Content marketing will never work

12 Nov

This is a guest post by Mark Higginson. Mark worked with me for several years at iCrossing heading up the Social Media team. He wrote a similar post on his blog which I found so thought provoking I asked if he could write something similar for Travelblather. Enjoy!

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Content marketing on the web does not work and will not work for brands. Closing your eyes and wanting it to be true won't make it work either.

It just costs way too much for a business to create the quality and quantity of content required to win the kind of attention needed to achieve a decent return on the investment.

Certainly not enough to get new visitors to their site and to convert them into sales.

There are currently two in vogue arguments for doing content marketing

First - It creates awareness.

This is intangible; but more to the point, it's also untrue. Attention doesn't work like that on the web.

Attention on the web follows a heavy-tail distribution.

power-law

An abrupt curve with just a handful of pieces of content receiving almost all the attention whilst the majority receive next to none. A few winners, lots of losers.

Look at your own analytics data. Focus on the pages that feature original content rather than those that help visitors navigate, such as your home page and booking engine. Plot the top few hundred data points and see what kind of a chart you get. Now divide all those figures by four. This will give the approximate number of people who bothered to read the whole page in each case.

Now try plotting the number of people who completed a goal on each of those pages; the thing that you want each person viewing your content to do next in each case. (You should have set this for each page. Or why else would you be spending vast resources on publishing hundreds of pieces of content?)

The numbers will be tiny for the vast majority of your posts. Perhaps a few will have really gained traction.

Problem is, there is no way of predicting ahead of time which of your posts will do significantly better than the majority. You have to do the lot. This is why this whole approach does not scale, unless of course your entire purpose is to be a content destination.

Take this post: Transforming Your Brand into the Next Media Company

It suggests that brands need to become media companies. It's telling that author Michael Brito uses the New York Times as an example, claiming they publish over 1,500 articles per day. If you were to publish content at anything like the scale needed to compete against these vast content destinations for whom this is their entire business model, you'd be a publisher too, not whatever business it is that you are actually in.

Given the huge problems web publishers are having making this work I'd suggest becoming a 'media company' is a sure way of sinking your business. It's most unlikely you can create advertorial that's going to generate sales off the little attention you will be generating from this kind of editorial content. Content which usually is so far removed from your product or service that it's highly unlikely to drive conversion anyway.

As ever, Baekdal is good on this, making the point that more page views from 'content marketing' activity doesn't usually mean an increase in an outcome you're actually looking for, such as sales, because of the lack of intent behind the visit.

But maybe your content marketing isn't really about awareness?

So Secondly… some say it's about influencing search engines

In this recent post: Content marketing fairy dust the author suggests you need to spend as much resource promoting your content as you do creating it.

He's particularly thinking about promotion to gain links so that your content ranks better in search engines (and as a result pulls in lots of traffic). But it's an interesting concept for the awareness advocates too.

These days the SEO industry can't scale what it does in a safe way (ie one that won't get penalised by Google). This is particularly the case for really competitive terms like say 'car insurance'. Individually negotiating the posting of one piece of content at a time on other people's websites which is a core part of the strategy recommended in the post above is way too time-consuming and costly. But this is what SEO agencies have been reduced to persuading clients to buy into. Guess what. They're also calling this 'content marketing'.

Two definitions - two activities that just don't scale. You need to chuck vast sums of money at both to be successful.

Problem is, there are enough people out there who really, really want to believe in this who are prepared to pay other people to tell them it is true. Just read this to see what I mean. It's Come to This: A Newsroom Devoted to Brands

If marketers are prepared to spend money on display advertising which is full of fakery, then I guess they'll sure as hell throw money at this kind of thing too. As soon as they do, we'll start seeing fake traffic from fake sites to inflate total page view figures as this will no doubt be the big number waved around to reassure everyone that 'success' is being achieved. One thing this activity probably won't do is turn people into customers,

So - If someone is claiming that your business needs to be 'telling stories all of the time' ask them to demonstrate this working for someone else across several hundred posts. Ask them for charts showing page views, comments, shares and backlinks as well as a list of the URLs for you to check. If they actually do 'content marketing' they must have this data. Look at the trends and draw your own conclusions.

