Thursday, December 18, 2014

The future of content marketing

I don’t often talk about the content marketing side of my consulting business here on my blog.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, content strategy is a powerful business tool and content marketing is potentially the future of marketing in a variety of ways. 

The basic idea of content is not new.  Write content so that it gives users something that they need, written in a way that they can use, at the right time, in the right place, on the right medium.  For those of us in user experience, this is pretty straightforward. But using it in marketing is still controversial, despite the fact that it has been growing steadily over the past 10 years or so.

Think about the standard advertisement.  It promotes a product or service, telling you about its features, its strengths, its price --- perhaps offering a discount or a slogan or a pitch --- perhaps using social proof to tell you how many other people use it --- and so on.  On the other hand, content marketing would give you information that is useful whether you purchase that particular product or not.  How to decide whether to get an iOS or Android smartphone, whether you get the Galaxy or not.  How to decide whether to buy organic apples or not, whether you shop at Wholefoods or not. 

There are some classics that are powerful examples. Scrivener’s published a magazine over 100 years ago that highlighted engaging articles about famous authors like Hemmingway.  They happened to be a book publisher and if you purchased a Hemmingway book they would make some money. But the magazine was great whether you bought the book or not.  Kraft offers recipe books that just happen to note when you can use Kraft cheddar or Italian dressing, but you don’t have to and the recipes still work.

A newer movement in this space is to partner with serious journalists to create very high quality content.  Time Magazine and the New York Times have new divisions where they will assign journalists to work with clients to write advertorial sections such as Exxon Mobile on clean energy or Norton on computer security. 

In Chief Content Officer magazine last month, Joe Pulizzi (who is one of the best thought leaders in content marketing) wrote an editorial with an interesting speculation. At the moment, Apple and Microsoft and many other tech companies have more spare cash on hand than the entire market cap of the New York Times.  Jeff Bezos just personally bought the Washington Post.  So why not just cut out the middle man?  Why doesn’t Apple recreate the New York Times, with high quality, hard hitting, investigative reporting, but as brand journalism rather than a newspaper?  Red Bull’s YouTube video channel becomes a real TV network. Kraft’s food magazine becomes the next Gourmet magazine.  Marriott’s travel and tourism web site becomes the next Orbitz.  

What do you think?  Would these media have the credibility of Time magazine, the Food Network, or Conde Nast?