content marketing

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People who create content for the web are its fuel. And there’s no doubt that content marketing is a powerful online business tool. But it is links that tend to be the ballast of today’s content marketing, not the words.  

One of my first memes on the web was “Posters vs. Pasters.” For those spelling challenged it’s not Pastors, those are for Sunday morning, it’s pasters like users of the glue pot. A paster is someone who spends time reading other people’s content and pasting it into links for sharing. A paster might spray a bucolic photo of an Atlantic Puffin or “Seven Rules for Higher Click Rate.” S/he is a curator, not a creator.

Sadly, the commercial web has become a miasma of paster links. And it is working. Think of the web as a federation of radio stations sharing less and less original music. Finding true posters, subject matter experts or subject matter passionates (noun), has become more difficult. But posters still drives the excitement and vitality of the web; they are just harder to find.

Digital pasting began 25 years ago when we started emailing jokes around the web. Lately, it has become a cottage industry for marketers. Fight the power of pasting. Fight the power.



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I have a number of branding and marketing memes floating around the web. I’ve built a business upon them.  One of my new favorites is “Redistributing marketing wealth through branding.” (Google it. It will set the hook even deeper.) 

If you think about what makes a good meme, it’s clearly memorability. And memorability is enhanced by a couple of things. Is it easy to say? Is it easy to remember? Does is borrow from another well-entrenched saying? But if it’s too close to another phrase, a Google search may be diverted to the original, so be careful.

Key words are so 8 years ago.  But we still voraciously invest in them. I still do.  All the blog platforms require it.  My most powerful meme is the company name itself: What’s The Idea? (That’s another good trick.) I publish it every day in my keywords as “Whats The Idea,” sans apostrophe and question mark, and as “Whatstheidea” – my URL.  Kinda own it now.

This Meme Trick is something you are not likely to learn in a content marketing book.  It’s best learned by actually doing it. By creating.  By posting. Not pasting. Google “posters versus pasters.”


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mass production

I am a big fan of content creation, the new marketing meme sweeping the nation. Content creation has been around as long as the written word. As a tool to promote and sell it has been around since Bass Ale invented its mark and the Sears Catalog was the Amazon of its day.  But the words “content creation” in this age of Google and iPhone movies has taken on, at least for me, a strong commodity meaning.  A creative-by-the-pound activity measured in attention then, maybe, sales.

I am a brand planner who measures success not by hits or vague engagement activities but by sales. And future sales. Sure I’ll write a speech on “web accessibility” for an agency trying to score points at a client’s annual marketing meeting, but I don’t want giggles, attaboys and future invitations, I want new customer contracts. Content isn’t oration, it’s selling.

So the brand planner in me thinks that content creation or content marketing ungoverned by a brand strategy (one claim, three proof planks) is wasted effort. Every act or action that marketing achieves needs to motivate a sale in one way or the other. If you are doing content creation and it doesn’t move a customer closer to a sale, you likely don’t have an articulate brand strategy.




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I Tweeted yesterday that businesses should spend more time product marketing and less time content marketing. And I mean it.

The definition of content marketing from its namesake institute:

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

The institute proclaims marketing as usual is dead; as is traditional advertising. We’ve heard that one before. Remember the “inbound marketing” phase? Content marketing is a cottage industry that has spawned tens of thousands of practitioners, with a flashier name for online marketing.

Is it direct marketing? Yes. Event marketing? Yes. Experiential marketing, I hope so. In my mind content marketing is way for agencies to replace revenue lost to Google Ad Words. A way to get Google to pay attention. The logic goes “If Google pays attention, people will too. So let’s post more words and pictures.”

Using a computing metaphor, content marketing is really just “distributed information.” Linking up distributed information the way software companies linked up distributed computers in the 90s and 00s — a volume play — feeds the Google’s algo.

What ever you call this flavor-of-the-day marketing tactic is up to you. What I care about for my clients is they have an organizing principle for product, experience and message, AKA a brand strategy. It will drive your tweets, PR releases, Super Bowl ads, and “About” page. More importantly it will drive sales. And Google will find you, trust me.




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What’s the Idea? is soon fielding a piece of research to better understand the state of the state of content marketing. The survey should go live this week. It is partly the result of some consulting I’ve been doing this summer in the digital space on content strategy. Our feeling is that there is a lot of content marketing talk but very little codified strategy. I understand it’s a fairly new, pop marketing pursuit and as such heavily in tactics mode – a la, during World War II, build tanks furiously, we’ll figure out how to use them – but when it comes to marketing, too much emphasis on tactics sans strategy can dilute brand meaning. So our poll will quantify the use of content strategy on websites and social settings, especially in mid-sized companies. herding cats

Today I came across a new-ish title in the press: Chief Content Officer. I suspect it’s an outgrowth of this content marketing frenzy. Anyone tasked with herding the content cats with a chief title is okay by me. But is it a real chief title or just a director level title? And does the chief content officer have the same power as the chief marketing officer? I would hope not.

As a brand planner and someone familiar with the executive suite, it is obvious to me that the CMO should set direction for the chief content officer. A company with dueling chiefs in this area (healthy though the ultimate outcome may be), seems way dysfunctional. I love the function of a chief content officer, don’t get me wrong, but it feels a little affected and nouveau. I’ll do a little more studying and keep you posted. Peace. 


