Content marketing is dead, or at least that’s what the popular advertising press in Australia would have you think. Last week Isentia announced they were exiting the content marketing business, just two years after negotiating a colossal $48 million purchase price for King Content and three months after dumping the King Content brand. I say good riddance.
Making it look easy
King Content was an early star of content marketing. It was a company we watched – mostly with envy – as they figured out how to capitalise on a discipline a lot of us were trying to get our head around. While we were working out how to stitch all the necessary parts of content marketing together – original content, distribution and amplification – King Content, under the leadership of Craig Hodges, had already figured out a successful business model. He adopted a growth strategy fuelled by hiring the best people in the business.
The appointment of Todd Wheatland as head of strategy in 2014 showed King Content meant business. Todd is a superstar in modern marketing, a published author and a popular speaker. He was based in France and employed by Kelly for nearly 20 years. By his own account, Todd knew he was leaving a great company, so it was a sure sign King Content had something special going on. And it did. Before long the Sydney-based company opened offices in major cities around the world, staffed by some of the brightest marketers in the business. They had big clients and won big awards. When they sold the business to Isentia, it legitimised content marketing to the mainstream. So how did it unravel so quickly?
Can we quit talking about the hype cycle?
Some say content marketing got caught in a hype cycle. If you apply the Gartner Hype Cycle for new technology to content marketing – and a lot have – you could say King Content sold at the peak of inflated expectations and Isentia ended up in a trough of disillusionment. It’s a tidy explanation, but not one I support. Why? Because content marketing isn’t a technology – it’s a marketing discipline. It uses technology (most of the time), but what doesn’t?
Content marketing, in many ways, is about as old-fashioned as it gets. If you accept the definition from the Content Marketing Institute – and I do – there’s nothing about it that marries it to technology.
“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.”
In fact, there’s nothing about it that’s very sexy or earth shattering. Success in content marketing relies on the ability to tap into a recent disruption in consumer behaviour. It’s an opportunity to steal market share from traditional media. And it’s also a chance to steer that audience towards your own business interests.
Why is content marketing so hard?
The opportunity is there but it requires the ability to do something incredibly difficult — consistently create high-quality, original content focused on the interests of your audience while demonstrating your authority and expertise. And you have to do it with a fair bit of frequency. You need to understand where on earth, literally, your audience is available to receive your information. Lastly, you’d better damn well keep your readers, viewers and listeners engaged or they’ll take advantage of the age of too much information and be off to the next thing — usually in about 10 seconds or less.
So yeah, it’s a big ask. Content marketing is one of those things that looks easy from the outside but is difficult to achieve without the right skills, workflows or processes. There’s no end to the ways you can come unglued and I see the same errors made over and over.
- Focus on your business, not the audience
- Have no way to capture subscribers
- Start without a clear business objective
- Operate without a documented strategy
- Trust in tactics without any strategic insight
- Follow-the-pack mentality
- View vanity metrics and social engagement as indicators of success
- Allot no additional time to create content
- Discount the skill needed to develop content to attract an audience
- Assume anyone with a camera can produce quality video
- Believe you can outsource your social media
- Trust a junior staff member to manage your content marketing initiative
- Elect to get the best price instead of the best result
- Neglect to measure results
- Spend with no view to creating long-term business assets
- Focus on too many audiences at one time
- Create generic content designed to be all things to all people
- Expect short-term, campaign-focused content to give you a return
- Throw money at search advertising with no content to underpin it
- Insulate the executive team from your content marketing strategy
- Treat your agency as anything but partners in your business
It’s no wonder Isentia, a media monitoring company, flailed and then failed. Content marketing is complicated and, when done properly, takes time. As Joe Pulizzi said in the Brand Newsroom podcast, content marketing has a long runway before take-off. Business wants a silver bullet — a fast-acting approach to curing the headache of getting people to buy from you. Advertising used to be that quick fix but that was when the audience wasn’t in control and the channels weren’t fragmented. Fun fact: There is no quick fix — at least not anymore.
Signs of trouble for Isentia content marketing
Just as King Content put out signs they were ahead of the pack in the early days, there were also signs of trouble under Isentia. I called them out, without naming and shaming, about offering flash content marketing strategies, an oxymoron I’m surprised anyone would buy. Employee turnover escalated and grumbling about product quality and delivery became louder. Attendance at their splashy in-person events was heavily vetted. I was annoyed to learn King Content was calling on my customers with unrealistic promises. It was obvious they were in trouble, but I admit to being surprised at how quickly it all collapsed.
I’m not worried about content marketing and neither should you be
Am I worried about Isentia getting out of content marketing? No way. I’m glad they’re gone. They weren’t the first to fall off the bandwagon and they won’t be the last. Content marketing works and the people who view it as part of a business strategy are seeing results. I’ve experienced it too many times to think otherwise – and so have my clients. As Joe Pulizzi says, content marketing is the biggest opportunity going for businesses who take it seriously. That means taking a strategic approach to attracting and retaining your own audience. It requires a change in thinking and investment in a new way to go to market.
I’m not surprised traditional marketing, PR and advertising disciplines are waiting for the death knell of content marketing. (They’re still in trouble, regardless.) Content marketing is a media business model requiring a focus on the audience and the ability to attract, capture and retain those people over time. It’s a long game. It’s not glamorous – at least not until you start to see the fruits of your labour and then it gets pretty damned exciting.
If you want to use content marketing to find and influence your audience, you need a partner who understands how to do it. Lush is an award-winning, full-service content marketing agency specialising in brand storytelling with a media mindset. Give us a call and we can share our success stories with you and help you achieve the same. Content marketing works; you just have to know how to work it.
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