Friday, October 3, 2014

Do you have the 'And Capacity' for content marketing?

In the olden days, before content marketers were born, there was this thing called PR. Basically, PR meant writing a bucketload of material, flogging it to journalists, pushing out newsletters that 5% of recipients wanted, and dreaming up great events that had lots more to do with 'relationship building' and 'photo ops' than with the subject matter at hand.

Now more and more brands are being persuaded that their core business is publishing or 'content marketing'. The PR industry, marginalised to a large extent by the incursions of direct marketing gurus and nerdy types, who knew a lot about developing websites but naff all about good and engaging content, suddenly became relevant again as their core business suddenly became their clients' 'core business'. A beautiful alignment of interests!

Let me clearly articulate my position in all this. First up - I'm old, or at least that's what recruiters would think of me today. What being old means is that you've lived through and - yay! - even survived several PR cycles and are well-entrenched and qualified for the content marketing game. You even bring 'old' skills like journalism to content marketing - you know, formal training in writing narratives longer than 140 characters. A 'click-bait' tweet is simply headline writing under previous definitions. Come to think of it 140 characters is too long!

So what do I think about content marketing? I am a strong advocate for it, particularly in the online space. But there is a rider that I will get to.

I have partnered with websites on which I have placed both display advertising, banners and MRECs, and editorial content. Guess what's worked best in terms of click-throughs? Content - by a ratio of four to one. And why? Because it allows you to better explain the link between your product's or your brand's attributes and the solution your potential consumer is seeking. Sort of like what print advertisements used to do, but less tactile.

This all assumes, of course, that you have ticked all the boxes in terms of channel selection and strategy and that you're reaching consumers who are at or around the right place in the buying process or lifestage for what you're trying to sell. (No more calls from data analytics floggers please.)

But here's the rub in a dis-aggregated media world. Online content is transient and your consumers generally have the attention span of a goldfish when they're on their smartphones or tablets. Outside of your own website, consumers are scanning streams of information for stuff that is new. And they're fickle - particularly younger consumers, for whom new channels seem to emerge every few months. Remember while you were labouring over whether to set up a Facebook presence, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram and a whole bunch of other channels sprang to life? It's just a series of 'Oh shit, didn't see that coming!' moments.

This constantly evolving landscape means you have to create an absolute avalanche of engaging material - editorial, videos, infographics and, yes, even click-bait. It sucks up massive resources - constant scrutiny of current affairs and conversations that you can leverage off, working creative visual and story angles, constantly evaluating the channel preferences of your different audiences, distribution through channels, monitoring online chatter, running analytics and responding to inquiries and online commentary - and potentially crises - in as close as possible to real time.

It is activity that can be all-consuming and suck the marrow from your bones, putting at risk other marketing and communications strategies and activities, pleasing and retaining your existing customers by talking to them on the phone, and building awareness with great advertising through traditional channels (remember TV?).

All I suggest to anyone being sold the content marketing story is be aware of the resources required to do it properly. Jumping into content-hungry channels and being unprepared to feed the beast is worse than not being there at all. Most of all, evaluate whether you have the 'And Capacity' for content marketing. It's not a replacement for everything else you're doing. It's just additional to what you are doing.

Having said that, I must rush off. I have other 'and' jobs to complete.