Allister Frost

Content 1 Advertising 0 – Why Great Content Wins Today

24 October 2013, Allister Frost

Content, content, content… It seems everyone in marketing these days is talking about content. The stats prove it too with the number of Google searches for “Content Marketing” soaring 10-fold in the last two years.

And I’m a believer. I believe great content strategy should now lie at the foundation of every marketing plan. It is more important than SEO, PPC, CSR, or any other abbreviation you may know. It is the very essence of great marketing today.

To explain why, I’d like to you to come on a journey with me. A journey back to a simpler time, when computers didn’t yet rule the world.

Let’s go back a full two decades to 1993

Welcome to a post-recession Britain where unemployment and social discontent have brought waves of rioting to cities across the country. Hip-hugging, high-waisted denim jeans are all the rage, Wayne’s World picks up best soundtrack at the BRIT Awards and the only compositions produced by One Direction are safely contained in their nappies. Even Tim Berners-Lee is probably wrestling with his TV remote trying to find his ideal holiday on Teletext.

Aside from the macro-economic similarities, to be in marketing in 1993 was a very different affair to the modern day. Broadcast media channels were largely limited to TV, radio, outdoor and press.

And if a potential customer wanted to find out what a company had to sell she had to phone up to request a brochure or to book a visit from a salesman (yes, it was nearly always a man).

All of which meant that companies could often maintain a firm grip over what customers knew about their business and the products they had to sell. Opinions could be controlled and shaped with advertising and clever PR.

The printed press, at the very height of its powers, put its journalistic focus onto naming and shaming heavy-handed corporations and government officials. Only rarely would its attention fall on the minutiae of individual customer complaints, usually to share the news of the discovery of a cornflake bearing an uncanny resemblance to Sylvester Stallone.

Fortunately, smart marketing teams developed a neat way to discretely deal with unhappy customers (and who wouldn’t be unhappy to spot Rocky in their cereal bowl?). The inbound customer service phone line was born and the complaints of a generation of dissatisfied consumers were quietly paid off with the promise of money off vouchers or refunds.

It was a golden era of control for the marketing manager

To coin a phrase: Marketeers had never had it so good.

Jump forward twenty years to 2013 and things are very different. With a multitude of digital avenues to consider—alongside the traditional analogue channels that still attract huge audiences—choosing where to place your message for the best results has become a marketing minefield.

And while the fortunate marketeer with a generous advertising budget can still buy a substantial presence in paid media channels, there’s no longer any guarantee of control over what the masses ultimately hear about your brand. Today’s marketing manager now also has to compete with the voices of millions of digitally-empowered consumers. And most of the evidence now suggests it’s a battle we cannot win.

In their armchairs and bedrooms, coffee shops and trains, anyone with Internet access can now publish their opinions to a worldwide audience. This daily chatter, about the things that really matter to ordinary people, courses through social networks, discussion forums and review sites. These voices have ushered in a new marketing world order, where everyone’s opinion matters and the casting vote falls to those we trust the most.

You already know the bad news. 84% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know, while only 62% trust TV ads (source: Nielsen, Sept 2013). These are stats that should be etched into every marketer’s brain. People trust people, they don’t trust advertising, marketeers, salespeople or spin.

This isn’t a new phenomenon

People have always trusted the people they know more than strangers or fancy advertising messages. But what has changed is the nature of the people we trust. In 1993, the people we knew comprised those we grew up with, lived near or worked with. In 2013, the people we know—or feel we know—now encompasses our extended social circles online and almost any human-made content we find on our personal journeys through cyberspace.

We are witnessing this remarkable shift playing out before our eyes. The intimacy of our online experiences can now create instant trust in content. When our internet journeys lead us, sometimes serendipitously, to useful content or advice, we are highly likely to consume and believe it.

Our behaviours have changed a great deal from the passive consumption of advertising messages during the broadcast era. Today we know how to seek out the information we need and intuitively—although not always accurately—know what we can trust.

Fortunately for us marketeers, human brains are wired to work this way. Logic tells us that not everyone on a review site can be wrong. Or that if a friend of a friend once “Liked” a brand of dishwasher tablet, that brand must be worth considering next time we go shopping. These cognitive biases allow us to make sense of a rapidly changing world, to adapt quickly to new forms of information and not feel overwhelmed by the data. This brings both great responsibility and opportunity to everyone in the marketing profession.

And that, in a nutshell, is why great content really matters

We are long past the day when organisations could rely on advertising alone to cut through the clutter and get our brands in front of the right people. Control has shifted from the few to the many.

Today we need new skills to produce useful, creative content of many forms—blogs, videos, diagrams, reviews, photos, stories, whitepapers—and deliver it to places where it can be discovered, trusted, consumed, and shared. Crucially, our content must bring utility to people’s lives, answering questions they ponder or providing relevant entertainment that intensifies their relationship with the brand.

How do we do this? Join my exclusive Emarketeers webinar in December to find out. More details below.

Want more? Sign up for our free content marketing webinar – see below

Allister Frost will be discussing this and all things content marketing at a free Emarketeers webinar on Friday 6th December at 1pm GMT. Registration is now open here.



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