The 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 JayBaer.com 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.