By Tim Matthews published February 16, 2016

Confessions From a (Former) Content Marketing Curmudgeon

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I was a content marketing curmudgeon. There, I admitted it. The first step to recovery. I’m here to tell you my story and help all content marketing holdouts.

No one wants to be a curmudgeon. It’s worse than being called a Luddite. A curmudgeon is an angry Luddite. You want to shout back at a curmudgeon, while you would simply shake your head in pity at a Luddite.

I have never been an early adopter, but at least I always felt that I was in the early majority. Never a Luddite. A curmudgeon? Never. What was it with content marketing? Why did I have this blind spot that caused me to dismiss the content marketing trend for so many years? Upon reflection, I came up with a few answers.

First off, content marketing – the term – just sounded too generic, with an empty noun modifier in “content.” Kind of like food eating or upright walking. Content marketing. After all, isn’t all marketing done with content? Isn’t every jingle or ad or contributed article or white paper or website simply a form of content? I just couldn’t get over that generic modifier, and that was the first trigger of my disdain. Mistake No. 1.

The second reason had to do with expectations. I have always expected marketers to write, and write well. I never gave them credit for this added skill of creating content. Maybe it’s like being dismissive of a singer who doesn’t write his own songs, having nostalgia for the football player who played offense and defense, or favoring National League pitchers who have to get up there and hit like the rest of them. I felt the term content marketing was redundant, giving marketers bonus points for something I considered inherent.

The third aspect of my bias stemmed from my not appreciating how the types of content had evolved. Grasping this changed my tune. I realized that it was a content-type shift; not the fact that the term content marketing was suddenly resulting in producing content after several hundred years of marketing. It was the fact that it was content – not format – first. Interesting articles first, not data sheets first. Instructional blogs, not glossy brochures. I’m not sure when I had this exact realization. Best I can recall, mine happened sometime around 2010. Give or take. (It’s just never as neat as a story by James Joyce.)

What really cemented my change of heart was thinking about how I buy – my buyer journey. Just about every one of my purchases these days starts with a search on Google. The content at the end of each search is the start of a new buyer journey. I was experiencing personally what marketing analysts talk about as the shift in marketing; they’ll tell you that anywhere from 50% to 70% of the sales cycle begins with Google, and is completed without ever talking to a salesperson.

When I realized that as a marketer I had to take the buyer more than halfway through their buying cycle, I realized I needed to create my own content for the online buyer, and not marketing collateral for a salesperson to leave behind.

I’ve since taken my content marketing thinking a step further. Nowadays, you not only have to write more content for the buyer, you have to essentially become your own publisher. You have to create the content path from the beginning of the sales cycle (or buyer journey if you prefer) to end. You can’t rely on the press because there’s a lot less of it and still no guarantee they will write what you need. You have to make the articles educational in the absence of a sales rep or trained technician or system engineer or sales clerk. That’s when I realized that content was king, and content marketing was the way to win your buyers.

That was my personal journey. How I molted my crusty shell. If you’re still not feeling it with content marketing, as I do now, I have a few exercises to help you see the light.

Dismiss your curmudgeon style

Go ahead and purchase something online. Gaze at that empty Google search box and think of something to buy. Anything. Hair-grooming supplies. Super-precision ball bearings. Fractional jet ownership. Look at the content that comes up. See all the how-to videos, configuration, and pricing tools? Who do you think wrote that?

Here’s another test. Think of the blogs you read. Why do you read them and who writes them? Spend some time analyzing the author’s (or brand’s) content marketing strategy.

Still not convinced? Here’s a short Cosmo-style quiz to see what kind of marketer you are. The scoring is explained below. If your score is five or less, then you, my friend, are for sure a content marketing curmudgeon.

  • On which do you spend the most money for writing and design?
    1. Blog posts
    2. Data sheets
    3. White papers
  • What is your organization’s primary use of Twitter?
    1. Brand awareness
    2. Promoting blogs and e-books
    3. Engaging with your user community
  • How often does your team work on SEO activities?
    1. Monthly
    2. Annually
    3. Weekly
  • Do you allow guest posts on your blog?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  • Which of the following does your team produce? (select all that apply)
    1. Blog posts
    2. Podcasts
    3. Infographics
    4. Videos

Scoring: 1. a-2, b-0, c-1; 2. a-0, b-2, c-1; 3. a-1, b-0, c-2; 4. a-2, b-0; 5. one point for each, max. 4

Your Results:

10-12 – Content Marketing Pro: You are in the lead and firing on all cylinders. Don’t stop. Conversions should be racking up.

6-9 – Asset Slacker: You are doing a few things right, but you are making it easy for your competition. Put down that donut and write something. Remember, every journey starts with the first tweet.

0-5 – Content Curmudgeon: Time for a catharsis. Wake up and smell the Google. Your methods are old and your competition is laughing their way to the bank. Make sure to jot down today’s date to mark your epiphany.

When my personal lightning bolt struck in 2010, I was probably somewhere between a 5 and 6 on this scale – a high-functioning curmudgeon. I strongly urge you not to be one. You’re a dying breed.

Now that you’ve given up your curmudgeon ways, let CMI and hundreds of experts help lead you on your new path. Make plans today to attend Content Marketing World this year. Use code BLOG100 to save $100 off of the main event and all-access passes.

Cover image by Jeff Sheldon via Unsplash

Author: Tim Matthews

Tim Matthews is VP of marketing at Incapsula and author of The Professional Marketer. His additional marketing thoughts are online at Matthews on Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at @timmatthewssv.

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  • Vincent Sandford

    Writing unique content and blasting it to ALL is probably not a sound strategy. Creating, devising, tailoring, and categorising specific content to specific groups of subscribers in a targetting method is a better way forward along your buyers journey.

  • Ruth

    Valuable Info! Thanks for sharing.