Content marketing is obvious. If you’re here reading Small Business Trends, odds are that you’re engaged in content marketing.
Your websites, apps, and updates probably try to offer something of value — information, humor, tips, advice, how-to instructions, or even well-crafted opinion — that people actually want to read.
Obvious, however, doesn’t mean easy. Of course, creating a useful blog post, comment, update, or article doesn’t take the millions of dollars the big brands typically spend on 30-second television ads. But if it’s really good content, it takes expertise, thought, editing, time, and effort.
It doesn’t just happen.
Why Content Marketing is Getting Tougher
Millions of experts, writers, and information workers create free content because they want to.
That could be called post-and-hope.
I run several blogs and get regular emails from people who want to get guest posts published. Blogs like this one, Huffington Post, Amex OPEN, and thousands (maybe millions) of others encourage free content from experts.
The old system of editors as curators and gatekeepers has been replaced by a new system of crowds – readers – as gatekeepers.
Millions of individual experts and businesses create free content for business advantage.
That’s post and promote.
The business advantage is credibility and visibility in a topic area. When it works, it’s like earning a voice by sharing insight and expertise, instead of buying a voice by advertising.
Small Business Trends, where I am posting this, is a great example of how that works. Posts here can’t sneak hidden advertising disguised as content; they have to have real value. Anita Campbell, the founder of this site, has created a successful business built around content that’s free, useful, valuable, and not infomercials.
For individual experts, as examples, look at the careers of Anita here with this blog, or Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, John Jantsch, Susan Solovic, Guy Kawasaki, Joel Libava, Ramon Ray, Jim Blasingame, and so many others. There is such a thing as the expert business, and creating content helps with that business.
Here’s a hard truth.
Things that a lot of people like doing, and especially things people will do for free, generally pay less than things that most people don’t like doing, especially work.
I discovered this general truth four decades ago when I was night editor for Northern Latin America for United Press International, working six nights a week, for $115 per week.
Why so cheap? Because I was young and eager and easily replaceable by somebody else young and eager if I didn’t like it. If I quit (which I eventually did – I was married and we had kids) they could find somebody else (which they did).
It became clear to me after a few years of it that because journalism was fun to do, it was hard to make a great living at it. I ended up getting a fancy MBA degree and starting businesses – but that’s a different post. And that’s a fact of life with content marketing, too.
The big brands are getting it.
Good content – stuff people actively want to read – works in ways advertising doesn’t.
For example, Time Inc.’s DIY home site for mobile millennials, The Snug, is a collection of tips, articles, and pictures on a new kind of interior style. And not by coincidence, IKEA is happy to engage there. And CBS built Viewers to Volunteers as a connected digital giving platform.
All of which comes down to this.
There is a whole lot of noise in the content business. We live in an information-rich world in which the good stuff isn’t a needle in a haystack. It’s a needle in mountains of needles mixed in with mountains of haystacks.
A few decades ago content was controlled by gatekeepers called editors or budgets for advertising. Fast forward to now, and the gatekeeper functions have disappeared.
Experts who do it right can rise on the value of good content, alone. Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin are self-publishing their books even though several business publishers would love to publish them. My own brother makes a several thousand dollars via Amazon in a good month on short stories he wrote and published himself.
Anybody can start a blog for free. Everybody is publishing all the time now. Facebook alone includes more than a billion accounts, all of them publishing, a couple hundred thousand of them not even people, just bots. Every tweet, no matter how useless or stupid, is something published.
But It’s Also More Important Every Day
No, we can’t give up on content marketing because it’s working. The business landscape is shifting. The classic methods of advertising – shouting, or buying a voice – are clearly threatened. The leading big brands aren’t going there because they don’t have anywhere else to spend money. They are looking towards content because it works. And it works better every day.
What do we do? At least these two things:
First, acknowledge the challenge.
Too many experts are telling too many business owners that we should all just jump into content marketing as if suddenly every owner is a writer. It’s not that simple. Quality content is content people want. They choose it, in a cornucopia of available options. Content marketing is driven by quality content.
Second, consider that curating can be as valuable as creating
The museum curator chooses what in a subject area is most important, gives it order, and makes it accessible. The modern web curator does the same thing with content. That’s what made Huffington Post and Buzzfeed successful. The traveler heading out for a new destination appreciates a selection of recent reviews and recommendations – curated content. The small business owner appreciates a selection of existing articles, well chosen, more than a flood of undifferentiated content.