Why there’s no such thing as “Content Marketing”…


By Dave Stevens
Google+

I wish I could say that I found the first grey hair on my head when looking in the shaving mirror this morning.

But the truth is that I think I’ve identified enough grey in what little hair I still have to say I’m beyond that.  I recognise a statistically significant trend when I see one.  It’s undeniable now, I’m getting old.

Still, at least I’ve got the ever-new, always-refreshing discipline of marketing to make me forget my age, haven’t I?  A glance at this morning’s Twitter feed suggests not.  The term “content marketing” is trending.

One writer is suggesting that there are stages of content marketing evolution, another that there are content marketing-related tools they can’t do without, another that their content marketing strategy might be headed for trouble.

In fairness, this is hardly a new trend.  “Content marketing” has been around for a while.  Why, I see there’s even a “Content Marketing Institute (CMI)” now.  And no wonder.  For Mikal E. Belicove (the Wikipedia “authority” on content marketing no less) says that “When it comes to marketing strategies, content marketing has just been crowned king, far surpassing search engine marketing, public relations and even print, television and radio advertising as the preferred marketing tool for today’s business-to-business entrepreneur.”  Wow!  And B2B Marketing magazine has got the numbers to prove it:-  51% of B2B marketers identified content marketing as being the most important tool for generating leads, outscoring brand awareness (38%), thought leadership (34%) and sales (29%).

So what on earth is this amazing “content marketing” then?

It’s interesting that the marketing textbooks I used when I was a cool young marketer back in the day make no mention of “content marketing” at all.  Not a passing reference in Kotler, Armstrong, Saunders, and Wong’s seminal Principles of Marketing.  You won’t find the term in Malcolm McDonald’s Marketing Plans:  How to Prepare Them, How to Use Them.  Not a peep in Wilson and Gilligan’s Strategic Marketing Management.

What about something more B2B and a bit more recent?  Kotler’s 2002 tome, Marketing Professional Services maybe?  Nope.  Nothing there.  The CIM‘s Marketing Professional Services by Michael Roe from 2001?  Sorry no.

It seems then that “content marketing” is a new thing.  And so I have to look to the internet for the definition.

Belicove defines it as “the creation and publication of original content — including blog posts, case studies, white papers, videos and photos — for the purpose of generating leads, enhancing a brand’s visibility, and putting the company’s subject matter expertise on display.”  Joe Pulizzi, the CMI‘s content marketer of the year (who also happens to be CMI founder), describes it as “story-telling by brands to attract and retain customers.”

And this is where I’m sounding old even in the discipline in which I work…  But in my day Belicove and Pulizzi would be using their definitions to describe “marketing”?

Is anyone really suggesting that there are messages that we send out that don’t contain “content” or that are in some way not designed to generate leads, build visibility, or show off a company’s expertise?  Surely you can’t have search engine marketing without content to draw your audience to?  You can’t have public relations or advertising without content?

So we have a new term (“content marketing”) that describes an old term (“marketing”). The cynical among us might suggest that the likes of Belicove and Pulizzi have made the term up to get those very despised search engines to give them some face time.

Well, “good luck to them” you might say.  You might think that I’m clutching at semantics here.  Perhaps it’s time to stop following this old fart and move on to other blogs elsewhere?  If Pulizzi and others want to create a new term with an old definition and attract web hits to their name as a result, then that’s fine isn’t it?

Well, no.  Because as soon as we start developing new terms for what is simply good marketing, we discredit our discipline more and more as we associate “marketing” with disreputable practice.  That’s a risk for a discipline like our’s because it does not carry the weight in business that Finance and HR functions do.

If we do want to go down this route, perhaps we should be singling out different types of content:  “thought leadership marketing”, “client credential marketing”, and so on?  But “content marketing” is what we all do as marketers.

Or perhaps I’m just getting old…?

About DaveStevensNow

Dave is an experienced global B2B Chief Marketing Officer / Marketing Director with an established reputation for delivering commercial results in start-up, mid-tier, and blue-chip businesses across professional and financial services, telecoms, and technology sectors. Dave has worked for major brands such as Telefonica O2, EY, and Barclays and held posts from Chief Marketing Officer to Director of Online, has run his own business, and managed a P&L for a major corporate. He is a graduate of Cambridge University, a Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Chartered Marketer and holds a MBA with Imperial College, London. Dave is a keen cyclist and adventure traveller, is married, and lives in Buckinghamshire. You can read his blogs at www.DaveStevensNow.com.
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5 Responses to Why there’s no such thing as “Content Marketing”…

  1. Hi Dave, I think you’re right. Anyone who follows the subject for just a couple of months will notice everyone is saying roughly the same. I’m starting to share less of the stuff on Twitter because more and more often I get the feeling I’ve seen that before… and I’ve only kept up with ‘content marketing’ for a couple of months! Management fad?

  2. Hello! I was writing a blog post about this topic (not to be published in the blog about London). Your viewpoint is exactly what I have been thinking all along – when did we stop thinking about relevant content? Maybe, it is that links were considered more important than relevant content when SEO arrived and everyone was talking about it.
    I think that pandas and other creatures are making us talk about content in the same way we used to talked about SEO and we will talk about big data in the not-so-distant future.

  3. Deepti says:

    Hi Dave, Interesting viewpoint and actually relevant, however for me content marketing is more relevant in B2B space, because we dont have other creative tools at out disposal or rather buyers behave differently when buying a technology then if they were to buy Coke! So relevant content dished out to buyers to aid them during buying cycle is required, however going by old definition of 4P’s its still (promotion and positioning) rolled into one! I am just starting as a marketer so not sure if you got what I am trying to say!

  4. John Watton says:

    I too have the same grey hairs. but i think it’s useful short hand to give B2B marketing a kick up the ass. Too many marketing teams have got lazy, producing non-compellling, irrelevant and frankly dull messages that nobody cares about.

    So I think there’s no harm in re-booting the industry. Of course snake oil merchants exist everywhere, but overall it’s no bad thing to remind us all of the fundamentals.

    John@johnwatton.com

  5. I like your viewpoint. Content has always been around and is a big component of marketing. I too am not sure why all the recent buzz. As I point out in my blog, http://www.buyingcycle.com, content is an important component of awareness but content by itself provides little value.

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