How content marketing killed marketing.

How and why are companies re-evaluating their approach to content in 2019.


by Justin Hall

Protocol Founder and Marketing Automation Pioneer

January 2019

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Before you freak out and throw something at me let me just say I'm not a content marketer, nor am I a copywriter (hence my poor grammar). Am I even qualified to write this? Maybe...For transparency reasons let me explain that I work at a marketing automation company - so this isn't some clever angle from a controversial content writer trying to start a whole new hashtag trend (I'll come back to that later).

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We spend a lot of time unpicking companies 'content' collections trying to build multi-channel campaign architecture campaigns - to drive towards that nirvana of the truly personalised customer experience we all crave. Sadly, much of the time we discover that content marketers got there before us and left a big poo on the doorstep. Maybe a protest poo or maybe they just don't give a damn.

So here's the TL;DR bullet point version of my gripe:

  • Content marketing isn't real. It's just marketing.
  • Content marketers have resided over a mass epidemic of stuff
  • Companies web sites and social channels are often littered with random, pointless noise which helps nobody
  • Customers are having to make extra effort to sift and filter all the noise and crap to get to something useful or relevant
  • Customers are still not getting the messages, interactions and engagements they want or deserve from brands
  • Customers are still not finding the information or answers they want
  • Corporate marketers now sit aloft a mountain of garbage and have to get interns to manage their content inventory
    (because you want the messaging function of your company demand engine to be overseen by interns right?)
  • Even after sifting through the mountain of shit you realise you still don't have the right content, am I right?
  • Companies are seeing their visibility and reputation weaken (we've seen in in European brands struggling with SEO) - maybe because web content has been too diluted and fragmented

Here's the thing - many content marketing shops generally subscribe to the notion that more is more is better (where I'm more in the less is more camp). All the evidence we have (looking at successful campaign architecture) suggests much less content is needed that many think(often 4-6 touches of digital content is the Goldilocks sweet spot). So why have these outfits pushed this agenda?

  • We all get seduced by likeability, shares, views, engagements and likes
    Just because we're being really noisy it doesn't mean we're being effective. Likes and shares are not money in the bank - sure driving awareness is a good thing but putting too much pointless drivel just serves to damage our brand, not enhance it (which is why social media teams should not be a silo).
  • Content shops make money by making content
    Duh. So they would say you need more right? (They could actually make just as much ££ with better more robust stuff) but...
  • The important content is often the difficult/boring stuff
    I mean, doing a cool awareness piece video is just so much more fun than some research piece unpicking the core data points on why engineers should be using..dull.
  • Marketers are absolute suckers for the next big thing
  • Many marketers talk the talk about the customer journey but never walk around it (the same marketers who commission pointless 90 page personas which sit gathering dust in a top drawer)
  • Do companies even the data and technology they need to drive lifecycle marketing (often not....)?

What has really exploded this view is seeing the first six months of results post-GDPR, a mixed bag for sure but we've seen a massive shift in what people are prepared to give their data, and what they say they will give their data for in exchange for an interaction.

Interestingly we've seen a few shifts post GDPR - people are a

lot more wary with what they exchange precious data for and we're all lying a lot more in forms.

So here are the things we're seeing happening right now.

  1. A move to simplify content and messaging
  2. Companies focusing back down on the core basics
  3. Companies ruthlessly axing content that does not adhere to highly targeted campaign architecture (or brand values)
  4. A focus on much fewer, higher value pieces of content
  5. Development of ultra-high value Calls to Action to drive form fills 
    Often long-reads, genuine how to guides, studies, tools and templates, promos, incentives, print, samples....
  6. A nurture mix of 4-6 ultra-high value with 8-12 supporting assets
  7. A focus on information architecture for web and email

A word of caution when readin our point 5 above - Development of ultra-high value Calls to Action to drive form fills 

What this doesn't mean is the rush to quickly knock out a long read or how to guide which isn't original or authentic. Customers appetites and expectations have evolved and won't be fooled by some faux How To Guide which is really just a repackaged sales deck. There needs to be:

  • Credibility and authenticity - written by a domain specialists, not sales
  • Genuinely useful - build reputation and trust be giving customers something they can use which is honest and helpful
  • Rare and valuable - don't just rinse and repeat something everyone else is doing. Or, radically improve something and give it away
  • It doesn't have to be content - our research shows that printed materials, samples, demo's and Ask an Expert do work
  • Link it back to your products and services to show why your Company is awesome (and move them into a nurture) - not content for contents sake.

We're all too time poor and stressed, so anything that can help improve our lives. If in doubt, live by the Customer Journey Bible (download it free) - create your 4-6 touches that answer customers questions at each stage, use this to frame your strategy. See, I'm giving you our secret sauce, high value content and know how for free, awesome right?

Ultimately, this is all about creating meaningful, useful and productive engagement with our customers that relies on two major things: Data and Content. With those two things we can create those moments of truth with our customers and really connect with them. Content needs to be the right message, at the right time in the right way – relevant and timely. So we need to understand our customers drivers and motivators, be highly targeted and personal. Content in 2019 needs to be 10x more engaging, useful, relevant, original and engaging than before – to make your product stand out and be heard above all the noise we’re bombarded with daily.

This is why I love Marketing Automation, it enables us to build highly personalised data-driven customer experiences that improve customer engagement, deliver more leads, increase revenue, improve retention, shorten sales cycles and drive operational efficiencies with repeatable and scalable automated workflows.

Managing Director

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