Robots, Cats and the Dangers of Content Marketing
A lot of bullshit and nonsense have been written about various elements of so-called digital marketing, which itself is a misnomer. After all, digital is just another channel of communication like television or radio. The marketing discipline as described by the 7Ps of product, price, place, promotion, people, processes and physical environment is something quite different. Anyway, in our digitally obsessed world they say that content is king.
A Tsunami of Waste
By 2018 it’s likely that we will be generating around 50,000 GB of data per second. Just some of that data will be the 216,000 Instagram posts, 204,000,000 emails, 12 hours of video footage and 277,000 tweets we’ll produce every minute. But what happens to all that content? Well, according to global B2B research and advisory firm Sirius Decisions more than 70% of all marketing content goes unused. That means B2B content marketing wastes a staggering $50 billion annually. In the spirit of fairness, I’ve also read that content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generate three times more leads. I guess that only applies if you’re in the 30% of companies who managed to do it right, and get something out of it.
Cats Demand Attention and Get It
In contrast to the spectacular failure of most content marketing efforts our feline friends can teach us a thing or two. A 2015 survey by Pew Research Centre reported on The International Business Times website that nearly half of all video content uploaded to the Internet was cat or pet related. At the end of 2014 over 2 million cat videos had been posted to YouTube. They’d received an astonishing 24.6 billion views. The average cat video gets around 12,000 views. Most corporate videos I’ve looked at are lucky to get a few hundred views.
The Dumb Approach to Content Marketing
For supposedly smart, creative people, we marketing types can be pretty dumb. We churn out an endless stream of poorly crafted promotional pap that no one wants to read, watch or listen to and target all the wrong people. We’ll use every trick in the book to hijack a moment’s attention. Of course, there is an alternative. You and your firm can switch from being on permanent transmit to listening mode. You can stop and think about your customers and prospects for a moment, and how you might genuinely add a little value to their lives and businesses. Instead, you might take a little time and effort to make something insightful, useful, believable and even beautiful. After all, Google is getting wise to all the hacks and spam content that abounds. It’s not for nothing that 70% of content marketing is a monumental waste of time and money.
To Cross a River of Shit Calls for Planning
On the other hand, let’s say you’re a new business, artist or entrepreneur. You believe you do have something worth saying, and you want to share it with the world. Suddenly you’re cast into the role of Andy Dufresne, the wrongly imprisoned hero from Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption. Why? Because you too will have to crawl through a river of shit to come out clean on the other side. By that I mean your content must be better, funnier, more insightful, engaging and memorable than all the sewage already out there. Like Andy Dufresne you’re going to need a cunning plan and the steely resolution to carry it out. A tiny rock hammer, giant poster of Brigitte Bardot and support of actor Morgan Freeman are optional (apologies to anyone who hasn’t seen the movie).
Do Your Homework
Okay, so now for the useful bit. Or am I just rehashing content you could have found elsewhere? I’ll leave you to decide. Something I’m fond of saying is that before you do anything you should do your research. At the risk of stating the obvious, you need to pitch your content to the right audience. That might be journalists, bloggers, editors or the consumer directly.
Step 1. Research & List Building
You must be clear about the target audiences and industry segments you want to reach. A handy free tool to get you started is Anewstip Search, which allows you to search for relevant media contacts. According to the site’s propaganda the Anewstip database has indexed over 200 million news articles and a billion tweets from more than one million media contacts. If you have got the budget I’d recommend trying the Pro account for a month at $99 and if it works for you switch to annual billing and save yourself 30% over a year.
Naturally you’ll want to understand where your target audiences get their news and information. Which publications, blogs and social media channels do they prefer? Our old friends Google can help you with free research tools such as Google Alerts, Google Search and Google Trends. You can use platforms like Social Mentions and Hootsuite to monitor who’s talking about what on social media. You’ll also find various RSS feed readers out there that you can easily setup for research purposes.
Having done your initial research it’s time to start building your media list. There are a variety of media database platforms available. You’ll find that some offer limited free access or trial periods. Media databases include contactable.io, journalisted.com (free) and WooPitch (limited free service or $65 per month basic pro service). Anewstip mentioned above offers a media list building facility. Buzzsumo can help you conduct research, discover key influencers and build media lists. They currently charge $99 per month for the small team/bloggers package (a 20% discount for yearly billing). Alternatively, you could give Majestic SEO a try. Check a publication’s backlinks to see who is connecting and sharing content - £29.99 per month, minimum of 3 months or £44.99 per month.
ACTIONS: Draw up a list of target publications, blogs, social media sites, journalists and influencers. Read the relevant publications; get to know their style and tone. Follow key journalists and influencers on social media. Start engaging with target audiences and influencers i.e. leave comments, join conversations, etc. Don’t just start bombarding people with requests to publish your content.
