Why use content marketing?

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Recently, entrepreneur Krystal Choo said that her analysis shows brand-produced content doesn’t drive sales. Choo founded Wander, an evolving app that has found its footing as a messaging service.  Her comments were retweeted throughout the content marketing world and I saw them on the Twitter feed of content marketing savant, Gareth O’Sullivan of The Creation Agency.

About content marketing, Choo said, “Even if someone recognises your brand a little bit more, it doesn’t actually mean a shift to conversion.”

I think she’s wrong. Content — a blog, a flourishing social media presence, web optimised video– doesn’t automatically mean a shift to a conversion, but it has become a necessary ingredient. Non-optional.

Choo advocates for more emphasis on engagement marketing to drive performance.

Engagement marketing, the idea of connecting so seamlessly with your audience/customer that they invite you into their lives because you’re an expert in their needs and motivations, is obviously ideal.

However, Choo seems to think engagement can be successful solely by collecting in-depth data about your audience, and then tailoring an experience for them, independent of also creating content like branded blogs, videos, etc. Simply speaking, any real engagement with your audience can. not. happen successfully without the existence of robust, quality company-branded content.

As a purveyor of content, yeahokay sure I’m biased, but the data backs me up.

In order to make engagement marketing a success, you need a relationship with your customer. And a relationship isn’t a one way proposition. A company needs data gathered about the customer, but that doesn’t make a relationship.  A relationship by definition works both ways, which means the customer needs information about the company too.

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This is where good quality content (blogs, video, web copy) comes in. Consumers don’t make purchasing decisions with their conscious brains analysing data, they make purchasing decisions with subconscious brains and their emotions. 95% of our buying decisions take place on a subconscious level.

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Neuro-imagery shows that when making brand assessments, consumers are using their own personal feelings and past experiences rather than brand attributes, features and facts. No matter which side of politics you fall on, you have seen this in people who believe the opposite of you –willingness to bend and shape logic to adapt to their beliefs. We all do it.

Choo says her company’s numbers show by some reasonable measure, content doesn’t generate enough return on the investment, but engagement marketing does. I challenge her measurement for two reasons. First, if you exclude from the sample those that do content poorly, (and doing it right is pretty darn important) then creating content does yield a return because consumers use that content as the anchor point for the reputation, authenticity and value they need to feel before before investing the emotional capital necessary for any engagement marketing campaign to be successful. Show me a company that has success with engagement marketing , and I’ll show you a company that also has good branded content.

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Second, instead of comparing conversion levels in a company before and after a content marketing campaign, she should be comparing conversion levels between similar companies, those that use content marketing and those that don’t. This is because consumer expectations have changed over time, so while a company could maintain a successful relationship with its audience without good content at one time, that’s no longer the case. So even if conversions haven’t risen in a given company in a given time period since its use of a blog or video content were adopted, they would have surely fallen without those efforts.

Here’s an example: I got a degree midway through my 15-year career as a television news reporter and my income did not change markedly when I did so. So by that measure, you could say that it was a waste of time and effort for me to bother getting a 4-year bachelor’s degree, I could have just carried on with the 2-year broadcasting diploma I started out with. There was no “conversion” to a higher income.

However, the world changed over the 15 years I was a journalist. Anecdotally, I heard from various people who hired me that if I didn’t upgrade to a degree at my career midpoint, they would not have offered me the opportunities that I was given. So while the degree didn’t give me any immediate benefits, I would not have been able to navigate the television world in the same way without it.

Similarly, consumers have a higher degree of interest in the companies from whom they purchase than ever before. You can choose not to put out content, or to put out inauthentic content, but that comes at a higher cost than it would have, even five years ago. A 2015 study by Deliotte clearly demonstrates consumers expectations of the buying experience has risen substantially, and is trending higher. They want to know who they’re buying from and feel special.

In content marketing we talk about authenticity a lot. I do especially, because I’m an ex-journalist and I know how people who are inauthentic come across in print or on TV –the smarmy politician, the crooked business person, I’ve interviewed ‘em all.

High quality content such as a compelling blog, or a well-shot recruiting video or even a good “how our company started” story on your website is not going to get you any sales. Zip. Zero. Notta one. But it will protect you from a very serious business risk, the risk of seeming inauthentic.

You basically have four choices when it comes to your personal business story. You can:

  1. Tell your story badly
  2. Tell a disingenuous/misleading story
  3. Tell no story at all
  4. Tell a compelling, authentic story

So while Ms. Choo is correct, content might not immediately convert, it doesn’t really matter if it converts or not. You still have to make one of these four choices, so which is it going to be? If you tell an uninspired or hack story, you might miss an opportunity to connect with someone, a connection which might be that conversion you’re looking for. Putting out amateur hour content will hurt you:

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Or, you can tell a disingenuous or misleading story, and possibly break the trust of your customer that may never be repaired. Ask Volkswagen how well that route is working for them.

You could tell no story at all, which is the space many companies are in who have been too busy working to get around to marketing. Let your customer wonder who you really are, while your competitors work to forge a connection. Ask Chapstick how their bottom line is doing, now that Burt’s Bees and EOS are in the house.

Or you can tell your story in the most compelling way possible. Be authentic. If you aren’t a writer or a storyteller, hire one. This recruiting video for West Sydney University is the best example I’ve maybe ever, ever seen. Worth the watch.

The thing about content marketing is, it isn’t a magic wand. It doesn’t make up for product failure or bad customer service. It doesn’t automatically produce engagement or improve user experience. It doesn’t capture influencer attention or build your brand all by itself.

The first piece advice I would have for Ms Choo or anyone else shelling out for brand content is “manage your expectations.” Buying a new power saw won’t build you a house, and if that’s your measure of how well the saw works you’ll be disappointed.

But here’s the thing: building a house without a saw is basically impossible. Content is only a tool, but it’s one your marketing plan is no longer complete without.