Content Marketing

Cooperative Content Will Eventually Dominate Your Polished Content

Cooperative Content Marketing

We’re ALL writing blog posts. (image by BigStock)

Jay Baer Blog PostThe legions of companies now embracing “content marketing” as a piece of their communications arsenal grew by 11% as I typed this sentence. Alas many (perhaps most?) of these new content devotees have not embraced Youtility in the least, and are instead making content they think they need, rather than content real people actually want. Part of what is driving this misalignment of content and real value is our current infatuation with brands creating “great” content and going toe-to-toe with publishers.

Right here on this blog, we’ve recently run pieces from Joe Pulizzi about his new book Epic Content Marketing, and Michael Brito about his new book Your Brand: The Next Media Company. I admire both men considerably, and they are right about much of the current state of content marketing and brands as media. But in one respect, I believe they are missing what will become the guiding principle for this form of marketing:

The future of content marketing is low effort, cooperative content.

Maybe “Good” Content Isn’t Really Good?

Yes, it’s a remarkable time to be a content marketer, and there are new examples every day of companies producing visceral, interesting, useful content that wins hearts and minds. Content Marketing Institute even has an excellent awards program for content, for which I’ve been a judge the past two years. But the reality is that what we presently consider to be good content is almost uniformly content that is polished, created by companies themselves (seeking to be media companies), requires financial resources at some level, and addresses the information needs of some small subset of a company’s customers or prospects. In other words, we are working very hard to create content that effectively helps a narrow slice of our audience. Today’s content marketing approach is often less efficient than would be optimal, and only when content is thoroughly repackaged and repurposed and extended and atomized does it start to make more sense from a resources perspective.

But the reality is that customers don’t solely make their decisions based on company-crafted videos, ebooks and infographics any more than customers make their decisions solely based on glitzy television commercials and expensive direct mail pieces. Certainly, all of that can be a contributing factor, but eventually – before parting with their money – customers want to hear the story from someone other than the marketing department. And that’s where extremely broad, high volume, low effort content can (and will) win the day.

The Looooooooooong Tail

Our system of content marketing and content production is currently driven by topics and keywords. What are people searching for? What do they want to know? How can we make something “amazing” that sets us on course to be a media company? Do we need to hire an in-house brand journalist? These are the questions companies ask today.

But what they overlook is that 16% of the searches on Google today will be for phrases Google has NEVER seen before. The long tail is SO much longer than we commonly believe, and there is simply no way you can create content – especially expensive, high effort content – for every one of your customers’ questions and scenarios. Further, with the increasing use of verbal search (a major driver of Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm, as I explained here in one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written), the long tail will get even longer, as verbal queries are phrased differently than typed queries. And, as more and more content is consumed via mobile devices, putting all your content marketing eggs in the polished, high effort basket becomes strategically dubious. I love Slideshare more than the next guy, but if I’m on a mobile device I’d rather consume a very short blog post (not this one, obviously) or a short video than a lengthy slide presentation. Ever try to read an infographic on an iphone? Precisely.

Cooperative Content is the Future of Content Marketing

So when I look out a year or three, I see a content marketing universe where the real differentiator isn’t based on which company is employing the most former newspaper columnists and photographers and having them engage in lots of lovely, omni-channel storytelling. Instead, I see the differentiator being based on which company can create the most topical breadth, driven by hyper-relevant, low effort content made not by journalists, but by large groups of employees and current customers. 

This is what I call Cooperative Content, where the company, its employees, and its customers work together to cover as many informational bases as possible. Widespread employee blogging. Turning customer emails into blog posts. Turning customer product reviews into blog posts. Turning customer photos into a searchable visual assets gallery. I’m not suggesting you won’t have any polished content. You will continue to create tent pole content that serves to fill the top of the funnel. But alongside it you’ll manage a decentralized program that makes as much relevant content as possible about as many topics about which you can possibly be authoritative.

Cooperative Content: A triangle approach to marketing, where the company works together with its employees and customers to create high volumes of massively specific content against the widest possible topical array.

Applying Marketing Automation to Content Marketing

This is what the Compendium software package is all about – enabling companies to move beyond today’s hegemony of “great” content being defined by production values, and moving toward “great” content being defined by topical breadth and nimble coordination of dozens or hundreds or thousands of contributors. Compendium is a client of ours here at Convince & Convert. We are moving this blog and my site to the Compendium platform soon, and we are very happy to hear the news that Compendium was recently purchased by Oracle, and will be integrated into the Eloqua suite of marketing automation tools.

