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Content Marketing The Great Content Marketing Swindle

by Sarah Mitchell
various knives lined up together

The first time I saw a measurable return on investment in content marketing was in 1996. No one was calling it ‘content marketing’ then but that’s what I was doing. I was writing case studies, magazine articles, and fact sheets to support products I was selling. It was easy to measure ROI because I had a big quota. The content was instrumental in convincing customers to sign contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and a few deals well into the millions of dollars.

Content marketing works and you can measure it

If content marketing hadn’t worked, believe me, I would have stopped doing it. But it did work. Not only was I getting anecdotal evidence to support the value of the content, my customers were including case studies in their purchasing recommendations. In one instance, the procurement officer from a major financial institution requested a case study I’d written as part of his due diligence on approving a deal worth more than $9 million.

So don’t tell me it doesn’t work, because content marketing put a lot of commission money in my bank account. Since 2009, I’ve been working with organisations to develop their own strategic content marketing initiatives. I’ve written a lot of strategies, produced a lot of content, and given countless hours of education to businesses so they could experience the benefits of content marketing. And it’s worked for them, too.

Content marketing haters and interlopers

But lately I’ve been furious at allegations about content marketing and its lack of effectiveness. The hype has turned into backlash and the haters are enjoying the spoils. Listen to Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi discuss this with more patience than I can muster in episode 92 of the This Old Marketing podcast. Start at 15:40 to hear the whole conversation or 18:57 to cut to Robert’s explanation of the situation.

There’s no denying a lot of businesses are losing money on content marketing. Why? Far too many people have labeled themselves content marketers or content marketing agencies when they’re not providing anything like content marketing. These interlopers have muddied the waters, tried to redefine the term to suit their own needs and are now declaring content marketing a lost cause because they didn’t get results.

Am I worried about them? No.

Do they irritate me? Like nobody’s business.

Why do I care? When done well, content marketing turns your marketing expense into a long-term business asset. It’s a highly effective way to attract an audience and build trust with your customers and prospects. It’s less expensive than traditional marketing and advertising methods – a lot less expensive. If decision makers and budget holders think content marketing doesn’t work, they vote for the easy alternative – advertising and traditional marketing. Both are less effective and leave you with no asset from your expenditure.

Why the content marketing swindle happens

Content marketing is hard. It takes grit. You have to give it time to develop and achieve results. Isn’t that true of any undertaking providing exceptional value or high return on investment? The haters are disappointed they didn’t get a quick win. I suspect many of them feel threatened because you can’t buy a better content marketing game. Some of them haven’t been willing to re-skill and hoped a rebranding exercise of their old offering would be sufficient. It’s hard to look a customer in the face and admit you haven’t done a great job. It’s probably harder to look in the mirror and admit to yourself you’ve swindled your customers or your employer even if it was unintentional.

girl in boots walking on ice

Whether it’s happened out of ignorance, laziness or intent, a lot of swindling is going on and it has to stop. If you’re investing in content marketing or considering a content marketing initiative for your company, here’s what you need to know to avoid being swindled.

How the content marketing swindle works

Content marketing is a broad discipline dependent on many different factors working together. You can’t implement a portion of content marketing and expect fabulous results. Luckily, there are clear indicators to determine if a swindle is in play. Here are some of the bigger ones:

1. Content marketing must start with a document strategy to be effective. If you’re buying into content marketing without taking the time to develop a strategy, you’re being swindled.
2. If you’re not producing original content – and advertising is not considered content – you’re being swindled.
3. If you’re engaging in content marketing without a goal to build your own subscriber list on your own terms for use when and where you choose, you’re being swindled.
4. If your content marketing is focused on social media with no plan to convert or move your audience off the social channel, you’re being swindled.
5. If your content strategy is not focused on building long-term assets, you’re being swindled.
6. If you’re not building a content brand that provides additional value and stands on its own, you’re being swindled.
7. If your strategy has not considered distribution methods like social media and email, you’re being swindled.
8. If your content marketing strategy consists of social networking with no original content attached to it, you’re being swindled.
9. If your content marketing is set up and run like a campaign, you’re being swindled.
10. If your content is full of industry jargon with no consideration for the search habits of your audience, you’re being swindled.
11. If you have no amplification strategy for your content, you’re being swindled.
12. If your content marketing strategy consists of buying AdWords, Facebook ads, and LinkedIn ads, you’re being swindled.
13. If your only goal is to get more traffic to your website but there’s no way for them to take positive action when they get there, you’re being swindled.
14. If your content has no call to action or a clear indication what the reader should do next, you’re being swindled.
15. If your content is of poor quality, has no substance or doesn’t support your brand, you’re being swindled.
16. If your content marketing strategy doesn’t support your business objectives, you’re being swindled.
17. If your content is plagiarised, copied or scraped, you’re being swindled.
18. If your content marketing is limited to advertising, you’re being swindled.
19. If your content marketing is limited to PR, you’re being swindled.
20. If you’re content marketing is limited to search engine optimisation (SEO), you’re being swindled.
21. If you have disparate content pieces not attached to a strategy or integrated with other content, you’re being swindled.
22. If your content is not optimised properly with the right keywords, phrases, and meta descriptions to attract your audience, you’re being swindled.
23. If your content is not focused on your audience or of interest to your audience, you’re being swindled.
24. If your content is not published on a consistent basis or with the same frequency, you’re being swindled
25. If there’s no plan on how to measure your effectiveness, you’re being swindled.

It’s not a rant; it’s the truth

Unfortunately, this is not a comprehensive list. These are pervasive and common causes for people to conclude content marketing doesn’t work. An internal marketing department or an external agency can instigate these problems. The swindle is just as likely to happen with in-house projects as it is outsourced projects.

This list only addresses things that are going to render your content marketing ineffective. It doesn’t begin to address the issues of lackluster content, ineffective messaging or under-resourced marketing departments to name a few other ways to limit your results with content marketing.

It’s time to change

Yes, content marketing is hard, but it’s here to stay whether you want to admit it or not. Consumer behavior has changed and so have consumer values. Consumers demand quality, transparency and an authentic experience. There’s no quick way to achieve success. Businesses dedicating themselves to the hard yards of content marketing will be rewarded. I’ve experienced it too many times in too many diverse environments to say differently.

The times have changed for marketing. It’s time for marketing to change. And it’s damned time to quit swindling our own companies and our customers.

For content marketing help (or rehabilitation)

If you’ve been swindled and want help with your content marketing, give us a call. If you’re a swindler looking for redemption, give us a call too. We’ll help you get sorted and on your way to an honest-to-goodness content marketing success story. If you’re not quite ready to get on the path of content marketing truth and light, sign up to our newsletter or start listening to the Brand Newsroom podcast. Lush Digital Media gives content marketing secret sauce away with every bit of marketing we produce.

By Sarah Mitchell

What would you add to the great content marketing swindle list?

About the author : Sarah Mitchell

Sarah Mitchell is Director of Content Strategy at Lush - The Content Agency. She develops content marketing and community engagement strategies for clients in a variety of industries. Sarah frequently speaks on topics related to Content Marketing, Brand Storytelling and Social Media. She's a co-host of the Brand Newsroom podcast and the Australian editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @SarahMitchellOz.


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