Why we need to press the reset button on content marketing in Australia

By Martin Wanless, Chief Content Officer, Mahlab.

Over a year ago, I was sat at Content Marketing World in Cleveland, discussing the perception of the term‘ content marketing’ in Australia with colleagues from other Australian companies who’d ventured north east for the week.

Content marketing, it was suggested, doesn’t sit well with a lot of people in Australia. It’s not understood. I agreed, and still do. And looking at the results from the Content Marketing Institute’s annual survey into Australian content marketers, which were released today, I don’t think we’re any nearer finding a solution.

I believe there’s real ambiguity about what content marketing is. There’s huge misinterpretation and misunderstanding. It was recently highlighted in Mark Ritson’s Marketing Week post that went bananarama, and is evident in conversations I have with people on a weekly basis.

In isolation, having a blog is not content marketing.
Producing videos does not mean you’re doing content marketing.
Creating content to fuel your marketing isn’t content marketing.
Sending a few EDMs to your customers doesn’t constitute content marketing.

Content marketing, by our definition, is consistent quality content that’s tied to business objectives and forms relationships with customers and potential customers.

If you asked 1000 people in Australia practising ‘content marketing’, you’d get many, vastly different interpretations.

There are a number of reasons why content marketing is misunderstood, and the cynical part of me (which is quite substantial, by nature) believes it’s a deliberate ploy by a lot of businesses. Take advantage of a lack of knowledge and understanding; the more mystery around a practice, the more difficult you can make it appear, the more people will need you. Ching ching ching. $$$$$$$.

And coincidentally, today it’s a ‘service’ every agency in Australia now seems to offer. PR agency? Yes, we do content marketing. SEO agency? Of course we do content marketing. Media buying agency? We can create content for you, don’t worry about that.

It’s an ambiguity that the Content Marketing Institute themselves haven’t helped on occasion, either. There was a spell a couple of years ago when CMI’s ‘This Old Marketing’ podcast was claiming everything was content marketing. Lego movie? Content marketing. Social media? That’s good old CM. Ad campaign? Content marketing. Between the regular PnR listeners in the office it became a source of fun. See this cup of tea? Content marketing in a cup.

The time is now

Thankfully the ‘everything is content marketing’ mantra has been reigned in significantly in the past couple of years, but still the lack of clarity about what content marketing is and, more importantly, what it isn’t is putting the practice at serious risk in Australia.

We hear many people tell us they’ve worked with other content marketing agencies before, it didn’t work so they’re reluctant to try it again. When probed, the ‘content marketing’ was five or six pieces of content that went onto their website. A few thousand dollars and minimal web traffic later it’s bye-bye content marketing, written off as a ‘tried, but not for us.’

And this lack of clarity is evident once more in the survey results released by CMI. It’s not all bad at all, in fact there are some encouraging signs – 59% of companies are seeing better content marketing results than last year.

That’s great, because content marketing does work. But it’s not as complex as some would have you believe. It doesn’t have to be this great big daunting beast of ‘unknown’.

It does need patience. It needs time. Crucially, however it needs the right people on it. It needs continuity, whether they are in-house or you’re outsourcing.

The old-fashioned agency model, where you can drop creatives in and out to have the idea, or bring any copywriter in to execute doesn’t work, because you’re not dealing with standalone campaigns.

You’re working on a continuous, always on project. So you need the dedicated team doing it. They need the brand and sector knowledge, they need the context and they need the bigger picture view. They need to be out there meeting your audience, forming relationships with them and your stakeholders internally too.

When it comes to truly effective content marketing, knowledge definitely is power. Creating content that is going to truly resonate with your audience can’t be created by *anyone*.

If you’re relying on faceless people to create the content for you, or you’re not devoting the requisite time to execute your strategy, then you’re onto a loser already. Because just creating content for the sake of content isn’t going to work.

The lack of time and resources that Australian content marketers are wrestling with really stood out for me in the CMI results this year. Content marketing in Australia is stagnating, and 63% of those surveyed say the lack of time devoted to content marketing is to blame. 52% of companies using content marketing, meanwhile, have a small or one-person content marketing team. They’ve dipped their toe in, but not gone the distance.

More concerning to me, and again really underlined in my mind the fact that content marketing in Australia is misunderstood, is that 56% of respondents didn’t have a documented strategy.

Having a documented strategy is that first foundation piece. If you haven’t got one, either you or the agency you’re working with is doing you a disservice.

There was also a serious lack of clarity as to what constitutes success. As far as I am concerned, this should be documented in the strategy, yet 51% of companies don’t have clarity on what content marketing success looks like.

Quality vs quantity. Are we there yet?
Quality over quantity every single time is a mantra for me and the team I manage. The day that changes is the day the sun doesn’t come up. You can’t treat your audience like fools. Deliver quality, deliver relevancy. And that’s relevant to your audience, not your brand. It’s really not about you, it’s about them.

From one angle, a figure of 72% of people who say they always or frequently focus on creating content for their audience rather than their brand, and 72% who always prioritise quality over quantity is very promising.

But that means that 28% of people who say they’re doing content marketing in Australia – almost a third – are creating brand focused content with an emphasis on quantity over quality.

That’s not content marketing.

And until we have nationwide acceptance on that, content marketing is going to continue to get a bad wrap.