I’ve talked about this before, but the need to define and clarify what content marketing is and the role it needs to play, is becoming increasingly critical if it is to survive. It used to be helping brands become publishers, to provide a value to an audience that went beyond just the product and service. Very simply put, but as I’ll go into a bit in this semi-reflective rant, too many people claiming to do content marketing, pretending to know what the hell they’re doing, have been cheapening the craft and confusing the purpose.
So what happened here, what does content marketing mean for the future and what needs to happen to get there? As recent events have made me question exactly this, I will start there; where King Content ended and something else began.
When it’s all over, that’s when it begins.
When a relationship ends, whether personal or professional, you always question what went wrong, what you could have done differently, what you’ve learned and what you will take with you.
My latest professional relationship ended just a little while ago, after I decided to leave Isentia just before Isentia decided to shut the whole content marketing arm down globally. The end of an era for sure. And not just for King Content, but for content marketing as a whole I’d say, the demise of The King reflects the confused state the concept of content marketing has taken over the past year or so.
I believe the fall of King Content was not only a result of a lack of knowledge within the larger business, nor simply poor integration – albeit these are of course contributing factors; but an inability as an industry to evolve when required and pivot when critical.
Had King Content been allowed the agility to flex and move with the environment, it might have remained the leader it was under Craig Hodges, and stayed the main driver of an industry in need of clarity and direction. But, then again, sometimes things need to burn to give way for new crop, and I think that’s where we’re headed.
But, then again, sometimes things need to burn to give
way for new crop, and I think that’s where we’re headed.
Because marketers are getting savvier, brands are becoming more holistic in their CX focus, and consumers are changing the way they behave with every new technology launched and every new surface created. Agencies on all sides are scrambling to play a role in this new environment, and those roles are blurred, the borders fluid and everyone seems a bit confused. So content marketing of tomorrow needs to consider a larger eco-system, a much more complex CX and the impact on touch points across employees, consumers, partners, influencers and competitors. And to understand the role it can truly own within this increasingly chaotic eco-system. We need to stop scrambling, stop creating to create and start really interrogating our raison d’etre and the value we can bring. And act accordingly.
A lot of people are claiming their place at the throne, though in my humble opinion, none have yet figured out what that throne now looks like, what kingdom it belongs to and who their subjects are. So, yeah, I’m gonna try. Starting with a few obvious shifts.
Begin with the right people.
Despite leapfrogging technologies and AI developments, people still buy people. You invest in people, they are your brand, they should be your voice. So I for one am extremely careful about whom I hire, because they need to be believable and credible in order to be sellable. Which is why I would never hire ‘sales’ people for example. I mean whether you call it Business Development or any other name, let’s face it; it’s usually just ‘sales’. An while sales has a role in certain types of churn businesses, I do not think it belongs in any business with a focus on quality, excellence, leadership and long term growth.
My old boss once told me that his strategists were the best sales people he had, because they knew what the hell they were talking about and they had a true passion for what they did. I couldn’t agree more. Having run the global strategy team at King Content and knowing how much they actually loved what they did and how that made them so great at it (Hats off to Julia, Yanni, Phil, Laura, Julia, Daniel, Lieu) I was never surprised that this was what clients bought.
Savvy marketers buy the strategist; they do not buy the sales people. Because it is no longer enough to simply create some blog posts, slice them for social, pile money behind and hope for the best. You need to have a purpose, a role, and a reason to exist in the lives of the consumer. I don’t know how many times I need to say this, but clearly a few more as there are still people out there cheapening what the rest of us are trying to lift, making the role of content marketing seem like the add-ons shoed in from a used-cars salesman. In Norwegian we call this a ‘potato pitch’, selling something under the pretence that it can basically go with anything and everything. It can’t. Only the actual potato can do that.
In Norwegian we call this a ‘potato pitch’, selling something under the
pretence that it can basically go with anything and everything. It can’t.
Only the actual potato can do that.
So I say hire strategists first. Hire truly knowledgeable, insightful talents who knows that you need to ask ‘why’ until there are no more ‘why’s’ to ask. Then partner with great creators, developers, experts and managers to bring it to life. You don’t need sales; you need insights, passion, knowledge and skills.
So how do we change the game then?
Well, I think we need to tighten the approach to strategic planning and implementation frameworks to help brands understand they need to find a credible and relevant way to solve a real consumer problem. There are some universal problems attached to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that might be shifting, ebbing, flowing and evolving. But never changing at the core. Identify, define and interrogate what aspect of these fundamental problems your brand can play a role in solving. Whether it’s related to i.e. health, development, belonging, realisation, security or knowledge.
You need to have an in-depth understanding of an audience, a market, an eco-system and a non-linear CX journey across all touch points in order to create strategies that lead to content with impact. Not a lot of people know how to do that, and so those who cannot understand the core reason why they exist, the fundamental problem they’re trying to solve and the fastest and most effective way to get there, will disappear to leave way for those who do.
Well, here’s hoping.
So what’s next?
In order to be great, then, you need to realise you can’t do everything, that you shouldn’t try to be everything to everyone. We need to put meaning and clarity into the name of content marketing. Bring it back to its core; focus on adding real value to an audience by identifying true problems to solve with credibility and impact. Bring it back to insights, not observations. To building robust strategic plans, not putting out fires.
At Core we’re developing a new framework to do just this, to ensure everything we do has purpose and validity. We’re officially launching this beginning of next year. So I guess that’s what’s next. Just watch this space.