At its most basic, content marketing is promoting products and ideas in traditional media.
Consumer targeted content marketing includes the placement of products in movies and TV shows, James Bond using a BMW for example. But the world of content marketing is expanding rapidly, pushing placed ‘material’ (content) into media channels previously off-limits to corporate marketing teams. This has created both a range of opportunities and ethical issues.
The recent marketing trend is to package up corporate messages as ‘news’ for coverage in online media outlets, on TV, and in traditional print publications. In the past, companies have found it hard to get marketing ‘spin’ covered by journalists, and for good reason. But the publishing world is changing. Online publishing now means journalists have to deliver more articles in less time. There is no break. Consumers now demand immediate news 24-7. It’s fair to say few journalists and editors are now given the luxury of time to develop and research stories. Free online content has also meant that there is less money to employ researchers and writers. Quality journalists are fleeing the industry, compounding the problem.
Print media now has an insatiable appetite for stories, and there is increasingly less concern about the source of this content. Corporate marketing and PR teams, who want to position companies, executives, and their products as market leaders, enter the story here.
So the scene is set. There is now, like never before, a demand for company-produced media content. But will corporate and agency PR teams screw this up by being greedy? Having recently attended Singapore’s first content marketing conference, a few things stood out to me.
1. Content marketing and its potential are poorly understood. This is a reflection of content marketing’s maturity as a profession. Businesses are rushing to the ‘placed content’ buffet without considering whether a content marketing campaign is right for them. Marketing advisors are pushing the concept (it looks good on the CV). Everyone needs a bit of a reality check. Using content marketing as a marketing tool is a long hard road for which few businesses have the time, material, or strategic inclination.
2. Greed is in the air. I find the marketing community’s rush to provide content marketing services deeply concerning. Personally, I believe it takes around six months to understand a business sector well enough to write sensible ‘thought-leadership’ content. Developing this understanding requires cooperation between the content producer and the client. There has to be a willingness to teach and to learn on both sides—a huge time investment is needed. I worry that corners are being cut and a result is defined as coverage, not content quality.
3. Success means being selfless. Developing a thought-leadership reputation means talking about professional and industry issues in an unbiased and balanced manner. It means being honest and open. Not everyone is cut out for this approach. Talking about you and/or your company’s success is not necessarily thought leadership. There are also ethical issues to consider. Would you pay a publication to be covered? Are the readers aware it is paid-for content? If so, what does this say about all parties?
4. The spectre of commoditisation. Commoditisation, in my humble opinion, will kill content marketing. Nothing demonstrates this more than the ‘5 Reasons why’ template that readers, not consumers, are faced with in almost every modern publication (have a look at most LinkedIn articles). Content like this strikes me as being a gimmick, and nothing more than spin. Does content like this really help you (or your company) build a reputation as a thought-leader? Yes, I am aware of this article’s title, and the number of reasons it actually lists.
The above points are not unique to Asia. All over the world, journalists, editors, publishers, and marketers have to address the same issues. How content marketing opportunities are balanced with the time it takes to produce a quality product will determine the future of the content marketing sub-profession.
Companies working in Asia should, undoubtedly, look at content marketing strategies both domestically and internationally. But they should also carefully develop a sound content marketing strategy and choose their external advisors well.
The consequences of doing content marketing badly could be far worse than running a bad advertisement. But no doubt there will be a PR agency on stand-by to help with the fallout.
Graeme Somerville-Ryan is the marketing and business development director (Asia) for the international law firm Wikborg Rein.