By Joe Pulizzi published January 19, 2013

A Consumer Content Marketing Conundrum: More or Less Content from Brands?

Content Marketing Conundrum | Marketers from MarsAccording to the latest content marketing research from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, brands are significantly increasing their investments in content creation and distribution. At the same time, the most recent research from ExactTarget says that consumers don’t want content from brands.

Say what?

You read that right… but did you, really?

When customers were asked where their favorite brands should invest their marketing time and resources to improve customer loyalty, just 6 percent answered that they want related (or helpful) content from a brand. In fact, more than double that number of consumers actually wanted to receive product-related content.

Content Marketing | TIme and Resources Chart

At the same time, consumers want more email marketing (33 percent), website content (24 percent), and even more content from brands via Facebook (22 percent).

More or less content?

So, do customers want more helpful content from brands or don’t they? Jeff Rohrs, Vice President of Education and Research for ExactTarget and author of the research, helped translate the seemingly conflicted consumer response.

“If you really take a look at the research, consumers are actually desperate for content from brands, but like marketers they are fixated on channels,” says Rohrs. “When consumers ask for more email and Facebook, they are asking for helpful content through those channels. What are marketers going to put into those channels… air?”

The term content, without context, is then generally meaningless to consumers. CMI consultant and author of “The Now Revolution,” Jay Baer, believes that “Youtility,” or truly helpful content in multiple channels, is the future of marketing: “In a world where every prospective customer is facing an invitation avalanche, where every business is asking people to follow their tweets, read their blog, or watch their videos, you must resist the temptation to communicate solely and endlessly about your company, hoping for a quick sale,” says Baer.

What can marketers learn from this?

Overall, the research shows that consumers want lots of content from their favorite brands in lots of different ways, most of it in the form of helpful content. With this in mind, consider the following:

  1. Develop a content marketing mission statement: Brands cannot go from zero to helpful without a plan. Before you look at any sort of channel development, or even a basic content strategy, start with your mission statement about how you can truly be useful to customers. Constructing a mission statement will help your team decide which stories and which product content gets included in your channel strategy.
  2. Where are your customers hanging out?: Depending on your audience, you can determine the order of importance in your channel focus. Is it website, email, Facebook, or is it website, email, in-person events, LinkedIn? Find out where the party’s at so you’ll know where your conversations should be taking place.
  3. Marketers are, in fact, from Mars: The ExactTarget research states this many times, as marketers often project their own usage onto their customers. Just because you use Twitter doesn’t mean your customers do. Just because you don’t prefer print, doesn’t mean a print content strategy shouldn’t be an option. Make sure you take your own personal behavior out of the equation before you make any type of content marketing channel decisions.

For more insight into the latest content marketing and consumer trends, check out CMI’s research coverage

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Michael Cunningham

    Good stuff. Thank you for sharing. In addition to point number three about marketers projecting usage onto customers, I know I struggle with projecting content topics based on my bias and in particular, my company’s bias. I try to stay aware of what customers and readers are actually interested in when writing for our thought leadership blog, but the battles over topics with product people can be interesting.

  • ContentKeith

    Love the “Youtility” idea from Baer. Spot on!

  • Chuck Kent

    The key is in your point 1: “how you can be truly useful to customers.” Consumers expectation from marketers is to be sold to, not helped. I think that marketers will have to push out and prove themselves surprisingly useful, engaging, entertaining, etc., with a broader definition of content – in a totally consumer-focused way – before the public at large is even going to know they should want it.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Agreed Chuck…I think we need to see some brands step it up in 2013.

      • Chuck Kent

        It wouldn’t hurt if more of the traditional brand advertising agencies stepped up, too… think you’ll see any of them at Content Marketing World 2013?

        • Joe Pulizzi

          We had a few step up in 2012…but not quite sure we are there yet…almost perhaps.

  • dougkessler

    Another great post, Joe. Are we starting to see data indicating there might be a bit of a pendulum swing back from ‘content = good’ assumption?

  • Marty Thompson

    Given the tsunami of content, and the double up on content as the magic ingredient, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise when burnout occurs. Jay is spot on when it comes to being helpful, and “helpful” content is and will always be valuable. I still think we as marketers are moving a bit from understanding how the world consumes information, though. Most companies do a rather poor job of not only interacting and engaging with their marketplace, they are even worse when it comes to building communities that allow unencumbered conversations among the unwashed masses. Content, whatever incarnation it might be, is only part of the equation. It reminds me of the server in Office Space, laden with flair, being “helpful” to the point of annoyance. We should try to remember that conversation counts as content, and the conversations shouldn’t be marketing, hiding under a sheep hide.