42 Responses to “Content marketing will never work”

  1. nick 12. Nov, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

    If someone is even mentioning the word 'stories' in a marketing context you should punch them in the face. It is possibly the most trite and meaningless thing currently trotted out by everyone from copywriters to content 'gurus'.

  2. Heather 12. Nov, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    Wow. This is the first time I've read about the opposing argument to content marketing. I'm really impressed. I also think there is too much hype around content and am also afraid of (if it is not already) abuse by spam sites hocking "stories." Thanks for the thought-provoking read!

  3. Vern L 13. Nov, 2013 at 12:33 am #

    You hit it right on. I'm in the process of pulling down website posts I've made (thousands, by the way) so I can repurpose them as book chapters. The web is dead for anyone that isn't investing many hours per day, many dollars per day, to see that their content stays ahead of the heaps of junk out there. To me and to many people - publishing articles online has become ridiculously fruitless.

    This is the first article I've read here. Will read a few more. Thanks! Cheers!

  4. Andy 13. Nov, 2013 at 1:32 am #

    Very thought-provoking post and sadly very true. This is all caused by the failure of the "gurus" to understand that not everyone has an innate skill for editorial or spinning a "story".

    I like your idea Vern to repurpose your work into a book. Value surges, and if your first chapter is great, only the most ADHD prone reader would put it aside.

    • Vern L 13. Nov, 2013 at 1:42 am #

      Thanks Andy. I have about 26 books at Amazon now, and yes, you're right on. If the cover, description, formatting, and sample all hit the reader from the start - you've likely got a sale. If not, you're dead in the water. I wrote a book about ADHD too BTW. Lol. Cheers man.

      • Andy 13. Nov, 2013 at 2:07 am #

        Great! I'll have to check out your catalogue. Followed your link and pleasantly surprised - I'm visiting Hawaii in two weeks

    • Vern L 13. Nov, 2013 at 2:14 am #

      Nice. My "Moving to Hawaii" book is in the middle of editing the updated version. Will be done in about 5 days. You know, if you ever considered such a thing. Have fun in the islands. Are you just hitting Oahu, or some of the others too?

  5. Ben 13. Nov, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    It is hard to argue with the individual points made here both about the futility of SEO and content marketing at scale. But it does beg the question, if these tactics won't work (which I tend to agree with), if traditional spammy SEO doesn't work, what can a brand do to improve its online visibility except pay loyally into the coffers of the great bank of Google?

    I suspect for big brands, it it the traditional brand building and direct marketing channels, but for smaller brands perhaps content marketing and SEO can work, simply because of their natural depth of knowledge in a narrow niche.

    Another angle of content marketing that is often overlooked in the big debates is content marketing purely for conversion rather than traffic building. The type of content that takes a looker into a buyer is extremely relevant particularly in services industries (where you are buying into the service provider's expertise), but can also work in traditional retail sectors such as fashion and clothing.

  6. Trisha 13. Nov, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this Mark (and Jeremy). Nice to see the law of attention again too.

    I do truly dislike the nebulous term content marketing, as there are many different interpretations. But you seem to define content marketing as either brand as media outlet (Redbull at one extreme or a brand "needing a blog" on the other) or as Google algorithm gamer. But I don't actually see either of these examples very often any more and I think they're really outdated.

    What I do see are clients struggling to adapt to the changing world of customer-centric marketing and communications. Brands are so used to blasting out messages but with most of them present on social platforms these days (whether they should be is a different conversation for a different day) broadcasting just won't to, and they are feeling this first hand.

    Rather than your view of content competing for attention at the very end of the communications chain, I see it being more about how brands should communicate to be responsive and truly understand what their customers need and want from them - on any channel. This might result in better on-site product copy, it might result in more targeted or segmented emails, it might result in customer services having an active presence on Twitter. It could even result in a blog (gasp!) or shutting down a social channel or two if they're not working.

    It's all content marketing (unless we have a better word) and all of it can definitely be measured and mapped back to business results - as it should be.

    • Nathan Midgley 15. Nov, 2013 at 10:29 am #

      Exactly right. I think the stuff about high-volume article creation is something of a straw man.

