As mindless jargon goes Content Marketing is right up there. To ‘market’ anything, from salt to silicon chips, requires informational content in addition to the goods themselves. Whether that’s a brandmark or, that holy grail of Content Marketing, the pseudo-scientific but not peer-reviewed Whitepaper. The idea is to reassure buyers that branded goods are of high enough quality to justify the additional premium buyers are expected to pay.
Technical buyers are different from salt or pepper shoppers. They want to know exactly WHY a solution will work for them by understanding HOW it works first. The Whitepaper and its ‘live’ equivalent the Webinar were until recently effective, if time-consuming, tactics to educate buyers about the HOW. They build credibility, helping convince IT buyers that a particular technology could work for them.
Content Marketing is reassuring, WhitePapers downloads and Webinar registrations (or even attendees) are measurable. Today though, the vast Whitepaper ‘farms’ hosted on technology publications’s websites give buyers an experience as confusing as Borat in a US Supermarket.
If buyers like the HOW from the Content Marketing, they could next learn WHY a solution might work well for their company. Traditionally they did this in three ways;
1. Asking peers (if they were not competitors)
2. Consulting technology analysts (if you had deep pockets)
3. Reading ‘Success Stories’ from companies like yours who had implemented
the technology in the media.
This last means of checking, although prone to intervention by Positive Marketing and others seeking to push their clients’ successes, did at least have one guarantee of independence; the technology writer. The editorial process claimed to debunk as much ‘PR spin’ as possible and help readers understand if the claims made by vendors were true.
Now though, with B2B technology journalism in decline and advertising revenues moving online, Content Marketing has ‘worked around’ this journalistic scrutiny. In fact it has co-opted the very journalists who used to ‘look after’ the interests of their readers. Inboxes are full of ‘Last chance to Register’invitations and ‘Latest Technology News and Expert Advice’ apparently sent directly from the editors of publications. Although on checking with them, it turns out most know nothing about these email blasts, which are in fact sent by the advertising teams.
Short term, this is a problem for the press. Where once credible writers used investigative skills and strict editorial guidelines to provide a valuable service to their readers, now they pimp unscrutinised Whitepapers and Webinars at readers whose inboxes are now overflowing with very similar offers direct from marketing pros. Where once they could be relied upon to check the truth of the claims made by brands, now they are sending out un-edited propaganda in their own names, making them, well, samey and undermining their role.
Medium term it is the brands themselves who suffer, with pay-to-play Content Marketing now just seen as a form of brand advertising (never popular with technical buyers). The sheer volume of webinars and Whitepapers as a tactic also means they are having diminishing returns. Undifferentiated marketing makes for a lower brand premium over time.
Longer term, Content Marketing, as we know it today is doomed. As always with marketing, differentiation, authenticity and innovation will win out. Content Marketing is just too samey, too generic and plain lazy a tactic to keep the attention of discerning buyers. If you can’t tell your story these days in a better fashion, perhaps with the help of animation, video or an Infographic, you risk appealing only to IT folks of a previous era, one before smartphones, respected opinionated bloggers and ‘Try before you buy’ freemium software – all of which change the decision-making process.
The future will be much more Social, which implies briefer content, more fleetingly sampled, but delivered in increasingly integrated marketing campaigns, where content is less formulaic. We are building some of those campaigns right now and would be happy to explain more, so feel free to get in contact. Feel free to check out our previous post in the ‘Marketing Tactics that Suck’ series and check back for some ideas which do not suck.