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Content Marketing Should Never Be Advertising

Content Marketing

The rise of the term Native Advertising seems to be causing quite a stir. This may very well be in creating a label that’s inherently in conflict with itself. The main problem is with the word “Advertising.” However, the concept of “Native” is headed in the right direction in regards to addressing context for audiences, rather than the unwanted interruption of ads.

Before anyone gets cranked up, let me explain a few things. I’ve been thinking about this for awhile. There are all kinds of reactions to the term Native Advertising, but I find most of them to be surface. We need to look deeper to how the model could work – without deception or trickery. Or any illusory benefits will fade fast. And marketers who don’t consider this will find themselves on the short end of the stick.

I haven’t known exactly what I wanted to say about this, but I started thinking about it again when Scott Albro sent a Tweet to me, Joe Chernov and Jon Miller a few days ago.

What do content marketers think of this? Ad War: the Perils of Sponsored Content theatlantic.com/business/archiā€¦ @jonmiller @jchernov @ardath421

Joe responded with:

@scottalbro I feel very strongly that any attempt to deceive a reader is what Fred Reichheld would call “bad revenue” @jonmiller @ardath421

That really got me thinking. The content in the BuzzFeed example is clearly marked as provided by a company, it’s shading is different and it’s also noted that the item is from a “featured partner.” Seems pretty straightforward to me that it’s brand produced.

Is this really deceptive?

We’ve had Advertorials for years. Although, admittedly, the value of the content was usually more promotional than helpful. We now have promoted Tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn ads and other forms of paid placement or sponsored content that’s being inserted into real-time streams. [As a confession, I tend to ignore them as most aren't engaging, but appear to be more of a ploy for attention based on a false assumption.]

What about white paper syndication where the paper is promoted in a newsletter but the company sponsoring/providing the white paper isn’t identified until after you’ve submitted information and downloaded it? I’d label this last practice as more deceptive. I see this method all the time.

Yet, no one is screaming about it.

Is it because it’s email and not online? However it’s done, syndication companies have made a nice living by taking fees in exchange for promoting vendor content to their audiences. Some more deceptively than others, of course.

Where’s the line?

Mark Schaefer recently wrote a post, What comes after content marketing?, where he shared 4 ideas about how to become the signal rather than the noise in the content dumping ground that marketing is relentlessly contributing to.

What prompted his post was a post written by Mitch Joel where Mitch stated, “It is my belief, that content is the new advertising. It is my belief that content is media for many brands.” Mark’s response of “ouch” was felt by me, too.

But I see his point. Marketing crap is polluting the very channels that give us the opportunity to connect with our prospects and customers. If we screw it up, then what? I don’t think returning to smoke signals is an option.

In his post, Mitch also states that channels, “…have become a pumping ground for a marketing message. Very few of them are thinking about utilitarianism marketing and even fewer are thinking about the overall experience of the products and services (or, as the news item calls it, the “design”). Marketers create messaging around campaigns. Few marketers elevate their thinking to a macro brand play and how it engenders the overall economic value to the business strategy.

This, I agree with. And that brings me back to my assertion that an Advertising mindset is the problem. At least in B2B and in regards to the need for content to be a value add for the audience’s experience – provide “utility” as Mitch (and Jay Baer) both identify as the key to effective marketing.

Paid placement is not going away. Not while there’s a business model for it. Brands need exposure and publisher’s sites can provide an audience that matches a vendor’s target market.

But, what’s important is the kind of content marketers provide within the context the site sets for the audience. This is why it’s so important to know your audience, develop an in-depth strategy with a long-term vision (not a one-off campaign) and create truly helpful and memorable content.

One of the top goals for paid placement should be to convert it into earned media. But to do that, the content you create and syndicate had better be damn good! In the audience’s eyes, not your company’s.

Maybe we should call it Contextual Content Placement, instead of Native Advertising. Maybe it’s also up to the publishers to hold their paid placement customers to a higher standard before granting access to their audience. After all, their audiences are their key asset to monetize. Respect for them should be top of the list.

It’s time to raise the bar!

Most definitely vendors need to proactively hold themselves to a higher standard. But this can be difficult when marketers haven’t yet developed the skills and strategies to do so effectively. Here’s your checklist:

  • One mention of your products or services and you’re out
  • One mention of anything remotely resembling a sales pitch and you’re disqualified
  • If you’re content isn’t deemed relevant for the audience, say goodbye.
  • If the content doesn’t drive the bigger business strategy driven by customer experience, go back to the drawing board

Finally, if you can’t articulate how the content will provide recognizable value for the targeted audience you seek, start over. Your reputation and credibililty is at stake.

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