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In Content Marketing, Marketers Might be Losing Their Way

In Content Marketing Marketers Might be Losing Their Way

Content marketing is blending the functions of marketing and sales to the extent, marketing has lost its focus on creating demand.

That’s my take after listening to Tom Webster evolve a concept over couple of podcasts on The Marketing Companion and finally rendered in a more polished format on Mark W. Shaefer’s {grow}: The dangerous confusion of sales and content marketing.

He makes several interesting points, and two that stood out for me:

1. Content proliferation for irrational buyers.

Research suggests buyers are engaging more and more content prior to making a purchase. Mr. Webster cites the Zero Moment of Truth by Google which said buyers went from needing about five pieces of content in 2009 to 10.4 by 2010. “Did our cognitive processes really require twice as much information as they did the year before?” he asks. “Patently absurd.”

Buyers he argues make irrational decisions: We buy things because we want those things. The need for more content is merely to validate a decision that’s already been made.

2. Pressure for leads sacrifices demand.

If sales are down, marketing gets fired. If leads are down marketing gets fired.  If demand is down….there’s no one left with a job to think about demand.  In this sales-driven climate, marketing faces incredible pressure to demonstrate business value – and the most definitive proof of value in modern marketing is leads.

As a result, marketing activities are focused on capturing leads.  Any given campaign is liable to finish with gated content and a catch-all phrase such as “register to download.”

Mr. Webster writes:

“…have you ever signed up for a webinar or white paper, and then gotten an absolutely cringeworthy, ham-handed sales call as a result? I sure have. For a long time I blamed the sales team—their training, hiring, and (frankly) ability to interact with humans. But I’ve come to a different realization.

If I watch a webinar to learn something, am I really a lead for that company? Overwhelmingly, those of us who sign up for these content pillars have NO interest in buying from the company. We just want the content. But marketing dutifully delivers our contact info into the hands of the sales team regardless, to give us a one-degree-warmer than cold call.

Who’s really to blame when those leads don’t convert?”

The Pendulum Swings too Far the Other Way

For a long time marketing was perceived as adrift, misaligned with sales, and running campaigns that were more or less aloof. Measures of effectiveness stemming from awareness efforts were hard to quantify and left a business with little in the way of tangible evidence such investment had a business impact. Awareness became a terminal marketing illness amid finite resources.

As the digital world evolved, tracking technologies began to map a clearer path of the buyer’s journey – at least as far as those journeys existed online.  Last action attribution came into focus and today, it’s not uncommon for marketing shops to avoid any activity except those that are “lead generating.”

Even the term marketers commonly use today to describe the function is confusing.  What many call “demand generation” is measured in “leads.” In effect, the effort has little to do with generating demand and everything to do with collecting contact information logged in a CRM system as “lead.”

That’s how the KPIs are written.  SMART.  Or some other well-intended, if not short-sighted, acronym that forces marathoners to sprint across the starting line.  Welcome to Wall Street marketing.

Content marketing, with its focus on utility, has accelerated this slant, as Mr. Webster says, taking “what a good salesperson is supposed to say to a customer,” merely writing it down and publishing it on the web.

Consequently, marketers are going deep down the sales funnel rather and leaving a giant gap in the essence of marketing.  The pendulum has swung too far the other way.

attract covert retain content-marketingFinding the Right Content Mix

If there’s a cautionary tale to Mr. Webster’s idea — who is a marketing statistician by trade I might add — it’s probably rooted in sacrilege amid corporate marketing circles.  No marketing executive keeps his or her job for longer than the fabled 2.4 years with a credo of awareness.

I had a visceral reaction to his post and sought out the podcasts to listen — and think through — the idea’s evolution. He’s onto something big, but for now, it probably leads to more questions than answers.

What I am certain of, is that half of content marketing is showing up consistently.  The other half is an adaptation. Too much of the right brain is the path of business outcasts.

Likewise, spreadsheets and data find the brand connection, emotion, and ironically sales, in absentia.  Creative marketing is a mix of art and science and while I don’t have all the answers, I have a sense of strong suggestion the answers are found in the mix.

There is certainly a place for lead generation in content marketing, but it has to be balanced with awareness, education, and even pure like-ability.  These are the activities that create demand. The balance is found by planning content along a matrix that cross-references a suspected buyer’s persona with the position held across the spectrum of attract, convert and retain.

The chart nearby, as rudimentary as it may be, depicts this concept and shows that there is a valid and useful place for awareness efforts and for demand creation. It’s the spot I believe that precisely identifies where PR fits in the content marketing lifecycle.

* * *

Mr. Webster sums up his ideas by borrowing from Peter Drucker who is attributed as having said, “A good deal of what is called ‘marketing’ today is at best organized, systematic selling.”

Likewise, I’ll borrow from the famous management guru in closing by noting another one of his famous citations: “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.”

Anyone we know on a personal level, we’ve gotten to know through conversation. The only way for a business to get to know customers that well is to embrace the notion that markets are conversations.  Conversations are a derivative of awareness.

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Teaching and Relevance: The Last Mile in Marketing

Photo credit: Flickr, Evonne, balance (CC BY 2.0)

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