Content Marketing is new. It’s brand new. So declared a few pundits a couple of years ago and to an extent they are right. I can testify for this, I was already practicing it (aka inbound marketing as it is known today) 22 years ago. But as Lyman Bryson once said: “The error of youth is to believe that intelligence is a substitute for experience, while the error of age is to believe experience is a substitute for intelligence.” So let’s not fall into that trap and let’s realise that content marketing, like any other discipline, has evolved over time. I was lucky enough to experiment with it at Unisys in the very early days of Internet Banking and Web content. Here is a screenshot of the old Internet-banking.com Website on the right hand side.
From the easy days of content marketing to today’s field of innovation
Of course it looks a bit weird now but at the time its little animated barometer looked pretty cool. We’d had some record sleeve designers design this for us, they were a lot cheaper than anyone else because they weren’t working for any business (apart from the major companies of the Music industry) and they wanted to have a go at the Corporate world. They came all the way from Crystal Palace to my house in Pembroke Mews W8 and we had tea and they showed me that barometer and there it staid for at least 5 or 6 years. I moved on to other ventures and somebody else looked after the Website. But this experiment of ours had proven so successful that I never quite looked for a job anymore, people started calling in. That was great. 4 years ago my personal coach made me update my CV and I realised I hadn’t touched it for so long it nearly made me weep. So I founded my own company in order that I wouldn’t have to update it anymore. And guess what I’m doing? Content marketing of course. And Word of mouth marketing too, goes without saying. Writing content for a living is pretty cool. It’s also what I’ll be teaching at Grenoble EM business school tomorrow onwards.
And so I asked my MSC students what their main questions about content marketing were and I devised this little booklet which I will publish in three instalments. This is no.1 of these 3 instalments on their content marketing questions and how I propose to address them. At the same time it serves my purpose: I lecture on content marketing, hence answering questions on content marketing, therefore producing content for the blog, hence raising more questions. And so on, and so forth. Many of the students’ questions which aren’t addressed in this document are part of the main syllabus for the March 29-31 lecture. As a matter of fact, some of the questions below were asked in earnest by our students. I made a selection of the most intriguing ones and those that I thought deserved answers and weren’t already covered in my course.
Forewarning: no one hold the truth, least of all me. I tried my best to answer these questions to the best of my knowledge but it must be understood that my angle is very personal.
A few questions about content marketing and my HTG answers (part one)
Do you need to possess creative writing skills to produce good content marketing?
On one hand, I would like to answer yes to that question. Of course, you need to be creative to capture the imagination of your readers. It goes without saying. When I refer to content marketing however, I do not refer to Facebook or Twitter posts which are seen more as a mere relay of proper content. Social media is like a sounding board. Your content is like the strings on your guitar (or viola as on the picture). No sounding board, no music. No strings, no sound at all. As simple as that. I know most brands are keen on posting stuff on Facebook for God knows what reason and sometimes, as engagement plummets, they bring Lol cats to the rescue (don’t laugh, I did it one day for Orange, on purpose and it worked). To me, real content comes mostly in the form of long form blogging when talking about B2B. a little less so for B2C. But often you have to write stories on your Website too. Websites and blogs are two different things. Most brands overlook this. They have weak product-centred websites with poor content and they think all content must go somewhere else. This is very weird. So yes! Creativity is a must-have. Not just in writing though, but also with multimedia and God knows most brands are poor with their use of multimedia too.
At the same time, I feel like answering ‘no’ to that question. As far as I’m concerned, I never honed my creative writing skills, I picked it up as I went along, but I have always enjoyed writing stories. I tried and tested things and sometimes succeeded and often failed, and this is how you learn. Would you ask successful writer if she/he took creative writing courses? At the end of the day, I do not know whether you need creative writing skills or not, but I certainly value creativity over anything else. We even use this as a cornerstone of our engagements at Visionary Marketing. Each and every of our employees is capable of not only writing but drawing as well, which enhances the quality of our content and makes it stand out from the crowd.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a 1000 words.This morning I came across a presentation by Wakster’s Philippe Ingels. Wakster is a British agency dedicated to the use of illustrations for Marketing. I though the topic was particularly relevant to our readers and so I am sharing his presentation with you. Rather than try to bore your readers to death, why don’t you try something different? That’s the meaning of Philippe Ingels’s presentation and also the gist of our work at Visionary Marketing.
On the web and elsewhere, advertisers tend to believe their own dreams and their motto is “if customers cannot hear our message, let’s shout it out a wee bit louder!”
