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Content eats marketing

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy June 6, 2013

Magnifying Glass - Facts
Gartner has finally woken up to the fact that 'content eats marketing.' We should put cynicism aside given that the author, Jake Sorofman has only been with the firm a year and is an ex-CMO. Even so, the topic is one that those of us who have been wage slaves to Big Media have known for a very long time. He says:

Great content is also the great equalizer. Dollar for dollar, earned outperforms paid.

And let’s also not forget that great content is also the secret to getting found—on the social web and by search engines. Increasingly, search algorithms look beyond keywords and inbound links to the social signals that speak to quality and relevance. What’s liked, what’s shared and what’s followed are strong indicators of what’s found. Think of it this way: search marketing used to be about optimizing content for machines. Now, mercifully, it’s about optimizing content for human beings.

That's all well and good but it is surprising how few companies 'get it.'

My sense is that with so much content as thinly veiled PR being driven into the so-called news, there is little incentive to view alternative models. To make matters worse, I see the cynical use of paid Tweets as just the latest example of manipulating an otherwise gullible audience into buying into pap. This from a year ago according to a HuffPo report:

For many people, our Twitter follower tally really only influences our egos. But for a celebrity, a big Twitter base can mean the opportunity for big money from sponsored tweets.

According to New York Magazine, celebrities are often approached by companies asking them to promote a product in exchange for thousands of dollars. The article reveals that Kim Kardashian gets paid $10,000 for every tweet in which she plugs subscription-based e-commerce company ShoeDazzle.Snoop Dogg, who has shilled for Toyota and has about 7,000 fewer followers than Kardashian, gets $8,000 per tweet.

From what I understand those prices are going up so presumably consumer brands think it is worth the shout.

That doesn't work in the business to business world where authentic conversations and nuance really matter. Ask anyone who makes a buying decision. Despite the poorly thought out logic in this article, we know that ultimately, buyers buy from buyers who tell the truth. This is not new. What is new is that buyers are demanding easier access to authentic information. That in turn requires a willingness to let go of some aspects of the control of information into the marketplace.

Tom Foremski, who has been trying to find an alternative model for publishing since forever (aka 2005) says of a recent tour he took among European PRs:

A common phenomenon in the media industry is that if a publication becomes the thought leader for its target segment, it's very difficult to dislodge it, even if it's not that good. If it's where people have to read it becomes the leader and usually it's a winner takes all position. The same is true for corporate media. For example, look at the success of Zappos. I don't know of any other online shoe retailer even though there are (probably) many others.

That's the same opportunity for every company -- to establish their thought leadership in prime position, through their own media channels. It's then very difficult for others, coming along later, to dislodge them. This is where smaller, more nimble companies can get a jump on larger competitors in terms of amping up their corporate media efforts.

I thoroughly dislike this 'winner takes all' argument because in the end, it stifles, rather than fosters conversations of value. I'm not even sure that it's working. I do however like the notion of nimble media that attempts to add value rather than follow the crowd. That's what we're trying to do, so I would say that - right?

Our (very) limited experience so far suggests that vendors are head scratching around finding a voice that works. We totally understand why that is the case. Donkeys years of believing in broadcast messaging does not get replaced overnight. It's a genuine 'change management' problem. On the other hand, few inside corporations want to be positioned as the 'edge guy/gal.' It is often too dangerous to one's career unless they operate in a culture of forgiveness and are blessed and/or are protected at the highest levels. Look at what happened to this guy when he went a bit too far.

Regardless, the warning signs are there. I am warming to HavasMedia's approach. In a soon to be released report they say (per The Guardian):

New research by Havas Media Group, which surveyed 134,000 people around the world, shows that consumers would not care less if 73% of brands were wiped off the face of the earth and that only a fifth of brands notably improve people's quality of life.

That has to be devastating news to those tech brands which have carefully nurtured their position over many years. It is the point about improved quality of life that rings true in the enterprise.

Spun another way, we see deep concern about applications that are tough to use, or which require what seem like un-necessary hurdles or which foster workarounds as the de facto method of operation. The vendor community gets that but, with some exceptions, seems glacially slow at pushing through the UX changes needed to 'improve the quality of working life.'

In another twist, I routinely come across companies that while willing to stand on stage to audiences running thousands, explaining benefits from this or that technology, fight shy of running a five minute video on the same topic without getting legal and PR approval. It is illogical but again understandable in the context of conversational control.

What's needed is a mind shift, a recognition that unvarnished yet well articulated story telling is far more powerful than legally neutered press release material. As I say that, I can almost see the PR nerds nodding vigorously yet panicking about how they get those ideas across to clients who are used to seeing PR as the gatekeeper of corporate thought. My sense is that information demands will trump control. I cannot predict a timeframe but if recent experience is an indicator, it will be far faster than we expect.

As the digital economy unfolds, I suspect there will be plenty of battles around content. But of one thing I am sure. Authenticity speaks louder than anything else and those that speak loud and authentically usually win.

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