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There isn’t any. There is very little art in keyword infested content. Writers who pepper their digital work with keywords so the algo can find it, aren’t writing they are data processing. Recruiters will tell you to make sure you have a list of keyword skills in your resume so the algo, at first pass (Who can read 200 resumes?) finds you.  Similarly, web developers and SEO jockeys want lots of keywords on the homepage and primary layers to make sure your site rises to the top on Google. And content marketing writers, as grammatically correct as they are, know they’re being paid by the search not the word. So, where’s the art? Where’s the poetry? Where is that heart-felt, emotive story? In many cases it’s not even copy anymore, it’s search palaver.

Great writing, persuasive writing is an art. Look at all the best columnists, bloggers and vloggers — they didn’t rise to the top because of keywords. Their content was the marketing. What’s next, musical notes the tones of which are searchable? I loves me some G minor.



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LinkedIn sent me a survey yesterday which I gladly filled out. LinkedIn is one of the coolest tools on the web. Reid Hoffman, Jeff Weiner and team have uncovered a gem of a portal. No, they engineered a gem of a portal. I said gladly filled out the survey because as much as I like LinkedIn, it’s not perfect. Who is? I get more spam from LinkedIn than any other web provider. Even after turning off lots of things in preferences. The whole endorsements feature is a sham. They should have bulked up recoomendations.  People endorse like errant laps dogs. It’s a glorified like button.

linkedin grab

The newish content creation scheme is also annoying. Articles from so-called opinion leaders and influencers appear above the fold, crowding out the people I know and want to keep tabs on. I understand what motives the influencer articles and the endorsement features; they are engagement builders. That’s said, portals with a finely tuned idea who overdo it, who search for extra ad dollars by adding functionality beyond their mission are on a slick slope.

I believe LinkedIn is aware of this and now taking stock. Unless, of course, they’re researching ideas that will lead them further down the feature-creep path. Hopefully it’s the former. My heart and business sense tell me so.


 R.I.P. Fergus O’Daly. A lion.

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red bull website


I love the Red Bull web site. It’s what web sites ought to be. If good marketing makes you “feel something then do something” Red Bull gets ‘er done. Brian Solis and I agree on many things – and the sorry state of web sites as marketing tools is one of them. Web sites today are an odd admixture of corporate brochure, table of contents and, if lucky, three sliding pictures of product/service schmutz. But Red Bull cares about what customers care about and serves it up with breadth and gusto. The site doesn’t just offer lifestyle content, it delivers the Red Bull culture and experience. No “About Red Bull.” No “Tweetstream.” No cans of product.

I try to sell clients the notion that a web site is all about moving a customer closer to a sale or toward a tighter grip on loyalty. You don’t do this with wireframes and CMSs (content management systems). You do it by motivating people with interesting, customer-inspiring content and story. Magnetic, shareable story…aligned with your product or service. Hopefully, all organized under a brand strategy rubric: one idea, 3 proof planks. (E.g., Taco Bell’s “Live Mas” is an idea; I’m just not sure of its planks.) Taco Bell might borrow a page from the Red Bull playbook.

So let’s start to focus our web sites on the brand and customer story. Not SEO keywords, not the wireframe, not the 22 clickables above the fold. Find your idea, find your planks and custies will find you.


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“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”  – Mahatma Gandhi

“Brand success is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – What’s the Idea?

Brand success was more easily managed 10 years ago before many marketers ceded control of messaging to consumers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read and heard senior marketers say “We don’t own our brands anymore, consumers do.” Hell, Google the sentence (use quotes). And the sentiment is dead wrong. Imagine saying the same thing but substituting the words “produce” or “price” or “distribute.”

And today the markobabble of the day is not authenticity or transparency, it’s content. Content marketing, more specifically. The Alitmeter Group just published some quantitative research with three key data points worth sharing. All of which don’t bode well for proper brand management in the age of social.

1. 70% of marketers surveyed lack a consistent or integrated content strategy.

2. 10% of marketers say their content marketing technologies are “fully integrated across people process and platforms.”

3. 40% of marketers surveyed say that the lack of interdepartmental coordination is leading to disparate tools used.

I love social, but it needs to be brand-managed. Not tactically managed. Done well, it helps set expectation for the brand and reinforce brand experience. Done poorly, it can undue lots of good work.



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There’s lots of talk these days about content strategy and content marketing. It’s a big practice and bigger business. In fact, data analysis tools supporting these efforts is may have surpassed the billion dollar mark. Yet for a business with so much cachet, it is surprising there is so little in the way of real, innovative social sharing on the topic.  I’m not talking about the “7 ways to increase belly fat (I mean) social media engagement” kind if posts – those are a dime a dozen.  I’m talking about innovative, doable, free suggestions.

Here’s one.  Every social media team should be testing one new hashtag a day. Those hashtags should adhere to the brand strategy (one claim, three proofs planks), of course.  This regiment will provide multiple learning moments for the content marketing people daily. Moreover, it will create a new discipline for brand adherence. The team can meet before the day begins to discuss the daily hashtag and also what worked and didn’t the previous day.

Every day you are not learning about your brand, is a day it lies fallow. Eyes off the blinking dashboard lights for a moment sirs and ladies, let’s feed the marketing beast with real time analysis and learning, e.g., “What in the news of the day made people twitch to our hashtag?” 

Stay tuned for more social tips. Or visit “Social Media Guard Rails.” Not a book.  



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