      In fact I see far more literature that links CM - I'm not keen on the phrase either - to improving creative and copy across existing channels (PR, email) than I do talking about 'becoming a media company'.

      It's a well-argued post though. Skewers its targets well. Just not sure they're very representative, particularly the bizarre NYT stuff from Michael Brito.

  7. Mark Higginson 15. Nov, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    Thanks for the comments Trisha and Nathan!

    I know the post simplistically breaks out 'content marketing' into two areas, media outlet and search influence, but I really do believe that the rule of attention applies across the board on the web unless you are happy with reaching a small (but hopefully interested!) number of people.

    What frustrates me is the pandering to this 'always-on' marketing message where people who sell this stuff are trying to convince businesses they have to be pumping stuff out all the time.

    This is typical of what I mean:

    American Express OPEN keeps 'pulse' on small business with social media
    "Beginning in 2007, OPEN forum established itself as a leading source of business insight and advice."
    (http://www.zdnet.com/blog/feeds/american-express-open-keeps-pulse-on-small-business-with-social-media/2019)

    What Amercian Express' Open can teach us about social media
    "This enlightened perspective has made OpenForum.com a runaway success."
    (http://www.fastcompany.com/1669407/what-american-expresss-open-can-teach-us-about-social-media)

    AMEX OPEN Forum taps New York City's startup community
    "Tumblr is a vibrant channel for OPEN forum and it is increasingly becoming important for its business audience."
    (http://thenextweb.com/insider/2011/11/04/amex-open-forum-taps-new-york-citys-startup-community/)

    Now, reading the above, published on sites who are in the business of hyping this stuff, you'd believe AMEX are doing a great job with the kind of high volume content marketing I discuss above. If you go to this bustling hub of success you can hardly find a post with a single comment on it. If you know the clues to look for there are signs that this is probably not the 'runaway success' being claimed.

    Here's the post where I go into more detail: http://markhigginson.co.uk/2013/04/27/amex-open-forum/

    The web is full of examples like this; designed it seems to hoover up retainers for the agencies doing the work.

    Anyone understanding the above would never recommend this as a viable project.

    As long as this approach keeps being touted it gets in the way of us all doing a better, but far more difficult job for our clients.

    • Sascha Stoltenow 21. Nov, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      Great post and convincing comment, Mark. But how for the following: What if the communications problem we have today is not content but marketing? Marketing following the paradigm - or rather illusion - that behaviour is predictable? It is - sometimes. But all these control phantasies of marketing automation etc. are hubris to me. They do not work, or at least they are not efficient.

      I would argue, however, there is a case for content based communications, especially in the b2b-sector. This case is, that in the digital world, you need to mediatize what you do, in order to relate to your global target audiences. So the machines and the know-how are the core contents of a company, and if you are able to mediatize these in an appropriate way, you will have the attention of a very relevant audience (and also think internal comms here).

      Marketing however, especially in the fmcg-sector, has built its power on inventing things which are not there. Moving away from the core (if there was one in the first place) and now facing a hypercritical (sometimes hypocritical) audience, which realizes the emperor is naked, always has been. In this sense taking content seriously means you need deep insights and knowledge to communicate appropriately in the b2b-sector and you need ethics and intelligence beyond classical marketing to carve out the essence of brands in the consumer sector.

      To make a long story short: We are just at the beginning of a fundamental change and the content marketing-hype is nothing but a sign of resistance to that change.

      • Mark Higginson 21. Nov, 2013 at 10:30 am #

        Yes, I think I agree with this. The web marketers tried to differentiate themselves by claiming that they offered a level of previously unheard of measurability which turned out to be false. The numbers were not a proxy for really understanding people's motivations. Rather than give up the industry has moved on to the intangibility of 'big data', which as you rightly say, smacks of both hubris and technocratic fantasy; to know what someone wants before even they know they want it.

        I also agree there is a need for all organisations to have an ability to communicate well, both with internal and external communities. However, I think a change I'd like to think on further is less an idea of 'knowing your audience' but 'being your audience'. In media terms I'd contrast the recent awfulness of 'Bustle', the magazine 'for women' created by a man chasing ad revenue with 'Rookie' created by the amazing Tavi Gevinson. You only have to visit the respective websites to understand that the former is fake and the latter utterly authentic. Most business communications is of the ersatz variety.