A picture can make you stand out from the crowd
However, the results are poor. Users hate advertisers for being insistent. The more they are the more they hate them. So both advertisers and publishers are trying to lure readers into reading their uninteresting messages by throwing more and more banners at them. I even counted up to 4 layers of banner advertising on one particular website. These publishers’ web analytics platforms will add up all these “readers” into their stables. But it is an illusion. For readers have averted their eyes from that content for a long time. Big data and a big illusion too.
Inbound marketing and a certain lingua franca
Inbound marketing isn’t as easy as it lay seem. We are currently working on a content marketing deal which involves writing content about “web to store” technology. Our text is written in English and has to be translated into Spanish and French. “Web to store” is what the French are calling it and the terminology makes perfect sense. The only issue is that the term, in plain English, doesn’t exist or isn’t used. This, in a way, is a bit of a conundrum. Should we, or should we not use it in our English pieces? We have been torn on that issue, and still are. But there are many more issues with translations.
About inbound marketing, translations and adaptations
I used to be a translator interpreter for the French Army Staff (well, that was quite some time ago, but the lessons I was taught were not lost on me). In essence, I believe that translation is one of the most difficult exercises for the mind. Much more difficult than solving an equation. In fact, it’s a bit like solving two symmetrical equations expressed in two different languages and trying to get back to a near perfect transposition of the original text. That kind of exercice may sound easy, mostly when common languages are involved. But it’s far from being the case. As a matter of fact, languages aren’t equations. They cannot be fed into computers – or only imperfectly. This is due to the fact that a) rules are imperfectly expressed (sometimes I read French grammar rules and I can’t understand everything in them) b) a language is not only based on a choice of words and grammar, it’s based on colloquialisms and the choice of expressions which not only seem right to readers, but also sound vernacular c) because translations aren’t just translations, most of the time they are adaptations (all references to local things must be either changed or explained. In our retail example, if I mention Asda or Argos, no Frenchman would understand what I am talking about. Conversely, if I write about Casino or Leroy Merlin, chances are that most Europeans would have no clue that these are retail chains unless I explain it).
Regardless, we have decided to translate all our blog pieces carefully, both in French and Spanish, in order that the right terms appear in the right pages for the right search engine(s). This is a tad counter-intuitive in an economy which is supposedly globalised, with English as the world’s modern lingua franca. And French and Spanish for other parts of the world.
To an extent, this isn’t new. Assuming that in Roman times, everyone was speaking Latin in the exact same way would be foolish. And the bastardisation of the Empire’s language gave birth to Church Latin (which the French facetiously name “Kitchen Latin” to show you that, well, it isn’t Latin per se). That’s the funny thing about a lingua franca: being a universal language means that many speak it, but this doesn’t guarantee that one will understand it. That’s how certain Canadian films like the hilarious 2011 Starbuck is subtitled for French audiences (honestly, unless he/she has a trained ear, a fluent French speaker would not understand many of the lines spoken in that film, mostly because most are stressed. With received pronunciation, French is spoken flat, it is almost impossible to catch anything when words are stressed in the English way (and conversely when English isn’t stressed properly). Read more
Adblocking is a hot topic these days. A never ending cat and mouse game between advertisers and consumers in which ingenious developers are constantly finding new ways of avoiding or trying to avoid advertising pressure. What Adblocking is showing us too is a lack of trust on the part of consumers. Who else but Doc Searls, one of the co-writers of the celebrated Cluetrain Manifesto was in better position to raise the subject? This is exactly what he did at our late September meeting in Prague*. Once more, consumer trust ranked high on the agenda.
“Adblocking is becoming a big deal and it’s even one of the biggest downloads and even more so in certain countries like Germany and Austria” Doc said in his introduction to the subject. “This has grown and grown and journalists are describing it as a War now”. Even better, Apple has made this decision to add adblocking in the IOS 9 SDK. You will then be able to block whatever you want. “Immediately after this change” Doc said, “Adblockers became the most popular apps on the store”.
Adblocking: Apple knows before consumers they really need it
“It’s very easy for the Press to describe this as an Apple vs Google feud” Doc added “but the point is somewhere else”. Doc’s argument is that Apple is making it easy for consumers, because “they know what the customers want even before they know themselves what they want”. Apple has indeed taught us to expect the unexpected, offer products we don’t need apparently, and then once the object has been created we suddenly realise we are craving for it.
One of the interesting things about the Adblock controversies is that it emphasises that our world works through advertising. “But online, the junk-mail world has taken over and this isn’t what we were expecting” Doc added. Things have gone out of control. The publishing world acts as if they didn’t understand what is happening. To them, this is how the world works and that’s that but “we, as consumers, we have never signed up for this”.
Why do we need trust in business?
Lea Whing has an interesting point to make on this. when Doc Searls mentions trust, what are we hearing? “Are we only interested in trust because this is what will trigger consumer purchase?” She asked wittily, “or is it because people need it? If so, what do customers really need?”
