I find it interesting all the fuss that’s being made over content right now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m elated that brands are putting so much focus on the quality of the content they produce, but it’s amazing that an industry can elevate the idea of content as the greatest thing since sliced bread in just a short couple years … especially when it’s been around in marketing for ages.
Content as a Form of Marketing is Ageless
Question: What’s a common way brands have been advertising and marketing for hundreds of years? If you guessed through “words,” you’re right. And in fact, whole disciplines were created and careers launched around this type of marketing. Think copywriters at ad agencies and marketing-communications professionals on a company’s marketing team. Before it was online, it was somewhere else.
And “content marketing” is not a novel concept, either. You only need look to traditional publications historically to see this in many forms. Take John Deere’s magazine, “The Furrow,” as an example of old-school brand publishing or branded cookbooks like Nestlé‘s to see how content marketing worked in the days of yore.
I was asked the other day by a reporter at Digiday (the article is here, although what I’m about to say didn’t make the cut) if brands, in their pursuit of becoming content marketers, publishers and even launching media companies, were somehow finding new ways to mask their intentions of marketing to appear more consumer-focused with these methods of communications.
And my answer to that is: Not anymore than brands have ever done (if you’ve seen “Mad Men,” you know what I’m talking about). The art of persuasion has taken many forms over the years.
The only thing that’s changed is the technology, the delivery and the accessibility of it all. And that makes it a great time to take advantage of available publishing methods. Now that we, as businesses, have the means to be as creative as we want with our content, and not be limited by the traditional media gatekeepers or to publishing only if we have a big budget for print, that puts us in a unique position.
Now Everybody’s Doing It …
Today, content has not only become a buzzword, but it’s also become this thing that everyone does. I read an email by Erika Napoletano the other day on this; she really despises the word “content.” Here’s a snippet:
I never set out to create content. I tell, every day, in some form or fashion, the story of my life. Some days, that’s business. Others, it’s dating. Others, it’s about getting your heartbroken or giving yourself the credit you’re do (because you’re fucking fabulous). Yet somewhere along the line, someone decided that all of that should all be called content. Which got confusing. Everything got all muddied up because everything became content. Blogs and articles and web copy and landing pages and images and videos and infographics and your stories and the things you love and the things you did and the things that happened to you and the heart you broke or got broken and…and…and…
It all became “content.”
I can empathize. Suddenly, everyone in digital marketing is in the business of content, and what that means is sometimes vague.
The other day, a friend and colleague mentioned how funny it was that everyone who was once doing [insert digital marketing discipline here] is now doing “content.” And here we are, she says, doing the same thing we’ve always been doing: content.
It’s true that creative marketers can come up with countless ways to make content visible online. And it’s very true that those same principles they’ve been applying for years to get content in front of the right people at the right time online still work in most cases. In that sense, these folks now touting content as the weapon are well qualified to talk about those practices that help market content.
But is “content” really what they’re doing? The description is a bit too vague.
On the flip side, we see people who traditionally would have fallen into the camp of content creators all-of-a-sudden becoming content strategists who perhaps may have no hands-on experience in executing strategy. Some may very well be suited to do this, but again, I think the term “content strategist” leaves much to the imagination.
But wait a minute, Jessica — don’t you say that bizbuzzcontent offers “content creation” and “content strategy” services?
Yep, I use the terms. Because this is what the industry is identifying with now, but how I define it may be very different than the next. And herein lies the problem.
So I think the “ugh” feeling we all get when it comes to the concept of content is the general lumping in of everything to the word, the vagueness around the practices within and the hopping on the bandwagon.
Yes, there are still some gray areas when we talk about content as a discipline and who does what, and it’s really up to us as an industry to help define it. Does everybody do it? Is it everything online? If we can start looking at the parts of content versus the sum of its parts, we might be better suited to make sense of it all.