        Here at university we're working on a very specific piece of what could be called 'content marketing'; I'll write about this more when it's finished early next month, so am I a great believer in thinking about how one communicates effectively. The point of my piece was that the notion of 'generating content' every day seemingly for the sake of visibility was misguided due to the fundamental nature of how a complex network such as the web operates. Few seem to either understand this or take on-board what it means, mainly due to the fact they are so bound-up in selling more of these sevices.

        How we hold the attention of people already interested in the university and how we reach a wider audience who don't know our work is of specific interest to me hence my focus on this, particularly on the question of that interest being in what is accomplished here and not on the university as a 'brand'. Reputation is rather a reflection of what is delivered by our community that as a marketing team we help our community communicate.

        As you also rightly say a lot of businesses have 'nothing there' beyond this reification we call a 'brand', a falsificaton I think people are implicitly sensitive to, yet marketers seem incapable of grasping. I think I'd prefer to be regarded as a communications specialist rather than a marketer per se, but perhaps that is my own hubris! Thanks for the excellent comment.

        • Sascha Stoltenow 21. Nov, 2013 at 11:08 am #

          Very thoughtful. Thank you. And just two quick ideas:

          - The University is not only where the University is, but whereever people are, who attend or have attended it or are relating to the discourses in which the University (its scholars) is part of. So the most promising path, at least to me, is to model any corporate (and even brand) as a network, held together by its discourses. Communicating effectively means to be able to analyse and participate meaningfully in these discourses.

          - Communications is not only a stall or line function of an organisation but the networking function, which - see above - pulls its effectiveness from a specific set of abilities. And as the technical possibilities grow, giving us unprecedented access to the network structures, the more we need to think about not only the traceable nodes and links but about how these emerge and are structured. My argument would be by discourses.

          And though this might sound too tehoretical, it works pretty good in practice.

          • Mark Higginson 21. Nov, 2013 at 11:22 am #

            Yes! Definitely not too theoretical!

            I spent many years using mention-tracking tools trying to find these discourses around commercial 'brands' and too often found people just didn't talk about them in a way that you could do much with. Or if they did it was about damaging practises core to how the business operated in order to make a profit that they weren't going to address unless it was through 'whitewashing'. Fortunately a university doesn't suffer from this catch-22.

  8. nick 15. Nov, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    What I find sad is that Amex advertising is appallingly bad here in the UK. I hope they aren't spending all their money on silly social media.

  9. Jeremy Head 15. Nov, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    I've blogged previously here about content marketing. (http://www.travelblather.com/2013/11/content-marketing-will-never-work.html)
    For me, in similar vein to Trisha it's about finding the sweet spot between taking a more data-driven approach to understanding your audience (the marketing bit) and using the creative juices of a seasoned writer to find the right tone and voice for the words and images - to make the content entertaining, striking - and to give it balance and authority (the content bit).
    I completely agree that it shouldn't be about volume. Volume is a real red-herring. I think it's a result of the content farm models that were around a couple of years ago where companies discovered they could rank well for big traffic keywords by simply churning out heaps of mediocre content. As Mark says, Google's algorithm isn't as easy to fool now.
    But brands have always been publishers. Some more than others because some products are more the kinds of things you'd want to talk about than others. The idea of a brand trying to get coverage in the editorial space as opposed to the advertorial space is not at all new. It's been around in print media for decades. Brand managers and their PR people have frequently been able to influence the selection of topics for editorial by dint of agreeing to advertise in a publication. (How about a nice feature on sports cars that don't cost an arm and a leg? says Jaguar's PR person and offers to stick an ad next to it too.)
    The difference online is the publishing platform. And that’s the nub of the debate and what Mark demonstrates so well. For a brand to be found and heard - rather than attempting to create content on its own website (an utter waste of time and money for many brands) it should go where the audience already is. That's exactly what the power law suggests. That's not about trying to get promotion for free as it just won't happen. It's about agreeing deals with publishers that aren't a million miles away from my Jaguar example above.
    The buzzword for this is 'native advertising' Whilst as a reader and writer I see the arrival of these new brand publishing models as concerning from the perspective of objectivity (http://www.travelblather.com/2013/05/goodbye-ads-and-editorial-welcome-the-new-edvertorial.html) I can see why brands might look to use them - and why publishers hope they will provide a new revenue stream opportunity.