I am not certain that Google will maintain Google alerts for very much longer. It seems, to put it in Forbes’s words, that it is broken. There is another cool innovation from the olden times which is still working though, I mean Google web trends. I still find it very interesting to see how things evolved through the use, or disuse, of certain keywords in the Google search engine. Lately, I went back to Google in order to check what was happening to corporate blogs. The only thing I was able to find out, was a 2005 report on corporate blogging. Does that mean that corporate blogging is over? Not at all! It is now part of a much broader subject, named content marketing. In essence, content marketing is bit different from just corporate blogging and it is a much better term. The replies of the interest for content marketing over the past few months is showing that something is happening in the web world again. Maybe it is a sign that companies are now more interested in what they get from the content which they produce rather than just spend time producing it. Let us review the 2013 content marketing survey report which gives us some interesting insight into the use of content marketing in 2013 (courtesy http://www.imninc.com/).
Interest for corporate blogs has clearly shifted from blogs to content
Key Survey Findings by IMN
- “Content marketing was a medium or high priority for 90%
of respondents …” however, one may point out that comparisons with the 2012 survey my IMN (the first in the series) is showing that the realisation that content marketing is important is fairly recent, even in the US,
- “31% of respondents have had a content strategy in place for more than a
year, with 18% stating they put one in place within the last year and 33%
working on implementing a strategy” … as stated above, all these content marketing programs are still fairly recent and there is still room for improvement,
- “67% of respondents use a newsletter to distribute content to their
customers and prospects” … this is namely true with regard to newsletters for which a great number of users are sending them once a year therefore showing little or no understanding of how the medium is used,
- “78% of respondents curate content; 48% having run into permissions /
attribution issues during the process” … But 15% of respondents are worried that they could use copyrighted content on their own resources,
- 44% of respondents cited lead generation as the most important goal of
content marketing programs; an increase from 16% last year.
Awareness is widespread now. Content marketers are no longer regarded as zombies… well… I have a few recent counter examples but they are not American.
Increasing leads is clearly what makes corporations tick. Yet, my personal experience in that area shows that few are able to go beyond buzz words and stick to their guns. Lead generation is a difficult trade, it requires a lot of fine tuning, and stamina. A trial and error mentality must be adopted; typically something that large companies have trouble coping with … long term thinking!
Blogs are still here in that picture but they are not alone and part of an ecosystem. This makes perfect sense. An overarching strategy for marketing content must be adopted vs. piecemeal technical approaches which lead nowhere. Yet, if your blog is lousy, you are bound to go nowhere at all. The fundamentals must be remembered.
Success is shifting away from readership to leads. Well… in the States maybe, in Europe, we still have a long way to go!
Download the 2005 blogger survey
There has been questions in certain European countries with regard to how widespread the adoption of contact marketing on the continent could have been (cf. this piece on my French blog, translated into English by the Google robot). Although undeniable progress has been made in the past few years over here in that respect, and though we may even consider content marketing to be a staple of marketing and especially B2B marketing, it is debatable that the adoption of content marketing in certain European countries is ubiquitous and fully understood.
Considering that, in France for instance, 70% of small businesses websites are never updated (source: Marketing PME’s Serge Henri Saint Michel), we can surmise that there is definitely room for improvement.
I found the following survey from the content marketing Institute which shows the huge gap between what we witness in Europe and what is happening in the United Kingdom. The vast majority of UK B2B companies, either large or small, have all embraced content marketing (95% of the B2B companies having responded to the survey have, even though the sample is very small but varied).
Mind the Gap!
Let us make that point clear: the sample is very small, and we have to remain cautious; but at least one feels that there is a major trend and one more European divide in the making. Whereas, on the continent, I am still battling with certain people about the fact that white papers, for instance, are useful devices (I still hear stuff like “White papers serve no purpose!”), in the United Kingdom, this kind of tactics has been embraced fully and totally incorporated within marketing thinking.
Besides, it is only subcontracted by 55% of the sample. There is one more caveat beyond the size of that survey sample though, and it’s that most interviewees are not always satisfied with the results: approximately half of them rate the results of content marketing as average. One assumption would be that competition on content marketing is very harsh in Britain, and the English-speaking world in general, and that doing things differently in English is a lot more exacting than with other, less represented languages on the Internet.
Obviously, in order to stand out from the crowd, A lot of thinking has to be put into your content beforehand . There is a paradox that the areas where people think that whitepapers aren’t any good, are in fact those where it is a lot easier to produce and promote them than it is in Britain, where adoption is broad but competition is fierce. I can predict that a lot will happen in the B2B arena in the near future, at least on the continental side of the Channel.