A recent article in the Guardian discussed the existential tension that exists between content marketing and advertising. Citing Lego Magazine and the movie The Internship as examples, the writer, Jonny Rose, asked if these qualified as legitimate forms of branded content, or were merely advertising shills?
To that end, this question is often asked: When it comes to content marketing, what types of information qualify?
I think that's the wrong question altogether. A much better one is: Does the content we create benefit the end user in some way?
Rose agrees. "The most important question for content marketers and ad execs is not an existential one--is what we are creating content marketing or advertising--but one of utility," he writes. "Is what we are creating helpful to consumers who are seeking information or entertainment to meet their own interests and needs?"
It's a matter of function more than form. Our focus in producing content should be, first and foremost, what benefits the needs and desires of our audience. When that happens, content becomes nothing more than a vehicle through which we educate, inform, inspire or entertain consumers, no matter what form it takes.
In his book Youtility, author Jay Baer says, "There are only two ways for companies to break through in an environment that is unprecedented in its competitiveness and cacophony. They can be 'amazing' or they can be useful. "
The same holds true for content marketing. We can either constantly tout the virtues of our brand, or we can turn our attention to what's best for the customer.
Baer provides the following six admonitions for any brand considering usefulness as a primary marketing philosophy:
1. Identify Customer Needs
The first order of business is to know understand our customer's needs and wants, in terms of the type of information they are looking for.
2. Map Customer Needs to Useful Marketing
You have to understand not just what your customers need, but how and where they prefer to access information.
3. Market Your Marketing
"Content is fire, and social media is gasoline," says Baer. Use social media as a means to convey helpful information first, and your brand second.
4. Insource Utility
Usefulness has to become part of a brand's DNA. Communicating useful information must extend beyond the marketing department and into the company as a whole. While certain individuals may be tasked with producing content, the rest can marshall around them to promote it via their own social networks.
5. Make Utility a Process, Not a Project
Producing content must never be seen as a campaign, but as an ongoing process. The reason: nothing remains the same. Customer needs change, technology changes, and new ideas are continually birthed. "Static" is not an operative word where the web is concerned.
6. Keep Score
In order for content marketing to be most effective, it must be measured. We're not doing this just to make ourselves look like heroes in the eyes of consumers, but to gain market share and increase return on investment.
Whether something qualifies as "content" should not be based on form, but on how well it meets the needs and wants of the people we're trying to reach with our message. As the subtitle of Baer's book suggests, Smart marketing is about 'help' not 'hype.' Make your content useful and the benefits will follow.
Title image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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Paul Chaney is principal of Chaney Marketing Group, a boutique agency that provides integrated online marketing solutions built on the concept that quality, optimized content framed within the proper context drives sales conversions.
He is a freelance writer, popular speaker, and author of four books on the topics of business blogging, social media, and social commerce. His latest is "The Social Commerce Handbook: 20 Secrets for Turning Social Media into Social Sales," published by McGraw-Hill.
Paul sits on the board of advisors for the Women's Wisdom Network, the Social Media Marketing Institute, SmartBrief on Social Media, and MyVenturePad.com.
March 19, 2014