    • Andreas 21. Nov, 2013 at 9:41 am #

      Nice post, I like the critical approach. Unfortunately many brands start "content marketing" with the wrong expectations + lacking the necessary resources, staff and processes.
      From our experiences, though, I can state that creating compelling content has proven very effective, at least for the purpose of linkbuilding.
      However, we always need to manage clients' expectations and prepare them for a heavy investment at first. It is a long term strategy, after all...

      • Mark Higginson 21. Nov, 2013 at 10:36 am #

        Thanks Andreas - can you provide examples of this compelling content in the context of all content produced for link-building purposes for a client?

        Taken as whole does it follow a heavy-tail distribution as I indicate? How has the worth of the resulting links been measured? Has it achieved a visible result? What was the cost to achieve this vs. the return?

        I don't ask these questions to be provocative but to emphasise that in making assertions of effectiveness we need to supply verifiable evidence in order to be trusted.

        • Andreas 21. Nov, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

          Hi Mark,
          I absolutely agree. Every marketer (including SEO) has to prove that in the end more money was made than spent.
          You will understand, that I cannot disclose details of our client projects :(
          What I can say is
          1.) creating good content was not cheap. It had to be really good in order be an asset to us. If content is going to be created and the goal is not to make it great, why bother?
          2.) the content has proven a huge asset for our linkbuilding efforts because we got some links, we could have never gotten without it.
          3.) via the content the brand is perceived as a trustworthy expert in the field. However, it is hard to measure the value of this effect with hard numbers.
          You asked the right questions, IMO. They are tough but it is necessary to ask them.

  10. Tim Aldiss 21. Nov, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    Firstly, content archives. Simples. The window of opportunity for publishing content on the web today is diminishing despite the population explosion and the vast swathes of global audience coming online. Therefore any form of content auditing needs to take many other complexities into account before you delete everything.

    Secondly, people won't stop reading. In fact they're doing it more. Therefore the things that interest people are still important to create. No I'm not talking stories (I am an SEO after all) but there is still interest in curation if there's nothing to create that genuinely adds to the conversation.

    I think you're both doing content a disservice here. The SEO community are trying to grow up. Saying they're doing content marketing is perhaps wrong - but who's to say. If a practitioner like myself is getting to know the brands they work with as well as they can, doing fresh network research each month to identify important topics and the influencers and audiences they need to reach, and then helping to create the content, make sure it's valuable and then get it out there I'm not sure it's wasted effort.

    Certainly for the right brands I can show you the figures that you're after.

    • Mark Higginson 21. Nov, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

      Thanks Tim! And yes, I would definitely like to take you up on that kind offer.

      It reminds me I need to follow-up with Antony Mayfield as he is pushing this McKinsey model of a 'customer decision journey'. The original McKinsey piece was not satisfactorily evidenced and I'm interested to see if Brilliant Noise have actually done a robust piece of research before selling this to clients.

      I think marketers need to hide behind 'client confidentiality' less if they really want to embrace a data-driven approach and start producing studies that can be subject to peer review. Standard practice in academia; though I note certain agencies are making a nod to scientism without being prepared for the resulting discourse.

  11. Michael Brito 21. Nov, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Since we are using "content marketing" and SEO synonymously here, you could have at least linked to me when you mentioned my name.

  12. Bradley Robb 21. Nov, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    That graph, though it lacks numbers to determine standard deviations, appears to be a bell curve distributed over time. That's otherwise known as expected results.

    Granted, the next statement is based solely on anecdotal research, but from what I've seen people that self identify as "content marketers" largely fall into two camps. There are those who don't know of that graph exist and are in the business of being strict (even advanced) tacticians. And then there are those who understand the standard distribution of awareness and either choose to ignore it, or believe that it can be beaten.

