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Content Marketing: the emperor’s new clothes?

Press release   •   Sep 16, 2015 11:33 CEST

Let us start by making a confession. We have a love-hate relationship to content marketing. The term bugs us because it is so all encompassing, vague and devoid of strategic emphasis. At the same time, we love the possibilities that exciting new digital tools and platforms are opening for the world’s storytellers. In a way, we are hooked too.

Ever since marketing guru Seth Godin proclaimed that: “content marketing is the only marketing left”, we have witnessed brands everywhere jumping on the content marketing bandwagon. Like it or not, it has become the buzzword of the year, with 56% of marketers allocating budgets to this area, according to recent studies.

Hello – I’m a content creator
But brands aren’t the only ones jumping on the bandwagon. Ad agencies, corporate magazine publishers and PR firms have all re-named themselves “content agencies.” Many are fighting over who should be in control of social and digital channels, now that the lines between PR and marketing are blurring. A former copywriter we know now calls himself a “content creator.” A filmmaker has now been reincarnated as a “videoblogger”. Indeed, anyone with a laptop and an iPhone or camera can be a publisher these days. So what the heck is going on here?

Industry transformation in full speed
What we are witnessing, of course, is the transformation of the communications industry, fueled by exciting and innovative new digital platforms. The barriers on storytelling are coming down. This is mainly good news. It means that anyone with a good story to tell can connect with a global audience – build their influence and grow their business. The old gatekeepers are less powerful. Good!

Avoiding content shock
The drawback in today’s digital, social, mobile world is that we are drowning in content. I call it “content shock.” Consider, for example, that Nestle publishes 1,500 pieces of content a day on its Facebook pages. Other brands are hiring unemployed journalists, photographers and others, turning them loose with a brief: “produce some cool stuff.” In this chaos, we can’t help asking ourselves: Where is the brand strategy? Where is the storytelling with a purpose? We miss the “why?”

So while the ability to tell stories well over new digital platforms is certainly empowering and exciting, there are a lot of misconceptions. Here are a few:

Common misconceptions about content marketing and traps to avoid:

1. Content marking will save us a lot of money.

This is simply not true, as many companies are finding out the hard way. It’s one thing to talk about embracing a content-driven approach, but quite another to implement it across an organization. You may soon need to hire an army of in-house editors, content creators and more. Do they know your brand strategy? Tonality? Then there is the investment in content automation software like Marketo or HubSpot, which means you may need another full-time person just to run it. While new platforms are certainly helping to make content marketers’ lives easier, one should not underestimate the time, energy and manpower involved in truly embracing such a strategy.

2. Quantity is often better than quality – “just get it out”

Not true. Studies show that a good story, well told, can grab far more interest than mediocre ones – not just 90 seconds or two minutes, but 20 minutes or 30 minutes of valuable attention. People will share a good story if they find it inspiring, entertaining or truly helpful. The real secret, of course, is to combine quantity and quality. One does not preclude the other.

3. A content or digital marketing strategy is enough

Fundamentally, we believe there should be one unified brand strategy – not a brand strategy, a digital strategy, a content strategy, a PR strategy, etc. Sure, we get the fact that these disciplines may require special consideration or treatment in a communications mix. But they are still subordinate to the larger master brand and should flow naturally out of it. There are different opinions on this, but we are very suspicious of letting the content marketers – or a PR firm for that matter – take over this discipline. Beware.

4. Data and analytics will win over emotional connections

Not true. We've always been big fans of analytics and love stuff like Google analytics, Klout scores, WordPress dashboards and Mynewsdesk analytics. But to stay humanly relevant to our customers, we need to be careful not to be overly obsessed with data. You need to remember that a healthy dose of playfulness, imagination and even mystery can add a lot to your brand. Apple is a case in point. At the end of the day, most decisions are emotional (even though customers will say otherwise in the surveys). When customers feel you and connect on an emotional level, the numbers will work themselves out.

The power of storytelling
Now back to the original question: Is content marketing a case of the emperors new clothes? Well, yes and no. The idea of storytelling has been around since the dawn of time, used effectively by marketers, brand owners and communicators for many years.

The difference today, of course, is the proliferation of digital, social and other tools, combined with analytics, software and CRM systems, which open up possibilities for marketers to engage with their audiences – in real time, virtually anywhere, on an ongoing basis. It’s becoming more organized, systematized and automated.

And hey, nothing wrong with that. Software can help on many levels. 

Take a stand for your brand
At the end of the day, however, you need to know what your brand stands for. What should the customer feel when they come into contact with you? What makes you different and why should customers chose you. In short, you need to spend a bit of time on the WHY before diving into the tactics of content marketing, whatever that term actually means. 

Tell your story to the world – in English. Open Communications AB is a strategic communications agency that helps Scandinavian companies achieve their goals across borders. The company has a multicultural staff and works primarily in English. Founded in 2001, its clients now include H&M, Ericsson, Cavotec, IKEA, Skanska and Electrolux. Together with its partners, Open has won more than 100 international awards including Guldägg, a Silver CyberLion, Epica, Clio,

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