Slapping Lipstick on It Doesn’t Mean It’s Content

Adding a forward-facing camera to a smartphone was truly one of those “tipping point” moments. So it was no surprise when the word “selfie” was proclaimed the “Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.” In return, I’d like to nominate the word “content” as the “Marketing Word of the Year.” But unlike the word “selfie,” which can be somewhat self-explanatory, the word “content” seems to be completely misunderstood.

Adding a forward-facing camera to a smartphone was truly one of those “tipping point” moments. Not only does it allow us to take a spur of the moment picture, but it feeds into society’s obsession with “look-at-me-now!” social media. So it was no surprise when the word “selfie” was proclaimed the “Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.”

In return, I’d like to nominate the word “content” as the “Marketing Word of the Year.” But unlike the word “selfie,” which can be somewhat self-explanatory, the word “content” seems to be completely misunderstood.

In the strictest sense of the word, content is the subject or topic covered in a book, document, website, blog, video or webinar. And Content Marketing is the new black.

Just a few years ago, you could generate attention with a few media placements and a well-crafted message. But now consumers, especially in the B-to-B space, want more—more insight into how your product/service will make a difference in their business, more case studies that demonstrate how others have leveraged your product/service to increase ROI, more proof of concept.

The trouble is, many B-to-B marketers (and B-to-C for that matter) haven’t figured out what makes good content. And since the content-to-noise ratio is increasing daily, it’s important that marketers get a clear view of what defines great and valuable content, and why.

Since I’ve not been impressed with many attempts at content marketing, I want to share a few “what NOT to do” examples:

  • Content is different from advertisement. Recently, Boston Private Bank Trust Company was running a leaderboard banner ad with a stock image of a family, in front of an American flag, and a huge headline: “Watch our new video >”. Shaking my head at the banality of the message, I went ahead and clicked just to see if maybe the problem was with the packaging of the content. It took me to the home page of their website, where the video dominated my screen. I started to watch and discovered it was merely a 90 second advertisement. Although it was beautifully shot and artfully directed, it only took 12 seconds for the announcer to start talking about the benefits of banking with Boston. Scanning the rest of the home page (very difficult since the top 2/3 were covered with the video and “Look how great we are!” messaging), I didn’t see one case study, whitepaper/POV document on managing wealth that might help me feel, “Hey, I like what these guys are saying; I’d like to talk to someone at Boston about my needs.”
  • Heavily gated content just irritates me. I understand the strategy: Create content, offer it up to your targets, require they “register” before they can get access so you can fill your lead funnel. But, often, landing pages that require so much information are a deterrent to completion. Sometimes, I’ll provide “Mickey Mouse” types of answers, just so I can complete the process and get to the paper. Do you really need me to answer six questions beyond name and email address so you can pre-qualify me and make sure your sales guy isn’t wasting his time following up? Good content marketing strategies look at a longer term contact strategy, not a one-and-done process. If I download the article, then try dripping on me with more emails with more content. If I keep downloading, chances are I might be a solid lead, so reach out to me via email and, if qualifying me by company size or # of employees is critical, then do a little homework. A few clicks of the mouse will probably find that information for you.
  • Understand the difference between whitepapers and case studies. A whitepaper is called a whitepaper for a reason—it’s supposed to be an independent point of view around a topic. Too many whitepapers are either platforms for self-aggrandizement or poorly disguised sales pitches. Well-written whitepapers are informative, insightful and topical. It takes professional writing skill to add nuances that paint your product/service in a positive light—and not as a thump to the head with a frying pan. Case Studies, on the other hand, are an opportunity to let one of your customers formally endorse your brand. They should include the situation/problem and how it was solved, and, if possible, a quote attributed to a name/title at the buyers organization.

Designing your content so it is attractive, easy to read, and a combination of text, graphs and images, is a given. But don’t, for a minute, think you can take your advertising (video or otherwise), market it as content and check the box for content marketing off on your list.