Over the past year (actually, well before that the observant will note), Content Marketing has shot to the Top of the Marketing Trends chart. In our interactive, socially obsessive world that paradoxically connects and alienates us—driven by Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Bebo, Friendster, Hi5, Habbo, google +, google this, google that—Content has indeed been duly anointed King. And not just any old “content” mind you, but relevant, user-friendly content that the ever-powerful consumer deems worthy and needed. As a result, every type of marketing agency under the sun, and every brand (the smart ones anyhow), is scrambling to develop authentic, ongoing, strategically sound, consumer-facing Content Marketing plans that will reach their existing and prospective customers across multiple platforms. It’s making for some downright hurly-burly times.
All of this is well and good, and makes total sense to me (a happily vindicated writer-type), but it begs the question: Why now?
Why has Content Marketing suddenly become top priority, trumping everything else? After all, Content Marketing—the process of developing strategic messaging that effectively reaches consumers/customers, and then persuades them to take a desired action—is nothing new. It’s been around a long time. It’s old hat. In fact, it has been around since the embryonic days of “modern advertising,” well before computers, smart phones and quasi-mystical algorithms—when typewriters, drafting tables, magic markers and unfiltered cigarettes were the weapons of choice. So why is it making headlines now? Why all the fuss? As a friend and colleague of mine is want to say: “that’s a great question. And I’ve got an answer for ya.” The answer is twofold, actually.
First, today’s focus on Content Marketing is a direct result of black-hat SEO tactics—those devious and sometimes ingenious tricks agencies and companies will employ to manipulate search engines into ranking them at the top of the first page of the great Google. Google, for its part, has been really cracking down on this deception, declaring an all-out war on such Machiavellian schemes by changing the rules of the game—that is to say, changing their Pandas and Penguins to prevent illegitimate black-hat devices in the future.
Secondly, and it’s related to the first, Content Marketing is a return to true, strategic, “high-road” marketing that seeks to place the customer first. But what is different now is the technology—the multiple platforms and channels available to brands, and the lightening-fast speed at which they can now reach their customer base. The most effective Content Marketing plans spit out regular, customer-facing messaging designed to give consumers what they want…what they crave…what they need…what they desire; AND, a good agency knows their customer well enough to make sure they have the right vehicle, or platform, in which to the deliver the message optimally. It’s not science; it’s art. And like all art, some do it better than others.
For its part, Google seems intent on applying the gas to customer-centric Content Marketing. In fact, the mighty Matt Cutts—intrepid defender of the people against spam, SEO voodoo, and general tomfoolery—has been quite clear in conveying Google’s position moving forward: “The goal of many of our ranking changes is to help searchers [customers/consumers/prospects] find sites that provide a great user experience and fulfill their information needs.” Put simply, he/Google wants brands to give customers what they want/need/desire in the most user-friendly way possible. That’s it.
At the end of the day, Content Marketing is about resurrecting some tried-and-true best practices: writing to and communicating with the actual customer first and foremost, and delivering those messages in the most efficient way possible. Companies that master this art, will not only grow their brand and build awareness with real customers, they will also be rewarded by Google in the search rankings, as well. So, everyone, please quit trying to manipulate and outwit search engines via black-ops, and start figuring out what your customers really want, and how to best engage them…day after day after day after day.