Yesterday, Samuel Scott of TechCrunch rolled the golden apple of discord onto the lunch tables of tech marketers everywhere. In the eye-pokingly titled, Everything the Tech World Says About Marketing is Wrong, Scott takes aim at two contemporary shibboleths of contemporary marketing: “inbound marketing” and “content marketing.”
Part of me is gleeful: Scott correctly takes down a great deal of the nonsense that has surrounded both of these disciplines. If what you’re really doing is blasting tens of thousands of email each week, you’re not marketing “inbound” at all. And if you’re just belching promo copy out the wazoo, you’re not “content marketing,” you’re just flooding the landscape with crap (a point I made nearly four years ago on this blog).
Yet Scott’s criticism is indiscriminate, failing to distinguish good from bad content marketing in a wholesale condemnation of the entire practice. (I won’t defend inbound marketing per se, because that’s not my turf.) Part of the fault lies, not with Scott, but with some of content marketing’s biggest stars: too many have defined “content” too broadly: ads, brochures and other promotional materials might be defined (by those with a greater appetite for euphemism than I have) as marketing “assets,” but they are not content.
For the record: content is material that has intrinsic value for consumers or buyers. In the B2C world, content may provide amusement, recreation and/or entertainment. In the B2B world that I live in, content provides information, insights and/or practical wisdom valuable to our prospective buyers. Think of it as a kind of currency: in exchange for your attention, I’m offering expertise worthy of your time: a whitepaper with relevant research, a how-to article, an ebook about effective, proven processes, a video demonstration of an idea in action, etc.
Scott insists that marketers go back to basics. I can’t argue with that. But I can argue that the basics have changed. Traditional direct marketing and advertising have not been merely supplemented by the Internet, but often supplanted by it. The web is not merely another channel, but the primary way our buyers actively seek information. Pushing ads and pumping out emails isn’t enough (or close to enough); you have to intercept buyers when they are seeking answers, and contribute answers they respect.
Content is that means of interception. Content is the vehicle by which tech companies earn credibility and establish authority. Content is what gives your company the power to shape the sales conversation; frankly, it’s the lever that allows your company to get on the short list of companies who will have these conversations with buyers at all.
By all means, master the marketing basics. But understand that properly understood, “content marketing” — in a brave new world where buyers have the power to direct their attention when and where they wish — is part of the basics. If you don’t have great content, you’re just sitting on your “assets.”