Five Things I Thought Content Marketing Was But Isn’t

Wrapping one’s head around the concept of content marketing takes quite a bit of time. I’ve been a content marketer for almost four years now and I still find new things to learn about content marketing. If you are a continuous learner like I am, you know there’s never any end to learning anything. Technology is constantly evolving and what you swore was the truth yesterday today isn’t. So I’ve decided to take a look back on my four years of content marketing, and six more of writing copy to dig up the myths about content marketing I had believed but turned out to be bull.

#1. Content Marketing is Advertising

dondraper

You’ll forgive me for thinking content marketing was advertising. Although it can be argued that advertising is a form of content marketing, I had this notion that when you run a PPC campaign, you were conducting content marketing. It sounds odd now but back then, coming from a background of being a copy writer, I understood the important role content played in advertising. As such, I approached content marketing as a form of advertising. So, if that was a wrong view of content marketing, what is the right view? Content marketing augments advertising. Whereas advertising drives awareness and calls to action, content marketing builds and nurtures communities. Advertising is all about clicks, content marketing is all about shares, likes, re-tweets, etc.

#2. Content Marketing Generates Instant Results

Panic-Mode

This second myth had me in a panic more times than once. Whenever I took up a client, they’d be looking for the same results as advertising has from content marketing. It also did not help that I thought I could deliver advertising-level results using a content marketing campaign. So we’d develop a blog for the customer, custom content for their social media properties and some additional syndicated content such as press releases and infographics but the most they’d generate were a few likes and shares and then that was it. We’d look for actual conversions but nothing. In most cases, the client would feel content marketing failed and so move back to digital advertising such as PPC. In hindsight, I see the long-term benefits that content would have had on the client’s brand and image. If both the client and I had a more realistic picture of what content marketing is and the value of building long-term communities around your business, then we would have stuck it out. Today I start all my clients off with a summary of what content marketing is and what it isn’t. And providing instant results is one thing content marketing hardly will ever do.

#3. Content Marketing Is All About Creating Viral Content

Going hand in hand with number 2 above, I believed the marketers who could create viral content were the ones who had content marketing correct. You’d see a video released (Old Spice anyone?) and it would have millions of views in a matter of days. It therefore seemed that if your content marketing strategy were to work, you need to develop viral content that would take your client’s web traffic from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand in days. But this too has proven to be a myth. Viral content is a unicorn, an outlier in the universe of content marketing. The real winners in content marketing are those campaigns that have a long-term benefit to a target market. Let me repeat: it’s not about getting the most YouTube views or the most re-tweets on Twitter, it’s about delivering long-term value to your target market. Whether that content goes viral or not, it’s true success is measured by how much value it delivered and whether it helped cultivate your online community further.

#4. Content Marketing Is Creating Content For the Sake of Creating Content

keyword-stuffing

Back in the wild west SEO days, when keyword stuffing was the in thing, people created content for the sake of creating content. In fact, I’ll wager to say that still happens today. This is because there’s this sense that the more content you develop the more leads you’ll get, or something along those lines. It was also a given that if you were conducting content marketing, no one expected you to provide any deep analytics or reports on how that content was performing. It was enough to just say X number of pieces of content were developed and published and that was it. You’d then look at your Google Analytics dashboard and hope the traffic bumps up. That was part of the myth I believed. Today, I look at a piece of content and it speaks to me. It tells me whether it’s optimized for a particular channel or not. It tells me whether it is useful or not. It tells me whether it is ready to be syndicated or not. Content marketing has become more of a science today and the technology to support this transition is rapidly emerging.

#5. Content Marketing Is About Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

GoogleCrawler

Finally, and this is my favorite myth, is that content marketing is about search engine optimization. Remember those days when people didn’t matter and all that mattered were Google bots? Yes, those dark days. Well, I believed that lock, stock and key. If I undertook a content marketing project, I’d scour the web for all the information I could get on the latest Google search algorithms so that the content would obey its conventions. This could not be further from the truth. The truth is that content marketing is about people. It’s about helping people get the right information to help them solve their problems. It’s not about tricking search engine algorithms into ranking your site higher. It’s about being helpful. SEO is important and it does play a part but this part is rapidly shrinking as Google fine-tunes its algorithms to rank for usefulness and quality.  In a not-so-distant future, these algorithms will be able to correlate information like a human and this will weed out a whole bunch of content that may have been well developed but not useful.

So there are my five myths on content marketing debunked. Any myths you believed that turned out to not be true? Let’s continue this conversation in the comments below or on Twitter @wordmarketer

Content Marketing Is A Journey, Not A Destination

Having worked on a number of content marketing projects, I’ve come to appreciate the journey aspect of content marketing compared to the destination motif. When I first got into content marketing, I thought it was something like SEO, where you just stick some keywords into a website and wait for the magic to happen (that too is an oversimplification). Over time, and as I learnt more about what content marketing is, I discovered that the guys who’ve been doing content marketing for the longest time and most effectively are media companies.

These are publishing houses that have editorial briefs and armies of writers and designers and photographers and videographers all working in concert to create the next great story. And stories are at the heart of content marketing. As I dug deeper into the subtle nuances of content marketing, it finally dawned on me that there is really no end to content marketing. If the stories are to be told, the narrative must go on. And this is where I concluded that content marketing is a journey and not a destination.

