Even Great Content is Not Always Content Marketing

May 1, 2019

By Paul P. Robinson

Enis Aksoy/Getty Images

As you look through various definitions of the word "content," you generally understand that content is any form of imagery, words, video, photos, or other creative pursuits that are communicated to other people. When it comes to "content in marketing," this is easily transferred to advertisements, commercials or other communications — regardless of form or distribution channel — that are part of a brand's integrated marketing plan.

On the other hand, content marketing, according to the Common Language Marketing Dictionary (of which ANA is a sponsor), is defined as "a technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience with the objective of driving profitable customer action."

Despite the clear delineation with specific strategies and goals offered in the definition of content marketing, quite often — and by nature, of course — "content in marketing" is often implied (or inferred) to be the same as content marketing, diluting the discipline. These often-spectacular brand strategies that include all types of content are what marketers and agency partners deliver across many channels consistently, but by themselves are not content marketing. Of course, you can argue that all "content in marketing" is designed to drive profitable results. However, the devil is in the details.

From my experience in working with some of the brightest minds in content marketing in my role managing the ANA's Brand Activation Content Marketing committees, conferences, and thought leadership, there is a lot that is unsaid in defining — and creating — breakthrough content marketing. Whereas "content in marketing" is typically a one-to-many approach (think broadcast or digital ads), content marketing is (again, typically) a one-to-limited exercise whereby you're fully engaged with the target market on their terms by adding value, and not by pushing your brand or product. Accordingly, in the strategic development, there needs to be much more specific direction — past typical demographic cuts, for example — into psychographics, segmentation, personas, channel delivery, and audience behaviors.

Another key differentiator — and where I see the brightest and best content marketers articulating to the C-suite more effectively — is in the ROI part of the discipline. While the focus has rightfully been and should continue to be driving quantifiable profitable results, there has been greater latitude given to those content marketers that can better equate those immediate monetary results with attributes and equity factors that drive lifetime customer value — including brand purpose, brand value, and price sensitivity/erosion.

As we know, the world of marketing continues to change rapidly. And as the saying goes, things will never move as slowly as they do today. With these massive changes in the breadth, depth, and expectations of consumers, the need to distinguish and leverage content marketing effectively has never been more vital. Content marketing allows us to intentionally "bury the lead" of asking for the dollars or leading with the brand. In order to exist in a world where permissions are granted less frequently or looked upon as a necessary evil, we need to connect with our consumers, adding value to their ecosystem and lifestyle — and we cannot do that without a customer-first, non-brand-focused voice. And that voice needs to authentic, sincere, and ultimately viewed as independent, non-biased and without a sales message. Once that relationship is cemented, then "content in marketing" will benefit from the borrowed equity to engage similarly, much like Nike did with Colin Kaepernick.

Content marketers think like storytellers — much like publishers and editors — whereas the marketing organization that produces "content in marketing" needs to think like marketers and sales people. Both are needed, both are strategic contributors to the company's profitability goals, and both play vital roles in being brand creators. Because both add so much value, to not allow both to thrive in their unique roles and avoid dilution would be doing a disservice to the industry. So, the next time you find yourself using the phrase "content marketing," ask yourself: Should it be content marketing? Or, more appropriately, "content in marketing?" Either way can produce great content — and that should continue to be our goal.


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