Look at a target publication’s content calendar or feature list for the coming year, and identify opportunities to contribute. Alternatively, place your own native advertising alongside editorial.
Step 2. Content Creation
Use your knowledge and expertise to produce a list of content ideas for further development. Prepare a content calendar. It’s probably better and more efficient to generate lots of ideas initially than keep having to think of new topics. Get as many people involved as possible. Remember, you’re after truly inspired, original content ideas not the usual corporate waffle. You really need to be clear and honest with yourself as an organisation about why you’re producing content, what purpose it serves and your result expectations. No one will thank you for churning out a load of dull promotional drivel that alienates rather than engages people.
It can be useful to create some simple content guidelines to help keep you on track:
Be Timely – write about stuff that’s topical or trending in the news, but only if you have something genuinely interesting or insightful to say. Don’t use misleading headlines as click-bait.
Be Newsworthy – is your story genuine news or just pointless self-promotion?
Be Topical or Controversial – if you’ve got something imaginative, insightful or challenging to say then say it. Just don’t bleat about the consequences afterwards. Have the courage of your convictions.
Be Entertaining – easy to say and hard to do. Think very carefully about what might entertain or amuse your target audience, and grab their attention. Be warned: when humour fails the silence is deafening. Test your content with sample groups before going public. When all else fails there’s always room for another cat video.
ACTIONS: Think carefully about your audiences, what, where and when different types of content will be most useful to them. Try to place the right type of content in front of the right people at the right time to give your efforts a fighting chance of success. Start small, try different things, and only spend money where you’re getting results. Don’t blow your budget on bullshit fads like Pokémon Go.
Content Creation Tools
Some content creation tools you might find useful include:
A different kind of keyword research, Answer the Public is useful for creating content that marries with what people are searching for on the Internet. This tool can also be used for PPC.
Use Quora to research popular questions people are asking about your industry or product category.
Canva offers an easy to use drag-and-drop infographic creator. Canva is useful for anyone who wants to create some form of marketing collateral but hasn’t been gifted with graphic design skills.
Share Tally is a nifty way to track the number of shares, tweets and likes your content is getting.
Step 3. The Pitch
So, you’ve got a fantastic, original idea for an article, feature, video or podcast. You’ve done your homework and created a media list. Next, email a brief synopsis of your content and why you believe the target publication, journalist or blogger should consider distributing it. Offer them content exclusivity for a limited period. Don’t send any attachments. Make sure you use the read receipt function on your email so you can check when your message is opened. You might feel compelled to make a follow-up call. Remember, the editorial teams on large publications and big media outlets are inundated with pitches on a daily basis. They’ll seldom take speculative calls from people they don’t know.
Smaller publications, local news outlets, trade websites and bloggers probably will accept a call and listen to your pitch. Be brief and respectful, and remember, no means no. If you have the budget a good PR agency can be a solid investment, and open doors that would otherwise be closed to you. Once again, I would recommend you weigh-up the pros and cons and do your homework before committing yourself.
Become a Trusted Source
Journalists rely on a network of information sources to file stories and meet deadlines. There are a number of websites that connect journalists and bloggers with industry experts for quotes, research and opinion pieces. This helps journalists do their job and creates an opportunity to establish relationships with key media people. Although most of these sites have a free entry level account, they also offer additional paid features.
Media resource platforms include:
· Totem enables you to build a press page for $29 per month that journalists can search and follow.
· JournoRequests helps journalists find and connect with sources for their stories.
· Bloggabase brings bloggers and marketers together so they can produce and publish content.
· Radio Guest List is always looking for authors, experts and professionals to appear on radio shows, podcasts and TV.
You can always jump on Twitter to find journalists and bloggers looking for sources or conversely you can use the following hashtags to pitch your content ideas or your availability for interviews.
· #bloggerswanted guest
Spread the Love
Finally, there are numerous content syndication and amplification services available, such as Outbrain, Taboola and Disqus to get your message out to the widest possible audience. That’s assuming your content is actually worth the time, effort and cost it took to create it in the first place. Social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter all offer some form of sponsored post facility to promote your content to your target audiences.
The Robot Invasion
Of course, manufacturing an endless stream of turgid corporate blather might soon be the preserve of content bots. These are computer programs designed to mimic certain human abilities and behaviours. It seems everyone from Wikipedia, Fox and Forbes to the Associated Press are already using machine generated content in one form or another. The news industry projects that 75% of its content will be bot-created by 2020 according to business consultant and marketing expert Mark Schaefer. What a cheerful prospect. Now, someone pass me that cat and a video camera.
Over to You
I hope that you’ve enjoyed my little tirade on content marketing and will find some of my advice useful. Please leave your comments and feel free to get in touch. You’ll find me in all the familiar social haunts. You can also share this content and so disprove my assertion that writing it was probably a waste of time.