Content Marketing World 2022: Give Us Better Instead of Water

Do you see content as a marketing tactic or as a communication strategy for brand building and driving sales? What is the success factor of contentmarketing. And why is it really high time you started your own content platform? My take aways from Content Marketing World in Cleveland where I spoke for the third time.

schedule 16 okt 2022
bookmark_border Contentmarketing

It's crazy. I mean, how long have we already been talking to each other about content marketing. And still we have no idea what that's exactly about.

I've been following LinkedIn updates for a year about job openings within content marketing, linked to words like content specialist, content strategist and storytelling.

Then a content strategist is a writer, then an editor-in-chief, then a content creator, then a senior brand strategist, then an influencer strategy lead, then a copywriter, then an editor-in-chief and so on, who must also understand CMS, interactive content, email marketing systems and analytics tools.

Under the storyteller heading, I see copywriter, senior writer, copywriter, content specialist and brand strategist.

A content specialist is an SEO copywriter, social media specialist or editor-in-chief cum data specialist. Someone who can "draw the right conclusions from the dashboards you monitor" and "link concrete actions" to them.

No one within all those companies (from large to small) and organizations (government, NGOs) has any idea what content marketing actually means, and yes, that is deeply sad.

Content is water

Robert Rose starts talking about this too, during the opening speech of Content Marketing World in Cleveland, the world's largest content marketing conference. He illustrates his talk with the commencement speech by American author David Foster Wallace, delivered May 21, 2005 at Kenyon College in Ohio.

"Two young fish quietly swim a lap. Along the way they pass an older fish who greets them kindly and asks, 'Good morning, boys, how's the water?'" The two young fish swim on until one of them looks at the other and asks, "What the hell is water?'"

What is water? What is content, says Rose. In the boardroom, they have no idea. Because they're surrounded by it. Content feeds your internal communications, recruitment, branding, marketing and communications. "It's used for everything every day, making it perhaps the most important function in business. Because it flows like water everywhere and naturally through the organization, it creates content that does not provide any sustainable competitive advantage."

Give us better instead of more.

That competitive advantage-poor pile of content, meanwhile, keeps growing. 71% of all companies are opting for even more content in the near future, no, not better content, Rose says. People in an age of Tiktok are used to information coming to them automatically based on their interest graph. That means companies are launching even more of the same to feed the algorithm. To make sure their audiences interact with their stories as easily as possible. That much of what they churn out is the same, easy and interchangeable, oh well, so what, it's nice and efficient. "Coming up with something unique takes more time and is harder."

Content creators stand up!

Yet now is the time to take content marketing seriously even in boardrooms. Rose points to PR firm Edelman's Trust Barometer, in which you can read each year about the state of trust in brands and organizations worldwide-and by country. As it turns out, people have completely lost their faith in media and politics. They think companies should take their responsibility within social issues. "58% buy from a ... ; 60% choose to work for a ...; 80% are willing to invest in a company because of their core values and beliefs.

The importance of a content platform

Therefore, go and express those values and that belief in everything you say, do and promise. Internally and externally. Not only important to attract new customers and employees, but also to keep your colleagues internally connected. Rose: "Ten years ago, I would have said. Content marketing is great. It's butter; it kind of enriches everything. But content marketing is no longer a flavoring or nice-to-have. It has become a responsibility, not just an opportunity. Because it builds trust." Having your own platform is important for that trust-building, for building relationships and a loyal fan base. "We will become acquirers of audiences, and platforms that grow audiences."

Not a marketing tactic

They've known that for years at Cleveland Clinic. An international hospital chain. 10 years ago, Amanda Todorovich starts there as content manager with 3 FTEs. Today her name is Executive Director of Content Marketing and her department has 80 colleagues. The hospital's Health Essentials content platform is growing from 50 million visitors in 2012 to 427 million in 2021. Simply: "Define a strategy and stick to it. Be useful, helpful and relevant, especially in those moments of need." And super important: keep marketing and sales out of your content creation. It's all about your audience. "Content marketing is NOT a marketing 'tactic.' It's a business model," Todorovich says, followed by long applause. "Content marketing is not another mechanism for promotion or leads. The content we create is treated like products that we invest in and generate direct revenue from."

