Content Marketing is Sick (But You Can Help Make It Better)

Content Marketing Sick

Let’s be honest, marketers, we’re producing a hell of a lot content these days which just doesn’t need to exist. We tell ourselves that we’ve uncovered something new, that this next post is going to be the one which brings in more leads than ever, and that they’re all going to convert. But how much of the content you’ve written recently that’s aimed at other marketers and business owners was really for them? Wasn’t it actually for you?

Well, kind of, and I don’t want us to be too hard on ourselves. After all, it’s called content marketing because it’s content you use to market your business, but over the past year it’s become more obvious that we’re drowning in a sea of generic and re-hashed content, and rather than doing something about, we’re all (myself included) standing around pouring bottles of water on our feet.

I should be clear, as well, that I don’t have many solutions to this problem myself. I have suggestions for what I think would work, but they’re things all of us deep down know to be true. There’s nothing new about what I’m saying, but as a copywriter and content marketer, I think it needs to be said before we all end up well and truly saturated.

This is a problem which affects the health of the content marketing industry. As Heath Ledger’s Joker said, “If we don’t deal with this now, soon, little, uh...Gambol here, won’t be able to get a nickel for his grandma.”

I don’t know how else to say this without it stinging. It’s going to hurt, and I say this to myself, too because it needs to be said: 80% of the time, it seems as though we’re creating content which is barely-usable, and which exists only to put us ahead of the pack for a few hours.

As a copywriter, I live for finding the right words to make the user experience as easy and pleasant as possible. Any opportunity I get to write a tagline or new product description is a joy, it really is, but increasingly the type of work I’m doing is the same kind of long-form, ‘thought leadership’ marketing content you find everywhere. Why? Because that’s what clients want, it’s what they think they need, and until we all decide to address this problem of generic content, it is what they need.

The fact that we all spend so much time (and again, I’m just as guilty of this) writing this kind of content, could be an indicator that we’ve lost sight of how to actually follow up on an idea, in favor of writing more and more content. Think of it this way: if you’re a marketer, you’re probably familiar with the 80/20 rule (aka the Pareto principle). The 80/20 rule states that 80% of your yield comes from 20% of your customers. For example, if you send out a promotional email to 1,000 people on a list and 200 reply, those 200 are the ones you should be focusing all of your attention on. Forget trying to win over the other 800, and focus on the people who are already interested. The 80/20 rule applies to those 200, as well. Within that group of 200 people, 40 will be willing to spend a lot more than the rest. Focus more attention on those people.

This principle applies 100% to content marketing, and you know that it does, you’re just not capitalizing on it.

Rack the Shotgun

Rack the shotgun, follow up. That’s what content marketing should be about. Perry Marshall (buy his book), an expert on the 80/20 rule explains racking the shotgun as such, and I paraphrase, putting two of his examples together:

You’re a salesperson, sitting at a table in a crowded club full of partying drunks and sexy strippers on poles. The music is loud and you’re carrying a sawn-off shotgun inside your jacket. Slipping the gun out and under the table, your press the lever to release the chamber, but instead of loading cartridges, you loudly snap the gun closed again — known as ‘racking the shotgun’. A few people in the club take notice and turn around, trying to figure out where the racking sound came from, but most don’t.  The ones who turned around are the ones you should try and sell your shooting retreat to. Forget the rest, they’re not interested.

What we’re doing in content marketing right now, is continually racking the shotgun, without properly following up on the small number who genuinely respond to our efforts. If we were, I don’t think we’d be spending so much time looking for yet another way to say the same things a hundred others have already said.

You Can Help Save Us From Drowning

As I said, I don’t have anything new to tell you, because we all know how this should go, but there are two things we can all do which would improve the general health of content marketing, and make us all more profitable:

  1. Figure out who your 20% are, and focus on creating content which is ultra-specific to their needs. Being a thought leader is fine, but thoughts won’t pay your bills.

  2. Spend longer on that piece of specific content, and when it goes out, follow up with those who respond. If you were lost at sea and you had fired a flare, when the rescue ship arrived would you just sit there? Of course not. When someone responds to your content, ride that lead as far as it will go.

And that’s all I’ve got. Content marketing can be an immensely powerful tool for identifying and then following up with the right audience, but we have to start treating it, and our own skills, with more respect.