Mark Ritson is a man whose views I value greatly but his recent missive ‘Why content marketing is a load of bollocks’ initially felt like a headline grabbing article without enough depth. But on further consideration it did raise a key problem we have. To summarise Mark had two sides to his argument.

  • That ‘content marketing’ is no different from ‘marketing communications’. Which we’ve been doing forever. It doesn’t need a new name.
  • That a lot of content marketing is crap – 95% of it doesn’t drive engagement.

The second point is absolutely correct. But can be said of any other form of marketing communication. For example, a lot of advertising and direct marketing is crap and doesn’t work. With email response and direct mail response rates at around 3% the 5% response rate of content marketing looks good. But all this should do is drive us to improve it, not denigrate it. And the best way to improve it is to name it, measure it and get everyone talking about it (and have an institute for it).

However, with the first point he is onto something. But it’s simply a matter of definition and our industry needs to sort it out.

The problem is that content marketing both claims to have been around for ever, but also to be new. See the Content Marketing Institutes page on ‘What is content marketing’. They start by saying ‘traditional marketing’ is dying and that content marketing is the answer. Then they say that content marketing has been around for ever. They have a video citing evidence such John Deere’s 1895 Furrow magazine to Jello producing recipe cards a hundred years ago. So, what is their definition of ‘traditional’ I wonder.

Then they say that ‘Quality content is part of all forms of marketing’ which is true but it’s like saying ‘edible food is a part of all meals’. It’s just obvious. It’s also prudent to note they then list very modern marketing tactics, as ‘all forms of marketing’.

  • Social media marketing: Content marketing strategy comes before your social media strategy.
  • SEO: Search engines reward businesses that publish quality, consistent content.
  • PR: Successful PR strategies address issues readers care about, not their business.
  • PPC: For PPC to work, you need great content behind it.

You hear this time and again, when people talk about ‘content marketing’ they invariably talk about online channels. Which is fine as online is a big deal nowadays.

The point here is that the practice we all talk about called ‘content marketing’ has come out of the rise of the internet and the explosion of online content. And it has a very real and valuable place in a modern marketing strategy. But it should be called ‘Online content marketing’. This defines it for what it really is.

But many in the industry want to claim more than that. They want to claim content marketing as a bigger thing, but that bigger thing is just ‘marketing communications’. This is where, I suspect, Mark and other ‘old hands’ of the marketing world take offence. Should we change what we call great TV adverts and call them great TV content? Should David Ogilvy now be a great ‘content’ man. He was, but simply using different words to describe old tactics is just annoying.

‘Content’ is a very broad term, ‘marketing’ is a very broad term so putting them together just makes a vague phrase. This is where the problem is.

So how about calling it ‘Online Content Marketing’ and leave the ‘traditional’ marketing communications with the names they used before the internet.

 

BTW… We use the term content marketing and sell these services because that’s what our customer talk about, want to discuss and search for online.  They don’t usually care about the words we use, just the results, which seems fair to us. The academic debate will go on but in the meantime we’ll give our customers what they want and need.