The failing state of content marketing

This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Twist Image and author of “Six Pixels of Separation.” His new book “CTRL ALT Delete” was released in May 2013. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

Simply put: There is too much content in too many places.

While some may contend that the “cream always rises to the top,” when it comes to great content, there is another worthy argument that goes like this: there is too much cream and there are too many tops.

Everyone is publishing — in text, images, audio, and video. All of the time… and to the world. Of course, this is nothing new, and you will find instances when brands (think American Express and their Open Forum platform or what LinkedIn has done in recent months to become a top content provider with LinkedIn Today) are breaking the mold and busting through the immense amount of clutter, but the lessons about what works (and what’s just adding to the clutter) seem to be somewhat formulaic.

How do you make your content resonate? Here’s what the experts will tell you:

  1. Tell a great story.
  2. Tell that story in a new, fresh and interesting way.
  3. Tell that story in a quirky, weird, strange or random way.
  4. Tell that story in a way that will make them cry or feel deeply emotional.
  5. Tell that story in a timely way… be the first to uncover something new.
  6. Tell that story in a honest way.
  7. Tell that story in a shocking way.

That’s it. Easy. Right?

It’s true, that when you can nail the components of what makes a story come to life (and, if you’re struggling with this, make sure to read Joseph Campbell‘s The Hero With A Thousand Faces), you have a higher propensity for success. It’s also true that you don’t have to nail all seven components to have a hit on your hands (people have created stellar pieces of content using just one of the rules).

Still, in a world of tweets, Snapchats, and Facebook status updates that move faster than the ticker at the bottom of the screen while you’re watching CNN, getting any content to resonate is becoming increasingly more challenging. The half-life of content is a brutal beast in this day and age.

Why the content fails.

Some may point to the fact that the content is nothing more than marketing blather thinly veiled as genuine content, or that the vast majority of stuff we’re calling “content” is merely the publishing of a press release that has had its jargon surgically extracted by a former journalist.

The truth has become bigger than what is being published. What the biggest publishers in the world tend to shy away from, when it comes to explaining how content becomes successful, is the distribution of it all.

If it’s good content, the content will be found. Not really.

MediaPost ran a great little news item titled, Failing Distribution Strategies Smother Great Content. The article is based on a Forrester report titled Put Distribution At The Heart Of Content Marketing that touches on this exact point: content needs proper distribution.

More often than not, brands and their content marketing (or branded content, or blogging or whatever) leave that content within their own walled garden. The assumption is that people will come to them. The best publishers in the world make sure that the consumer can get their content on their own terms… on their preferred environments.

Content without a deep and meaningful distribution strategy is never going to properly convert into anything for any brand. It’s painful for brands to hear this, but it’s true.

Plant your content seeds.

A personal story: I am often asked about why I chose to write two business books (Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete)? Why do I blog so frequently? Why do I contribute to Huffington Post? What about Harvard Business Review? And now, a spot on the radio every Monday morning? What’s the point?

In a word: distribution. In order for my content to be effective (and the net result I am looking for is that our digital marketing agency, Twist Image, is easily recognized as a potential agency when brands think about their digital marketing needs), I need to ensure that our thinking is distributed far and wide and to different types of audiences in different states of circumstance.

Does this mean that I will put this content everywhere? Absolutely not. I have spent a significant amount of time (over a decade) looking for new and interesting venues to put our thinking out, in order to increase the distribution. Traditional magazine publishers look at more than how much money they’re making from individual magazines and subscriptions by closely gauging increased circulation numbers and where those copies of the magazine are being sold. They are tinkering with growing distribution opportunities to maximize revenue potential.

The true success of content marketing.

If your brand is trying to identify why the content isn’t working, please take a much closer look at what the distribution strategy is of your content. You do have a distribution strategy for your content marketing platform, right? The sad reality is that many brands still struggle with a consistent editorial calendar and haven’t really thought all that much about what the distribution model looks like (and what it can become) beyond posting it on their own sites.

I have spent some time with an individual who has quickly risen the ranks to become one of the most beloved bloggers in the world. The strategy for success is more distribution than creation. They test things on Facebook, and then blow it out into a newsletter article if it gets traction on Facebook. Once they get the analytics from their email newsletter, they decide which pieces have done well enough to be blogged about. From there, this individual has a handful of very diverse third-party publishers interested in their content.

What does this equate to? For every hour of writing a piece of content, they spend two to three hours working on the distribution of it — within their own channels and beyond. The frequency of publishing is reduced in order to spend more time on the distribution of it.

Great content means great distribution.

This isn’t just about tweeting about a new blog post or copying and pasting an article into a Facebook update (I am guilty as charged on this one). It’s about thinking of new ways to distribute your content and getting it to connect to a much broader audience.

From the MediaPost article mentioned above: “Skinner, the author of ‘Put Distribution At The Heart Of Content Marketing,’ explains that placing too high a priority on content may help to close sales, but marketers miss the opportunity to reach a larger audience. The proof comes from a SAP Web content audit where the company discovered the content was only relevant to a minority of its target audience. After focusing more on distribution, SAP’s site grew to more than 200,000 unique visitors per month in 18 months.

So, do you have a lot of great content and are you distributing it properly?

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About Mitch Joel

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum — an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. He is also a blogger, podcaster, journalist, speaker, and the author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and "CTRL ALT Delete." Mitch is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Profit, Strategy, Money, The Globe & Mail, and many other media outlets.

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