Challenging the Backward Notion of “Content Marketing”

Maybe it’s the embittered English cynic inside me, whose soul has been ravaged by years of disappointing summers and consecutive World Cup failures, but the whole notion of “content marketing” seems somewhat backwards to me.

While the entire SEO industry (how long will we be able to say that sentence for?) scrabbles around desperately trying to position themselves as the greatest content marketer in town, it seems to me that this “new” fool proof tactic that Google will never penalise is merely the latest in a long line of ploys to game the system.

Producing “content” is not the sole preserve of the SEO industry, and for many years marketers and PR gurus have been utilising articles, videos and evocative imagery to great success, just as SEOs are trying to do now.

It’s not only marketers; television, theatres, radio stations books all require “content” in order to make them function. Without content they would merely be a medium with no purpose.

The Medium is the Message

Content drives everything in our modern world of entertainment, but when you settle down to watch an old episode of The Sopranos or you laugh at the brilliance of The Thick of It (or Veep for any American readers), are you left thinking “that was a fantastic piece of content”?

This is where the notion of using “content marketing” as your latest SEO strategy comes somewhat unstuck.

Good television programmes are those that are produced to be good television programmes, those that grip the audience and capture their imaginations.

Good adverts are those that leave a mark on those that watch them and force them into an action, whether that’s telling their friends, sharing it on Facebook or going to the shop and buying a product.

Good content has worked in the entertainment industry for years because it has a symbiotic connection with its medium, it was conceived and created to be an excellent television programme, not a piece of content.

Missing the Point

If you are thinking that “content marketing” is going to be your latest big hitting strategy then you are almost certain to fail. Content that is produced to fill a pre-constructed hole will never be as successful as material that drives the format it is on.

“We need a video for content marketing” won’t work as well as “we have an amazing video that deserves an audience”. This is the key segmentation that will divide good marketers from bad and distinguish you from the next wave of tactic spammers.

Of course, not everybody thinks this way, and a brilliant article in SEOMoz by Mackenzie Fogelson presents this information in a much more actionable way than this piece aspires to.

This is more about challenging those involved in SEO to think carefully about whether they want to be seen as more than a “Content Marketer”. Does Brad Pitt describe himself as a “Content Provider”? Using brilliant articles, videos and the like will of course bring success to a website, but this is not how you should be thinking. Instead, use the medium to drive your message, not the other way around.

I sometimes struggle when it comes to making a concise point that is understandable to people other than myself, so I will leave you with the thoughts of the brilliant stand-up comedian Stewart Lee, who has his own thoughts on the notion of “content”.