Opinion: Mind your language: Churning and blasting

Text100's Paul Mottram says most content marketing isn't working...and it's giving the industry a bad name

Paul Mottram: Managing director, integrated strategy, Asia-Pacific at Text100
Paul Mottram: Managing director, integrated strategy, Asia-Pacific at Text100

First, rectify the names. —Confucius

Content marketing. Everyone’s doing it, or at least talking about it. But too much is not up to scratch. It’s filling your mobile screen, leaking into your LinkedIn, and clogging up your inbox. It’s not working and it’s giving content a bad name. One clue to what’s wrong is in the way we talk about it.

We churn out content. And we blast emails. Smart marketers have long recognized that when things go wrong with reputations, you can’t just PR-it better. Much of the same common communications sense now needs to be applied to content. Do the editors of The Economist sit down each Monday and discuss what content they are going to churn out that week? No, they don’t. They think critically about what’s going on in the world, how it impacts their readership, and how to present it in a way that those readers will find compelling. That’s why it gets read. The same goes for less high-brow fare. Hong Kong’s tabloid editors are masters at getting and holding their readers’ attention. And the burgeoning raft of "clickbait" providers are bringing the same skills to the social world. True, these publishers are not selling anything more than eyeballs. But if brands want similar levels of engagement and credibility, there’s certainly something to learn.

When you need help with a work project, or need recommendations from friends, do you do an email blast to the whole staff list or everyone in your address book? Unlikely. You probably think about who is most likely to be able to help. You care about not wasting the time of those who can’t. You phrase your request carefully and respectfully. And you probably get not only the response you need but also build useful relationships as your note gets forwarded. There are exceptions of course. But those who blast—whether professionally or personally—increasingly get ignored.

So what’s going wrong? Churning and blasting is surely a symptom of lazy marketing, but it’s not the cause. At Text100 we commonly see three underlying and interrelated issues with content marketing approaches.

First, understand the customer’s journey.

The role of content must be understood in the context of the evolving journey of the customer from awareness to intent, and from action to advocacy. Research from IDG suggests that IT buyers, for example, download an average of 12 pieces of content before a decision is made. The content that a customer needs when they’re first considering their options is different from the content they need when they have to convince their boss and finance department (or spouse) that they’ve made the right choice.

Once the product or service is sold, there’s an important but often overlooked role for content in converting confidence to advocacy. Relatively few happy customers are so delighted that they will spontaneously become promoters. But if you continue to engage with objective, relevant, insightful/inspirational and original content, you’ll give them ongoing opportunities to share.

Second, resist the transaction.

Generations of direct marketers have been overwhelmingly focused on getting the reply, or more recently the click. The ninety-X percent of the audience that didn’t respond were ignored until the next time, because there were few ways to engage them otherwise. No wonder response rates have eroded. The simple truth is most prospects, most of the time, are not ready to buy. That’s true not only for big-ticket items like cars or pensions, but also for FMCG. Smart brands use content to build engagement, not close the deal. That holds as true for the thought leadership efforts of an IBM or PWC as it does for consumer brands like Red Bull. Only the channels and media are different.

Again, the ORIO (objective, relevant, insightful/inspirational and original) principle holds. Engage the prospect first, and keep them warm until they decide to convert their intent into action.

Third, get the metrics right.

Silicon Valley marketing guru Geoffrey Moore suggests that because prospect acquisition and customer monetization are the easiest to measure, they become the metrics that most marketing organisations focus on. Engagement and advocacy, on the other hand, are traditionally much harder to measure. But they are the forces that turn prospects into customers, and customers into advocates. Today, however, engagement and advocacy data is everywhere. We just need to be set up right to use and learn from it. When we do, acquisition and monetization follow.

Turning content pollution into effective content marketing requires ongoing effort. Most clients we talk to are making progress on the journey. But success is far from easy. So next time you hear a colleague talking about churning or blasting, listen up: someone’s not with the program.


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