Content marketing is an emerging term for a new approach to marketing that emphasizes using content to explain, engage with, and persuade customers–usually using search and social media as its means of attracting attention. The big idea of content marketing is that it’s no longer enough for your product or service to be valuable–your marketing itself must be valuable even if no one buys from you. Why? Because online customers make moment-to-moment decisions on whether they are sticking with your message or abandoning to look at something else. So you must attract them with information that is helpful or entertaining and you must hold their attention, click by click.
To do that, marketers have been forced to become publishers. Rather than the quick sound bites, jingles, and slogans of advertising, digital marketing requires longer forms that really solve problems (or, less commonly, provide real entertainment). There are plenty of examples:
- Johnson & Johnson has a huge Web site on baby care (http://www.babycenter.com/). You know what they use to call this kind of content? Parents Magazine. People paid for it. Now marketers give it away free.
- Scotts, the lawn care folks, offers a free newsletter that is personalized to your own location and grass type. It tells you there are grubs in your area, or a drought, and what you should do about it. You know what they used to call this content? A gardening book. You went to the store and bought it. Now marketers give it a ay.
- Kraft, the food giant, offers a free app called the Kraft iFood Assistant, that lets you walk through the grocery store searching for recipes that take advantage of sales or availability of whatever looks good today. Of course it recommends Kraft Singles when the recipe needs American cheese and you can even get coupons to but Kraft products. You know what this used to be called? A cookbook. Publishers sold them. Now marketers give them away.
There are countless examples of marketers taking credible, objective information of things we once bought and giving it away to further their marketing. These are all consumer examples, which everyone can understand, but B2B companies often have even more to work with here. IBM’s Smarter Planet is a huge content marketing initiative because it plays on solving problems–big problems–and marks IBM as an expert you need to engage to solve those problems.
But to me, one of the hidden stories on how publishers might need to become the new marketers. As publishing’s traditional sources of revenue for printed materials–advertising and subscriptions–both dry up as content goes online, publishers need a new source of revenue. I’ve suggested to a few publishers that they might need to think differently about the content they produce.
Instead of thinking of themselves as the creators of credible information that they sell advertising next to, should publishers be selling that information to the advertisers? If marketers now need credible information to do their selling, and they don’t always know how to do it, why not call upon publishers who live for catchy topics and helpful information? What’s more, there are well-worn processes of publishing ranging from editorial calendars to plagiarism detection that marketers now need to understand.
If publishers are finding their traditional businesses under pressure, it’s in part because advertising doesn’t solve their clients’ problems as they once did. Advertising is no longer in the same demand by marketers but credible content never goes out of style. To me, if publishers don’t change their model to solve marketers’ current problems, marketers will begin hiring away the people that work for publishers, rather than sending their money to the publishers themselves.
If marketers must become publishers, then publishers need to become marketers–or they are destined to be hired by the marketers.
Mike Moran has a unique blend of marketing and technology skills that he applies to raise return on investment for large marketing programs. Mike is a former IBM Distinguished Engineer and a senior strategist at Converseon, a leading social consultancy. Mike is the author of two books on digital marketing, an instructor at several leading universities, as well as a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research.