"We never call anything that's good 'content.' Nobody walks out of a movie they loved and says, 'Wow! What great content!' Nobody listens to 'content' on their way to work in the morning. Do you think anybody ever called Ernest Hemingway a 'content creator'? If they did, I bet he would punch 'em in the nose." - Greg Satell
Greg Satell recently published an article in the Harvard Business Review called, "Content Is Crap, and Other Rules for Marketers," in which he makes the argument that marketers have, for the most part, not yet figured out how to create content that truly engages with customers.
First he looks at the opportunities that the Internet provides marketers. TV offers amazing reach, but low engagement. Trade shows offer low reach but great engagement. Digital technology and social media have the potential to offer both high engagement and great reach.
Satell says that some brands have already succeeded in the digital sphere. "Nike videos on YouTube routinely attract more than 10 million views. Coke has nearly 100 million followers on Facebook. Red Bull has its own TV channel," he writes. But most marketers haven't been successful. Indeed, less than 40% of B2B and B2C marketers find their content marketing programs effective, according to a Content Marketing Institute report.
Where did the idea that content is king come from anyway? "The idea that content is king, in its current usage, comes from a remarkably prescient 1995 essay by Bill Gates in which he called the Internet - still an emerging technology at the time - a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products," writes Satell.
And though the Internet still has that potential, it hasn't always lived up to it.
"The problem is that content isn't king. Content is crap," writes Satell.
Why is it crap? Much of it is designed to grab attention, but fails to hold it. "The problem is that content is not a long-form version of advertising," writes Satell.
Good content needs to build "an ongoing relationship" between a company and its consumers. It needs to be useful. It needs to tell stories. "To get people to subscribe to a blog, YouTube channel, or social media feed, you need to offer more than a catchy slogan or a clever stunt. You need to offer real value, and offer it consistently," writes Satell.
Another problem with content is the way its effectiveness has been measured. Remember when all people cared about was page views? And so the best minds of a generation were wasted on figuring out how to make people click? That didn't end up successfully creating relationships. Instead it just led us to discover that clicks and reading aren't related activities.
"Marketers have a variety of metrics to evaluate what they publish and produce, including page views, video views, length of viewing, social media shares, and on and on," writes Satell. "Yet none of that will tell you whether you have communicated a clear promise and are delivering on it. Optimize for mission, not for metrics."
Satell also argues that marketers should understand that "publishing is a product, not a campaign."
With a campaign, you can expect an immediate results that dissipates almost as quickly. But brand publishing "establishes an ongoing, trustful relationship with consumers that lasts beyond the present sales cycle," writes Satell.
Satell doesn't talk about what will be necessary on a business by business level to make content marketing a success, but I believe it will require real investment in content creators. They'll need to be given the time and the skills they need to create real stories. They'll need the skills of journalists and directors. They'll need to be given room to experiment and even to fail. If the industries created by the existence of the Internet have taught us anything, it is that failure is an integral part of the path to success.
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