Content marketing standouts - the opinionated summer review

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed September 5, 2014
Most of this summer's content marketing pieces I were bland pep talks that amounted to nothing. But there were some keepers - here's my opinionated review.

This summer notched a milestone: there were more pieces written about content marketing than actual content created. I'm calling it the 'surfboard effect' - look for me on CNN holding up a book with a surfboard. Joking aside, most of the content pieces I read were bland pep talk that amounted to nothing. But there were some keepers.

Here's my rundown of the best content pieces of the summer, with my take on why each matters. I've organized them thematically, starting with the dark side of content failures, then feel good motivation, then data and content futures. Hopefully this will take the reader from reality check to inspiration to tactics that work.

On content waste and ineffectiveness

Content Used to Be King. Now It's the Joker.
by: Amy Westervelt, freelance writer
pull quote: "Maybe if we all jump off the “content” bandwagon, publications will stop giving space away to companies. Maybe they’ll start thinking along the lines of, “Hey! Do we really need 30 or more new stories a day on our site? Are those SEO results amounting to any real bottom-line benefit? Is anyone even reading all this stuff?
why it matters: Westervelt's disillusioned take on sponsored content is a cautionary tale of journalistic sensibilities getting crushed by crass commercialism. Right - but why should enterprises care? Because the ineffectiveness of bland B2B content, combined with the deterioration of reader trust, is a noxious mixture. There is a difference between exposure and true attention. One key piece of punchy advice: executives should learn to write in their own voice, rather than export that chore to a third party.

Most B2B Marketers Struggle To Create Engaging Content
by: Laura Ramos, Forrester
pull quote: 'A startling 72% of surveyed marketers say less than half of their marketing staff plays a primary role in content marketing today — leaving content to quickly devolve to talk of products and features, rather than interesting insights buyers crave. It's not a surprise, then, that 87% say they struggle to produce content that truly engages their buyers.'
why it matters: In July, Ramos shared the highlights from a Forrester report on B2B marketers that put data on a picture we knew was a bit grim. In particular, brands are struggling to write content that stands above products and feature sets and transcends insular views. The report itself is paywall-protected, but Ramos' post lays out the key findings and some recommendations for avoiding the ineffective content spend sinkhole.

Content Marketing: Start Conversations Don’t Join Them
by:  Greg Satell, Curati
pull quote: 'In this new socially dominated marketplace metrics like brand awareness, reach and frequency no longer suffice.  We have to create a true value exchange. The good news is that most brands have a lot to offer— vast resources, deep expertise and important insights to share with the world. So don’t think of content as “buzz,” think of it as a contribution.'
why it matters: Heading into the solutions part of my summer review, Satell cautions about the obsession with metrics and content virality undermining a focus on 'true value exchange.' If brands are to become publishers, they'll do it not by firing off speculative ideas left and right, but focusing content around industry problems (and solutions).
also see: Tom Foremski sums the transition from brand pushing to resourceful publisher in Here's What's Missing in Content Marketing: Content as a Service.

Enterprise content that works - motivation and method

The Characteristics of Content That Turns Skeptics Into Believers
by: Lisa Toner, Hubspot
quotage: 'Many content creators make a mistake in thinking that when writing for a more senior audience, they should write in really advanced and sophisticated English in order to appeal to them. The truth is, people don't have time to spend on deciphering your complicated message. Everyone likes things to be easy and by writing your content in a jargon-free, easily digestible tone, you will actually get your message across far better.'
why it matters: In the best of the motivational pieces, Toner provides research-supported examples of content that impacts decision makers. Toner mixes in CIO survey data with her advice on honest/relevant/valuable/evidence-based content, noting that an increasing percentage of CIOs are relying on content during the buying process.
also see: Other motivational standouts with different angles include: 5 Steps to Blast Through Fear and Create Epic Content, Purpose-Driven Content Marketing: Brands That Give and Get and How to Align Content Marketing and Thought Leadership.

