Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 11, 2012 6:46 AM

Unbranded Content Marketing

Everyone is all excited about content marketing.

While the tickertape parade and confetti may be over for the excitement about social media in business, there's a cold, harsh reality hitting brands right about now: once you're on social media and making yourself look busy, it's all about the content. I've been a little sour on the fruits of this labor as of late (more on that right here: ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Content). Just yesterday, I saw a well-respected, known and loved brand post this to Facebook: "Like this post if you like contests." Really? Is the spring of fresh ideas that dry?

The trouble with branded content.

I've been thinking a lot about what has been troubling me with the majority of branded content. It's something that is on my mind as I head off in three weeks to Content Marketing World 2012 (being put on by Joe Pulizzi and his team). It's not that the vast majority of content is vapid of any insight. It's not that it's vanilla in its attempt to appeal to the masses. It's not the thinly veiled marketing blather. It's actually, the "branded" part of it. The truth is this: once the content is branded, it may be hard (very, very hard) to make it authentic.

There are some pearls.

Would we, as a marketing industry, say that this is true of every brand? No. The vast majority? It does feel that way. Why? Perhaps too many brands are confusing the power of content marketing with advertorial. There is a distinction and it's a massive one. How valuable would this blog be if all it did was talk about the value and merits of Twist Image as a marketing agency? How valuable would this blog be if all it did was talk about how one marketing service was far superior to another one (and, it just so happens, that this superior service is one that we offer at Twist Image)? In the end, the content is self-serving - which is a world away from content that serves to add value.

The truth (it sometimes hurts).

Does this mean, that to be authentic a brand should promote the services of their competitors? No. Does this mean that a brand should do things that run contrary to their own brand narrative? No. It's a new mindset that the brand will need to find. Instead of constantly looking for content that can be wrapped up in the brand, why not start looking at content within an unbranded mindset?

What does this look like?

Not every post on blog is about digital marketing. It traipses into different areas of conversation like business books, presentation skills, technology, personal development, culture, entertainment and more. As David Weinberger would say, these are small pieces loosely joined that cumulatively reinforce the philosophical DNA of how I think, how our business thinks and the way that we perceive work, in this day and age. If this blog is even somewhat successful, the feeling that you get - as a reader and active participant - is one that is unbranded. It provides value to you - first and foremost - and that value-chain links back into new business for Twist Image somewhere much further down the line. If content was supposed to be a direct response mechanism, it would be direct marketing (no need to call it content marketing).

The trouble is...

Content marketing looks, acts and feels very little like other marketing channels. It's a much slower build and it requires a very specific and tactical skill-set that also looks nothing like the marketing departments that we have seen to date. In fact, they look much like editorial departments, which - historically - have been verboten for the advertising and marketing people to hang out in. Is this going to provide a massive challenge for brands moving forward? Absolutely. The lines have become fuzzy. The content we're seeing being produced and shared through social media is unique - in and of itself - and so to think that we're all going to close our eyes, make a wish and blow for this all to come to fruition is crazy. In fact, it's not uncommon to hear that the content marketing initiatives are being run out of the communications department of companies, and not the marketing department. What does that tell you?

Strategy first.

I'm really looking forward to Content Marketing World 2012. I'm hopeful that people much smarter than me will be able to demonstrate how these strategies are developed and - more importantly - how organizations (both brands and agencies) are being structured to produce content that is branded... but feels completely unbranded to the consumer.

It will be interesting.

By Mitch Joel