Is content marketing myopic?

Mark YeowAmid the ongoing hype around content marketing Mark Yeow argues agencies and clients are getting too bogged down in the detail and need to look at content more broadly. 

Our industry’s fixation on content marketing is keeping us from seeing the bigger picture.

The power of content extends far beyond lead generation, conversion, and other measures of marketing ROI. It is, perhaps the critical ingredient of any brand – essential to the vision of any discipline involved in creativity or communication, and indicative of their healthiness and longevity.

We need to stop defining content exclusively in terms of marketing, and place it back where it belongs: at the centre of all efforts to tell a brand’s history and story.

We need new objectives and measures of success that apply to all forms of content, whether used for marketing or otherwise. Four “Vs”– volume, velocity, veracity, and virility – rather than traditional marketing KPIs, allow us to visualise and take advantage of creative content’s true potential.

But first, some definitions. What is content?

Literally, it is anything which fills a particular container. For those in the creative and communications disciplines, these containers are channels – from social media forums to display ads to the front pages of national newspapers. Channels bring content to the audience, and the audience ultimately determines whether content is an epic win or fail. More on this later.

What about marketing? Wikipedia defines it pithily as “communicating of a product/service’s value to customers, for the purpose of selling that product or service”. This may be a simplified definition, but it does the job.

Content is an object, marketing is an action. And content marketing is the application of content as part of the marketing process. But content marketing isn’t the only application of content; nor, I dare say, does it always have the highest relative value.

For example, you can’t generate awareness without content – in fact, PR professionals are perhaps the original “content experts”, since there’s few channels harder to fill than the column inches of highly cynical discerning journalists and editors.

And awareness is rarely counted as a primary marketing goal, given how difficult it is to quantify or attribute dollar-value to.

Does that mean we shouldn’t use content to grow awareness? Of course not.

But doing so isn’t content marketing, and naming it as such can confuse our goals and muddle our metrics.

The Four Vs of Storytelling

Instead of seeing content solely through the lens of marketing, we need to observe its more fundamental characteristics. It’s helpful to think of content as closely tied to storytelling, particularly because it places the focus on audiences rather than KPIs. I use four “Vs” – three of which are also associated with data – to assess the impact of any content strategy, tactic, or individual asset on audiences:

  • Volume refers to the amount of content in play. Too little, and the audience may not take note or even see it – especially relevant when talking about social media content, like tweets and the aforementioned LinkedIn Longform pieces.
  • Velocity has two components: speed, and direction. Whether being used for marketing purposes or otherwise, content needs to be sent to audiences in a timely fashion; and via the appropriate channel. You wouldn’t announce a fashion brand’s latest product range via LinkedIn, for example (unless it’s a line of executive sportswear).
  • Veracity refers to good content being not only true, but truthful. This is one area where content marketing often struggles: the push to meet the demands of Volume can often lead to content that doesn’t sound genuine. If we frame content from an audience’s perspective, rather than nthrough marketing KPIs, we’re on the right track to keeping customers engaged and trusting of our brands – and, as a result, generating higher ROI further down the sales-cycle.
  • Virility stands out from the other Vs, doesn’t it? And that’s the hallmark of powerful content: a point of view, tone of voice, or presentation style that is strong and a little bit sexy. Regardless of whether it’s for an eDM, whitepaper, or series of short films, content only sticks in audiences’ heads – and effects change – if it packs some intellectual or emotional punch.

The Four Vs aren’t contradictory to marketing goals: if anything, they’re complementary. But the Four Vs focus on the “content” side of the equation, rather than the “marketing. As the industry moves towards greater integration, content is the obvious “common factor” between these disciplines. That means we urgently need a framework for dealing with content on its own terms – not necessarily those specific to marketing, or PR, or advertising.

Content marketing is only one facet of a bigger revolution that we’re seeing in the creative and communications industry. Equating “content” with “content marketing” runs the risk of blindsiding us to the risks and opportunities of this change.

Let’s clear up our definitions and start treating content like it should be treated – as a discipline in its own right.

Mark Yeow is the content services manager for PR agency Text 100 Asia-Pacific.


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