As marketers, we love good content. But in the age of meta descriptions and SEO strategies, the scale can slide too far towards the data-driven side of selling and forget the most important aspect of all: the people.
Talking about “the marketing part of content marketing” with industry peers sometimes feels like talking about politics or religion on a first date. It’s a risky invitation that can go one of two ways: enriching exchange or tedious discord.
The topic is a sensitive one because it exposes the paradox at the root of our profession. Content marketing is a world where creativity and commerciality exist on equal terms; the inherent tension is productive, but also sometimes destabilizing.
As the global business landscape has become increasingly competitive, “the marketing part” of the industry has taken on a more dominant role. Today’s CMOs are under pressure to boost the bottom line and to deliver quick wins; as a result, content marketing has shifted gears. Successful programs are focused on measurable results: targeted, high-impact, track-able campaigns, often with a short-term focus. The era of big data, SEO, algorithms, keywords, and churn rates is here. Roles like “Chief Data Scientist” are omnipresent, and even the most personal interactions are becoming mechanized: as Forbes recently heralded, it is the “the year of the chatbot.”
Vive la revolution! A business-first, tech-forward, number-centric approach is a great thing for the industry. It equips content marketers to show their worth in the eyes of the C–suite, opening doors to bigger budgets and to campaigns that were previously reserved for traditional ad agencies.
But in my view, the best, branded content is a long-term play that builds an emotional relationship – sometimes measurable, sometimes not – with its audience over time. As a result, it doesn’t seem that applying a traditional campaign framework always makes sense. It seems telling that the Cannes Lions renamed their “Branded Content” awards simply to “Entertainment” at this year’s Festival, with the explanation that the category’s aim is to “celebrate creativity that turns content into culture”. But what is the metric for culture? Is it something that can be quantified in open-rates or a wrap-report? Could there ever be a reliable correlation to product sales?
As an unquestionably left-brained marketer, it’s a question that perplexes me. I don’t know the answer, but I think it centers on humanity. Consumers are becoming savvier by the minute, and ultimately, they will rally around brands that speak to them in their own language – human-to-human, rather than brand-to-buyer. “The marketing part” of content marketing has a responsibility to preserve the human values that are the defining virtues of the industry – imagination, intuition and authenticity – and to strike an intelligent balance between art and science.