pretty important question to answer – especially since the conventional ways for measuring the value of content are not really designed to work in this new world where the brand positions itself as a publisher or media organisation – producing forms of online magazine.

To date we have generally measured brand content in two ways: either its effectiveness as a piece of advertising (usually via a direct link through to increases in sales) or we have measured it in the context of how it sits within a website (often through its place in a journey designed to lead through to online action or transaction).  In both of these instances the amount of content we produced was relatively restricted – either because it was expensive to produce or because producing too much of it lead to confusion.  However, the new approach dictates that brands produce a continuous, high volume stream of output – much like a conventional publisher.  No doubt this is why the publisher model is one that many brands like to reference.

Coca-Cola: leading the pack, but in the right direction?

Coca-Cola is one of the most high profile examples of a brand that has embraced the content and publication model.  In its, now famous Content 2020 video, chief creative type, Jonathan Mildenhall outlines how Coca-Cola is shifting from “creative excellence to content excellence”.  The corporate website has been declared dead and instead been transformed into a digital magazine and its stated ambition is to “make a Coke story part of your daily habit – whether it’s on Google+, Facebook, or Flipboard.”  Now that is some form of ambition.  I can’t even identify a traditional publisher whose content (at least in the online space) I consume as part of a daily habit.  The closest for me is the BBC – but even then I tend to come across their stories rather than making any conscious effort to visit their site (or use their app).

Set against this background, there has been a fascinating blogversation taking place between Ashley Brown – the prime mover at Coca-Cola behind the brand as publisher push, and Mark Higginson – from the University of Brighton.  Back in February Continue reading

Gagging for it: why content marketing is a fantasy

I have been a little off-the-pace in January, which is why I missed a couple of pieces on content marketing which gained a lot of attention.  Fortunately, I was having a coffee last week with Stan Magniant, the Head of Digital and Social, EMEA for the MSL Group and he brought me up-to-date.  The first is Content Shock produced by @markwschaefer and the second is the Slideshare presentation Crap. The Content Deluge by Doug Kessler at Velocity Partners.  Both are sceptical of content marketing and both are totally wrong in my opinion.

In brief Content Shock is wrong because it is applying an old-fashioned channel, content, consumption thinking in a space where such thinking is redundant and The Content Deluge proposes that the answer is simply to make better content, without recognising that the game is no longer about content, it is about real-time information.

But I thought, rather than just do another blog post, why not build on the spirit of The Content Deluge and ‘Do a Slideshare Number’ – so here it is.  Warning: the start of the presentation is deliberately designed to be uncomfortable, but hopefully not inappropriate.  Feel free to comment if you feel that it is.

 

We need to talk about content marketing

talkaboutkevinFINALContent marketing.  Now here is a trending thing.  Of course, from the earliest of days, content has been one of the primary areas of focus within the social media space, but it feels as though this thing ‘content marketing’ is now reaching some sort of critical attention mass.

A few years back everyone needed something which could be called a social media strategy – mostly just so they could say they had one.  You didn’t really need to understand it, you didn’t really even need to implement it, far less measure the value it created – still don’t one might say – you just needed to have one (preferably with a Twitter account and Facebook page tacked onto it) for when you got asked the question.  So it is now with a content marketing strategy.  I suspect that few marketing folk will be able to make it through 2014 with their credibility intact, if they are unable to hold aloft a content marketing strategy.

But here is the thing.  What exactly is content marketing and what is a content marketing strategy?  Also – how does it map against this thing called native advertising (or is native advertising just an ad person’s attempt to try and appropriate a trend which is currently playing more to the strengths of PR and journalistic, rather than advertising, types?)  Actually, I think we can answer that last question easily.  Native advertising is just an ad person’s attempt to appropriate a trend which naturally plays more to the strengths of PR and journalism, rather than advertising. End of story (and hopefully end of talk of native advertising).

Content: what content?

Of late, I have become a skeptic of the term content, especially this thing called ‘engaging content’.  It wasn’t always so.  In some of the first presentations I gave on social media some six or seven years ago I can remember my mantra was “get it a link, get it out there and get it working for you” – albeit the intent here was to try and get organisations to understand that content shouldn’t be highly produced and live on websites – it should be very low cost, produced in volume, launched from content hubs and live ‘out there’ in social (Google) space.  Conversation, Content and Community were what I preached as being the Holy Trinity of social media.  Continue reading