Content marketing. It’s one of the big themes of the last couple of years, with most businesses worth their salt getting involved. In fact, 98% of B2B businesses in Australia use content marketing in some form, along with 90% of consumer brands. Coca-Cola announced their content intentions to the world a couple of years ago, and Red Bull own the space completely.
Reckitt Benckiser is investing in content to engage FMCG customers outside of the store environment. Woolworths are providing mums with great content (full disclosure: my agency work on this project). Australia Post are utilising content marketing to talk to SMEs (this is one of ours too), and American Express have finally rolled out the award-winning Open Forum business site to Australia.
And it’s getting easier and easier to enter the content world. There are obviously fantastic, enterprise-level CMSs out there – Adobe’s CQ springs to mind – and heavyweight open-source solutions like Drupal.
But a business doesn’t need a developer to get into content marketing any more – WordPress offers great off-the-shelf themes that even a layman can work with, and on an even simpler level, if you want to leverage both a publishing and distribution platform, Medium, Tumblr and brand-new entry to the market Ghost, offer solutions. Basically, a lack of technical know-how is no longer a barrier to entry.
The problem with this dramatic lowering of barriers is that the web is bursting at the seams with content. Textbook content marketing plays like Open Forum are all very well, but American Express started Open Forum years ago, when very few financial services organisations were making a play in the space. Now everyone’s at it. So the challenge is no longer how to publish content, it’s how to find an audience for it.
So that means a focus on distribution, right? Distribution of content is increasingly the major challenge facing would-be content marketers. Once upon a time, SEO agencies preached content to generate natural search results. Then content marketers started preaching quality content to actually engage with readers that click through on search listings. Now Google is rewarding quality over other measures, but in crowded spaces like small business marketing, parenting and finance there is so much competition it’s hard to stand out.
Email has been the go-to for a while too, but inbox fatigue means diminishing returns, even if you have a decent email list.
Then us content guys started using social to push content, and in the early days it worked a treat. Then Facebook introduced sponsored content and started clogging news feeds with brand content, earning complaints from users, and diminishing clicks.
So what’s the answer? Well obviously it’s essential to understand, utilise and measure appropriate distribution tools. But even more important is to understand where the ‘white space’ is. In this super-storm of content, where is the calm at the centre, just waiting for your business to occupy? (Sorry about that hideously tortured metaphor.) For me, this is the real trick for would-be content marketers. Don’t pump out the same content as your competitors. Content should be influenced by a blend of audience needs, brand positioning and values, and corporate and communication objectives – and these are likely to be unique to your business and enable you to find a unique voice. So long as you stay true to this, and let it underpin the content you create, the distribution challenge will be simpler.
And let’s face it – simplicity is what we all strive for.
Richard Parker is head of strategy at content marketing agency Edge, where he works with brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel.