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3 Myths in Content Marketing and How to Counter Them

Those of us who work on content teams eat, breathe, and dream the stuff. But running into someone who doesn’t “get” content marketing changes (and sometimes challenges) your perspective on assumptions you make every day.

I recently watched a Content Marketing World session I missed in September and had one of those aha moments: Oh, that’s why that client didn’t understand the project we pitched. That explains the disconnect between what the sales team thought would happen and what the marketing team knew would happen.

The speaker on my screen was Dan Rubin, executive director of Foundry, magazine giant Meredith Corp.’s in-house agency. He is someone who gets content, content marketing, native advertising, and the interplay among them.

Though he called his CMWorld talk Separating Truth from Myth on Developing Successful Content Within Paid Advertising Campaigns, the myths apply well beyond paid advertising.

Myth 1: Content is undefined

When the content-is-undefined myth popped up in Dan’s presentation, I thought he had phrased it wrong. I wrote about what the term content means last year and found plenty of definitions for the term.

The truth is “content” means different things to different people. But the result is almost the same thing as having no definition at all.

#Content means different things to different people – that’s almost the same as no definition. @Dan_Rubin_NY Share on X

Dan frames it this way: “We say, ‘We’re going to do content with this deal’ or “We’re going to have content marketing.’ And then you look at the client and they’re like, ‘What do you even mean?’”

You know what you mean by content, but your colleagues on other teams or your clients (or neighbors or parents or unsuspecting party guests who ask what you do for a living) hear a term so vague it flirts with meaninglessness.

How to counter: Content may be the worst term for what we create except for all the others (Dan’s paraphrase of the Winston Churchill quote on democracy). Make sure to define content when you’re talking to people outside your team.

In his work, Dan uses this definition: “Content is editorial-minded assets that meet the audience’s needs.” Editorial-minded, he says, means the assets include a point of view.

#Content is editorial-minded assets that meet the audience’s needs, says @Dan_Rubin_NY. Share on X

CMI founder Joe Pulizzi has defined content as “compelling information that informs, engages, or amuses.”

Pick a definition and share it widely.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: 3 Tips for Eyeball-Worthy Content

Myth 2: Content marketing is just advertising

You’ve probably encountered people who lump all marketing activities together. I know I have. We who work in content know that advertising and content marketing play different roles. We know companies can (and often should) use both.

But if you don’t help your leadership team or clients understand that content marketing and advertising are distinct practices for different purposes, you set up your program to confuse and possibly disappoint the stakeholders.

Distinguish b/n #contentmarketing & advertising or you set up your program for disappointment, says @KMoutsos. Share on X

How to counter: Use Dan’s straightforward explanation of the differences.

  • Advertising’s role is to communicate brand messaging and/or product reasons-to-believe. Use advertising to promote products and increase brand favorability.
  • Content marketing’s role is to earn attention to achieve consistent engagement with a brand. Use content marketing to raise brand perception, increase interest in products, and build long-term relationships.

Need more help? Read this article on how to explain content marketing in terms business leaders understand.

Myth 3: To be authentic is to be real

The notion of authenticity in content marketing is possibly overused and often misused. One of the best explorations I’ve read of why being authentic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be came from a recent column by Robert Rose. If you don’t subscribe to CMI’s weekly newsletter, you won’t have seen it. Here’s the key passage:

“There’s a lot of talk about the concept of authenticity in content marketing. But most discussions on the topic would be better off using other words, like ‘honesty,’ ‘trustworthiness,’ or ‘transparency’ to communicate the point.

“After all, the primary definition of ‘authentic’ is simply ‘of undisputed origin; genuine,’ as in an authentic Andy Warhol painting. Other definitions include ‘accurate or reliable’ or ‘based on facts,’ as in an authentic depiction of that historic event. So, yeah, you can be an authentic jerk. You can be an authentic liar.”

Robert writes about authenticity in terms of brands earning trust. “Your brand can be authentic,” he says, “and still be distrusted.”

Your brand can be authentic and still distrusted, says @Robert_Rose. Share on X

What’s the difference between being authentic and being “real”? Dan pegs the distinction on experience. People (or brands) that talk about an event they heard about may be perfectly authentic in describing its impact. But people who lived through the event can talk about it in a way that’s real because they experienced it.

In his column, Robert gives examples of people who were lauded for their authenticity but failed to earn audience trust when they switched genres. Casey Neistat is one example: He excelled as a star on YouTube, where he created content from his adventures, but he couldn’t get his digital news and opinion initiative for CNN off the ground.

How to counter: You don’t have to counter this one, just give it a little twist. Ideally, your marketing content should be both authentic (accurate, reliable, based on facts) and real.

Your #marketing content should be both authentic (accurate, reliable, factual) and real, says @KMoutsos. Share on X

What does that look like? Well, it looks like real people. Invite people who have lived the problems you’re addressing to tell their truth in your content. Show images of real people, not stock models, in your marketing.

And don’t forget to take a long look at your team. In a recent article on multicultural marketing, Smart Simple Marketing CEO Sydni Craig-Hart offers this advice: “If your current team does not include a diverse group of people who have walked in your customers’ shoes, bring in outside help.”

If your team is not a diverse group of people who have walked in your customers’ shoes, bring in outside help. @SydniCraigHart Share on X

Time to get real about myths and misconceptions

I picked these three myths from Dan’s talk because they made me think about how people outside the content world hear the words we say or they made me want to dig into nuances in terms I thought I understood.

But there are so many other content marketing myths and misunderstandings. What misconceptions do you find yourself countering again and again?

Are you tired of talking about whether content marketing is dead? Whether it should be called something else? How about best practices? Anyone want to counter the favorite contrarian assertion that best practices aren’t best? Let’s take it to the comments.

Make sure you get Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose’s exclusive column each week. Subscribe to the free weekday CMI newsletter.

And don’t miss the aha moments of Content Marketing World this September. Register today using code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute