The definition of content marketing: is there non-content marketing?

Jeff Swystun, previously – among others – Chief Communications Office at DDB Worldwide and now running his own consultancy, wrote a brilliant piece on content marketing and in a sense his take on the definition of content marketing.

The title of the article: Is There “Non-Content Marketing”? Just like many of us, Jeff has been practicing what we now call content marketing for a while – two decades – and he early on discovered that marketing needed to be focused and specific, provide something that captured attention, helped buyers make informed decisions and change behavior.

Yes, indeed, that’s pretty close to the definition of content marketing. And, guess what? In order to fulfill all the above goals, we needed content and we still do! On the Web, in email, for search and – imagine – even offline. This offline dimension is not just about custom publishing, advertorials, storytelling, copywriting or the use of content in advertising or for branding purposes. No, we also wrote books for brands, telling stories and convincing existing or prospective customers that their needs – as covered in the book – could be fulfilled by the brand.

The benefit perspective of content marketing

Jeff is not a critic of the term content marketing nor the definition of content marketing. He’s just a bit skeptic and that’s perfect. Jeff looks at it from the benefit and customer/business goal perspective and that’s exactly what we need to do if we don’t want to lose the focus in eternal debates over the value and definition of content marketing.

Jeff rightfully says that the increased attention for content is, among others due to the advent of social media. It’s of course also due to changing buying journeys and most certainly about shifts in the sources people trust as Jeff writes (more below) and as we see them changing year after year in Edelman’s Trust Barometer. He emphasizes that consumers – and we all are consumers, even B2B buyers – are rapidly turned off by thinly veiled sales pitches.

Is content marketing important? Of course it is, no matter how you call it and as long as you have a pragmatic content marketing definition (or, at least, approach) and talk more about the use of content to do marketing, rather than marketing the content itself as some do nowadays.

Or as Jeff puts it: is there any “Non-Content Marketing”? And really look at all your marketing tactics when pondering the question.

The success factors of content marketing

What do you need to succeed in content marketing according to Jeff? Credibility and authenticity.

Credibility: most certainly. In fact, people that used to be “trusted” such as bloggers are decreasingly trusted. It takes just a few high-impact or even personal examples or mistakes to get distrust, it takes a long time to earn trust or credibility. Be credible and you can get the buy (on whatever term) and loyalty, it’s that simple. I’ll cover that a bit further.

Authenticity: I agree as well. However, the term – although I also use it a lot – is a bit fluffy in these times of ‘authentic’ social business. Don’t get me wrong: I love authenticity. But you know what: let’s just call it relevance. Is that fluffy too? Well, relevance is in the eye of the beholder: your customers will define whether something is relevant for them or not. And if it is, it will show on your bottom-line. Furthermore, you bet relevancy requires authenticity. But most of all it means keeping your promise and standing out by customer excellence and not “selling” something as valuable content to attract prospective customers when it’s really a sales pitch with some simplistic bullet points and vague explanations, camouflaged as neutral and credible content,  people can find anywhere on the Web.

The definition of content marketing and the role of promises and trust

In that regard, I can only applaud Jeff where he writes “I get incredibly turned off if I read a company’s white paper and find it is nothing more than a brochure instead of the educational piece it was promised to be.” I know what you mean, Jeff. And it’s not just about the content itself but also the tricks to mislead us: to disguise it contains close to zero value, use a lot of images and a very big font size and lots of white space so it seems really magnificent, it’s all about perception, right?

And you know what, Jeff?  I also get incredibly turned off when I download a white paper and someone at the company mails or – worse – calls me saying that I “showed interest in his company”. And, trust me, I’m talking about BIG companies. in fact, even about companies that are all about content marketing.

Content – and content marketing as we now call it, plays a role in nearly all marketing goals. Indeed, is there any “Non-Content Marketing”? But you need to know its place and, to refer to my small example, also know when someone is interested in your white paper or in your company and see that it is not a one-off thing (hey, you downloaded my campaign white paper, now I call you) but something smarter (hey, this person really looks interested in more than our content, look what he requested and did, we have buying signals here, Houston).

The future of content marketing

So, what’s next for content marketing? Credibility and authenticity,as mentioned above. Quantity over quality. Reliable sources, crucial for Jeff (and me and you and your customers). Let me add this one once more: freaking good – read relevant – content. I think Jeff will agree as his homepage says “Why be one of the overwhelmingly mediocre businesses and brands in the world?“. Sounds familiar? I know, I don’t stop talking about it. But you don’t know it because I say it: you know it deep inside and a bet many of you will have a long experience in content marketing, just like Jeff and I have, and share common feeling and thoughts.

I bet many of you don’t care about the definition of content marketing either and wonder if there is any “Non-Content Marketing” too? Well, then it’s time you speak up and we put content back where it belongs: outside of the volume mania and hype, and inside an integrated marketing view.

Oh and what’s Jeff’s definition of content marketing? I don’t think he really has one or cares. But he sure knows the role of content marketing. Read his article here.

Don’t be mediocre and fall in the trap of content commoditization and populism. Your customers deserve more.

Join us on June 10th in Antwerp, Belgium, for the Content Marketing Conference Europe. With confirmed speakers such as Jay Baer, Lee Odden, Mike Corak, Kelly Hungerford, Dado Van Peteghem, Tristan Lavender, Guido Everaert, Tom De Baere and Xaviera Ringeling (more to be announced), we'll take you across a learning experience leading to tangible insights and actionable inspiration, moderated by media expert Jo Caudron!

Content Marketing Conference Europe

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