Content marketing is an industry that has risen to earthshaking heights within a decade. Fueled by Google, must-read-now news, smartphones, and everything else that floods the world with ones and zeroes (i.e., “the information age”), the digital word has become as powerful and telling as any print publication.

Piggybacking off a modern person’s favorite toys (social media, headline news, free stuff), marketers began introducing a new form of advertising into the online arena. You encounter the results of content marketing every day even if you don’t know what you’re looking at, especially when you visit a webpage, read a blog, or like a brand’s status on Facebook.

But throughout its evolution, content (a once farfetched, almost sci-fi idea) became an industry norm that any English speaker with a keyboard could do. Before diving into “Readers vs. Consumers,” let’s take a look at what content marketing is and is not.

Content Is…

• An intelligent way for companies to promote themselves on the Internet.

• A strategy used to gather followers (fans) on popular social media platforms.

• When a business self-publishes meaningful, informative articles and additional material on websites.

• An affordable, measurable method for marketing the modern company.

Content Is Not…

• Robot Twitter accounts.

• Fake “news” by businesses in hopes to gain attention.

• A replacement for print media.

• The fully-evolved, final answer to marketing.

The last point is the big one. Content marketing adapts (like you, your gadgets, and your computers) as new technology is released, as people find new ways to engage with one another on the Web. Its future is unclear, especially since the industry itself is driven by actual marketers, a few thought-leaders, programmers, and those on the front lines.

The Misconception of Content Marketing

An article on the Campaign Asia network raised a red flag many content marketers are already familiar with: Businesses assume content marketing is formulaic, fast, and cheap.

While it certainly can be some of these things, a combination of greed and misunderstanding is creeping into the industry. Businesses assume that hiring anyone who can write can also produce “thought-leadership” material, position media, rally social followers, and everything else content marketers are expected to do. Unfortunately, the “let’s write a lot of stuff about us” strategy will no longer cut it.

Too many big-name content companies (and those overseas) are looking at marketing like traditional suit-and-tie advertisers used to. The “consumer” needs to see content; associate it with a brand; and buy, buy, buy. Easy, right?

The problem with looking at the Internet user as a “consumer” is that these consumers don’t readily accept interruption (advertising) on their favorite toys. You wouldn’t hand a tractor with a big “Monsanto” sticker to a 5-year-old boy for his birthday, would you? No. We just want the tractor, as in Facebook without ads, Twitter without promotions, and news without commercials.

Content marketers fail when they breach the “consumer’s” trust by disrupting his or her information, enjoyment, and social connection. But you know what people are okay with? Stories and information.

Content marketing agencies, writers, editors, and business owners: Let’s stop writing/marketing to “consumers.” Let’s start thinking of them as “readers,” a connection that no mega-content-farm will ever be able to make.

Writing to the reader is much more fulfilling, time-consuming, and effective as tossing out hundreds of “look at my company!” posts and tweets a day. The industry needs journalists, talented writers, and marketers who know how to organize long-term branding campaigns.

From the client side of things, businesses need to find a content agency that can perform the following:

• Provide measurable results for their success.

• Work alongside the company to produce meaningful, informative content.

• Focus on quality over quantity.

• Write well-researched, accurate articles and thoughtful social media content.

• Become a satellite marketing agency.

• Produce material for “readers.”

Content marketers who aren’t able to fill these roles are the exact reason why so few “consumers” appreciate rushed, shoddy stories. Make the right choice.