My good friend Robert Rose wrote about Oracle’s purchase of Compendium and concluded “Oracle didn’t buy Compendium to gain technology that it didn’t have, but rather for an approach that the company felt it couldn’t deliver as well as it should.” I disagree with him here, as amongst the content marketing software companies out there (many of which Oracle looked into before making this deal), Compendium stands alone in having a system that is built to make decentralized, long tail, low effort content efforts viable for companies. 

Marketing automation systems like Eloqua (Compendium’s new brethren within the Oracle empire) are all about delivering the right offer at the right time via the right mechanism, with some of those messages being built dynamically on the fly to maximize relevancy. To extend the marketing automation philosophy to content marketing doesn’t require a system that helps you make quite a few “amazing” pieces of content, it requires a system that helps you make a nearly unfathomable volume of content that makes sense to that potential customer at that exact moment in time. 

In the same way that smart email programs often are now based on dynamically-generated messages that don’t actually “exist” until they are assembled and sent based on user behavior, content marketing programs are headed the same direction. That’s why Oracle bought Compendium – because they see the future of content as dynamic and granular in ways it simply is not today.

I won’t talk you out of your current efforts to create polished and amazing content. Hell, I just finished writing a nifty ebook 15 minutes ago. I’m just saying that the age of the brand as media company with an emphasis on owned assets will be a short one, and it’s never too early to start figuring out how your content program will move from something you own to a decentralized, cooperative model. 

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  1. says

    Right. On. One of your best posts, ever. Thank you for having the fortitude to begin dispelling some of the popular myths surrounding content marketing. You’ve moved it forward with this one, Jay. I do hope the subtlety of your statements here aren’t missed by the masses.

  2. says

    Incisive as always … a few things I’m wondering:

    1) Who rides herd on all these moving parts? This sounds incredibly daunting to me.

    2) How do brands remain in control of their messaging in this cooperative environment?
    3) do you envision it being hosted on a company website, or distributed across multiple social platforms along with search, or some kind of hybrid?

    • says

      Thanks Tom.

      Generally, you’re going to need an in-house editor to manage/oversee Cooperative Content at scale.

      In terms of messaging control, you have to give it away a little bit, especially when you’re getting customers involved in the content creation process. Typically, however, customer created content goes through at least a cursory oversight process (see editor role) to make sure it’s not way over the line.

      Ultimately, all content should be hosted in as many places and in as many modalities as possible. That said, most of these Cooperative Content programs start with content appearing on an owned web asset, and radiate outwards from there.

    • says

      Hi Tom! I’m Chris, a marketing guy at Compendium.

      1. For us, it is one of the hats our marketing manager wears. We eat our own dogfood, so Compendium is catching all of our content for moderation, workflow and a quick polish. We like to say that most content marketers are doomed, so I share your sentiment. Without the proper content strategy, it is incredibly daunting. You need to have content coming from many places – customers, employees, emails, etc. We simply can’t write all the content needed for a true 1:1 marketing approach. The “herder” assumes more of an editorial rolethan that of a journalist. That’s one of the first mental shifts we as marketers have to make.

      2. The person discussed previously has some say in that or some companies have someone that may reside on a brand or dedicated content team in their workflow. But, as Jay mentioned… we give up some control. Some of our best content comes from clients, sales, engineering and client experience folks that may never make it onto our website with a traditional strategy. The best simple explanation of this approach I can come up with is a parenting analogy (full read:

      3. Yes, and yes. It is a hub and spoke model. At the end of the day, we get paid on bringing money in the door (for the most part). I want all of our content somewhere with appropriate calls to action to help lead potential customers in the right direction. That being said, it would be a major mistake to not deliver the right message to the right person at the right time on the right channel. That’s what we use our own software for. That *can* be done manually or with other alternatives, but I’m pretty bullish about how much easier my life is with Compendium as the platform I use. That’s why I joined the team.

      To further illustrate the shift, a slightly more polished version of this response will be a blog post on our content hub in a day or two. :)

      Whitepapers are great. Chunking them up and sharing pieces of each one is obviously something you should do. But, that doesn’t scale. One major piece of content per month won’t bring in the growth most of the folks reading Jay’s blog are tasked with bringing in.

      Let me know if you’d like to chat more about this or if I can ever help. My profile should link to my Twitter account (@cnmoody). Thanks!

  3. samrex says

    Great post. Looking forward to where this roller-coaster ride will be taking us in the next year or so.

    Jay, as a Freelancer I don’t often have clients that are willing to cough up the change for software like Compendium, as a result, it’s difficult for me to stay ahead of the curve on this stuff (especially automation), can you recommend a class or something that I could take that would best cover all these principles?

