By Dave Stevens
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…?