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5 Myths of Content Marketing Debunked

Brands from BMW to GE to Gawker set the record straight on marketing's hottest topic.

Content marketing is hot. It’s got buzz. It’s got venture funding. And it’s got the attention of more and more brands, with bigger and bigger budgets.

But like anything with real heat, it’s gotten a bit distorted.

For a few years now, kbs+ has been investing heavily in content, hiring journalists and building out editorial programs for our clients. We celebrated the second anniversary of our Content Labs capability earlier this year with a panel and a series of interviews with several leading lights of content marketing, including a few of our clients.

Sifting through the, um, content, we realized that there are a lot of popular misperceptions that need correcting.

To wit, five myths of content marketing, debunked.

Image: Flickr user Tristan Schmurr

MYTH: BRANDS DOING CONTENT CAN’T TELL THEIR OWN STORIES

Red Bull, the energy drink-turned-media titan, is the poster brand for content marketing. Which is both good and bad. It’s good because Red Bull does amazing content. And bad because Red Bull’s maximalist approach to content leads other brands to believe they have to wrap Kanye in bacon, seat him on a unicorn, and send him sliding down a double rainbow into a cushion made of kittens in order to get any attention. Expectations can be such that brands are afraid to boot up a CMS and just tell a bit about what they’ve done.

GE Reports

Speaking on our panel was Tomas Kellner, a former Forbes journalist who now runs GE Reports, which is sort of an antidote to the Red Bull approach. GE Reports tells about the work of GE researchers and engineers. Throughout it all, GE the brand is front and center.

It’s cool for brands to be the patrons of unforgettable experiences, but that’s not the only role for content marketing.

“It’s okay to tell the story from a brand point of view,” he said. “The key is to bring to the conversation something new. You want the reader to walk away feeling they learned something--not that you made them read a message you wanted to get out. Give them something they didn’t know.

MYTH: CONTENT MARKETING IS THE EXCLUSIVE PROVINCE OF 24-YEAR-OLD COMMUNITY MANAGERS

Consider the community manager, that archetype of our modern marketing landscape, able to update six channels in 32 markets and respond to 64 consumer conversations all before you’ve logged in. Many brands labor under the mistaken impression that all it takes to keep the social fields tended is an army of these folks.

Reality is a lot more complicated. Kate Alini, one of our clients at BMW, has found that the right, nimble mindset has to flow upstream as well as down. To engage in marketing at the speed of culture, you need to have the infrastructure to evaluate risks quickly and make approvals.

It’s important to have what Kate calls “executive sponsors,” who she describes as execs who can sign off at 6 p.m. on Sunday if there’s a big opportunity in social that arises. “They are people senior enough to say, ‘You have our blessing.’”

MYTH: SHORT-FORM IS THE ONLY FORM IN OUR ATTENTION-DEFICIT CULTURE

Pop quiz: You’ve got to produce a crucial piece of content and you must choose between two forms: a six-second Vine and a four-minute YouTube video. Think the Vine option is a no brainer? Think again.

Amanda Rubin, managing director at Goldman Sachs, another of our clients, tells us that for a complex organization like hers long-form is key. Goldman Sachs uses content to talk about its client’s projects, its own non-profit work, and to simply ensure that the general public understands the firm. As you might expect, this typically isn’t the stuff of microcontent.

“We need time to tell a narrative that involves us, the work our clients do,” she said. “When you look at long-form content marketing, it gives us the opportunity to tell a multilayered story. At the end of the day, we’re a facilitator. Long-form allows us to tell a layered, nuanced story. It enables us to spend quality time with the target audience.

Image: Flickr user Akunamatata

MYTH: CONTENT IS JUST EARNED MEDIA

There’s a temptation to think of content as earned media. Avoid this at all costs.

You may have noticed that today’s information ecosystem--i.e. the Internet--is a noisy place. The blunt reality is that if you want to stick out, you have to support your content with media budgets, perhaps tapping providers like Outbrain and Taboola that will help get your content in front of the right audience.

BMW is one brand that’s making paid media support a priority.

“If we’re going to spend money in production and content creation, we need to put media spend behind it,” said BMW’s Kate Alini.

MYTH: CONTENT IS JUST ADVERTISING BY ANOTHER NAME

Oh, the cynicism.

There comes a time in the life of every content marketer when his or her work is dismissed as merely a repackaging of old ad forms. The antidote to this way of thinking is administered by James Del, who as executive director of Gawker Studios straddles the line between publishing and brand content.

iQ

“Our goal is to work with partners to do advertising on the Internet that is not simply a banner ad. Throw parties, write posts, shoot videos. Anything the clients’ creative agency either won’t do or can’t do. We tell great stories.”

Intel has been in the content marketing game for some time, launching Creators Project in 2009 and then a much-lauded series of films with Toshiba. Intel partners with kbs+ on iQ, a digital magazine aimed at connecting the brand with younger consumers.

Bryan Rhoads, head of Intel’s Digital Media Lab, calls this “premium content,” which he defines as stuff that’s “as good as traditional programming."

“Premium is what people want to consume rather than an interruptive experience where traditional marketing is interrupting the content experience. This is producing something that’s so good you want to consume it.”

More on content marketing from GE, Intel, BMW, and Goldman Sachs in the video below.

Matt Creamer is associate creative director and executive editor at agency kbs+.

[Image: Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker]

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4 Comments

  • And this story is in itself an example of content marketing, for Matt's agency. Very ironic, Fast Company. As a PR guy, I had cringed at "content marketing," as it has brought a commercial tint to what had been known as "thought leadership." I don't any more. Marketers have always been better at naming their toys (and grabbing budget) than PR people. These great storytelling websites (GE, Goldman, Intel) are really showcases for great narratives, just narrowly focused on what those companies do.
    I'll offer up your next article: "How I stopped worrying and learned to love the myths (bunked and debunked) of "content marketing."