I sometimes come across opinions on content marketing that I disagree with – and that’s often a good thing. Debate is healthy. It’s important to hold content marketing strategies to account and ensure they are genuine strategies rather that just a case of marketers following a fad. Informed discussions on the value of content and the role it should play are great.
Sometimes though, I come across an opinion that I don’t so much disagree with as struggle to understand. Sometimes the arguments against content marketing seem to have no connection to marketing reality whatsoever. That’s the case with a post that appeared on The Drum last week.
'The Great Content Marketing Swindle' throws pretty much every accusation in the direction of content marketing and those associated with it. These kinds of opinion pieces are difficult to respond to because the accusations fly in from all sides at once and aren’t obviously connected to each other. However, I think it’s worth trying – because there are some claims in this post that are very strange indeed. They’re outdated and damaging not just for content marketing, but for any modern digital marketing strategy. Here are three of the main ones:
The best that content marketers offer in terms of ROI is vague measures of reach and engagement
Content marketing’s only objective is list building
People aren’t interested in the content that brands produce – they’d rather get their information from ads or the media
These are big claims. They’d be shocking and very significant if they were true – but they’re not. Let’s look at each one of them in turn.
Does content only deliver reach and engagement?
Apparently content marketers bandy the term ROI about loosely, claiming to be scientific, but only ever delivering a return in “vague terms of engagement or reach.”
This is a lazy argument that people continue to make against content and social media marketing – despite the fact that it’s no longer valid. The reach and engagement that smart content marketing delivers is hardly “vague”. On a platform like LinkedIn, data ensures that B2B marketers have a very clear idea of whom they reach, who engages, and what they do next.
Through conversion tracking, marketers can follow those engaging with their content through the onward buyer journey – specifying the conversion action they are interested in and tracking how many of those engaging with content go on to complete it. That conversion action can include actually buying something – but it can include lots of other meaningful objectives too, from people contacting sales to attending an event, to engaging with specific product information. Marketers define ROI on their terms, and they get a very clear view of the ROI that they generate.
When a bank like BNP Paribas repositions its corporate and institutional business through content, it knows that the 27,000 people regularly engaging with that content are the business decision-makers and influencers that it needs to reach. When the Digital Asset Management (DAM) business Bynder leverages content for lead generation, it can see that 20% of those engaging with its content go on to become leads. When the UGC marketing platform Yotpo uses Sponsored Content to engage eCommerce companies, it’s able to track an ROI of 300%. This isn’t in terms of “vague reach and engagement” but in terms of closed deals and cold, hard cash. At LinkedIn, guess what? 73% of our Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) are driven by content.
Content marketing’s only objective is list building
The Great Content Marketing Swindle is set in a world mysteriously lacking in audience data and the willingness to use it. That’s the only explanation for the claim that all content marketing strategies can do is collect email addresses, which they then use to send people sales messages and tee up cold calls. That claim doesn’t just ignore the evolution of B2B targeting over the last decade, it completely ignores the rise of social selling as well.
These days, when a member of an audience shares an email address, it’s the starting point for delivering more relevant, value-adding content, not less. Based with what they’ve engaged with before, marketers deliver streams of relevant content that prepare the ground for a far more welcome approach from sales. Our research shows that buyers are 25% more likely to start a conversation with a sales rep if they’ve been exposed to marketing content. Often the sales rep becomes the conduit, sharing value-adding content with the prospect. The idea of a hand-off, where marketing ends and sales begins, is increasingly outdated – just ask SiriusDecisions, or anybody else who’s studied the buying cycle.
People aren’t interested in the content that brands produce
The post claims that people prefer to get their information either from ads or from the mainstream media. This flies in the face of almost every study of media consumption habits over the last five years. In this world, the rise of social media feeds as sources of news never happened.
From a B2B marketing perspective, it’s the exact opposite of what we know about evolving buyer behaviour. LinkedIn’s recent State of Salesresearch shows that 88% of buyers are more likely to buy from someone who shares relevant content. They are actively seeking content from potential suppliers, and they judge those potential suppliers on the content they produce.
The truth about content marketing debunkers
The arguments in The Great Content Marketing Swindle run so contrary to the available evidence that it leaves me wondering why somebody would put them into a blog post. The answer? Its author knows, as many content marketers do, that a provocative headline and a confrontational opinion is a proven tactic for earning attention and driving sharing. Ironically enough, The Great Content Marketing Swindleis itself an example of content marketing in action – in this case it’s marketing the author’s own brand. Unfortunately, it’s also proof that you can’t believe everything you read on a blog.
Jason Miller, Head of Content and Social Media Marketing, LinkedIn Sales and Marketing Solutions, EMEA