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May 26, 2013

Content marketing is the wonk word du jour.

Conventional wisdom -- at least according to the “Content Marketing Institute” -- is that traditional marketing doesn’t work because prospects are shutting off those channels. To reverse this trend, marketers supposedly need to create engaging content that drives profitable action. (Was this ever not the case?)

To help seize this opportunity, low-cost tools and technologies have made the masses of marketers prolific content creators and publishers. Visualization, video and webcast softwares enable marketers to rapidly manufacture colorful infographics, illustrations and movies. Marketing automation systems enable marketers to send dynamic email drip campaigns tailored to individuals and their behaviors, at scale. Web publishing systems and social networks have made it easier than ever to even identify content that resonates, and then promote it at scale. Professional publishers are increasingly partnering with marketers to co-create engaging infomercials and distribute them as well.

This is all great. Yet a senior brand marketer recently commented to me, “I wish people would stop sending me white papers and webcasts and infographs, because I’m bombarded with them from too many companies whose names I can’t even remember. Instead, providers should just cut to the chase and tell me how they’re going to solve my problems, and indicate whether it will make or save me money.”

Why is there often a gap between a company’s customer value proposition and its content marketing -- especially at the top of the sales-and-marketing funnel? I have a few possible explanations, illustrated through a recent conversation I had with the head of marketing at a growing software company (to remain nameless).  He confided to me that his intensive, broad-based content-marketing program helped create a lead database with millions of contacts. While the lead volume was impressive, his company’s execution of content marketing created a few compounding challenges.

First, few in the lead database had an accurate (or any) understanding of the company’s value proposition, other than being a publisher of high volumes of content. Leads are better than no leads, but there remains a huge education and qualification challenge.

Second, early success in building the lead database through content marketing prompted more commitment to content creation and frequency, making it increasingly difficult to sustain high quality. Volume and frequency alone were not good incentives, and prompted quality to drop. (The resources and effort required to create content tend to be linear as you scale.)

Third, with everyone getting in on the voluminous content-marketing game, it became ever harder to stand out.
All this resulted in a content and publishing operation that strayed from core marketing goals. The content became disconnected from the value proposition and selling.

To be clear, I most certainly advocate the use of content and messaging in marketing. I’m creating content here, aren’t I? :-) However, as marketers dive deeper into content creation and self-publishing, they must not lose sight of the fact that the core purpose of those investments is to build profitable customer relationships. Content marketing is great not when it reaches high frequency, but when it engages the right audiences at the right time, and contributes to revenue.

As the brand marketer I cited above above said, many people are getting impatient and content fatigued, and simply want answers fast. As you embark on your own content marketing, never forget: It’s imperative to quickly articulate what you do, and how you will solve real problems.

By Max Kalehoff
Max Kalehoff is vice president of product marketing at Syncapse, a social marketing performance platform for global enterprises.
Courtesy of MediaPost

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