Your content is kidding no one

This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Mirum and author of “Six Pixels of Separation” and “CTRL ALT Delete.” See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

How is your content marketing strategy coming along?

There’s a thorn in my side. It’s a content thorn. It’s ruining everything. It’s not that there’s too much content. It’s not that there’s so much content in need of advertising, that the entire industry has shifted from a scarcity model to one of abundance.

It’s not that there’s too many companies not playing in the content space. The thorn… the rubbing one, is this: most content is not content… it’s advertising.

Advertising is not content.

Here’s the clue: if you have to pay to have it placed, it’s not content. It’s an ad. There may be content *in* the ad, but it’s still an ad. When I was at Social Media Marketing World in San Diego, I found myself deep in the weeds about the measurement and metrics surrounding a good content marketing strategy, only to realize that the brands arguing that metrics like “engagement” and “likes” are not enough, were the ones that weren’t really doing any content at all.

Their “content” was just a less-than-direct call to action on a channel like Facebook or Twitter. They were ads with more stuff in them. Ads that are cloudy or subtly trying to be content wind up being neither. They wind up not being valuable content, and they wind up being an ineffective ad.

Don’t kid yourself, engagement is (still) everything when it comes to content.

There is this new conversation that marketers are having about content and its efficiency. They want to know how well their content is converting in relation to their advertising when it comes to making the sale.

This means that the value of primary content metrics of engagement on platforms like Facebook is seen as something less relevant to the business at hand. Because of this somewhat myopic strategy, they’re trapped trying to compare apples to aircrafts (we’re not even talking about oranges here). Content’s primary job — when done well — is:

1. Engagement

In a world where content is anywhere and everywhere, is your story one worth connecting with, spending time with? Is it something enjoyable to read, see, hear and feel? Does it add any real value to my day/life, or is it simply imposing itself on the consumer?

2. Sharing.

If I cared enough about the content, would I be willing to share it with the people I know, like and trust the most in my life? This is a huge step. It sends a signal to an audience that someone engaged with it, and feels like the content will both add value to the people that they know, and make them look/feel good in the process. That is high praise.

3. Conversation.

We can argue whether social media conversations really exist, but great content does get the world talking. The water-cooler effect is still in effect. The best of the best content gets consumed, shared and talked about. Conversation about content is the highest form of flattery.

But, are they buying?!?!?!

Content and social media are a different kind of marketing. Content and social media are not a different kind of advertising. If all your brand wants to do is pimp coupons and pushy sales, there’s a market for that, but content provides a different brand narrative that has to be approached with an entirely new perspective, and set of marketing beliefs.

Brands struggle to get consumers to pay attention. We know this. Content exposes consumers to a brand with a very different prism. When done well, the time spent with the content crushes the time spent with an ad. When done well, the sharing of content has a much longer (and more profound) experience once it starts getting shared and passed around. When done well, the conversation around content that resonates creates an entirely new type of media that can be supported with advertising, extended on and pushed into many different channels that advertising can rarely reach.

So, what’s the rub?

If we start confusing our weak content as being non-functional when compared to advertising, we begin to fall into the same trap that held brands back nearly a decade ago, when boardrooms were littered with the argument that switching television advertising budgets to digital — without proof that digital can perform as well — places businesses on a terrible trajectory of catch-up that still stings in the present day.

So, where does a brand start? First, don’t confuse your content for advertising. Second, take a strong, serious look at the “content” that your brand is creating. Is it really just an ad? Is it really doing what content is supposed to do? Still confused?

Here’s an exercise:

Without thinking too hard about it, write down the last 2-5 pieces of content that really resonated with you. It could be an article that you read in a newspaper, something your heard on NPR, a blog post someone at work shared with you or even a video on YouTube.

Now, go ahead and grab the last 2-5 pieces of content marketing that your company put out into the marketplace (even ones that you paid to post). What looks like content? What feels like an ad?

Ads that are cloudy or subtly trying to be content wind up being neither. Create real content.


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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  1. Edwin

    Great analysis about what content should accomplish and how it truly differs from advertising. Businesses are so set on generating revenue that they forget that their consumers are people with needs, questions and curiosities that require satiation.

  2. Mark

    It’s like one of those frustrating laws of the universe, or a perverse Catch 22.

    “You can’t do content marketing to get leads, but if you do content marketing you will get leads.”


    If you’re attached tot he result it won’t work.

    It’s a cruel world.

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