The problem with content marketing

Blog-images-FINAL460X460_your-content-marketing-sucksA few weeks ago, I wrote in this space about “predictive” content marketing as the wave of the future. One of the sources cited in that post mentioned that most content marketers take a hit-or-miss approach that falls short of the mark 80 percent to 90 percent of the time. That source suggested that predictive content marketing would equip marketers with the tools they need to drop that failure rate tremendously. He attributed the misses to our lack of predictive marketing ability.

But since that post, I’ve been thinking there may be a more basic problem with much content marketing. And I think the problem boils down to one thing:

A lot of our content sucks.

I’m talking specifically about higher education content, although the same charge could be leveled against most organizations. A recent Business2Community post says essentially the same thing.

Our content doesn’t suck because it’s poorly written and sloppily edited (although that is sometimes the case). It sucks because it is more focused on the institution or business than on the customer or audience.

If we try to implement predictive content marketing without first making our content more focused on the customer and less focused on our institutions, then I predict our content marketing efforts will predictably fail.

Customer first, content second

Think about the kind of content a typical university churns out. Is it written to meet the needs of our audience, or is it written to make ourselves feel good?

Does much of our content focus on the accolades our universities, faculty, students and staff receive more than on what might be of interest to our audiences?

Are we more concerned with announcing the latest appointments and administrative reorganizations than on what prospective students, alumni, research supporters or other customers are interested in?

If so, then it’s no wonder our content marketing isn’t yielding the results we’d like to see.

Back in May of 2013, I wrote about the need to take an audience-centered approach to marketing first, then develop content tailored to that audience. (This wasn’t an original idea; I’d read about it here and also here.)

So, while predictive content marketing may help us out in the future, it won’t do any good if we don’t take a new look at our content. It boils down to the old advertising maxim to sell benefits, not features. For more on this, here’s a terrific blog post: Features tell, but benefits sell. (That post’s lede sums it up: “People have little interest in purchasing a bed; what they want is a good night’s sleep.”)

Jay Baer knows this and talks about it in detail in his book Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help Not Hype. The gist of Baer’s book is that organizations that offer content that helps people solve problems will be the winners in the new digital economy. Gini Dietrich knows this too, and she talks about it a lot in her book Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age. Both books are must-reads for content marketers.

I know that colleges and universities crank out a lot of great content. But we also crank out a lot of stuff that has little or marginal value to our customers or audiences. The latter might make the boss or an important faculty member happy, so you’ve got to balance those needs with your marketing goals and deal with it. The boss, the boss’s boss, the faculty member, etc. — those are important internal customers. But the more content we create that adds value to the customers that we are trying to attract and keep, the better chance we will have to make more of our content marketing stick instead of suck.

Image via Catalyst, Your Content Marketing Sucks.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

4 thoughts on “The problem with content marketing”

  1. Thanks for this! My problem with content marketing is that, done well, it’s just smart integrated marketing and not its own thing. I agree so much of our content sucks but hope that using A/B testing helps us uncover what really works for our audience. :)

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