    Neither do the industry any good, other than accelerating towards what Gartner's Hype Cycle calls the "Trough of Disillusionment."

    • Mark Higginson 21. Nov, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

      In 'Linked' by Alberto Barabasi he describes how the team looking at how links were formed between pages on the web expected to find a bell curve and were actually surprised to discover a power law degree distribution.

      More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scale-free_network

      The above book has been around for a decade now so I'm surprised the ideas therein aren't more integrated into how marketers view the web. Probably because it reveals how hard it is to win attention!

      Totally agree with your comment though, pretty much any article I see about content marketing is usually by someone selling this service. The standard response on hearing my viewpoint is "yes, but..." followed by an explanation of why they think the rule can be beaten, which is frustrating.

      • Bradley Robb 21. Nov, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

        Ah, there's a maxim for that "Anything said prior to the conjunction 'but' does not count."

        Good tip on the Linked book, it's now on my To Read list.

        I'm a big fan of the 80/20 rule, though I tend to skew it and follow the Ninety-Nintey after having spent far too much time in product development. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninety-ninety_rule

  13. sigmundi 21. Nov, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    yeah, but isn't this content marketing too here? seems like you converted at least one visitor into a buying costumer...;)

  14. Peter 26. Nov, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    Mark, why did you write this article if you think content marketing doesn't work? Is it because you want to be seen as an expert?

    You can't say content marketing works or doesn't work. The same counts for advertising and every other instrument. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. The specialist knows when and how.

    • Mark Higginson 26. Nov, 2013 at 8:58 am #

      It all depends on one's definition of 'working'. In the post above I emphasise that just like any marketing activity a return needs to be delivered when set against the cost to perform that activity.

      Many content marketers seem to define getting the occasional article onto 'The Huffington Post' as 'working'. I happen to disagree.

      I see that the website your name links to sells 'content marketing' services. Same challenge to you as every other critic: provide publicly verifiable data so we can all assess the results of your efforts and see if you really understand "when and how".

  15. Sascha Stoltenow 26. Nov, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    Well, Peter, then the only explanation for so many marketing efforts failing miserably, must be the lack of specialists like you.

  16. Ivan 29. Nov, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

    Mark - If content marketing doesn't work, perhaps you should look at the results of Red Bull - Stratos as one example. For that matter, the overall activities of Red Bull Media House as not only a revenue generating organisation, but a pure content play that supports the core business of the the brand by creating a lifestyle...

    I do tend to agree with your thoughts on the "written word" but if these approaches are not successful, why does Babble exist and is successful?

    Being contextual relevant and giving readers / viewers a reasons to be on your site, share information and develop a trust to the brand is a good strategy if you know how to create good content (at the right price) or curate / license content that would be beneficial to your visitors then you should making this part of your strategy.

    • Mark Higginson 30. Nov, 2013 at 3:54 pm #

      I was wondering if someone would bring up Red Bull as an example. Let me be absolutely clear one more time: anyone publishing content at scale on the web will see attention received across the full gamut of their activity follow a heavy-tail distribution as outlined. That includes Red Bull.

      If you took all of the posts Red Bull have published and looked at the attention received by each of them then I have no doubt some of the content posted about 'Stratos' would rank in the tens if not hundreds of thousands of views. However at the opposite end you would see posts covering niche sports activities making up a few hundred views. Go and visit their website now. Take a look at some of the stuff on the front page. No shares, no likes, no sign of much in the way of interaction.

      The Stratos event was sponsorship; Red Bull focus on the branding of spectacle, whether sponsoring or owning events, same as Formula One, Air Race, whatever. That is not content marketing, which is supposedly there to inform and be interacted with. If you spend vast sums of money as Red Bull do then yes, naturally you will see posts about your sponsorship of a massive event attract attention across all media outlets. That is very clearly not what I am outlining in my post which discusses what happens when a brand acts as a publisher. I for one am not clear about what revenue Red Bull Media House generate or how they do it but would be very interested to see the detail of this.

