Now I know how Daniel felt.
Me – Mr If-you-can’t-count-the-money-it-isn’t-worth-doing – and 30 or so content specialists getting ready to debate how content marketing might evolve to survive as a marketing discipline. After my pugnacious performance at the panel session of #pcn2013 I wasn’t entirely sure I’d escape with my skin.
Thankfully, the lions, and particularly the lionesses who run Valuable Content, a Bristol-based content marketing agency and authors of the self-titled book, were friendly.
The questions transcended the already-stale question, is content marketing dead? To focus instead on how to make content marketing work as a commercial discipline.
Sharon Tanton of Valuable Content chaired the proceedings and ensured the evening was a democratic one with equal time for participants to contribute their opinions as well as the two panelists – myself and Sonja Jefferson, also of Valuable Content.
The big cats in the audience included a wide variety of writers, business-owners, agency types, ex-journalists and academics. The interesting aspect of the content marketing debate for me was that for these folks, content marketing is working. Maybe the metrics – an unfortunate piece of business jargon, but we all know what it means – were a little raggy in places, but people had evidence of how content marketing was bringing them business.
The starting point for the evening’s discussions was an excerpt from Mark Schaefer’s blog post on ‘Content Shock’. Interestingly, having predicted the approach of ‘global warming’ for the content marketing world, he had his nose put out of joint when Sonja Jefferson suggested in publicity for this event that he’d asserted – like Private Fraser in Dad’s Army, ‘we’re all doomed’.
Apparently, we’re not all doomed. Which is good news for anyone trying to make a living by producing or deploying content marketing. Here are some of the points we either agreed on or held sufficiently strong opinions on to jam a stake into the ground:
1 It didn’t take long for us to agree (a consensus somewhat rare in the evening’s occasionally fiery debate) that ‘Content Shock’ isn’t a thing after all.
2 Valuable content is valuable if the consumer believes it to be valuable – that is the only measure that counts as far as quality is concerned.
3 For valuable content to be valuable as far as the producer is concerned, it must link back, preferably in a measurable way, to the bottom line. Failing that, to countable sales leads or other commercially valuable commodity.
4 You can measure a lot of the impact content marketing makes to your business but not all of the impact. Though she wasn’t present at the meeting, one content marketer had advanced the case for measuring what you can about content but not letting measurement destroy the magic. (Full disclosure: I said this was special pleading and the marketeer in question wasn’t there to defend herself. Yes. Very brave, Daniel.)
5 The difference between content and editorial is spurious from the consumer’s point of view. Whether they have paid for it or received it free on somebody’s blog or website doesn’t matter. If it solves a problem or meets a need, it’s worth reading.
6 As this is my piece of content, I will insert here my definition of ‘content’, which not all the lions were happy about – it was the only point in the evening where I started looking for the exit.
“Content is advertising masquerading as editorial.”
By which I mean, content as discussed here, and by content marketers generally, is (usually) funded by the marketing department but it has the flavour and cadence of something produced by an editorial department. Editorial is stuff you pay for, content is something somebody else pays for, usually because they want your attention or engagement in order to sell you something or sell you to an advertiser.
(Thankfully, this digression into a debate about the number of angels who could dance on the head of a pin was a minor feature of the evening.)
7 To survive, content marketing needs to get smarter at producing content that people find both relevant and that meets a genuine need. This will consume increasing amounts of time, money and effort, so the pressure to prove a return on investment (ROI) will only increase.
8 Despite the assertions of one S. Godin Esq., content marketing is not the only form of marketing left. Plenty of very successful organisations, including many of my own clients, are still profiting from such old-fashioned ideas as direct mail, advertising, telemarketing and, yes, gasp, field sales.
9 Content, even digital content, is not cost-free. There is the financial cost of paying designers and deploying email campaigns, and the opportunity cost of spending potential billable time on producing the content in the first place. That means there is pressure to show a financial return in the end. Finance directors, who often end up running companies, do not see a great deal of value in likes, retweets, shares, linkbacks, comments or anything else they can’t take to the bank. Nor do investors, accountants or bank managers.
10 Content marketing will be around for the long-term – as it always has been. But <jazz hands> Content Marketing <jazz hands> may go the way of Fax Marketing, SEO, Social Marketing and all the others as a whirlwind of hype that spins away over the horizon.
I’d like to thank Sonja and Sharon for inviting me to what, actually, was anything but a lion’s den. The setting, Roll for the Soul café and bike workshop, was an unusual but conducive spot for some fairly heavyweight intellectual and emotional debate about a topic that I am sure will continue to exercise our brains over the next few years.