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The uncomfortable truth about content marketing

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By Jon Davie, UK chief executive

April 22, 2014 | 4 min read

If there’s one thing that the marketing industry can agree on, it’s the growing importance of content marketing.

"When your agency model looks like a hammer..."

Nearly 75 per cent of UK companies are planning to increase their spend on content marketing in 2014, according to eConsultancy/Responsys. And the (not entirely unbiased) Content Marketing Institute claims that 63 per cent of British marketers plan to increase or significantly increase their content marketing spend in the next 12 months.

The print-based customer publishing industry has been talking about content marketing for years, but the increase in investment is being driven by digital. Facebook pages, YouTube channels, Twitter streams, Pinterest boards... brand managers quickly find that ‘owned’ channels have an insatiable appetite for content.

And it’s not just those new-fangled social platforms. Launching a new website? You’re going to need lots of new content. Got your eye on a shiny new eCRM programme? You’ll need plenty of content to fill all those emails. SEO audit? Turns out your content needs updating…

This is great news for those of us in the content marketing business. But behind all the positive headlines, there’s an uncomfortable truth. Something that we need to admit, to our clients, and to ourselves. You see, the thing is… the internet doesn’t need any more content.

Take a category like food, for example. Client X wants to tell customers about its exciting new innovation in the yellow fats category. Our content strategy writes itself – forget about boring old ingredients, let’s produce some inspirational recipes!

Except a quick Google search with the keyword ‘recipes’ brings back 141,000,000 results. And our competitor set for recipe content isn’t other brands in the yellow fats category, or even other FMCG brands.

It includes the BBC, which helpfully publishes 13,000 recipes on the BBC Food website and a further 7,000 under the BBC Good Food brand. It includes Jamie Oliver, who has a YouTube channel with more than 700,000 subscribers.

It includes US giant Epicurious, which boasts a database of 100,000 recipes. It includes huge user-generated resources like AllRecipes, which hosts a community that generates more than 50m pieces of food content each year. And it includes more blogs, forums and messageboards than any content strategist could ever find. The conclusion is unavoidable – the internet simply doesn’t need any more recipes.

The same is true for pretty much any subject that you care to think of. Fashion tips, football news, financial advice or photography… there is no category where the audience is crying out for a brand to come and create more content.

Does that mean the end of content marketing? Absolutely not. But it does mean that we have to be smarter in the way we approach client briefs. Content marketing doesn’t have to mean creating new content.

Effective content marketing strategies need to start in a different place. What conversations are already taking place? On which platforms, and around what subjects? Who are the influential people in those conversations? And how can we find a legitimate role for our brand in those conversations?

The problem is that content people like producing new content. Content agencies generally make money by charging for content creation. And when your agency model looks like a hammer, every brief looks like a nail.

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