    Thanks in advance

  4. annhandley says

    Good post, Jay. I see the content-creation model and decentralized cooperative content model you write about here as working nicely together — they aren’t two different models, in other words, but part of the same publishing program. Which is why I believe the role of the curator is so key in the content marketing org chart I wrote about a few weeks ago.

    Most companies are thinking pretty narrowly about that curator role right now. But the content curator is more broadly the person who has a pulse on what’s being created and where it’s being created (and where else might be uncover?), and then leveraging and organizing it internally and externally, for various audiences.

  5. says

    It is an interesting future that you paint Jay. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this flips the ideals of content marketing on it’s head. Instead of producing high quality content, cooperative content aims to product many articles that are of lower quality but are more relevant and have more breadth.

    To me, such low-effort content sounds good, but how do you make sure that you are adding value (and not just adding to the noise out there)?

    I’d also love to see this in action. Is there any company out there already adopting such a strategy?

  6. says

    Quantity + Quality. I dig the strategy here @jasonbaer:disqus. I think the problem is the same of course. Most folks still are not investing in the quality tent poles much less also inviting in acrobats and lion tamers and tightrope walkers to build out the show.

    Still, for the advanced audience that take in C&C’s quality content, I suspect many of them have put in the resources and are poised to turn up the volume on the quantity side of long-tail content.

    It is an interesting challenge.

  7. M. Sharon Baker says

    Hi Jay, I’m curious to hear how you see this playing out in the B2B realm.
    It seems a lot easier to envision B2C customers being interested in a product enough to comment and create content than it does in B2B. I know a lot of B2B companies struggle just to get a customer to allow them to name them in a case study.
    I also agree with Annhandley; cooperative content is an extension of and part of content marketing. The key is discovering what your target customers want and need, not delivering what you think they need.

    • says

      A lot of what we’re seeing is that B2B and B2C are very similar, but have subtle differences. For B2B, the most effective content creation method is coming from employees. Most businesses have experts that are helping customers and prospects on a daily basis. That is usually *never* turned into content.

      Having easier ways to capture customer stories helps too. Even if someone won’t let you use their name, anonymizing that story will still give you great content from a company in the search industry if you can’t say Google. :)

  8. says

    Hey Jay…as always, very interesting insights. I guess my response would be this – a very smart man named Jay Baer has always told me “there is no one right way to do content marketing”. Thanks for keeping the conversation going.

  9. says

    Jay…. Great post…. I admit I’m going to have to wrap my head around the idea of “Cooperative Content” a bit – and would initially pose that it’s probably part of a layered approach rather than a singular one. All that said, it’s a great fire starter.

    The one thing I would clarify is on my point in the CMI blog post (thanks for the shout-out). It’s the exact same point I made when reviewing all of the Collaborative Content platforms about the technology. I’ll stand by my statement that Compendium doesn’t have any one technology feature that Oracle doesn’t already have. Any capable enterprise WCM system (including the several including Fatwire, Stellent and ATG that Oracle has previously acquired) has every feature of Compendium and more. However, what no WCM system has done is to package the technology in a method that is as focused on the content marketing process as has Compendium.

    So, perhaps “package” might have been a better word than “approach” – but to be honest I was actually trying to pay complement to the team at Compendium for having a differentiated *approach*, rather than just what might be perceived as “packaging”.

    Burn on fire starter. Burn on.

  10. says

    I love the cooperative content approach, Jay. It seems like a natural transition from current content marketing efforts. I think that the relationships you build through this kind of collaboration is also what would drive sales. Showing more real world examples of how your customers are using your product or service is definitely something we’re striving for!

  11. says

    The content marketing trend does seem thin when you consider how few companies truly do it well. I had to unsubscribe from some of the leading content marketers, because I never felt like the content was really targeting me. Actually, these marketers may deserves more credit. Maybe I am not their target. Though it seems like a wasted opportunity to me.
    If I am understanding you, Jay, the way people are doing content marketing is far too targeted. The customer journey actually needs to include those who may not be your target audience, but are willing to add some color to the big picture you’re trying to sell on your ideal targets.

  12. Graciousstore says

    The bottom-line of what makes customers open their wallet is that the goods/services is what they want and it satisfies their immediate need, at that point in time

  13. michaelbrenner says

    Jay, this is a great post. I think you know that you and I are kindred souls on this topic. I’m a big believer in the ling tail approach. And with the short shelf life of content, any more than a few hours or few hundred bucks spent on content is likely wasted. Great job and keep it up.

