Content Isn’t King, After All

Last year Direct Marketing News Senior Editor Ryan Joe conducted a Q&A with Skyword CEO Tom Gerace, and something that Gerace said continues to resonate whenever I talk to CMOs about their content-marketing needs.

Here’s what Gerace said in response to Joe’s question about the factors driving the need for content marketing:

Social has accelerated the need for content because we share good content 6 billion times per month. If a retailer doesn’t have content worth sharing, it won’t go social. Online sellers need to create significant content to compete in search and social.

If I may be so bold, I would edit Gerace’s on-the-money insight to crystallize what I hear CMOs from a broad range of industries say about their need for good content:

Social and a broad range of other factors have has accelerated the need for content because we share good content 6 billion times per month (!!!) If a retailer company doesn’t have content worth sharing, it won’t go social get read. Online sellers Companies need to create significant and truly good content to compete, period. in search and social.

The trick, of course, is to know the difference between strong content (think of what the best consulting firms have for years called thought leadership) and trash. As I’ve written before, it helps to define what you mean by content first.

And then comes the heavy lifting of producing the content. I could—and should—do an entire white paper series on common pitfalls of good-content creation. But here I’ll offer up three steps to getting started (none of which has anything to do with writing or creativity).

If I were a marketing professional charged with developing a bunch of blog posts, a white paper series, a by-liner, column, or brief how-to article (again, I’m focusing on the thoughtful stuff), here’s how I would begin (let’s call it Phase 1):

Consider your culture: The content-friendliness of your organization determines how smooth or bone-chillingly frustrating the process will be from start to finish. I know of one software company whose top subject matter experts (SMEs) are genuine thought leaders (a term tossed around too often, probably), even rock stars, in their domains…yet they feel the same way about blog entries and online columns that most of us feel about the slimiest forms of reality TV. Other cultural questions will give you a better understanding of the scope of your creation process: How many approvals will we need? How difficult will getting those approvals be? How much CYA fear is there? Do we have a gatekeeper to manage (e.g., a marketing, communications, or PR executive who constantly brings up his formative years as a journalist and who seems to relish splattering all drafts with his red pen or Track Changes edits and comments) it all?

Pick the right reason and the right vehicle: We need to start a blog. We need to get on Twitter. We need to get on social media. We need to get into that trade magazine/site. We need more eyeballs. Too often, content marketing resembles hopping on the latest dieting or workout trend: “I really have to go gluten-free,” or “I’ve got to join Cross-Fit.” Well, no you absolutely don’t need to do either of those things if you’re reasoning is that everyone else is doing it or because a gym opened up in your neighborhood. There are sound medical reasons for eliminating gluten from one’s diet (celiac disease, another form of gluten enteropathy that can be determined by a genetic test, or other specific conditions and afflictions). Some workout regimens match your unique physical needs; others do not. The software firm I mentioned above had a compelling business case for taking its content marketing to the next level. However, guess whom it had no luck scheduling calls with to drum up blog ideas? Instead, the firm quickly learned its lesson and enlisted the SMEs to share their thoughts for higher, more formal types of content vehicles, such as business-trade or technical-journal articles (and once those pieces were approved, the marketing folks themselves could tastefully harvest them for blog entries).

Steal a page from journalism (but just one page): Too much capital-J journalism influence on the content-creation can bog down the process with endless edits, can bruise egos, and can burn too many hours with too little to show for it. That said, the classic journalism questions —who, what, when, where, why, and how—are absolutely relevant. I’d suggest placing answers to each those questions atop every draft so you constantly keep in mind:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What is your message (in one sentence) to that audience?
  3. When do you intend to post/publish/submit?
  4. Where (internally or externally; blog entry or article, etc.) are you publishing?
  5. Why are you investing this time and energy (business rationale)?
  6. How are you executing the process (three to five steps)?

Good content can be incredibly valuable, like 6-billion-shares-per-month valuable. Creating good content also can be incredibly frustrating and unproductive when it conducted in a less than thoughtful way. 


Freelance journalist Eric Krell works with Mitel CMO Martyn Ethrington to produce DMN’s Diary of a CMO.

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