A common mantra at Content Marketing World, the aggressively orange extravaganza held in Cleveland every September, is that marketers need to think more like journalists. But for the past year, I’ve been a journalist trying to think more like a marketer.
Even though I gave up full-time journalism years ago when I went from overseeing a news site to running editorial and content strategy for Contently, I’ve always held on to that journalist perspective. When people said marketers should think more like journalists, I translated that as “marketers should think more like me.” (I’m a little egotistical.)
But after a few months of therapy and the chance to learn from a very smart CMO, I realized I was missing the point. The goal of marketers thinking more like journalists isn’t so that everyone would think like me; it’s so they’d have the benefit of both perspectives. In that ideal world, they’d grasp how the best practices and pragmatism of marketing can complement great reporting and storytelling. Then, great stories could fuel engagement on every marketing channel.
I’ve spent the past year trying to up my marketing fluency. As a result, I came to this year’s Content Marketing World with a much different perspective and left the conference with some fresh questions about the future of our industry.
Since everyone does “takeaway” pieces from Content Marketing World, I wanted to take a slightly different route and work through some red flags on my mind as I fly back to Contently HQ in New York.
1. Content marketing remains obsessed with audience building. But that’s only half the battle.
Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi opened the conference by giving the audience a sneak peak at one big stat from the company’s annual research report, due out later this fall: Nine out of 10 people who rate themselves as successful content marketers are focused on building an audience.
That’s pretty intuitive, right? You’re not going to be very successful at content marketing if you’re not building a dedicated audience that you can nurture through the funnel.
What worries me, though, is the rest of the conference seemed stuck on that one note. Build an audience. Build an audience. Build an audience. Unfortunately, building an audience is just one part of the funnel (the top). As content marketers, our attitude tends to look like this:
But content marketing will never reach its full potential if we don’t move beyond audience growth and focus on how great content can fuel every touchpoint in the buyer’s journey.
If we want to see true investment in great content within companies, content needs to be accountable to more than just top-of-funnel audience building and results. Content needs to be the connective thread that ultimately points to tangible business impact like sales and retention. To accomplish this, we need to map content to each stage of the funnel and track how content consumption impacts buyer and customer behavior.
2. We’re still framing everything as content vs. advertising, but that’s a false dichotomy.
It’s really easy to frame content vs. advertising as a Star Wars paradigm. The Light Side against the Dark Side. Good vs. Evil. Most talks I attended at CMW included that message in some way. (Mine included.)
Robert Rose—co-author of Killing Marketing with Joe Pulizzi—spoke about the need for brands to build their own audiences and ditch the gatekeepers of audience attention. To prove his point, Rose highlighted the incredible ad fraud scandals of the past year from the big four tech giants of Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook. He noted how many marketers keep paying for a poor product—ads seen for one second, bot impressions.
These are great points. But the problem is content doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Unless you already have a huge audience, you still need to use the pipes of these advertising ecosystems to target buyers and attract new audiences. You still need to market your content because it’s not just going to magically perform organically. It’s very hard to scale content marketing without paid social and search distribution.
Even if you’re like us and you’ve spent years building an audience of hundreds of thousands of monthly readers and subscribers, you still want to attract new folks into your funnel. Content marketers need the advertising ecosystems that we like to trash.
3. We still don’t know who is supposed to own content.
When Contently CMO Kelly Wenzel and I were conducting an interview about our latest product release at Content Marketing World, someone asked us a great question: Which department owns content marketing inside most organizations? Where should it live?
The truth is it varies greatly. Sometimes content lives under comms. Sometimes digital. Sometimes brand. Sometimes social. I’ve even seen it live under community outreach, alongside volunteer programs.
Kelly suggested that the priorities of the organization should determine where it lives. In a brand-driven organization, for instance, the brand team should own content. In an organization driving toward digital transformation, it should live under digital. But this lack of internal clarity can lead to some Game of Thrones style fighting over who has creative control and gets to hold the budget, resulting in disconnected, dysfunctional content operations.
So many marketers that I talk to crave an industry standard—a model they can bring to their CMO and say, “THIS is how things are supposed to be.” While there were several sessions at Content Marketing World that explained how to build a team (hire writers, editors, videographers, etc.), none really tackled this giant question. That’s because we don’t have one. But that needs to change before winter comes.