      Red Bull is an interesting example though, but not for the same reason most marketers seem to think, as a validation of spending huge sums on multi-platform efforts. What interests me is that I think Red Bull is less a triumph of marketing and more one of distribution. I think if one were to research it thoroughly from 1987 onwards you would see that it was a combination of a gap in the market for 'energy drinks' and increasing ubiquity, in newsagents, in bars, in nightclubs that afforded it the opportunity to then spend increasingly vast sums on the branding of public spectacle.

      Ultimately what is the difference between Red Bull's 'Flugtag' event from 1992 and the 'Stratos' event other than money?

      I should also point out I've met with Red Bull's content team in Salzburg.

      Finally, Babble. Define 'successful'. If persuading brands to pay to sponsor content is success then yes. Much of what I looked at in the tech section had very little interaction however. I just don't see the point. The first job of marketing is to win attention. Content marketing at scale on the web fails, in my carefully researched opinion, to do this in a way that makes the expenditure worthwhile in most cases. If however, you already own two Formula One teams and are looking for another way to spend your surfeit of wealth than have at it!

  17. Chris Moody 04. Dec, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    This was a really solid read, even though I disagree with most of it. I work at Compendium (recently acquired by Oracle Eloqua) and have tons of examples of content marketing working at scale - even with very small marketing teams. For example, we have a core marketing team of 3 people, but use our software to empower any employee, partner, customer, etc. to create content. Sometimes it is a form, sometimes Q&A, and occasionally a story. In short, it works.

    Content marketing has grown our business and I'm happy to share other examples if you're interested in seeing them. I'd also suggest you read Jay Baer's recent post about cooperative content at http://www.convinceandconvert.com/content-marketing-2/cooperative-content-will-eventually-dominate-your-polished-content/.

    Some of the case studies are here http://www.compendium.com/clients/, but we have tangible examples (with charts and numbers like you mentioned) of their success. Bass Pro Shops, Cvent (they won corporate blog of the year), ReadyTalk, Indiana University, Pet Relocation, Widen, National Seminars, etc. A pretty diverse mix of companies, team size and the like.

    There is a way to predict the success of content to some extent too. We tag all of our posts with the proper persona and funnel stage (you could add SKU or any other custom filter) and can slice and dice the analytics that way. I can look at our Director of Marketing persona by funnel stage and see which content is causing the most visitor actions and create more of it.

    Is it easy? No. Is it more manageable with the proper tools and philosophy? Definitely. Happy to chat in more detail if you'd like!

    Thanks!
    Chris Moody (marketing guy at Compendium)
    @cnmoody

    • Mark Higginson 05. Dec, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Chris. I salute anyone that is prepared to put out results and stand behind them; unbelievably most agencies either don't provide data or supply meaningless 'xxxx%' increase in traffic-type figures which doesn't tell you anything.

      Having looked at the case study for 'Bass Pro' I note that 920,000 visitors across 2,249 posts is a mean value of 409 visits. This is not very high. If you could provide a chart of visits to these posts I'd be interested to see it; I expect it follows a heavy-tail distribution exactly as I outline in my post with a few posts attracting significant attention and the rest in the tens of visits based on the average as described.

      Alarmingly of the 80 posts I flicked through in November I could see only four comments. This does not speak to content that people are finding useful and want to interact with or share, which I think supports the points I make in my original post.

      What does the click-through rate of 15% refer to? Where are people going after reading a post? How many exit the site entirely? How many read another post? How many follow a call-to-action?

      I see Omniture is running on the main site but not on the blogs subdomain. I therefore imagine that using Google Analytics alone you aren't able to track blog visitors to the main site, across sessions or through to checkout which rather restricts the ability to find out whether the content actually has an impact. Eloqua does this I think and you allude to Compendium's purchase by Eloqua but you aren't running that tracker on this subdomain at present?

      How many real 'readers' does the blog have, that is people who read from the top-to-bottom of more than one post, return over multiple sessions and do not arrive via referrals?

      The effect of a blog such as this is not simply measured in terms of clickthroughs of course. How successful actually is this space in terms of increasing visitor loyalty and the amount they spend? Comparing repeat visitor spend who are non-blog readers vs. those who are would tell us the incremental value blogging provides. If this is less than the cost of maintaining the blog then it isn't worthwhile. This cost must include all of the 'hidden factors', namely if employees are blogging are they doing this on company time? If so what other duties are they not able to perform that may have an impact elsewhere, e.g. in-store? How are these staff trained? How much does it cost to oversee their work? Who moderates comments and how much does this cost? What is the cost of the potentially increased workload on customer services from online activity?

