Strategy / 11.19.15

The Wheat: 3 Inconvenient Truths About Brand Content

By Jeremy Frank
Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series in which we separate the wheat (the smart and novel ideas) from the chaff (the other stuff) in content marketing.

It’s time for content marketers to face the facts: As an industry, we tout the importance of differentiated, high-value, high-quality stories, yet the vast majority of content is repetitive drivel. With that in mind, we searched the Web this month for examples of contrarian viewpoints in the world of brand content thought leadership — the more feathers ruffled, the better.

What we found was a pleasant surprise: bright people offering thoughtful counterpoints to the industry’s glad-handing with “inconvenient truths.” Here are three of the best:

1. We Still Don’t Know What We Do

“We can’t really define content marketing just as much as we know we can’t market without it.”

– “The Impossible Definition of Content Marketing,” Chris Bolman, Percolate

Bolman’s thoughtful analysis of content marketing is refreshing in its admission of the term’s obscurity, and provocative in its conclusion. While he ends the piece with six key characteristics of content marketing, he acknowledges his failure to reach a solid definition for the term — suggesting that perhaps “content marketing” is simply the next iteration of “marketing” altogether, and we should stop trying to call it anything else.

2. Whatever It Is We’re Doing, Most of Us Are Doing It Wrong

“Global business executives are seeking substance while companies are largely still marketing.”

– “Missing the Mark,” The Economist Group and Peppercomm

The murky waters of defining content marketing unsurprisingly create confusion in practice. A recent survey from The Economist Group and PR agency Peppercomm found that while 75 percent of global business executives look for content to research new ideas, 93 percent of marketers still connect their content directly to a product or service — reminding us that just because (nearly) everyone is doing content marketing doesn’t mean they’re doing it right. Effective content marketing requires adopting a new mindset in which brands communicate their value beyond a product or service.

3. If We Do It Right, We Could Save Journalism and Serve Readers Better

“Quite simply, native advertising is advertising for people who read things. And I think that’s totally pivotal for journalism.”

– “Native Helps Pay for the News,” Amanda Hale, Nieman Lab

While perhaps not as inconvenient for content marketers, Hale’s “truth” is certainly contrarian in editorial circles. She argues that brand content not only offers a revenue stream to keep journalism alive, but actually aligns with the heart of news organizations: serving readers with relevant and original information. By stripping away the PR fluff of traditional advertising (think: banners with aphoristic slogans), native advertising allows brands to connect with audiences in rich and authentic ways. The smartest publishers will be the ones who see branded content as an opportunity to both stay in the black and serve their audience, finding creative ways to move native beyond just sponsored stories.

Jeremy Frank, Vice President of Content Strategy
Jeremy has more than 10 years of experience in content and communications working both in-house and agency-side. Prior to Original9, Jeremy was director of content marketing at ServiceMax (and an O9 client!). Jeremy loves fly fishing, and would be happy to tell you why it has a lot in common with content marketing.