By Robert Rose published March 19, 2014

How Content Marketing Success is Blocked by Antiquated Beliefs

book cover-business of beliefAs content marketing becomes an increasingly important means of propelling our businesses forward, I’m finding that many marketers are still struggling with the operational issues associated with the discipline. In almost every meeting I attend these days, I’ve come to find that a few antiquated ideas about content are still ringing true:

  1. Content marketing is still considered to be separate from “real marketing.”
  2. Marketing and measurement are still solely thought of as ways to increase transactions, rather than as mechanisms for creating deeper relationships with consumers.
  3. Businesses still view content as an attribute of marketing, rather than as a distinct discipline that offers value in and of itself. 

CMOs are confident… that they are confused 

Last year, Accenture Interactive produced a report titled, Turbulence for the CMO. In the introduction to this report, the authors characterize chaotic change as:

… the new normal for chief marketing officers… CMOs are struggling to keep pace with competing business demands, proliferating channels and partners, and a disconnect between the talent they have and the capabilities they need. 

The study found that a full 70 percent of these CMOs feel like they are on the clock to deliver results, generally believing they have less than five years to completely change their operating model. Accenture also found that despite the enormous investments in technology and outsourced services, four out of 10 CMOs still say they are not at all prepared to meet their objectives.

Another study conducted by Aquent and the American Marketing Association substantiates these findings. In their 2013 Marketing Salary Survey, more than 50 percent of marketers said they were not at all equipped to handle new trends in marketing technology. And a similar number of them (53 percent) don’t feel like they have the right people on board to deliver results. But then, somewhat ironically, almost 70 percent in the Aquent study said that they were “very confident” that creating these customer-centric experiences would and could “positively impact the organization.”

Change begins with belief 

I contend that fundamentally changing some of these long-held beliefs is the essential first step that content practitioners within enterprise organizations need to take in order for content marketing to gain acceptance as a viable, successful approach. And in the interest of getting the ball rolling, I’d like to introduce you to the author of the fantastic book, The Business of Belief: Thomas Asacker.

Tom is an expert in leadership and the ways real businesses can facilitate broad change within an organization. So I took this challenge directly to him as something we could try and sort out together. Here are some of the highlights of that conversation:

Robert: In your book, you talk about the difficulty that businesses have in changing their ways. It’s something that we see as well — where the content marketing process is one that everyone can agree should be there, but it’s so hard to actually change the existing ways of doing things. Why do you think change is so hard?

Tom: I think it’s a human nature problem. We’ve created these metaphors and understandings about how human beings are, and how their minds work and what brains do, etc. And, I mean, the whole idea that the brain is anything like a computer is wrong. Brains change continuously. It would be like a program that rewrites itself all day long, you know? We also have to change the belief as well.

I saw this in action recently. I consulted with a company and, as I left, everybody said that they understood. Then, the results were devastatingly poor. The CEO was sitting next to me at this table at this meeting a year later and I said, “Could you tell me? What did I do wrong the last time I was out here?” The response I got blew my mind. He said, “Tom, you didn’t do anything wrong. It was great information. But you have to understand, when you left here, everybody had to go back to their jobs.

So like a computer, they understood what I said and they agreed, but that did not drive their actions. People do what they do because they desire to do it. And that’s it.

Robert: That plays an important role in content marketing, too. We too often feel like we just have to deliver facts to customers. When in fact, in addition to that we have to change beliefs, as well.

Tom: That’s the key. It’s a blending. We’ve got this situation now where we separate these things. We’ve got this group called “brand” over here, and this group over here called “marketing,” and this group called “product subject matter experts” over here, and “customer service” over here. But today’s brand is all of that. It has to be a blend in order to be successful.

The bridge of belief

Robert: So, what do you think the answer is? How do businesses actually change and create this blend? Do we have to take the CEOs and CMOs out behind the woodshed?

Tom: Well, where I’ve seen success is where there’s been some outside force — whether it’s an agency or consultant or someone who has figured out how to push a particular leader. It could literally be a brand manager. They lead them down, if you will, that bridge of belief, making them comfortable the whole time until they release something that’s powerful.

And then, the interesting thing is that once they get this notoriety for this creative endeavor, then the rest of the organization, they use that as an example for everyone else, saying, “See, we can do it.

Robert: And that’s the promise right? Because when I see enterprises being truly successful with content marketing, [it’s when] the marketing group has stopped acting like a media company, and they’ve actually become a media company.

Tom: There you go. The businesses that are willing to invest the time and the money and create the structures to elevate their content game will win. I’ve said all the time to people, “If everybody is writing a book, or a blog, then you should do whatever the next thing is that’s harder than writing a book to engage people.”

Becoming a media company

As I wrapped my conversation with Tom (and I’ve subsequently been chatting with businesses all across the spectrum about this challenge), I’ve been really focused on this last part. If the last few years of content marketing has been focused on how we can actually build the business case to use content as a means to engage, help, inform, and change beliefs in customers, then the next few years should be dedicated to learning how to actually create a strategic, repeatable process to do just that. 

