Is Content Marketing Dead? Sort of. (And a coffee metaphor.)

The other day, the CEO of Intelligent Demand and I took a walk up the block to visit our favorite hipster coffee shop.

As we walked, he told me about a blog post he recently read, entitled “Content Marketing is Dead.” The point being made was that no one wants to read your “Six ways to put revenue magic all up in your lead funnel” whitepaper. Despite the title, the blog isn’t saying content marketing is dead. It’s saying that crappy content marketing is dying—but it’s not dead yet.

A couple things from our conversation:

First, we too see the “rush to do content marketing” that the writer of the blog, a sharp sales consultant named Townsend Wardlaw, described—and the subsequent explosion in “6 This” and “10 Must-have That.” Every demand generation marketer who’s paying attention has.

Second, it got us talking about how making effective, compelling content nowadays that can cut through the rising tide of benign, bland, safe content is harder than you think.

One of the reasons our clients hire us is to help them navigate the sometimes-tricky world of speaking to the needs, pain points and business objectives of the buyer personas in their target audience.  And to do so in a relevant, compelling way.

The sad truth is in many companies, safe, boring b2b marketing and content marketing still do a better job than blasting brochure-speak at your top- and mid-funnel leads. In fact, when companies that previously emailed unsegmented newsletters move up to anything resembling a content marketing campaign, it can produce significant improvements in revenue performance. But the days of getting by with untargeted, bland, obvious content are numbered.

As we walked to the coffee shop, I started to think about this, and coffee. Here’s a little metaphor wrapped in a coffee backstory:

I never used to drink coffee. In fact, I made it about 26 years before I ever had coffee on a regular basis.

When I started college, I worked at an Italian restaurant, and one morning, as I watched a coworker foaming milk on the espresso machine, I thought, “I want a latte.”

I asked him to show me how to make a latte. He did. I started making one at the beginning of every shift. When I wasn’t at work, I would pull into Starbucks drive-throughs and order a tall latte. Coffee became a daily habit.

This continued for a few months.

Then, while visiting my mother in Brooklyn, N.Y., I ordered a shot of espresso after a meal and was shocked by the layers of flavor. It was complex. I couldn’t quite understand it.

When I returned back to Colorado, I made a latte at work and took a sip. It was awful. My favorite thing had somehow, in the course of a week, mysteriously disappeared, and I was left in a kind of existential blur, staring at the cup in my hand.

Here’s my belabored point:

Until I knew what decent espresso tasted like, I thought weak and bitter coffee was delicious. But once that threshold was crossed, once I tasted something more complex, it altered the way my taste buds reacted forever. The content marketing world is tasting something more complex, and it’s only a matter of time before bland content becomes ineffective.

What every marketer hoping to remain relevant for the next couple years has to understand is that more focused, informative and entertaining content won’t be the cream of the crop anymore, it will be the norm. The quality bar is rising.

So your content needs to be better. How do you do this?

That’s a really long answer. But I can share with you four key elements that we believe every piece of content must have in order to compete in a space packed with more than a million other content creators.

1. An informed, courageously delivered opinion

Being completely objective about a subject means you don’t have an opinion, and when you don’t have an opinion, it means you don’t care enough to have one. But opinions come from many places. The ones you should be concerned with are the ones built by experience. Being a smartass can get you only so far (trust me). You need to turn your knowledge, skills and experience into an authoritative opinion, because people want to listen to those more than someone bitching or even worse, blathering on, about a topic.

2. An awareness of conversion and where your prospects are in their buying journey

Why are we writing these things in the first place? Stop lying to yourself and the readers. You’re trying to get people to do something—provide information, click the next step, buy something. Everyone knows it because they’ve read content like this hundreds of times. They are slightly interested, so persuade them to take the next step. If you have to be covert about the goals of the content, then you might not be particularly good at persuasive writing. Don’t let the subscription to Wired or your Magnetic Fields Pandora station fool you: You’re a salesperson. A good salesperson says, “I’m selling this to you,” and still converts. Turn the way you market and sell into a useful experience for the prospect.

3. Real technical knowhow and actual writing skills

Google is awesome, isn’t it? Thanks to the handy little search engine, everyone is now an authority on any subject in a matter of minutes, right? No. Disabuse yourself of this notion. The truth is, in a matter of minutes, any writer can write the same surface-level crap about any subject. But everyone’s tired of swallowing that slop—they want something with better information and better writing.

Know what you’re talking about. Go beyond a Google search. Call an expert or read an entire book about the subject before ever attempting to provide advice (or better yet, learn from your research and develop a real opinion [see #1]). When you do, you’ll see how absolutely worthless 95% of the content you got from your Google search was—it’s shocking.

4. Some entertainment value

Why should people have to earn information and put up with awful, bland writing? They shouldn’t, unless they are in law school. But most prospects don’t like “unpacking” dense material in order to strip a few choice nuggets of meaning. Hell, who enjoys writing that shit? Boring content is written by boring writers, read by pretty much no one and understood by about 10% of the poor souls who reach the CTA.

Obviously, it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s in your best interest to write content that is at least mildly entertaining. Bland content is born of prospect-loathing and/or self-loathing at best—the wrong career choice at worst. So add some personality. Remember there’s someone on the other end. You don’t have to sing “Make ‘em Laugh” while crashing through the fixed-gear bike racks at your shared workspace, but you should make someone happy to participate and continue through your campaign.

At the end of the day, people act because it’s in their best interest to do so. Without a reason to convert, on their terms, they probably won’t most of the time. And if you don’t capture their attention in the first place, it won’t even matter. The days of luring click-happy prospects into your marketing automation and/or CRM platform with bland, ill-informed content are numbered, and the only way to survive when the market finishes this next phase of evolution is to adapt, get smarter, and use that knowledge to create content worth noticing, reading and sharing.

We should all be excited about this, honestly.

If you want to talk to us about how we create great content (it involves great coffee, btw), contact us and start a conversation.

 

 

 

Theo Romeo

Author Theo Romeo

More posts by Theo Romeo

Theo oversees ID’s Creative Department and works with ID’s other practice areas to architect integrated campaign messaging and content strategies. Theo is routinely demanding to know more about your prospects’ pain points, your unique value proposition, and the best way to address both in your campaign’s messaging architecture.

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • I’ve been caught in this conversation before as well. Content marketing is dead? Yes, sort of. Content marketing from content marketers is dead. Content marketing about content marketing (or, even, marketing in general) is dead.

    What is left is a million and one opportunities for non-marketers to become the authorities on a million and one topics by using content marketing principles.

    I also think you’re right about going beyond the basic search and rehashing the same ol’ crap. I think the next wave of authorities will be the ones who use their presence to start with small questions and end with bigger questions.

  • Karl Kleinbach says:

    Amen!

  • Theo says:

    I totally agree that the opportunity for non-marketers is there, and I hope more people start using search engine results not as a quick reinforcement of their beliefs but as a starting place to learn way more. It’s such a cliché to marvel at just how much information is available nowadays, but insert cliché here________. It’s true. Marketers can become experts or rehash meaningless crap in minutes and regular folks with an axe to grind can develop any outlandish hypothesis about a given topic or historical event and find supporting material with a simple long-tail keyword search. It’s an exciting/frightening time to be alive.

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