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The Barnacle

What Content Marketing Is (And Why I’m Fed Up With It)

“Content marketing” has been a buzz term in the marketing industry for some time now. And I’m fed up with it.

You might say, “But, wait…Andrea…you’re a content developer. Isn’t content the reason that your role exists?” Well, yes.

You might also say, “Um…Andrea…you’re writing a blog. You are literally participating in content marketing right now.” I can’t argue with that.

Let’s be clear: I have no issue with content. Content is the backbone of marketing communications. I actually don’t even mind the term “content marketing.”

My beef is with the mess that the “content marketing” phenomenon has created.

What is Content Marketing?

Alright, it’s time to define content marketing for those who may not be familiar with it. At the most basic level, it’s just using content to market an offering. But there’s more to it than that.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

I don’t find anything inherently wrong with content marketing. Truthfully, I’m all about it—as long as it adheres to this definition. More on that in a moment.

First, I want to explain what constitutes content marketing and what separates it from any other marketing content.

Examples of content marketing pieces include blogs, eBooks, infographics, videos, podcasts, social media posts, case studies, and much more. Basically, anything you could think of distributing that involves content could be content marketing collateral. (Hubspot has a super helpful infographic that lists possible content formats.)

So what doesn’t count as content marketing? Any content that’s not relevant and valuable.

As the Content Marketing Institute so succinctly explains, “[relevance and value are] the difference between content marketing and the other informational garbage you get from companies trying to sell you ‘stuff.'”

Informational Garbage

This gets at the heart of my problem with content marketing; many marketers appear to forget about relevance and value. They think content marketing actually means:

“Write a bunch of content. Copy stuff that’s already been done. Who cares if it’s actually helpful or informational? Who cares if it’s targeted toward my audience? I just need to get content out there as often as possible.”

It’s easy to see why this happens. Writing quality content can be hard. It’s hard to come up with ideas that are original and relevant to your audience. It’s time-consuming to do the research to make sure you’re including all of the pertinent information. It’s tough to make yourself actually sit down and write and revise, especially if you have one hundred other things going on.

Plus, it’s easy to get caught in the “quantity over quality” trap. Marketing professionals are constantly being reminded that “content is king.”

Maybe they get caught in the hype (content marketing is definitely not a new idea, but its popularity has exploded in recent years), but they’re stretched for time and feel that low-quality content is better than no content.

And then there are the plain uninformed marketers who don’t know any better.

So my point is not that content marketing is bad. It’s that, from my perspective, people aren’t always taking the time to do it right.

Why Does It Matter?

When “valuable” and “relevant” are removed from the content marketing equation, you get garbage. A waste of time, effort, and money.
So, what’s the actual problem? Who does this affect? Surely it’s only those who are putting out poor content, as they won’t see the results they’re looking for, right?

In my eyes, the issue goes beyond that.

Here’s why “content marketing” really rubs me the wrong way: There is too much freaking information out there. Specifically, there’s too much low-quality and repetitive information.

When I do a simple Google search (for instance, “content marketing”), I’m overloaded with information (2,800,000,000 results, to be exact). Thankfully Google and other search engines help us identify what information is best, as it ranks trustworthy and authoritative sources higher, but the information overload has another effect. It’s downright annoying.

“Content marketing” is making the world noisier than ever. This means that consumers are more annoyed than ever by the tidal wave of irrelevant, salesy content. Which in turn means that it’s even harder for marketing professionals to gain our audience’s attention, even if we’re putting out high-quality and relevant information.

Doing it Right

How can thoughtful marketers be sure that they’re doing content marketing right?

Like all good marketing, proper content marketing comes back to quality targeting and treating people right to earn their business and loyalty. And, of course, it’s about telling stories. (How could I write a blog about marketing content without including the word “storytelling”? That would basically be blasphemy.)

As Neil Patel so helpfully adds to the definition from the Content Marketing Institute that you read above, content marketing is about long-term strategy that focuses on building strong relationships with your target audience by giving them high-quality content that is very relevant to them on a consistent basis.”

Long-term. Content marketing is not a quick fix. It takes strategy and time. It’s not about rushing to get content out there. One can’t expect to publish a blog and have dozens of interested customers beating down the door within an hour. (I mean, it could happen, but don’t count on it.)

High-quality. It’s a time investment. Take the time. Do it right. You’ll be more likely to break through all of the noise and reach your intended audience.

Relevant. Need I say more?

Consistent. While quality is better than quantity, it’s still important to keep your audience engaged and thinking about you. Long-term strategy, remember?

All of this is to say: sure, of course, take advantage of content marketing. But make your content original. It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, but at least try to add something new. Make it say something that your audience cares about and that actually helps or informs them. Don’t clog up the airwaves with junk content.
I’m stepping off of my soapbox now.