It’s been a year since I wrote my original content marketing lies post. There was no shortage of dubious ‘expert’ advice available then, and the flood has continued unabated over the past year.
That said, there have been many great blog posts, articles, e-books, and presentations. There has also been an enormous volume of hype, exaggeration and outright B.S. thrown around. I love the enthusiasm, but sometimes the flood gets frothy, and even well intentioned advice can spawn inaccuracies, half-truths or worse.
I think that part of this relates to confusion about its definition, and the fact that some conflate the importance and use of content with content marketing, and content marketing with just about everything else. Also, people can be eager to jump on a hot trend, and, let’s face it; the ease of publishing these days opens the floodgates to both the good and bad.
So, I thought I would take another look at oft-repeated inaccurate statements I have run across since my last article and examine each one. (Caveat – like many myths, there are grains of truths to each of the following. I list them here not to embarrass anyone who has stated the views, or believes in them – but simply to look at other sides and open people up to new possibilities and ways of thinking).
Lie #1: Content Marketing is the Shiny New Marketing Toy
There is no question that its star has risen in recent years, and new generations of marketers are jumping on board in growing numbers. The growing importance of content is no doubt one of the reasons for its spurt of growth, and might help build the perception that content marketing is new.
Seasoned marketing veterans understand that content marketing has actually been around for many years. When was the practice first used? Wikipedia mentions Furrows, a custom publication that tractor maker John Deere first produced in 1985 (and still runs), and the famous Michelin travel guides, which originated in 1900, as early examples.
Lie #2: Content Marketing is the New (Fill in the Blank)
Closely related to the above lie is the meme that content marketing is the new XX or YY.
People often want to jump in on a hot trend, and I have hear many statements like “content marketing is the new PR” or new SEO, or whatever. I work in the PR field, and my email inbox is brimming with sales pitches touting education and events on the topic.
While there is no question that content is important for a growing number of areas, PR, social media marketing and SEO are separate disciplines and each has its place in the marketing mix.
Content marketing will not replace PR (not all PR is about marketing after all), nor will it replace social media marketing, or SEO. Some pundits also predicted that social media would mean the demise of PR, and that hasn’t happened. Content marketing is just another strategy for marketing professionals.
Lie #3: You Need to Tell a Story
That is the mantra that marketers and agencies endlessly repeat to each other and their clients: “You need to tell a good story.” It is repeated so often that few people doubt that it’s true.
Why are stories so important? They help us understand the world. You see storytelling in press releases, case studies, commercials, YouTube be videos, all kinds of content. You need to either tell a story, the experts say or fit neatly into an existing story frame about your market space to be understood, appreciated, and positioned in the consumer’s mind.
Yet that mindset is now being challenged. Present Shock author and respected media theorist Doug Rushkoff questioned the state and future of storytelling in his new book. Rushkoff describes what happens when we are eternally stuck in the present, a social media, 24-hour cable news, sensory overload-driven Groundhog Day kind of reality.
Rushkoff writes, essentially, that we are losing the capacity to put things in context and understand complex stories: a trend that he calls Narrative Collapse. Examples can be seen in popular culture, e.g. the growth of reality TV, Twitter, fantasy role playing games, extreme sports, and self-aware, meta entertainment, e.g. sitcoms like Community and the Office.
When I read this it struck me as true and important, but it left me wondering: what does this trend mean for marketers? Is the narrative really dead or dying, and if so, how do we adapt? I asked Doug these questions, and whether content marketers should produce “Now-ist” content (you can read the full interview full interview here). To this last question, he answered:
“You don’t ‘produce content’ so much as help the company communicate its non-fiction, real creation of value. Surely the company is doing something for someone. It’s asking for money for its stuff, right? How does buying from this company reflect my values? How does it extend my intention?“
Lie #4: It’s all About Short Form and Visual Content
If the narrative is dead, what does this mean for long form content? According to the zeitgeist, content marketing is all about short form and visual content. The customers that we are trying to reach simply don’t have time for longer articles and blog posts, let alone to read complex white papers, e-books, and (perish the thought) real books. You need to give the people what they want – and what they seem to want are pretty pictures and tweets.
I asked Doug Rushkoff if long form content creators are doomed to irrelevancy. He said: “No, just because we are transitioning from a culture based in narrative to one based in more open-ended styles of media doesn’t mean long form content creators are doomed. I’m not looking so much at the length of experiences as the quality. “
I agree, and think that longer form content can be a good alternative to shorter pieces. Adding some heft can help your content stand apart and give it an air of authority. These works are particularly well suited to support marketing efforts for complex products and services. Also, Google adjusted its algorithms not too long ago, to reward substantive content and lower light content in its rankings.
Some say that blog posts should not exceed 300 words. This very group blog features much longer posts. My fellow columnist Judy Gombita shared this post from the Sales Lion Blog: 5 Reasons Why Long Content and Blog Posts Are Once Again the Future of Content Marketing, which said: “The truth is both styles of communication can work. Seth Godin averages about 200 words a post and Social Media Examiner is typically in the 1500 words range, but both sites are wildly successful models for content production.”
Pretty pictures can help get attention for content, but let’s not forget the importance of written words to persuade, explain and boost SEO.
Lie #5: We are All Suffering from Information Overload
Another oft-repeated statement is that we are suffering from information overload. It’s this kind of thinking that fuels the neurotic compulsion to churn out ever more content, just to keep up.
It’s hard to argue that there isn’t an overabundance of media and content choices, but I think it’s a statement that is at least worth examining more closely. NYU professor and tech influencer Clay Shirky said it’s not information overload that we suffer from, but a failure to filter. Is the flood of information an overload, or is it a bonanza, just waiting to be filtered, and turned into nuggets of insight and wisdom (or both)?
A blog post from Nieman Journalism Labs pointed out the growing number of apps that people use to filter information, and research that showed that feelings of information overload are highly situational – and not universal. Nieman explained that the way people consume content determines whether they feel overwhelmed or not. E.g. reading articles on smartphones vs. PCs makes people feel less stressed because there are fewer distractions.
Lie #6: You Need to Banish Buzzwords, Jargon, Acronyms and Marketing-speak from Your Content
Really? Yes, content marketing should be a soft sell, but are you hoping to win a Pulitzer Prize? Let’s face, most people are not fooled by the fact that the cleverly disguised come-on is marketing material.
I agree that you do need to be careful not to infect your content with hype and hard selling. However, jargon and acronyms are fine if you are writing in the language of your customers and prospects, and in a readable and interesting way (see my post: You talking to me? 6 Tips for Channeling Voice of Customer to Boost Content and Social Media Marketing Efforts).
What do you think? Do you agree, and are there any content marketing myths that irritate you?