06 March 2013

It's Not You, It's Your Content - 1 of 2

Note: So, I started writing this little blog post and it quickly turned into a "Jerry Maguire"-esque mission statement. As a result, I've split the post into two parts and I will post the 2nd one in a couple of days.

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2013 and What that Means for Content

It tickles me just a bit that this year’s newest marketing buzz-phrase appears to be “content marketing.” And it makes me giggle for a couple of reasons.
  1. If you’ve got a website, what else exactly would you be marketing except content?
  2. As a business, what precisely do you think consumers want besides content?
  3. In 2013, is it really a revelation that we should be marketing substance versus platitudes? 
If your answer to any of these questions was something besides ‘nothing’ or ‘no,’ then I think we’ve got a problem. Of course, companies market their goods and services to their consumers in the hopes that they will win the battle at the point of sale, but as our world becomes ever more global and our technology becomes more widespread and affordable, the differences between products of similar design will barely be more than a logo or slogan. Marketers no doubt realized this (a little late in my opinion) and have now coined the term “content marketing” as if it is the savior of the modern capitalist economy.

Content Marketing: A Definition

But what does it mean? As with so many buzzwords, definitions can be vague and often contradictory, but content marketing appears to have first been defined in 2010, but Joe Pulizzi, who co-authored a book about it: “Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” (Source: PR 20/20)

Over the past five or so years, marketers have attempted to fulfill this notion by using a variety of tactics, including company blogs, press releases, case studies, advertorials, webinars, videos, social content, research, surveys and more. Collectively many of these tools have been lumped into other buzz-phrase categories such as guerilla marketing or organic marketing.

It seems though that 2013 will be the year of “content.” Don’t get me wrong, I think this is GREAT, but I also think it poses a particular challenge for organizations whose sole source of income is in fact, content.

Take for example, my favorite whipping boy, print media. Since the introduction of the printing press and ships that could circumnavigate the globe, print has been used to disseminate content. News, chariot scores, beheadings, coup d’etat were all part of the initial print makeup. Print was used as a mouthpiece for leaders, dictators, the church, the anti-church and just about every group in between. In America, it was the first and only medium available to rich and poor alike. Regardless of your social standing, print media was accessible to just about everyone, making it possible for those who could read to learn about developments in the free world and beyond. It was the first form of true mass media.

Now, it’s obvious that other media that followed—radio, TV, Internet—are also used to spread content. However, these media were also initially born with the idea to provide entertainment. The arrival of the radio made the recording industry fearful for their livelihoods; the introduction of the television made radio men and Hollywood executives quake in their wingtips; the birth of the Internet made cable companies freak. Why? Because each of these media was viewed as a direct threat to the business’ main form of income which was based around entertainment, which was not newspapers sole reason for being at its inception or even through today.

The Importance of Defining Content Correctly

Entertainment IS content. Music, videos, movies, TV shows, puzzles, games, talk shows, whatever you can find flipping the dial or flipping the channels can be classified as content. This is something radio, TV and online have monetized quite well; early in their development each medium embraced entertainment—radio with soap operas, TV with serialized dramas and online with games and email. There was no prevailing thought among these media bigwigs that perhaps these things might be beneath them or unworthy of the mission they were attempting to fulfill.

But print, yes our good, old friend print, took umbrage at such “silly” pursuits. Integrity and ethics must rule the day. The separation of advertising and journalism, certainly a much clearer divide today then the murky church and state definition from which it sprung, must remain pure and untainted.

Initially, newspapers probably maintained their news-only edict as a way to differentiate themselves from other media; you could get games and other forms of fun from radio, TV, but not newspaper. You needed newspaper for news.

But radios went on air from day one with news, as did TV. It was only a lack of widespread adoption among consumers that kept radio and TV growth from exploding. These two media were slow to grow because people did not physically have access to them.

With technology and economics working for them, newspaper and print didn’t need to worry much about their flashier brethren. However, the dawn of the Internet age soon brought print to a crashing halt – the proliferation of connected devices and access to them was so much higher than it had ever been with television or radio. Now, people could get all the news they wanted, whenever they wanted. TV responded by building the 24-hour news cycle, radio responded with satellite. And print responded with … well, nothing.

Because print has always trafficked in content – however, it has never really monetized it well. Newspapers didn’t (and still don’t) make money because of their content – they make money because of advertising and circulation that has to do more with readership than anything else.

Why Newspaper Isn't Thriving in a Content Marketing World

If it were simply a medium issue, print newspapers would be able to parlay their legacy readership into a huge online presence, via their websites. But this isn’t about the medium, although many people under the age of twenty-five find ink-smudged fingers decidedly unattractive. It’s about the fact that newspaper has never sold itself based on content – perhaps in some of the larger cities where you’ve got a Siskel and an Ebert sparring across the aisle or in Washington where a Woodward and a Bernstein are running down a scandal – but otherwise, newspaper has promoted itself, based on one premise – coupons and advertising.

Now, with a fragmented media space that grows more cumbersome every day, advertisers are able to judiciously pick and choose where their advertising money goes. The old guard of print is no longer all that attractive – it’s too expensive and not targeted enough. Where at its conception, the biggest boon to newspaper was its ability to reach people over large geographic areas, this widespread reach has been its downfall in the Internet age. Which leads us to another buzz-phrase for 2013: Big Data.

While the term conjures images of ten-gallon hats and Texas barbeque, it simply means, organizations are going to look for more ways to tap into the massive amounts of data being collected via the Internet every day. And why? Because this data will more accurately help them target their consumers, which will hopefully reduce the amount of wasted advertising spend while simultaneously raising their profits. It’s a win-win for just about everybody, but newspaper.

Newspaper data is at its best flawed. It mostly relies on recall by consumers, filling out paper surveys or answering ones over the phone. The only true way to get data regarding newspaper readers is to find a newspaper reader and talk to them. We cannot drop cookies on their countertops or attach a machine to the paper and track the number of page flips. So, in the age of Big Data, newspaper will once again be left out, relying on antiquated (and often expensive) information gathering methods while the world goes digital.

So, what is newspaper to do?

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To be continued very soon! But I'd love to know your comments. What do you think newspaper and print should do to survive the digital age? Can they do anything or has that ship already sailed?

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