We have left the age of force-fed advertising and have boldly leapt into the content marketing arena. On the surface, that sounds like a very good thing: abandoning hard sells and in-your-face tactics in favor of informative outreach brimming with valuable and educational data. But is content marketing really the holy grail for companies across the board? Is this new marketing darling a universal windfall for any business?
The answer: a dichotomous yes and no. There are some fundamental rules to executing content marketing successfully; if your company isn’t set up to deal with the unique challenges that this marketing avenue presents, you won’t win at the strategy. In fact, it could actually harm your brand. So before you dive in full-speed to the world of content creation, make sure your business is fully prepped to deal with the ramifications.
Welcome to the Age of Transparency
During the advertising age, brands could remain mysterious and unreachable, presenting only facets they wanted customers to interact with. And engagement itself was relatively nonexistent.
Today, content marketing-focused industries have to maintain an honest approach to transparency. These sorts of tactics literally invite current and prospective customers into the conversation about the brand, enticing comments and social shares that precipitate the need for glass walls. Consumers these days will out you if they discover dishonest practices or procedures that contradict the brand identity you may be trying to create.
One such epic fail came from General Electric. Their ecomaginaton site attempts to reveal some key ways the company has embarked on eco-friendly initiatives. It reads like a boastful, arrogant account of their perceived awesomeness, one with next to zero details about actual charitable efforts. This lack of transparency, coupled with a perception of narcissism, can be brand suicide to a socially minded audience. Many have stated as much in social spaces about GE’s self-satisfied swagger, which can’t be helping their overall marketing efforts.
Give Up the Need for Control
As revealed above, content marketing is directly linked to the social stratosphere. So, companies invite customers to join the conversation, and in actuality, give up control of how that discussion manifests. Marketers are still responsible for creating the threads, themes, and campaigns, but we do not control how consumers choose to continue those dialogues.
Companies need to abandon the old school way of controlling every word of brand journalism, and embrace a far more organic method of creating campaigns and responding to direct consumer feedback.
This enforces the need for integrity mentioned above. The relationship you forge with the consumer has to be genuine, or the falsities will eventually be discovered and publicly lambasted.
For an example of such a debacle, just ask the folks at Epicurious. Last year, just after the Boston Marathon bombing, their social media strategy included some of the most off-color attempts to control the conversation ever seen in the social space. Social posts included:
- “In honor of Boston and New England, may we suggest whole grain cranberry scones!”
- and, “Boston, our hearts are with you. Here’s a bowl of breakfast energy we could all use to start today.”
Those posts absolutely drip with disregard for a national tragedy. This is not the way to bond with your customer, and this strategy seriously harmed the brand’s image.
Focus on Giving, not Receiving
Another major shift from the old way of thinking lies in the very essence of what makes content marketing valuable: giving away quality information. In the days of massive ad campaigns, it was all a hypnotic ploy to lure folks into purchasing goods or services. Today, you need to cultivate a culture where giving first is fundamental to your brand. We truly have the earn the trust and patronage of customers now, not brainwash them into buying our products. Marketing has evolved to be a much more honest process. If this doesn’t match your fundamental company values, content marketing will surely throw a wrench in the works.
Marketer Jonathan Lister sums it up nicely:
By creating and publishing remarkable content in the form that educates, informs, inspires and entertains, marketers can begin to build relationships with prospects early on in the buying cycle. This fundamental shift is changing the mantra from ‘Always be Closing’ to ‘Always be Helping.’
To hit a homerun in the content marketing space, your company has to embrace the notions of transparency and integrity, relinquish the need to control every dialogue, and be willing to give first. If this is who you are, content marketing can take you from obscurity to success. If not, you may be buried in the social space in an avalanche of tough love.