When I meet new clients, they have the same assumptions I used to have: let’s do this content marketing thing and drive traffic to our site. This creates high expectations of content marketing that almost always are disappointed within the first few weeks of the project. I’ve had clients abandon content marketing when they realized it was too much work and that they had to commit to it for an extended period (with or without me) for it to work.

I once had a client who had me develop an email marketing campaign series and landing page, only to give up when he realized we needed to first build an email list in order for these two campaigns to work. This is a terrible reality that has been brought on by the hype-masters of the Internet. Content mills tend to latch onto any new or novel thing and sensationalize it unnecessarily. So when I work with clients, I try to tone down this hype and help them understand the true nature of content marketing.

Content marketing is about telling stories. It’s sitting your customers on your virtual lap and giving them a good story that uplifts their spirits and gives them hope for tomorrow. And it doesn’t matter which business industry you are in, every business has human beings as customers and those human beings have emotions and that is what stories appeal to.

So the journey of content marketing is about finding stories that appeal to your audience and sharing them. These could be stories you develop yourself or they could be stories you’ve curated from other sources online. These stories could be videos or graphics or blog posts or even just photos that you share with your community. This storytelling nurtures a community around your central themes and ideas. If you have a theme of inspiration, you’ll attract and retain a community of people who believe in your brand and in inspirational ideals.

What I have come to appreciate most about content marketing, however, is that we are all natural storytellers. That makes content marketing a more natural and wholesome form of marketing than the gimmicky type of marketing where you are constantly trying to trick people into buying. When you tell stories, people gravitate towards you on the strength of the truth behind those stories and not based on any tricks.

When such people converge around your brand, they become genuine members of your community and are more likely to become long-term customers as compared to those acquired through slight of text. This is the message I carry to all my customers and my hope is that they come to see the joy and excitement of content marketing and to appreciate the slow yet steady organic results that accrue over time.

What Is Content Marketing?

I’m a content marketer so it’s befitting that the very first article I write here be my definition of content marketing. I first came across the term “content marketing” around three years back. I was a freelance writer, or a content developer, as I liked to call myself, and I was very interested in the role content played in the marketing matrix. So when I heard the term, I went looking for definitions and I read as much as I could on the topic. Unfortunately, back then, it was all hype and no substance because most people were touting content marketing as the new snake oil to fix all your digital marketing woes.

I dislike hype, and especially the type that is used to take advantage of people. Businesses flocked to this new magic pill and many fell by the wayside when content marketing did not deliver the immediate and astronomical results the hype masters were peddling. But over the last two years, as the idea behind content marketing has matured and more and more industry giants have adopted it, it’s now possible to see the true power behind content marketing.

Defining Content Marketing

The definition I love most of content marketing comes from a story that unfolds in the late 1800’s, to be precise, in 1895. John Deere, then a fledgling company selling farming equipment decided to publish a periodical that would provide farmers with some useful information. You see, the magazine, called rather aptly, The Furrow, providing information to farmers on how to become more profitable. It was an instant hit.

Farmers needed this critical information and by providing useful information to them, John Deere became a valuable partner, not only in the farming equipment arena but in the high stakes that the farmers played in, their businesses. This is a beautiful story to me because it shows that the real function of any business is to be helpful to their customers, not sell them a bunch of stuff. That is the change that businesses need to make and content marketing just happens to be the vehicle to carry out this transformation.

With this in mind, content marketing to me is the process of humanizing a business. Turning it from a mechanical, indifferent selling machine to a friendly, personal and empathetic entity that we can allow into any area of our lives. It’s saying, people don’t need more sales messages and marketing gimmicks to get them to buy.

Do you get me?

They need to know instead that you “get” them and they are not to you just another receipt but they are people with feelings, hopes and fears. Content marketing opens up this bidirectional conversation and sets you on a new footing with your customers. Content marketing turns your customers into a community, which rallies around your brand, value systems or even just the ideas you all share in common.

If this is content marketing, how do you make it work for your business? I know many people give very technical definitions of content marketing and supply a ten point plan on how to make it work. I, instead, have just two words: “Be Helpful”. Your business may have the best products in the market, or you may even just be starting off but the fact is, people buy with their emotions and emotions are hardly ever rational. So if this is the case, then being helpful goes beyond just trying to trick them into buying. It reaches right into them and touches their heart and feelings, and they know you are the one they’ll buy from. To bring this closer to home, let’s assume you’re a web design company.

How can you be helpful to your customers?

Step into their shoes, understand the challenges they go through with their websites and address those challenges through content. That is the primary reason I’m writing this blog post, because I know my clients struggle in trying to wrap their heads around the concept of content marketing. So I want them to know not to get caught up in the hype. I want them to know content marketing is just them doing what they do best: being helpful to their customers. I also want them to know there’s no magical snake oil in content marketing. It’s hard work, just like anything else, but it pays, and pays, and pays, over the long term.

Finally, as I bring in this definition to a landing, I want to encourage you to take a moment to think of all the ways other businesses you patronize can be helpful to you. If it’s the local deli, how can they be more helpful to you? If it’s the gym down the road, how can they be more helpful to you? Once you begin to understand your needs as a customers and what you wish other businesses did better, you’ll find it’s easier to understand the needs of your customers and how to be more helpful to them.

So remember, there’s nothing more to content marketing than this: “Be Helpful”.