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Marketing and The Content Machine in 2016


Today, we cannot have a marketing meeting without talking about content marketing. It has become a silver bullet for all marketing problems. Every brand wants to be a publisher in some shape or form, and the newsroom is the latest shiny object. People don't pay attention to ads. So instead of doing more of the same, we sponsor content that might engage people. It sounds like a smart move, right?
The only problem is that content is an abundant resource. Everyone is doing it;94% of small businesses, 93% of B2Bs, and 77% of B2Cs use content marketing.Unless you are creating something unique, you are just adding to the sea of content. Brands have a better shot to standing out by focusing on originality than by following the pack (e.g., sponsoring articles, whitepapers, how-to guides). It's more interesting and better business.
According to Wikipedia, content marketing is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content to acquire and retain customers. This information can be presented in a variety of formats, including news, videos, white papers, e-books, infographics, case studies, how-to guides, question-and-answer articles, photos, blogs, etc.
I don't have anything against content marketing. I believe that content has a place within the marketing mix. I am just concerned that we are using content as the popular option—the new banner ads—without a clear strategy and the right level of investment, instead of focusing on innovative thinking to build the brand. As a result, all of this content production doesn't seem to be working. According toContent Marketing Institute, only 9% of B2B marketers consider their content marketing efforts to be "very effective."
From an economic perspective, content does deliver a higher attention rate than traditional options such as banner ads. No one clicks on banners, so there is a business case for sponsoring content. That said, to make content marketing work, you need to have a clear focus and do it consistently with good quality and at scale, as you are competing with everyone. In other words, you need to create a content machine as a publishing company (e.g., NYT, People Magazine, The Economist). Some brands such as Red Bull have done it successfully, but this an expensive proposition. You need to have the people, technology, and resources to make it work. And don't expect results in a matter of a few weeks or even a few months. Content marketing takes time.
For instance, a pasta brand might want to consider sponsoring pasta recipes, books, videos, etc. to get attention. If you Google pasta recipes, there are 49 million results and counting. It's going to be hard to get visibility in this sea of content. One option is to try to find a niche within the category, create a content machine, add celebrity power to endorse the content, and pay for visibility in the Google ranks. This option is more effective than traditional banner ads, but still, there is no guarantee it will get you the breakthrough. People are more likely to trust real people's opinions. And you are always competing with everyone.
The other options are originality, "the scarce resource," innovative thinking, and the media. For instance, to get Mondo Pasta on everyone's mind, the company created a bigger-than-life promotion at the most visited place in Hamburg: the harbor, which is the second largest harbor in Europe. Huge stickers with faces on them turned the ships into permanent pasta slurpers. The campaign had an incredible stop effect and soon became the talk of the town.
In summary, today's marketing is a choice between originality and process, scarce and abundant resources, compelling service and following the pack. These options are not mutually exclusive, but strategy is about choices. You can not have it both ways. In an age of disengagement, originality wins.

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