Content Marketing, Digital Marketing, Media

So what the heck is ‘content marketing’/ ‘content writing’ anyways?

When I was at the agency and promoted Creative Director, it meant a lot to me. Why, that was the next best job to putting a man on the moon. Right up there with folks who separate conjoined twins or open skulls. ‘Creative Director’ sounded knowledgeable and sophisticated. Sounded like I knew the secret formula to creating happiness. Of course, these days, just about everyone is now a ‘Creative Director.’ Tailors, carpenters, hair stylists. They should all be thrown in jail for desecrating a hallowed title. What do they know about pain, anguish and fortitude? The ‘Creative Director’ who sew my last attire should have stuck to the brief.

But the position meant a lot to me not because of the appurtenances of the office. Sure, the money and benefits were good, and it was humbling to have twenty-two people look up to you as leader. But that wasn’t it for me. It was the call card. That small piece of paper that said ‘Creative Director.’ It meant if you were ignorant enough not to recognise my genius, I now have a piece of identification to trigger your awe.

Now, what do all these have to do with ‘content marketing’ or ‘content writing?’

Titles and hot air.

People love rarefied titles and jargons. Including marketing and agency people. Especially marketing and agency people. It seems that the more obscure the title is, the more respected the position is expected to be. I mean, wouldn’t you rather respect ‘Director of First Impressions over ‘Receptionist’? Or a ‘Sous Chef – Content Development’ over a ‘Social Media Associate’? One of my favourites; ‘Global Head – Trends and Futuring.’

‘Content Marketing’ or a ‘Content Writer’ is one of those amorphous titles. It’s all the rage these days. It sounds straightforward but is seldom so.

The Content Marketing Institute defines it thus:

“Content Marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action”

That’s gobbledygook. Typical marketing speak. It’s trying to make Robin look like Batman.

There is also circular reasoning in the definition. You can’t use ‘content’ to define ‘content.’ That is like saying Michael Phelps was sired by a shark and whelped by a mermaid. Of course, he was sired by a shark and whelped by a mermaid. Dude spends more time in the water than on land. Nothing new there.

A more helpful, if curious, clarification I came across was:

“Content marketing differs from advertising in two fundamental ways. First, content resides on owned or earned media. If there’s a media buy involved, it’s advertising, not content marketing. Second, content marketing is a pull, rather than a push, strategy. Content doesn’t interrupt, it attracts.”

See, it’s statements like these that make CEOs have voodoo dolls of CMOs. ‘Content doesn’t interrupt, it attracts?’ You mean like the way cheese attracts a mouse? I thought good advertising also does that?

Studies of customer habits show that customers are passive and creatures of routine. We don’t go about looking for ‘branded contents’ to make our day. We are usually busy thinking important stuff, like our career, business, family or the future. You must thus intrude into our consciousness to get noticed. It is, of course, preferable that this intrusion is a positive and memorable one.

According to the clarification above, Public Relations and most brand activities on social media will fall under Content Marketing, since they are about earned media.

It is this perception i.e. content marketing being free, that draws a lot of companies to it. But it is a deceptive argument. Content marketing is hardly free. You usually must throw sizeable budget behind it to see significant traction.

Social media platforms have become paid media vehicles like TV, radio and print. They’ve moved from selling targeting to selling reach. Good old ‘Opportunity To See.’ They offer you the widest possible reach of your target audience at a cost. As such, activities on social media platforms are hardly free. Not if you want them seen by as many people as possible.

The great thing about paying for exposure on social media is that costs are a fraction of what you pay on traditional media. And you have access to analytics. These compensate for the limited penetration of the platforms compared to traditional media. At least in Nigeria.

The fact that SEO is paid rules it out from qualifying as content marketing per the clarification above.

So, can ‘contents’ go viral without media spend? Yes. If it is relevant and engaging. But that is a very hard thing to pull off. It requires great talent and experience that is in limited supply. The huge amount of mediocre content around is proof of that.

So, what is ‘content writing’? It can be anything from writing advertising to buying online media. Blogging and manning social media platforms can also be content writing. Advertorials, podcasting, ghost-writing or producing documentaries and films can also qualify as ‘content.’ Cue in the Goggle-themed movie The Internship and The Lego Movie. While there’s no record of either Google or The Lego Company funding the movies, we know Google had a say and was in ‘involved’ in the production.

But, ‘content writers’ sell themselves short when they describe themselves as such. We don’t know in which of the aspects of content they are good at. This is important because you can’t be awesome in everything. You could be great in two or three but not in all. Each aspect requires different knowledge, skill and discipline. It is, therefore, more helpful to clients and recruiters if you specified your strengths, rather than lump them under the nebulous tab of ‘content writer.’

Sure, ‘content’ or ‘content writer’ sounds exotic. Like ‘Pop Culture Engineer’ or ‘Digital Yogi.’ But don’t drink Kool-Aid if you can drink Coke. Obfuscating titles don’t make positions important. The problem you solve is what does.

Ultimately, the purpose of content writing is to create stuff that endears the brand to consumers. Smiles to the lips, tears to the eyes, or enlightenment. The goal is to create favourable impressions and positive memory structures. It’s hardly about good grammar, the medium or the technology. Most comedians speak bad English but we find them entertaining. Imagine one who only spoke excellent English or only had a cool microphone. That’s not what you paid for, is it?


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