The problem with content marketing: Clients don’t know what they really want

Content marketers are finding themselves caught in a “chicken and egg” situation in that marketers still see the medium as unproven in its value, so refuse to invest more in quality work.

Those were main problems outlined during a panel session held at Mumbrella360 Asia in November on the current state of Asia’s content marketing industry.

Vice Australia’s head of content Alex Light argued that marketers in Asia still tended to see content marketing through a “campaign lense” and were therefore “risk averse” to invest in any deeper brand building.

“The frustrations come because the industry is really finding its feet,” he said. “Because of that there is a real risk-aversion. It’s unproven and people aren’t necessarily willing to go in with big budgets and investing behind it.

“This is the same in the US and Australia, but people still see it through a campaign lense. It’s seen as a short-term solution rather than long-term brand-building. But these frustrations are a massive opportunity: this region has so much potential and I think content marketing is really about to take off here.”

Echoing Light’s comments, David Nemes, Buzzfeed Australia’s VP of brand strategy, said greater onus needed to be on the content marketers themselves 

“[Marketers] really need to understand why [they] want to create content. What are the objectives and whether content is the right way to [meet those]. And that means they need to go all in.

“Proving the value is on us: it’s up to us to do it right and show the long-term value of content marketing. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg and it can be a frustration.”

In addition to being investment-shy, Jackie Shorey, editorial director of Click2View and a former journalist for The Financial Times, claimed many of the medium’s issues stemmed from brand leaders lacking an overall vision for their companies.

“There’s a big difference between companies where the CEOs have a big vision and it trickles down through that company… and when an agency like ours may be called [by a company] and they say: ‘We want to do some content marketing’,” she said.

“I do the usual journalistic stuff and say: ‘What are you trying to do?” They will say they don’t know, they just want some articles. So I say: ‘What does success look like? What do you want? Who’s your audience? Who’s going to read it? And then it’s just: ‘go away and do 10 articles’. And that’s a pity; with a bit of digging we’ll do our best, but rather than me guessing or having to tease it out and getting it wrong.”

From left: Jackie Shorey, David Nemes and Andrea Edwards

In particular, Shorey added, senior executives have put too much emphasis on becoming so-called ‘thought-leaders’ on social media without even having a point of view.

“It’s a bit of a cliche, but everyone wants to be a thought leader,” she said. “My feeling is be careful what you wish for. We had a client who said they wanted to be a thought leader.

“We said ‘great; first of all you’ll need to have some thoughts’. It sounds stupid, but you need to have a position.”

Metrics and measurability were also cited as a sore point for both content marketers and their clients, as questions remain over whether the medium delivers any real return on investment for brands.

However, again the panellists argued that many of these issues originated from brands not having any clear vision or objectives in mind in the very first place.

Nemes said: “Brands will say we really want to build brand awareness, but then say: ‘What are the clickthrough rates?’ So it’s understanding what are we trying to solve? What are the metrics that will solve that problem together? And dig deep on those and be really specific.

“We can measure how many people saw the content; how long they spent on it; how many people shared. Trying to define what’s important and those benchmarks is key.”

It’s not [about] clicks,” added Andrea Edwards of The Digital Conversationalist and panel moderator. “It takes time; it’s not ‘noise for noise’s sake’.

“I don’t think there is a holistic measurement tool that goes right across content marketing or right across the business, that brings all those pieces together to give one picture. I think someone needs to invent that technology, but we’re not there yet.”



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