6 Steps to a Data-Driven Content Marketing Strategy
by: Ted Karczewski, Content Marketing Institute
quotage: 'Today’s leading brands use data in a variety of ways. We see Kohl’s using customer information to push in-store shoppers toward the checkout lanes through personalized content, while Arby’s uses big data to identify the channels and cultural events that interest its audience and deliver relevant content as a way to join the conversation.'
why it matters: Data-done-right is that holy grail of providing a similar experience to a broad demographic that you can get from your trusty corner store where they know your name and have your order ready. Karczeski starts his piece with real world examples of how data-informed content is driving purchases. Then he provides a framework for making data actionable. It's a good start.
also see: Vala Afshar weighs in on how data is transforming marketing in Why a Data Scientist Should Be Your Next Marketing Hire.

Content futures and disruptions

The leaked New York Times innovation report is one of the key documents of this media age
by: Joshua Norton, Nieman Journalism Lab
quotage: 'I’ve spoken with multiple digital-savvy Times staffers in recent days who described the report with words like “transformative” and “incredibly important” and “a big big moment for the future of the Times.” One admitted crying while reading it because it surfaced so many issues about Times culture that digital types have been struggling to overcome for years.'
why it matters: The ruthless navel-gazing in the NYT Innovation Report is one of the defining documents of media in digital crisis. The entire report is worth a scour, but for those who want a cliff's notes, Norton's review (complete with yellow highlighter pen) is as good as place to start as any. For readers not in the pure media business, some caution must be applied as the dynamics of a pure media play are different. But when you dig into the Times' mobile app struggles, the decline of the home page, the idea of repackaging crucial content lost in noisy streams, the need for 'follow' and customized 'opt-in' scenarios - you can see why I consider this to be an essential resource for all media-dabbling brands.

News’ Next Big Obsession Is To "Win The Couch"
by: Myles Tanzer, BuzzFeed
quotage: 'Even with Facebook and Twitter and legions of newsreaders and apps, news organizations are still grappling with and working feverishly on new publishing technologies and resurfacing old content to siphon the glut of content and bring the news to new audiences. Their latest obsession: becoming the friend who knows what all your friends are talking about. Feeling overwhelmed? They’re here to sit with you on the couch and catch you up on what everyone is talking about.'
why it matters: 'Win the couch' is my favorite content phrase of the summer, though I use it differently than Tanzer did. Tanzer is referring to the rise in curation - the perceived need for news agencies to provide more context to busy readers. And: the realization - backed up by statistics - that re-releasing terrific content can have an impact. It's an encouraging trend because it points to less mindless content factory work and more editorial judgement. Brands can employ these curation techniques to win trust and bolster their pursuit of so-called 'thought leadership'.

Final thoughts

I have an even more potent interpretation of 'win the couch' - I believe the phrase captures the challenge brands face to win attention by surpassing the relevance/entertainment test of ALL CONTENT, business and not, that consumers have access to at almost any time.

Of course, divided attention can work too - such as the stats indicating many are on their phones while in front of the television. 'Win the couch' also means: create content that is culturally appealing enough to your audience that they don't leave it in their cubicles with everything else they want to escape.

For B2B content marketers who need nuanced content to get their story across, there is optimistic news. Smart phones - once thought to be the death-knell for longer content - are becoming such terrific consumption devices that readers are (sometimes) willing to consume longer pieces (here's some new apps looking to capitalize on that longer-form trend). That removes the oppressiveness of 'short form only' and gets us back to the right predicament: engaging our buying audience in the most relevant way possible.

End note: If you're far along the content path in your organization and looking to structure for publishing maturity, this piece on the six stages of enterprise content maturity should be of use to you. It's a tad dry but the content is good. If you want to read my fave piece I published on this topic this summer, I recommend Why the informed buyer is ruining the content party. Or, there's my entire B2B content strategy series if you want to go further down this rabbit hole.

Image credit: Asian graduate show like on laptop screen © Creativa -