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Sorry Mark Ritson, but you’re selling content marketing short

Is content marketing a load of bollocks? That’s what Mark Ritson levels against the discipline in his latest Marketing Week column.

Now I’m not one for sitting on the fence, but I sort of see where he’s coming from. His argument that what we’re doing is the same as we’ve always done is true; it’s not like no-one ever told a good story before five years ago.

However, his citation of Bob Hoffman’s quote – “a meaningless term invented by bullshit artists to add gravitas to mundane marketing activities” – is something that I fundamentally don’t agree with. And here’s why.

Down with content?

Although I detest the word content (which is ironic, considering my job title is Head of Content), if we look beyond semantics,  it’s important to give the discipline its own name and place in the marketing mix.

Content is important because it’s the substance of a campaign. In the highly competitive B2B environment, where the buying cycle can be long, businesses can’t get away with sales messages dressed up as marketing.

If companies want to have a long lasting relationship with prospects, in order to convert them to customers, they need to build that relationship from the ground up. And that means courting their interest.

Thankfully, Mark Ritson moves away from Hoffman’s extreme view to make his own conclusion, which is much more in line with my viewpoint. His ultimate opinion is that:

“The problem appears to be content marketers who, in a modern version of marketing myopia, seem to think that their reason for existence is to create content, rather than communicate with clients and sell stuff.”

Herein lies the difference between the good, bad and ugly – of sorts.

Ritson’s right in that content creators cannot be divorced from the ultimate objectives attached to their work.  I have witnessed first-hand the number of retail technology content marketing campaigns that are built on what we at Fieldworks like to call ‘me too’ content; thought leadership which doesn’t say anything different to what’s already out there; which is throwing fuel onto existing bonfires rather than lighting a new one.

Equally, there are content creators out there who care little for what happens to their words after they’ve been signed off. Whereas to be really effective, they need to know exactly how that content is going to be amplified, and actively invest in the measurement and analysis of its performance.

However, I can’t totally align myself with Ritson, for one simple reason: in his quote, all roads lead back to selling stuff. Which is a crass reduction of what content marketing is trying to achieve.

Shades of grey

I’m not being naïve here; working in the B2B world, I am acutely aware that lead generation is the name of the game. However, effective content marketing is not about the black and white of converting or not converting a sale. It’s about the opportunities to influence – the shades of grey – that lie in between.

Every B2B content marketing campaign will target multiple decision makers, with different business priorities, at different points in the sales cycle.

The content marketer’s job is to get under the skin of those decision makers, to understand them as people. Getting to the heart of their triumphs, disasters and pain points. Then telling their story, and waiting until the opportune moment to introduce their product or service as the knight in shining armour.

It can mean being softly, softly at times, but wouldn’t companies rather catch the monkey in the end – rather than jump straight in for the grab, and scare it off immediately?

Do you think content marketing is a load of bollocks? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter.

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