Help Fix Content Marketing In 2015

By Kath Walters — @KathWalters

Like a train without breaks, content marketing is on the brink of careering out of control.

I don’t want to rain on your parade. In principle, everything about content marketing is good.

The job of content marketers is to inform, entertain and engage customers and potential customers. Today, consumers are just too sophisticated and informed for old-style marketing with its inane messages.

As consumers, we want information that respects our intelligence and our right to make up our minds about where and how we spend money.

The best content

To be trustworthy, content for marketing purposes today has to be unbiased and have the customers’ best interests at heart. 

It has to inspire readers to click right now on the stories, and make those stories essential reading. Trusted, timely and relevant – the three ingredients of quality content in my view.

At its best, content marketing is journalism with a new master. It is journalism democratised. Once media companies dominated the flow of information. Now, if you are in business, you are a publisher or you won’t be in business tomorrow. And traditional media is in decline.

Content marketing can potentially outgun traditional media as they have a deeper knowledge of everything about their industry: competitors, challenge, corruption, stars, and disruptors.

Companies willing to be courageous, to reveal the bad things about the industry in which they work, to share the good operators, to report on the challenges, and be generous about the opportunities – can do the work of journalism, and contribute to the fourth estate.

Here’s the thing

Instead, content marketing is becoming less and less sophisticated. Too much content marketing is becoming self-serving and superficial.

How many stories can we read about the five essentials of this, and the seven secrets of that? Of course, I write them too. They have their place.

But there is too many opinion and how-to stories, and too little reporting.

The better players

There are exceptions. In ANZ Blue Notes, there is a story by former Australian Financial Review journalist, Andrew Cornell, about whether or not the banking industry is facing a “Kodak moment”, the kind of massive disruption that could spell the end of its business model. Yes, it is an opinion piece, and yes, it does come out in favour of the survival of banking sector. (Would it have been published if his conclusion was that the banking sector is doomed?) But Cornell argues his case, and provides evidence in support of it. And he is tackling an important challenge facing banking in Australia and internationally. If he is proved wrong, we can hold him to account.

Recently, I spoke to Joe Pulizzi, the founder of the Content Marketing Institute, about the latest State of Content Marketing in Australia report.

Pulizzi pulled no punches in naming the problems within the sector. “Most marketers are really horrible story tellers,” Pulizzi said. “And, in order for content marketing to work, you don’t talk about products and services.” Pulizzi despairs when he conducts a content audit for his clients, and typically finds over 95% of their content is about their own product and services.

Five tips to make you a better content marketer – NOT

I don’t think there are a bunch of easy answers to the problems I’ve raised here. It’s an ethical question that can be kind of condensed into a quote from songwriter, Bob Dylan. “You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed, you’re gonna have to serve somebody …”

Who is it gonna be?