Content Marketing: It Has to Be Believed to Be Seen.
A recent encounter with a content marketing exec reminded me why so few organizations get content marketing right.
Content marketing requires two commodities rarely combined in corporate communication: belief and brains.
Every fool marketer who likes money pays lip service to content marketing. But if you don’t truly believe in content marketing, people can tell.
At a content marketing conference this fall I heard a talk by a guy who runs the shiny new content marketing “shop” at a well-known, very old advertising agency. For half an hour I listened to the guy gas on about the need to “discover your brand’s stories” and to create content marketing “processes.”
When the Q&A lagged, I shambled to the microphone and I asked him what the agency does to content-market itself. Because my late father had worked at the agency during the Mad Men era of the 1950s and 1960s, I happened to know something about its rich 101-year history. How does the agency mine all that experience to show clients and prospects what a wise and thoughtful and grounded organization they’re dealing with?
He looked at me like I’d done him a dirty trick, and sheepishly mumbled something about how the organization “tries to keep up the blog,” but really doesn’t do “as much as we should.”
Sure enough, a visit to the agency’s blog reveals that the last entry was June 29. The one before that—from April 17—shows a black and white picture of some art directors in 1960. “Old school in the matte room,” is the caption, no doubt written by a college intern. I dove in for more context, and nearly broke my neck: “We may not win any fashion awards, but check out those sharp white collared shirts and black slacks—keeping it classy.”
That’s not content marketing. It’s not even content.
You know what content is? Content is relevant context. This agency goes back to 1911. Its archives, assuming anyone thought to maintain them, should provide raw content marketing material on a Smithsonian-ian scale.
Just for example, this agency could have interrupted its five-month blog-post dry spell by gracefully inserting itself into either of two national conversations that took place in August.
Remember that big Mars landing? NASA was doing some pretty great content marketing of its own, thrusting into the spotlight the young geniuses who landed the Mars Curiosity. Also in August, Neil Armstrong died.
Apropos of either story, the agency could have gotten some nice attention and impressed its clients had it reminded the world of a 1969 ad that its then-creative director Thomas Murray (that surname ring a bell?) wrote for its onetime client North American Rockwell.
The headline reads, "America is about to put men on the moon. Please read this before they go."
The copy begins, "Perhaps the best way for anyone to try to understand the size of such an undertaking is not for us to list the thousands of problems that had to be overcome but for you to simply go out in your backyard some night, look up, and try to imagine how you'd begin, if it were up to you."
The ad, which was read into the Congressional record, culminates, "We ask you, in the days ahead as we wait for the big one to begin, to understand this fantastic feat for what it is and to put it into proper perspective, a triumph of man, of individuals, of truly great human beings. For our touchdown on the moon will not be the product of magic, but the gift of men."
Now I only happen to know about that ad because my dad wrote it—along with hundreds of other ads and memos and essays on advertising philosophy. As did many legions of other execs and writers at the agency, before and after.
So much industry perspective and cultural context to draw from. But no. The agency haplessly tries and fails to “keep up the blog.”
What is 101 years of corporate history worth, if no one cares to remember it? About as much as content is worth, if no one’s smart enough to market it.
David Murray is a longtime commentator on communication. The editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, he also writes for magazines and newspapers. And he blogs about his work and his life at Writing Boots.