If I was the King of the Internet Forest one of my first official actions would be to ban the phrase “content marketing” from usage. It’s one of those terms that has come into vogue in the last few years and now appears to be ubiquitous. Everyone and their brother has jumped on the content marketing bandwagon in the business world. In fact, it’s an important part of the work we do for our clients here at Good2bSocial. Not to spurn this source of our livelihood but all the same I’d be much happier to find another way to describe this part of our service offering.
So what’s the reason for my discomfort with the phrase? Well, it’s one of those slippery terms that serves a multitude of purposes and covers up a multitude of sins. Just about anything suffices to fit the definition of content – from the Magna Carta to a bucket of butcher’s slop. And nowadays, in the age of social media, just about everything we say can and will be construed as serving the purpose of marketing and self-promotion. So the entire vast profusion of bits and noise streaming forth from our blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts – it’s all content marketing – the whole stinking pile of it – good bad and indifferent.
The problem with the phrase content marketing, as I see it, is that it places the emphasis on the wrong side of the equation. As the concept was first elaborated by Joe Pulizzi, who coined the term, the phrase simply describes a method of marketing, which entails making use of an ongoing stream of content to capture and hold an audience’s attention. Except now, as the content marketing movement is picking up steam and gaining adherents, the phrase is being used more expansively as a way of describing the content itself. If you pick up one of Pulizzi’s recent books you’ll see he uses the term to describe alternately either a marketing technique or a content strategy. Companies (under the guidance of Pulizzi’s Content Marketing Institute) first work to identify their content marketing mission and then elaborate their content marketing editorial plan.
This is not just sloppy usage. It points to a serious problem in the very concept itself, in which content and marketing are so closely linked as to become a single integrated concept. As Pulizzi came up on the marketing side of the publishing business, working for Penton Media, one of the old line trade publishers, he offers great advice when it comes to developing effective marketing strategies and techniques for your company to consider. And his bestseller Epic Content Marketing has certainly done much to popularize the idea that in the age of social media all companies must now become publishers themselves to tell their stories to the market. We couldn’t agree more about with that basic premise. The problem is it tells you very little about the sort of content your business needs to create in order to best meet your marketing objectives. Nor does it explain how to go about creating good content on a consistent basis. This is a challenge that requires an entirely different set of skills to properly address.
The fact of the matter is that most marketing people have an overly narrow or skewed view of what makes for interesting or useful content. That’s why in the good old days, when there was still such a thing as a robust working press, most well-regarded newspapers and magazines depended on maintaining a wall of some sort between the editorial and business sides of the publication. There was generally understood to be an important difference between content and marketing. Sure, you could always count on the marketing department to come up with a snappy tagline, but you really didn’t want them otherwise mucking around with the editorial process overly much. That was a surefire way to lose control over content quality and credibility.
To be successful in the creation of good content you need to establish an editorial process that has meaningful independence from the marketing function. This remains true today just as it was back in the days of linotype and hot lead. It doesn’t mean you have to maintain strict separation between the two functions. Far from it. In fact, even such traditionally minded press operations as The New York Times now acknowledge the importance of getting input from the marketing folks as part of their regular editorial process, in order to better understand and address audience needs and interests. Particularly in the age of social media it’s necessary for the marketing team to help shape a company’s content plan, in order that it can be well tailored and optimized to suit the needs of various social media channels. But that doesn’t mean you should put the marketing department in charge of your overall content development effort. We see that as a serious mistake.
Translating this advice into the real world for law firms and our other clients, this means that lawyers and key business people, either on their own or working with an editorial team, should be responsible and directly involved in developing and executing your content strategy. The ideas, if not the words themselves, need to come from those with the best understanding of the underlying issues and the needs of your clients and trends in the marketplace. Content marketing for lawyers and other busy professionals can be incredibly difficult. It’s not easy to carve time out of their schedules to focus on editorial issues, but our experience in the last few years has made it clear that this is the single most important factor in achieving success.
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As a footnote to this blogpost, I want to share with you an example of how valuable content can be created by busy professionals once they set their minds to the task. One of our clients, Kinney Recruiting, has just published a year-end report on Lateral Hiring in the Legal Market. This is a really useful and unique report – with information that is not available anywhere else. We helped them package and put this together but the content and ideas in this report were generated directly by our client. Believe me, legal recruiters these days are no less busy than lawyers themselves, given all the turmoil in the market, yet the team at Kinney managed to find time over the last year to collect all the data and information that makes this report incredibly useful to any lawyer contemplating a lateral move. It’s much easier to market a client that is willing to take the time and effort to have something meaningful and worthwhile to say!