Banners win over content

Her words are addressed to deaf ears. "You don't see CMOs at content marketing conferences, and no, not at Content Marketing World either," says Melissa Bouma of Manifest. "Because they see content as a tactic of marketing and not a communication strategy for brand building and sales driving." According to her colleague Geoffrey Director, CMOs believe that online banners contribute more to brand building than content marketing. It says enough about the status and knowledge of content marketing. 35% of CMOs also do not have a documented content strategy. They just do whatever, even after all these years.

What is the share of search?

Show the metrics in the boardroom to prove the brand-building and selling power of content, tips Bouma. Traffic, views, time on page, CTR, engagement rate, keyword authority, conversion rate, leads, all fine. But it is mainly about brand health metrics (proof of brand promise), unaided awareness (percentage of people who recognize your brand top-of-mind without help), share of search (visibility of a brand in organic searches compared to others in your sector), brand salience and brand difference. Because what appears to be the most important driver of brand growth, right, being different, originality. Content reaches beyond the search engine handbook and needs to show more of its creative side.

Millions of pixels of redundancy

Every day we plop between 7 and 10 million blog posts on the net. 45% of those evaporate as clutter. It's pollution, it's shit, said Jill Grozalsky Roberson of Sitecore. "Stop content for content's sake." First, really start asking yourself what you do, and why and-especially-for whom you do it. One-third of your audience hangs paralyzed on the ropes from the ongoing content bombardment. Better: build a relationship with them by listening carefully, and give them stories they really need. With content you build trust, and yes, no trust, no conversion. "The content experience is the customer experience." Grozalsky Robeson quoted Sarah Winters, founder of British agency Content Design London. "Good content means you've spent more time getting it right than the audience spends reading it." First, let companies follow this little rule. That will save millions of pixels of redundancy on the Internet.

Rarely Asked Questions

Go experiment, shouts Shafqat Islam of Optimizely. It's the path to innovation. So too for new avenues within content marketing. Anyway, cut down on that content commodity, I hear from another room from LinkedIn blog chiefs Steve Kearns and Tequia Burt. Go tell something no one else can. A call that Andrew Davis underscores during his keynote: "Don't give answers to Frequently Asked Questions that everyone can find the answer to via Google, but go out and find Rarely Asked Questions that Google can't answer, and so you can make a difference. There are so many experts, but too few visionaries."

The success factor of content marketing

What is the success factor of content marketing? That's time, according to Joe Pulizzi. The godfather of content marketing can talk about that himself. He started the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) in 2007. After two years, his newsletter had 10 thousand subscribers. After four years, CMI was profitable. Or take MrBeast. Today he has millions of followers and, according to connoisseurs, his name is worth 100 million. That success doesn't come easily to him. Back in 2012 he started a video blog only to find his own voice three years later, and look, in 2016 he has 30,000 followers.

No control is bad for business

So it takes a while for you to cash in on your content marketing strategy. But for that, companies don't take enough time. With CMOs staying in the same position at a company for barely two years on average. During that pee break, they want to score as quickly as possible. It's good for their CV. And no, that does not include a well-considered content strategy that calls for patience and long term. Important in that patience strategy, Pulizzi says: keep control of the channels where you post your stories. Pulizzi also emphasizes: choose your own content channel, your own platform, your own ground. Because: "No control is bad for business. In terms of distribution, content and data."

Content as a profit driver

Michiel Schoonhoven of NXTLI also sees it. Content gets a curl or insufficient based on revenue generated. That's why content agencies are shifting toward advertising agencies, creating a boom in short-term social media actions and quick scoring with Google Ad campaigns. Nothing pitching you as business partners, Schoonhoven says. Nothing taking care of increasing your marketing efficiency, brand reputation, brand value and more sales. And nothing focusing on the basic principle of content marketing: "Building an engaged audience with valuable and relevant content."

Sale instead of the heart

Back to content marketing dad Joe Pulizzi for a moment. In his keynote, he recites his buddy Robert Rose. Those words sum up the four-day conference for me. "Biggest problem? Our content is too focused on getting the sale instead of winning their hearts." You don't win those hearts with formulas, (neuro)tricks and other ready-made solutions. You win hearts with love. With love for your product, your company, your colleagues, your stakeholders and especially your customers. You cannot build trust nor a loyal fan base if you want to chase your audience blindly through an (unreal) impersonal funnel. That's not thinking in love, but in leads. And yes, that's when everything within content marketing goes wrong.

Make love, not content.

p.s. This is a translation of an article I wrote for the Dutch platform on digital marketing: Frankwatching.