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.
Would content marketing work well with Adwords, SEO?
There are several things in this question, so I will start with SEO. it goes without saying that there is no search engine optimisation without content. Very often I see businesses doing things the other way around: trying to optimise one’s website for search engines while not caring that much about content and then they are surprised that not many valuable keywords are actually indexed from their website. Yet, that’s entirely normal. First and foremost, you must understand how search engine optimisation works. Search engine optimisation, mostly on Google, is about full text indexing. Google’s bots search the entire text and count the keywords and see how many times they are repeated and the more they are repeated (with certain exceptions and limitations) the better for indexing. Thus, at the end of the day, if there is no content, there is no indexing, full stop. And when I mean content, I mean text. Because as I mentioned, it’s full text indexing, not full video, nor full MP3 indexing. In fact, Google doesn’t index anything else. Despite what people think. Even when they index a picture, they do by taking its context into account i.e. the surrounding text and its ‘alt’ tags (text again).
Adwords (SEA) is a different kettle of fish. It makes it possible for content to be indexed even though it is not very good and it has not been optimised. This is why it is so successful. Marketers who have money prefer paying Google rather than spend days on end optimising their content. SEO costs time, SEA costs money, that’s the main equation. So, if you do content marketing well, you should be able to minimise SEA quite considerably. As a matter of fact, if you are working in B2B for instance you will notice that you require very little of it. SEA has very poor ROI mostly in B2B. In B2C, certain e-merchants call it a Google tax. That says it all, doesn’t it?
As an example, at Visionary Marketing, I save approximately 360,000-600,000 € worth of SEA every year or so depending on traffic (I use very broad ranges with a purpose). Still not convinced?
Difference between copywriter and content writer
This is a very good question. I have never wondered about that before so I had to go back to the Internet and check the exact definitions. As a matter of fact, copywriters are people writing messages and taglines for advertising, mostly paper-based messages and text. Content writers are more about in-depth content writing and long-form blogging or short-form blogging, etc. But you also have content marketing for websites, like personas, product descriptions etc. As a matter of fact, most people call them copywriters in Web agencies anyway. Which means that I had never cared about this before.
But now that I know I won’t do it anymore, I promise.
Are there any techniques/strategies to promote user engagement in content marketing?
So much is said about engagement that it requires one takes a bit of hindsight. Engagement has been turned into this kind of magical word that everybody utters without even understanding it. To me it is plain and easy though: it means you interact with people, full stop. It means that you (your team, well someone, some real person) must be there and ask questions and interact with people. Nothing else matters. Engagement metrics are close to zilch. And the reason for this is simple: most social media platforms have introduced algorithms which curtail the number of shares and views of your posts so that you pay advertising to them for the blog posts to be viewed. And marketers pay for their Facebook posts to be seen. They pay once for followers, second for content, third for promoting content. Well, they pretty much do nothing else but pay. What they should do is think and interact. Chatbots will help, I believe in them, mostly for support, when support questions are repetitive and your helpline people are on the fringe of burning rate. They won’t replace real human interaction. Not entirely. Imagine a Facebook world with robots clinking on links and getting answer to their questions from other robots. Oh boy! And one used to call that ‘social’ media? Well so much for engagement, be social. That’s it.
As for SEO vs SEA, engagement could either mean that you pay or you invest time. It’s your choice.
But that doesn’t mean that the value of social media is in engagement dashboards. In fact, it’s not. It’s in the power to interact and to gain insights from people: clients/partners/influencers/or even the average punter (who cares as long as you have an insight?). One insight only is sufficient for you to change positively and durably a product or service and make a strong impact in your Market definition in B2B and B2C - The very notion of "market" is at the heart of any marketing approach. A market can be defined.... Yet, most marketers are lazy and prefer to pay Facebook so that they can show “big” engagement numbers even though you and I know that they are not really “big”.
End of part one, stay tuned for more answers to my students’ content marketing questions.