Content Marketing is...People

by Jason Ocker
Jul 13, 2020

Too often we think of content marketing as this machine where you shove in words and images and it shoots it all out to the socials and then tracks and measures it on various platforms while pulling in leads that are then also tracked and measured. In some ways that’s true. But that’s like discussing the printing and distribution process instead of the book itself. In all the important ways, it’s not true. But some of the reason that we think of it that way is its godawful name: Content Marketing. It sounds like a process.

Nobody likes the term content marketing. It’s soulless, sure. But it’s also inaccurate. The point of content marketing isn’t to market. It’s to join a conversation. And then, yeah, over the course of the conversation you meet more people at the party and magic might happen. Also, what you’re sending out isn’t content. It’s people. That’s what thought-leaders and opinion-makers are.

So what does that mean for content marketing? It means we should be thinking of it in terms of the people whose ideas, thoughts, and opinions we’re disseminating. Mostly, anyway.

Elevate the Author

It can be tempting to hide ideas too far under the corporate brand. Whether that’s through emphasizing the topic in the dissemination process or constraining the author in what they say and how they say it during the editing/approval process to bring them more “on brand.” Really, though, we should be treating those thought-leaders and opinion-makers as assets, pushing their personal brands as hard as the company’s portfolio.

The benefits of giving prominence to the thought-leaders within the organization are high. First, it reveals the humans behind the brand. The people who are motivating corporate and product decisions. The people who can help clients. Also, if people appreciate their ideas, that will reflect on the brand that the expert represents. Think of this in terms of a weekly columnist who can motivate people to buy the publication they appear in.

Nurture Thought Leadership

Your organization is full of experts. Experts who are busy. Experts who want to do what they’re an expert at. But those are also the people with the ideas, ideas you want to get out there into the market. That means finding those experts who are willing to share, willing to do the work atop their work to inform and educate. They’re out there. But they might not know the value of their visibility, both to the company and them personally. We’ve got to convince them. Also, by elevating the author per our first point, you encourage participation.

This also might means creating your own experts. I’ve written before that we need to think of the writers we hire less as just the people who write other people’s ideas down and more as primary experts themselves within the organization. And if you can get a writer to become an expert, you’ll have plenty of thought pieces.

Sometimes Elevate the Content

Sometimes pushing the content over the author does make sense. This is usually true with studies and reports. Those items that the audience wants to be factual and objective. That’s why you know a Gartner Report is worthwhile, even as you don’t know any of the authors who researched and wrote the report.

Also, in those instances where maybe the author is providing one-off content or an extremely infrequent rhythm of content. In that case what they’re saying in their piece might be the more important component in the moment and investment in its authorship less so.

In the end, framing content marketing as content marketing dulls its power. You see pushback in the art world against this: Calling movies and shows and books and music “content” will really get an artist at your throat. Kind of like how they used to rail against their work being framed as “products.” Marketers should encourage that sort of ownership and belief in the ideas we put out there on the corporate side of things, too.

Jason writes. Tells stories. Develops strategies. He oversees a wide range of creative and technical projects. He’s also an award-winning author of half a dozen books and has been featured on or in CNN, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, The New York Times, and TIME.

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