Want more insight from Robert Rose on how to take your organization’s content marketing to the next level of success? Sign up for a free trial of our new Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Access over 35 courses, created by experts from Google, Mashable, SAP, and more.  

Author: Robert Rose

Robert Rose is the Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory - the education and advisory group of The Content Marketing Institute. As a strategist, Robert has worked with more than 500 companies including global brands such as Capital One, Dell, Ernst & Young, Hewlett Packard, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Robert is the author of three books. His latest, Killing Marketing, with co-author Joe Pulizzi has just been released. His last book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, was called a “treatise, and a call to arms for marketers to lead business innovation in the 21st century.” You can hear Robert on his weekly podcast with co-host Joe Pulizzi, "This Old Marketing”. Robert is also an early-stage investor and advisor to a number of technology startups, serving on the advisory boards for a number of companies, such as Akoonu, DivvyHQ and Tint. Follow him on Twitter @Robert_Rose.

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  • NenadSenic

    This was a great, slow read. I’m now more and more convinced these are global problems, it’like you didn’t discuss only problems in the US, it’s just the same over here when it comes to this issue, despite very different business environments.

    • Robert Rose

      Thank you so much for that….. Yeah, I’m seeing this across the world as well…. It’s timely as I head to Sydney and Singapore – and then Europe after that….

      • NenadSenic

        See you in Sydney 🙂

  • Chefmattrock

    Leading the change from old style marketing to content marketing is hard. You are exactly right that the biggest obstacle is getting people to stop doing what they’ve always done. Yet, that’s exactly what is needed to free up the time to start doing content marketing.

    They’re running and pushing a bike so fast they can’t stop to get on and ride it.

    • Robert Rose

      Great metaphor… And thanks for that…. Yeah, more and more I’m hearing that “content is everyone’s and no-one’s job”…. In order for this to really stick – it needs to become a part of a strategic, repeatable process…

  • William Holland

    If marketers or even parents (anybody) really, if they fail to acknowledge the cognitive, social IMPACT of digital mediums then they remain in the archaic mode that characterized previous achievements of center-margin type organizations that emulate transaction only.

    Marx spoke of the separation of labor & capital. Digital/electric mediums unite what the industrial reformation separated.

    • Robert Rose

      Wow William – you brought Marx into the conversation… We should be careful or the entire blog will be bugged 🙂 Thanks for the great thoughts…

  • Belle

    Change is difficult in all aspects of life, so it’s no wonder that business is also affected. People are creatures of habit, because it gives us a form of stability. People won’t change unless they feel the need to, which is usually an external factor. I guess this is where a great leader should come in to drive the change (: Of course, it’s a pretty slow process, so it will take some time for everyone to adjust, especially the seniors of the business…

  • Bruce McDuffee

    “The fish stinks from the head down”. I like the post Robert and I suspect most of us content marketing believers feel the frustration. A content marketing strategy or culture is usually such a huge change in the way a firm and the people in a firm think about marketing, it requires the leader to not only believe, but to be the evangelist for content marketing. I’ve seen it over and over. If the leader (usually the CEO) doesn’t embrace the change, the change won’t happen. Everyone will just go back to their regular jobs as said in this post.

    • Robert Rose

      Absolutely Bruce…. It’s a great point…. We most often see the practice being driven from the grass roots so – to the extent that change can happen there – I want to encourage practitioners to build their process one house, one street, one neighborhood at a time…

  • DavidGermano

    Robert, you must have been reading my mind. I deal with this everyday, both internally and externally. As brands continue to evolve into “being” media companies, then the agency entity needs to evolve into something that can guide that transformation, and that can continue to service that media company in an economical capacity.

    • Robert Rose

      Well said David… Well said…. And, boy, is that a rarity right now….

  • Dara Lin

    Agree change is hard for some people who build solid beliefs on their mind. So it’s good to have that bridge belief came from outside source to defeat those antiquated expectations. Even though an example of trial and error at least business can gain more experience and go successful in the long run.

  • guptaabhijit318

    Really very instructive and fantastic post. You have added lot of information in your blog. Thanks for sharing this valuable information.

  • Russell

    The remarkable thing that I try to wrap my head around concerning this discussion about adaptation of content marketing best practices is that, in the absence of “content,” what else is there, really?

    It doesn’t matter what you call your approach communication approach today: Public relations. Integrated marketing. Digital marketing. Social media marketing. SEO or PPC marketing. Email marketing. Inbound marketing. Advertising. Etc., etc.

    Not one of the above is worth a plug nickel without content.

    And yet, with the tools, strategies and tactics available today content is the best way to track KPIs and goal conversions, i.e. prove the ROI so important to the C-Suite. Yet, the platitude of leading a horse to water is so applicable here.

    I’m grateful for this article, and a recent CMI article by Ardath Albee titled “Why Marketers Need More Education to Push Content Publishing Forward,” if for no other reason to preserve my sanity in our role as an agency on the front lines of “selling content marketing.” Obviously, we’re not alone facing the frustrations we face.

    Thanks, Robert!

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