Daniel Hochuli, Content Strategist

Daniel Hochuli, Content Strategist

“Content marketing is dead!”

Alas! This is an unfortunately all too common slogan we content marketers hear chanted by disillusioned commentators in our industry.

Surprisingly, those who tend to chant the loudest are often senior digital ‘experts’. These are the same digital ‘experts’, might I say, who for the last 15 years have spammed consumers with lazy Pay-Per-Click (PPC) marketing methods such as Display and AdWords.

To dispel with tact, such marketers are completely ignorant of the current disruption in the marketing industry and fail to acknowledge that the way they have been marketing to consumers for the last decade has led to the rise of content marketing as an alternative to their unruly tactics. The consumers are fighting back – a case in point is the rise of AdBlock, designed to block PPC spam.

I call such marketers who chant that content marketing is dead ‘Ostriches’ due to their head being buried in the sand about the current state of play.

These ostriches come from a world where lazy marketing gets all the credit. Lazy because they evangelise spammy last-click attribution marketing channels even though such channels, don’t actually convince consumers to buy.

Cracking the Return-On-Investment (ROI) egg

No doubt PPC marketing is a safe strategy, which is why the ostriches are hanging on to it. The big bad world of content scares them. After all, it’s easy to report the ROI on PPC channels and, if you focus on last-click attribution, it’s also easy to prove PPC value in terms of revenue to the business. It’s easy, sure, but nowhere in this conversation is the consumer experience addressed.

On the flipside, content marketing is hard work. It takes investment and imagination to be successful. Content success is also ambiguous. It’s almost impossible to report an accurate ROI and it’s hard to prove its value on last-click compared to other channels. All that work! I’d rather say it’s dead and bury my head in the sand!

But, just because success in content marketing is hard create and hard to prove, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work. It just means that the ostriches are either too lazy to do the work or are using the wrong success metrics.

One of these wrong metrics is ‘ROI’. It’s a horrible metric that social media guru, Gary Vaynerchuck, argues doesn’t work for life, let alone for any marketing channel.

It’s no secret that content marketing is a slow burn at generating sales. We at King Content do our best to inform our clients not to expect a quick turn-around of leads in the first 90 days (though it can happen). There is a reason why the sales don’t come quickly with content; simply content marketing is designed to be a hard-core sales driver.

To quote content marketing doyen, Robert Rose, in his book Experiences: “[Restricting] our efforts to what drives immediate sales leads limits what we can do… Forget about ROI for a moment; [content marketing] isn’t about generating tons of traffic – it’s about using compelling content to create conversations.”

Forget ROI! Are you out of your mind?

Many ostriches have a tough time getting their heads around this (which should be easy for birds with such long necks). They feel that the end game for content marketing is the same as for PPC marketing – namely, leads and sales. They therefore create content that reads like a glorified AdWords snippet. The content becomes all about themselves and their products and again, not about the audience.

Such content experiences are terrible and when the consumer doesn’t buy, they ruffle their feathers in frustration and say, “Content marketing doesn’t work! It’s dead!”

But content marketing does work. In fact it works better than PPC over time. All the ostriches have to do is change their approach to the strategy. Content marketing is a tool for audience research, not as a lead generator.

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Don’t follow the (Ostrich) pride

Somewhere along the way, the ostriches got lost on the Serengeti and became obsessed with using digital marketing to drive sales and ROI. They became focused on ‘making money’ when that is not what marketing in general is supposed to do.

Ex-Googler-turned-content-marketer Jay Acunzo put it best when he asked brands to look internally at why their company exists? Most marketers would say “to make money”. Jay says the answer is not to make money, but rather, your company exists to solve a problem for a customer. The result of “making money” is just an indicator that you’re doing a great job at solving a customer’s problem.

So, if your company exists to solve a problem, and your product is a solution, then your marketing team efforts should be centred on building empathy with the customer’s problem and allowing the customer to use content to discover the solution.

Indeed, how a customer interacts with the content can tell us a lot about their problems and the suitability of your brand as the solution. This is how content marketing should be used. Rather than spamming customers with obstructive calls-to-action, content marketing lets the customer tell the brand what is important to them. With that knowledge, the brand can then make intelligent business decisions on how to market its product or how to improve its product to better solve its customer’s problem.

You just have to look at your own user behaviour to understand how this works. When was the last time you bought a product based on a piece of content? For example: Would you buy a Ford after reading their “8 Winter Driving Safety Tips” blog post? Or perhaps open a bank account with Commbank after reading their “Six tips for smarter business banking in FY16” post?

I’m willing to bet the answer is ‘no’. Why? Because you’re not consuming this content with the intention to buy. You want to be entertained or informed. You are not in ‘buyer mode’ and therefore not acting like a buyer. Content that only pushes product is usually ineffective because it fails to understand that the audience are not there to buy.

More feathers in your cap

Again, the issue with the ostrich lies in aligning this content to a ‘sales’ goal or ROI. If content is to solve the customer’s problem and the consumer of this content is not in ‘buyer mode’ then it seems obvious that a focus of a sales ROI is the wrong goal for content marketing. Content that informs or entertains naturally needs to sit higher up in the sales conversion funnel, where it can have the greatest impact in convincing a potential customer.

For this reason, content marketing should be measured on how it builds an audience around your brand and the value this creates for the brand in terms of audience insight, not just ROI.

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If your content marketing strategy focuses on the audience and their problems, a potential customer may be convinced by your content that your product is the right solution. Enter the ostriches’ beloved PPC channels. The reason why PPC channels such as AdWords are often touted as healthy drivers of conversions is that they are clicked on by consumers who have already been convinced that your product is the right solution for your problem. Don’t inflate their effectiveness. PPC marketing merely presents avenues to capture already convinced customers, they do not answer the more important question for your business: What actually convinced that customer to buy?

Content marketing is the audience research method that answers this question. It also allows brands to innovate beyond their product and use the research data to potentially build new revenue streams they had not previously considered.

So the next time you hear the words “content marketing is dead”, tell that lazy ostrich to pull his head out of the sand and to look at what happens before the customer clicked on Ad-Words.