Content Marketing As A Profit Center

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Content marketing… be careful what you wish for.

The water is getting very murky out in the marketing world, these days. There used to be a clear division (a church and state, if you will) between advertising and editorial content. Those lines were never crossed. There was journalistic integrity at stake. The quality of the content did not want to be soiled or manipulated by which brands were flowing advertising dollars into the publisher’s pockets. Sure, this is still the case for many, but native advertising is a new reality and – more importantly – the many brands that are now in the content creation, distribution and publishing business continues to grow at a rapid pace.

Content marketing is the new advertising. But, should it be?

Since my first business book, Six Pixels of Separation, came out in 2009 I have (gently) tried to persuade brand marketers that there is no binary choice in the digital world. It is not about how digital will be better, bigger or faster than other media (think TV, print, etc…). This is a similar moment in time. Content marketing will not replace advertising. Everything is “with” not “instead of,” as I like to say. A strong content marketing platform coupled with a strong advertising strategy will take a brand much further than, trying to prove one over the other. They are not the same beast. The problem is when we expect content to do what advertising does. That’s the true challenge of the day. As agencies are being asked to update and upgrade their services – by integrating capabilities around content marketing, data, analytics, etc… – there is this blind trust that these types of service should look, act and feel as the brand’s advertising does.

Big mistake.

In the past few years, we’ve seen a massive shift in brand and agency partnerships. It become so crazy in the marketing industry, that more than $30 billion in media assignments has shifted from one agency to another. It was dubbed “Mediapalooza,” and there doesn’t seem to be any slowing down any time soon. Some think this switch-up was all about brands wanting to get more bang for their buck from their agencies. Others argued that it was about transparency and data/information. There were even those that felt like this Mediapalooza was really about brands looking for more transformational ways to get in front of customers with a more integrated solution. However it gets sliced (and, my belief is that it was probably a mixture of all of those reasons… and more), there is change because the market is demanding this change. Within these deals, many brands were highlighting content as a key driver for making the shift. Many brands are developing in-house content studios. Many brands are spending lots of time, energy and budget on content strategy. What comes next? Monetization, of course.

Can content be monetized?

This is what brands are demanding. If they spend time writing blog posts, articles or creating videos for YouTube or Snapchat, they want to know – in no uncertain terms – how it will be monetized. When they spend money on advertising, they are paying for impressions, repetition and engagement. They expect to see an uptick in sales. When they spend money on content, they are paying for (what they think will be) much longer engagement, pass-along and social proofing. These are not the same thing. Candidly, real content is much more about information, education and engagement than it is about offering a special price, direct response, push-to-sale, etc… It can be nuanced. There are examples of content being created that acts more like long-form advertising. Still, the purist, must be more candid about the outcome of content versus advertising. Content is a much slower, much more expensive, much more nuanced way for a brand to get the cash register to ring (and to keep those consumers loyal). It’s not impossible. Its just not the same advertising. With that, we should be cautious of confusing content marketing as new way to advertise. Remember, the publications of yore created content that interested their audiences. The advertising was there to interrupt that experience and pay for more of that content to keep those consumers coming back. The content and advertising didn’t have the same expected outcome. Suddenly, that’s what brands want content to do.

Yes, content is media. No, content is not (necessarily) advertising (as we currently define it).