4 Ways to Avoid the Cult of Content Marketing

Content marketing is full of cult like organizations and individuals who can’t go more than two sentences without saying the words “content” and “marketing.”

Avoid the cult and stay away from the Kool-Aid with these four tips.

  1. Provide Value

I am, like most of my digital media and marketing friends, a voracious consumer of content. However, I spend probably 10% of that time learning about how to become a better content marketer.
 
 Why? Because 90% of the time, I need to direct my gaze towards becoming very competent in the field(s) and subjects I’m writing about. 
 
 Content marketing has become more about the “how to content market” as opposed to the more important “why to content market.”
 
 We should create valuable content-not narcissistic goops of “magical” that do nothing more than clog an already polluted content marketing pipeline.

The only realistic way I’ve uncovered to accomplish developing more valuable content is getting inside the brains and hearts of my intended audience.

If I’m writing to add value to a machine learning product an IT firm is ready to launch, I need to find an easy to understand machine learning resource, ASAP. Then, I need to take notes. When time permits, I may open up my coding software and actually walk through a machine learning solution, taking notes about each step I am performing. These notes will be so simple that anyone with a high school education can practically understand what is occurring. 
 
 When the background information is done, I’m on to learning about how to sell the words, images, and videos of the content to the primary audience. Is the primary audience engineers? If yes, then I should found out what content engineers like. Or, is the primary audience sales teams? If yes, then I need to find out what content IT sales teams enjoy consuming.
 
 When these steps are done — and they do not need to take a long time to accomplish — I finally feel that I’m qualified to deliver some value for the client. 
 
 If you’re not providing value, you’re simply filling word quotas, or even worse, thinking your providing value because no one has challenged your assumption what value is. The key to content marketing greatness is having at least a competent understanding about the products and audiences who you are creating for. 
 
 When you do this, you are in the position to give real value. 
 
 Key Takeaway: Your content needs to be valuable. It is entirely possible to create great looking / feeling / emotional / other buzzword content that is completely useless. Part of the job is to educate readers in some capacity. Earn your right to deliver value by putting your brain and heart in the shoes of the intended products and audiences.
 
2. Stop Confusing Content Marketing with Content Marketed

The marketing for content marketers can get funny at times. Juvenile “How to” guides that claim content marketing is like baking a cake and a content calendar is as simple as a .99 kitchen timer. If it’s not a simple 10 step guide of crap, it’s a 50-page ebook that could have been written in one sentence. 
 
 All of this content is rehashed mumbo-jumbo designed to increase vanity metrics and give the illusion that the content is reaching a wide audience. Worst of all, it’s aimed at you, not the art and science of content marketing.
 
 Having studied (or slaved) in undergrad and graduate school, I’m somewhat of a subscriber of the theory of rationality. Essentially, people want to maximize their time and money. 
 
 So, if a content marketing organization, or an individual, spends time and resources trying to reach you, the content marketer, with tips on how to become a better content marketer, you must realize that you are the money and time maximizer for someone else. 
 
 “Content Marketing Experts,” who were former SEO experts, who were former Dreamweaver experts before that, who are also social media experts, and who are also video experts, and who are also demi-gods in their spare time, seem to live to tell other content marketers how to be better content marketers.
 
 This takes a lot of time and money (because time is, indeed, money). If I was that great of a content marketer, I would spend my extra time with clients trying to create more real projects and get paid. Yet the content marketer’s favorite target isn’t a prospective client. No, no, no, no. It’s other content marketers. 
 
 Key Takeaway: Be extremely careful who you take advice from when it comes to content marketing. Most of the stuff available for content marketers is rehashed, unoriginal crap designed to increase equal crappy vanity metrics like number of Twitter followers. If you’re a self-identified content marketer, you are most likely the client for other content marketers. This is dangerous because you will only be sold to, not nurtured and developed as promised.
 
 3. Learn Skills and Push the Envelope 
 
 
Content marketing is the Wild West of the digital media landscape. No one knows what the hell it means and no one wants to embark on the ambitious, yet already doomed, voyage of classifying and categorizing what content market is or is not.

That’s okay. It leaves room for expansion, growth, and opportunity. However, expansion, growth, and opportunity only come from being able to put ideas into action.

And the only way to put ideas into action is to learn the skills required yourself. Unless you live in the Twilight Zone, and your marketing budget is endless, opening up an in-house video marketing studio so you can learn how to edit is a meeting that will not end well. But you can certainly learn video and editing on your own, can’t you?

Writers are content marketers. Videographers are content marketers. D3.js developers are content marketers. Even those who just push social media updates are considered content marketers. (Secret: those who have never actually performed content marketing but write about content marketing also consider themselves content marketers).
 
 The next evolution of content marketing will come when the skills of video, data, writing, and audio can be more effectively combined together. Right now, that’s an expensive task for any marketing department, let alone the solo content marketer. 
 
 But limitations should not be allowed to stop ideas. If you have a more creative and more valuable content marketing idea, crack open a video application and get to it. Or, learn how to create the infographics you admire so much. Two important things come from exploration:
 
 1. You’ll push your own boundaries, thus becoming a better content marketer.
 
 2. You may learn more skills, thus becoming a more valuable content marketer.
 
 But always be learning so you can add value to your content marketing skillset. I’m not a designer. I can barely draw a circle. However, I’m confident that I can be more empathetic towards the designers I work with when it comes to production time. 
 
 Key Takeaway: The way you get better at content marketing is making yourself uncomfortable and forcing yourself to grow. This typically comes from learning new skills and solving new problems. 
 
 4. Ask for Proof and Be Accountable 
 
 
I despise articles that tell you to do something with zero proof as to why you should listen. 
 
 I’m sure you’ve read something like: “People are busy. So do your 10AM social posting at 9:57 AM or 10:03 AM to avoid the social clutter.”
 
 Does anyone really think that + or — three minutes will make a difference? 
 
 Maybe it will. But that doesn’t mean there is a scientific basis for telling potentially thousands of readers to reorder their social strategy. 
 
 Likewise, I’m sure you’ve also read something like: “You should be writing at least one original article per week.”
 
 Great. But why? Why not every two weeks?
 
 This is the problem when the barrier of entry to content marketing is as low as the barrier of entry for crap into a septic tank. Marketing is a highly data driven endeavor, or at least it should be. And until agencies and departments from around the world share data, it is impossible to offer advice so precise as the necessity to create a new article per week.

I’m also keenly aware that a lot of marketing is simply throwing darts at a dartboard and hoping for the occasional bullseye. There is nothing wrong with sharing anecdotal data about what works for you with other professionals. I would expect nothing less. But telling people something is correct for them without knowing their professional context is fraudulent.
 
 Content marketing needs to be held accountable to real metrics. Real metrics answer how content marketing is increasing revenues or somehow otherwise positively contributing to life inside the sales funnel.
 
 Even anecdotal, harmless conversations about “what work” need to be validated with data in order to be accepted. If your best content marketing friend says, “this infographic boosted ROI by 200% You should make them too!” you better not go and buy an infographics training course. Ask for proof. Did your friend look at key metrics? See a revenue increase with proper revenue attribution? Or did a completely unrelated series of purchases occur that coincided with the release of the infographic?
 
 Key Takeaway: For content marketing to be sustainable, it must become more metrics driven. Identify which metrics matter to monetary and non-monetary ROI and let data lead the creative process.

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