      As you say - is tough to get a true perspective on value.

      • Chris Moody 06. Dec, 2013 at 1:08 am #

        I agree with you, most people hide from the data. Hopefully, they have it. :)

        I can't share much more into specific customers than what they've approved in case studies, but most of them have seen a significant increase in revenue from heavy-tail distribution content. The reason - it appeals to the best sales tactic of all time - the similar situation story (definitely not new...Zig Ziglar taught this decades ago).

        For instance, one of our customers sells tons of tires online. They don't have bloggers or trained writers. They have sales reps who were answering 150 questions a week via email. This is content they were already creating, but it died in their inboxes after they pressed send. Now, they BCC an email address that puts it into a Compendium workflow. They have a marketing manager strip out the identifying information (name, company, etc.). Then they add some images of the tires recommended, links to buy them online *and a rep specific code to give them commission on the online sales from that post*.

        To your points above (valid and excellent questions), this wasn't taking away from employee time, didn't require significant training and required no oversight. The marketing manager would review a blog post anyway.

        One winter, they wrote a post about the best winter tires for a Honda van. It led to $10,000 in sales and the rep got commission. The next winter, they'll pull that out of the repository and build it into emails and landing pages. The rep will get commission again. Do I care about that post? Not really, I don't have a van. Did it get tons of traffic? Definitely not. Was it relevant for a small audience? Totally. So they buy.

        Most of the thinking around content marketing is flawed - which I think is one of your main points. I believe what Jay Baer wrote in Youtility - amazing doesn't scale. You can't create homerun content over and over. Most people equate content marketing to creating amazing whitepapers, infographics, buzz worthy pieces, etc. They generate lots of traffic and shares, but really only help awareness in most cases.

        I think that you need a high volume of content answering specific questions and sharing stories that are relevant (extremely relevant) to someone. Hopefully, they find that when they search. If you're the best at answering their question, you have a chance of collecting their money.

        I love the debate though. The industry needs a shift and I can tell you that many folks (Chris Baggott, Marcus Sheridan, Jay Baer, etc.) have been saying something similar for 7+ years. It isn't a shiny object. It is a grind to answer all the questions your prospective audience has.

        The 15% click-through was blog to online store (somewhere they could spend money). I don't want to spam your audience with more links, but I can point you to a recorded webinar, slide deck or a new one we're doing next week that isn't so many words.

        Agreed again. Value seems to be subjective. For me, it is usually revenue based and not on views or other metrics. Most won't share revenue numbers though. Although, Cvent had a 325% increase in sales ready leads with a similar program. I'm shooting you a LinkedIn request in case you ever want to chat.

        • Sascha Stoltenow 06. Dec, 2013 at 6:07 am #

          Chris,

          very good arguments - but not for content marketing as it is currently yelled out to insecure marketing managers. I really like the example of the tire distributor. The truth however is, that out there are a zillion companies who are still trying to cope with the cultural shock of e-mail. Your tire dealer obviously not, but he does not CM but service and has a wise marketing manager turning this into knowledge management. Instill like it, as it illustrates, that content is not only the editorial content but everything which happens between a corporate and an individual and such needs to integrate editorial as well as design and technology. First and foremost however is the mindset not an automation framework, because the tire guys could work without compendium, while companies who do not have this mindset, won't get far even with the most advanced automation suite.

          • Mark Higginson 06. Dec, 2013 at 9:30 am #

            Chris, Sascha, many thanks for your comments on here, they are giving me more to think about which is great. I've really appreciated you taking the time to respond to my post and put forward your opinions :)

          • Chris Moody 06. Dec, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

            Totally agree. In fact, we often say that content marketing without the right mindset will never succeed. Which is at the heart of this post. It isn't content in the traditional sense, but supplementing whitepapers, blog posts, etc. with lots of hard work and creativity to turn knowledge into various types of more digestible and relevant content (regardless of tools or lack thereof).

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