The latest content marketing media: Good or just meh?

Books, white papers and podcasts about content marketing are never in short supply—but which ones are worth your time?

BY Rebecca Rolfes
Executive Vice President

In search of insights and smarts worth your while, we dig deep into recent industry publishing and rate it. Because life’s too short to waste time and money on bad content marketing resources.

“The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change”

by Bharat Anand, Random House, 2016

The Content TrapI read this whole book. Well, most of it. And I’m still not sure what “the content trap” is. The author gives three indications that you’re falling into it without ever saying what “it” is. It’s “a mindset,” is as close as Anand comes to a definition. Two-thirds of the book is about content distribution. Why is print dying? The content trap. Why are cable bundles a good thing? The content trap.

Essentially what the author says—I think—is that content doesn’t matter. Connections do. We fall into the trap—I think—of seeing the trees rather than the forest. (There’s a long intro about the 1988 forest fires in Yellowstone Park.) We see individual readers and tailor content and distribution reader by reader. We have fallen in love with digital’s ability to hyper-target and persist in talking to or even at the reader instead of enabling readers to connect with each other through content. I think.

Traditional hub-and-spokes marketing doesn’t work in a networked world. I get that part. And I get that we should “create to connect,” as Anand writes. But I dispute his point that content quality is not the key to success. Bad content gets shared but for the wrong reasons. You’ve created and you’ve connected, but you’re also a joke. Which won’t do a thing for your whip-smart B2B audience—except turn them off you.

The book’s examples are better—excellent, in fact—than its rather opaque thinking. Schibsted, the Scandinavian media publisher, is one of the brightest spots in a challenged news industry, and how it succeeds is pretty wonderful. However, “Success … comes not from mimicking competitors’ best practices but from seeing choices as part of a connected whole.” Hmmmm.

“What the Porn Industry Can Teach Us About Running a Membership Site”

Members Only podcast, hosted by Sean Jackson,

What the Porn Industry Can Teach UsMembership associations tend to live in a little industry bubble. They’re so used to their exclusive and therefore exclusionary business model and so convinced that they are unique that they’re blind to ideas from outside the association world. To take an extreme example, this episode from the Members Only station (targeting the hot subscription economy) on analyzes successful ideas from the porn industry that are easily transferrable to less, shall we say, compelling content.

Porn turns the challenges of extreme competition and significant distribution limitations into opportunities. A few ideas:

  • Pay to play. Create highly niched products and services for extremely specific member needs, and charge more for them because “where else are they going to go?”
  • Offer intimacy. Within those niches, create highly personalized products and services: a one-to-one PDF attachment to the standard enewsletter, for instance.
  • Get personal. The more interactive, the more expensive. A webinar costs one thing; personal access to the instructor costs a lot more.
  • Turn them into regulars. Revenue is revenue, but be sure that membership prices make à la carte purchases less attractive.

The Big Data Payoff: Turning Big Data Into Business Value

Capgemini and Informatica white paper

The Big Data PayoffContent marketing ranks as the top trend for digital marketing in 2017, among the top three for the third year in a row. But No. 2 is big data. Organizations have moved past the “we’ve got it, now what do we do with it” stage. Many have made the decision between cloud-based storage and a data lake. And, according to this white paper, 27 percent (of 210 executives surveyed, half in the United States, half abroad) say their big data initiative is profitable.

Buried in the second to last page of the report is the finding that the communications industry is further along than retail or packaged goods in operationalizing big data and realizing business value. Packaged goods suffer from budget constraints, and utilities, chemicals and energy from poor data quality. Retail is so focused on direct ROI—increased revenue and improved productivity—that it’s missing the improved decision-making and market agility that communications companies say they are realizing. Extrapolating beyond the report’s executive summary, communications companies are using big data for long-term results, making it an integral part of how they do what they do. Retail on the other hand wants the instant gratification of short-term profit.

According to a late 2016 report by tech research giant IDC, the banking industry will be one of the largest investors in big data through 2020. Wonder where financial services will land on the short-term vs. long-term payback spectrum? In other words, is big data still IT’s newest and biggest toy or a viable strategic tool that non-tech executives can actually use? Financial services executives have a penchant for data-driven decision-making that—once they solve the privacy challenges—should mean the start of a long, profitable love affair with big data. And that will reveal target audience insights, opening the door to savvier content programs.

As with everything reviewed here, this white paper’s true value is not in what it says but in what it makes you think about. It’s not what you learn, but what you do next that matters. All of which further proves that content marketers are smarter than much of the so-called advice they’re being fed.

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