  14. Rodger says

    So, Jay, essentially, what you’re saying is this: 1. for content marketing to be successful, content will come from across the company, and 2. average people in companies will create this content. For example, am employee works with a client to solve an immediate problem. From the email and phone communication, which transpired to solve that problem, the employee cranks out a quick blog post to be pushed to editing and approval. After it has been vetted, it is published. I would envision this type of content as the short, non-epic, but highly personal information you’re referring to, right? This is but one example.

      • Rodger says

        You know, I advocated for this approach when my team started an literary publicity blog. No one bought into it and I think a few of them thought I was nuts. My argument was to salt and pepper our “helpful” content about marketing books with real, live problem-solution pieces that probably didn’t take 15 minutes to crank out. I also advocated the same approach for another product blog, where I worked with the team to launch a few services with the product launch — no one listened. I think the biggest hurdle is getting people to listen. Lately, I’ve taken the approach to do first, find success and apologize later. Seems to work better. Any suggestions on a different approach to get buy-in?

  15. Jeff Mason says

    Hi Jay,
    Thanks for this, but I’m a little confused. You mention that a potential customer will want to hear the story from someone other than your marketing dept. I completely agree. But I don’t see how this reality then leads to your statement that extremely broad, high volume, low effort content will win the day. If you want to influence others to spread the word and talk about your company, products, and services wouldn’t valuable information and content be more powerful? And, I think we can all agree that nothing is more valuable than personalized content. So why will broad (generalized) content win? Is it because creating this is easiest and cheapest?

    • says

      Jeff – I think you and Jay are saying the same thing. Having lots of low effort content better allows you to have personalized content because you have more content to choose to deliver to the right person. Without that, you’re creating one high effort piece and delivering that to everyone. By no means does high volume, low effort mean that the content is broad and generalized. For example, a tire salesperson may answer a question about best snow tire for a Honda Odyssey. A quick reply yields low effort content that is very expensive and value to a very small audience… Honda Odyssey drivers who face adverse Winters.

      As for the easiest and cheapest – the main point is would you rather have 500 pieces of content to assist with a 1 to 1 marketing approach or 1 high effort piece of content if we assume they are equal in cumulative cost / time to produce? For me, I’d rather have 500 to deliver them to the right person at the right time versus one that is delivered to everyone. That’s the mental shift that folks like Jay are making the case for.

      • Jeff Mason says

        Thanks Chris! That makes total sense and I completely agree with you. I suppose I misunderstood when Jay said “…extremely broad, high volume content will win the day.”

        By the way, if you have 500 pieces of content that can then be used to more effectively communicate and inform, how would you manage this – technically? How would you know when and which content to offer to the right person at the right time?

  16. says

    I think you may be right that, in the rush to produce what you’re calling polished content, many brands risk creating polished turds (something I blogged about more than once during my days at Velocity). And there is certainly merit in the crowdsourcing of intelligence through “cooperative content”. I was recently struck by an example made by the gang at Velocity, which is using its tight community to crowdsource a 100+ list of content marketing vendors. It’s a great feat of data collection.

    However, it would be foolish to discount the value professionals bring to this kind of intel – be they journalists, copywriters, designers, videographers, data scientists or what-have-you. Professional communicators bring value that can’t be ignored; they make raw ideas, data or opinions more effective and consumable. Rejecting their value is the kind of thinking that led people to conclude citizen journalism would replace professional journalism. Didn’t happen. Won’t happen. There’s a valuable role for both. Brands would do best to facilitate both, and let each reinforce the other.

    • says

      Ryan – hopefully, we covered this on our content marketing webinar yesterday. I definitely don’t discount the value of professional communicators, designers or professional pieces of content. There is and will always be a need for that. But, I don’t think that should always be the primary focus. You need lots of content (think of a managing editor) and not just several great whitepapers to succeed in a 1:1 marketing environment.

      You’re right. There will always be a need for both. It just feels like the adoption of easier to produce content is lagging. In reality, that needs to be a much higher focus to complement the larger, more professional pieces. It is definitely not either / or.

      Webinar is at

  17. Kindra Foster says

    I agree we have to get used to dealing strategically with more conversational, more dynamic types of content that come from both every department in an organization (including marketing) and from outside the organization in the form of user generated content (and responses, as in this comments section).

    But I’m a believer in the power of polished language to create the image you want for your company. A world that allows language to be used sloppily is a world that is seen as sloppy and becomes sloppy. Bad.

    So, let’s not give up on the proper, powerful use of language as a strategic marketing tool. We just need to choose our priorities. Websites, e-books and white papers need to be polished. Blogs, social media posts, comments, forums and some email letters can be more dynamic.

    Who says fast has to mean low-quality?

    It IS exciting that we have so many new ways to connect with people who used to be sitting out there having one-way conversations about our products. Good!

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