On Content Marketing: It’s about Content, Stupid

gold_flickr_digitalmoneyworld_180x180For the past few years, the leading edge of online marketing has been “content marketing”. As advertising becomes increasingly ineffective at driving sales, and as most lead generation tends to come via search engines, marketers have figured out how to produce content that ranks well in search, which brings traffic, which converts to sales/revenue/whatever.

The problem is that as more and more people buy into this, there has been a subtle change. Now the industry is engaging in “marketing content” rather than “content marketing”. The result is a flood of low quality content. Ten thousand blogs, all rehashing the same information in slightly different ways. So much duplication and plagiarism that it’s impossible to tell who had an original idea, if anyone. (more…)

Six Degrees of Redirection

This is a story of feature creep. We started with an idea that was truly useful: link shortening services. These services allowed people to take bloated SEO-laden links (like the ones on this blog) and reduce them to compact links under 20 characters. Perfect for pasting into an e-mail, even better for a length-limited Tweet.

But link shortening isn’t rocket science, and I’m guessing even the US Patent and Trademark Office thought the idea too obvious for a patent (I mention this only because that in itself is an anomalous achievement, but I won’t digress into another patent rant here). So competitors emerged pretty quickly. How do you distinguish yourself in the link shortening business? Simple, add statistics! (BTW “statistics” is the plain old boring word for “analytics”, which is a made-up crapword designed to fool marketers into thinking they’re not doing math).

Then after statistics, some brain cell thought up the idea of loading the target window in a frame, adding a “value-added” toolbar. Not that the value add was provided to the user, who got to lose a little screen space and not see the actual target URL, but for the person providing the link, who presumably could track minutiae like how long you spent on some page.

Next, services hopped onto the bandwagon. Twitter, Facebook, RSS feed aggregators and others all started adding a link-shortening, information gathering layer to any links posted on their sites.

So now we have a link on Twitter that goes to a short link generated by the author of the tweet. The author of the tweet has copied a link found on Facebook, which then redirects to a short link to a blog aggregation that goes to the bloggers short link that then goes to the post.

Six degrees of redirection. Each one making the web more brittle, more subject to the loss of an intermediary, less permanent, less connected. Every time one of these services goes out of business, hundreds of useful connections between content will get lost forever. None of this is good.

“Word of Mouth” + Campaign = Oxymoron

With the rise of social media sites and services (Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, and so on), a whole new field of “Social Marketing Expert” has been created. Aside from the obvious fact that it’s hard to be a credible expert in a relatively new domain, the silliness of some of these “experts” is laughable.

By far the best of this bunch are those who have been discredited elsewhere and are hoping that their bankrupt strategies can somehow find new life in a new medium. It may be true that “the medium is the message”, but sometimes the message sucks universally and thus transcends all media.

The prime example here is “word of mouth” marketers. These aren’t the people who say, quite correctly, that word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing communication anyone can get, but those who figure that somehow word of mouth is a tool, something that can be created out of thin air.

Surely manufactured word of mouth has been sufficiently discredited that we don’t have to bear through more ill-advised campaigns in the social media space. Is there anyone still doing the “paid shill” scam, where people are paid to go into public spaces and talk up specific products? Have sufficient bloggers been roasted over online flames for accepting money in exchange for talking up products? Apparently not.

So get ready for a (hopefully brief) onslaught of bull masquerading as recommendations. It will be easy to spot, let’s take a look at a quick example:

Slimeball:Good morning.
You:Good morning Slimeball, what’s the weather like over there?
Slimeball:Pretty good, it’s a great day for DumbProduct!
You:So, it’s warm and sunny or something?
Slimeball:Actually it’s raining quite heavily, perfect for DumbProduct.
You:I see, and how are the kids?
Slimeball:They’re happy, thanks to DumbProduct.
You:Just hold on a second while I block you and write a negative blog post about DumbProduct’s unethical marketing techniques.

Bottom line: if you’re a marketer don’t do this. Just don’t. Build genuine word of mouth by delivering a great product and providing great service. Encourage your customers to talk about you, but please, never cross the line and start trying to pay for it. No good can come from this.