It was The Next Big Thing only last year, but the nature and future of content marketing is coming under heavy shellfire from some big guns in the digital content industry – and perhaps with good reason. No one likes dreary, bromidic articles or videos, even when they’re dressed up as (sponsored) ‘news feeds’ or (paid) ‘features’.
If sponsored content induces feelings of chewing down yards of muslin, it probably deserves to languish on brand pages unseen, unloved and unshared. And sadly, as digital marketing thought-leader Jon Davie (MD of Zone) has recently opined, the internet is full of it.
Writing in MarketingMagazine.co.uk, Davie says:
“Content marketing works on the principle that brands can engage with customers by producing things that are useful, entertaining and valuable. To achieve this objective, we have to make the audience sit up and pay attention. And that means standing for something.”
Davie’s solution is to revisit the meanings interred in pre-digital incarnations of two crucial words: “editorial” and “branding.” Editorials in newspapers were the place for trenchant opinion, for uncompromising polemic and provocative debate. They’re the difference between newspapers that makes them Different from one another. News as interpreted by Guardian editorials is different from news as interpreted by Sun editorials. And that’s a good thing because it represent real diversity and even conflict, which is at the very least often exceptionally interesting (and certainly vastly moreso than a dreary consensus).
Then there’s branding. As Davie reminds us, the term originated when farmers sought to distinguish their cattle from their neighbours’ livestock by slapping a brand on their behinds (the cattle, not the farmers).
Before the digital revolution came along and “changed everyone’s job titles”, Davie claims, what we today call “content” went by another name: editorial, the stuff that truly differentiates and mobilises its readers’ attentions and interests.
He puts the two terms together like this:
“… if you want to make your brand stand out from my brand, you need to stop producing “content” and start thinking about editorial.”
Content marketing is far from being put out to pasture just yet (three quarters of UK marketers plan to increase spending on it this year). But as Davie notes, it’s no surprise that unfocused and vapid briefs will generate yawn-inducing content.
Content needs to recover its editorial verve.