Content Marketing Belongs in … Marketing

Don't be too afraid to succeed. You can get away with a lot more than you realize.

When I was making the rounds a few days ago, I ran into an interesting piece on PR Daily (where I write every now and then) contributed by Shel Holtz (“Marketers, keep your hands off of your company’s brand journalism”). The crux of the argument was that content marketing (which I assume is equivalent to “brand journalism”) should be kept out of the marketing department’s grubby little paws. And there really is no other word for describing our paws, frankly. Rather, it belongs with content purists, of sorts, who eschew pitching in favor of educating.

I understand the position – it’s popular in the B2B world I’ve called home for the vast majority of my career. By informing without overtly selling, the conventional thinking goes, you can position your company as a thought leader. The ideas speak for themselves. Show your market how smart your company is, and good things follow. And so on.

This is pretty much gospel in the B2B marketing world, so it follows that Holtz’s position makes sense. You need to protect your content from the marketing folks!

Well, it doesn’t really work that way. Sure, he cites some examples of very large companies that have taken the approach he espouses, but the mass of marketers do things differently. Whether internally or not, it’s prudent not to keep content separate, even if it is supposed to be “journalistic.” Here’s why your marketing department does need to own content marketing:

1. It’s in the name: content marketing. It’s not “education” or “free information.” The purpose of the marketing department is to drive revenue. A company exists to generate shareholder wealth. We’re down in “brass tacks” territory on this one. Content marketing should deliver clear ROI, especially given the measurement tools available. “Inform and hope” is not a marketing strategy.

2. Message matters: contradict prevailing messaging at your own peril. I’ve seen (many) employees say what they believe is right, contradict messaging and stumble through interviews and client conversations looking like fools. The corporate message is there for a reason. It should be reflected consistently in all content published by your company, even if it isn’t specifically “marketing.” Giving content writers an independent voice is inviting the sort of gaffes that, left unchecked, could leave everyone writing resumes instead of blog posts.

3. Nobody trusts your blog or tweets: okay, I fired for effect on this one. The reality, however, isn’t far off. A corporate blog (or other corporate content) is just that: corporate. Your readers – presumably your target market – are aware of this. What’s interesting is that they don’t hold it against you. No, I’m not joking. As long as you provide relevant, interesting information that they can use, they’ll consume it … even if it does clearly reflect your company’s point of view and capabilities.

4. Marketing connects the dots: an independently voiced content writer addresses an industry issue. A prospective client reads it, and it resonates with him. He looks for a solution, and you’ve done almost nothing to position your company as having it. You may have just given your competitor a lead. A marketing-savvy content writer will not only address an industry issue fairly (to make sure the reader connects with it), he’ll also position his company as being able to help – and maybe even include a call to action. Shocking, right? The prospect can take action immediately.

It works … been there.

5. Don’t sell: and if you don’t, people won’t buy. Marketing would be easy if all our prospects simply stepped up and asked to give us their business. I can tell you I’d have a lot more time to sit on the patio and puff on a tasty cigar (as I was doing when I wrote this). The underlying belief in divorcing content production (“brand journalism”) from marketing is that such independence and authenticity will drive your target market to line up and write checks. Painful experience says otherwise.

Now, there are two extremes at work in content marketing. One is to stay pure, and the other is to hawk your wares like you’re blogging from a souk. Something in the middle, of course, is optimal. Test different approaches, and watch your analytics. Then, do what resonates with your target market.