Content Interruptus

Content Interruptus

Old habits die hard.

At first, digital delivered a revolutionary way to disseminate and digest information. Then it became so overrun with interruptive advertising that the average consumer developed an acute case of ‘banner blindness.’ Social media held out hope that businesses could be more human, connect communities and create organic, authentic engagement. For most marketers, social has become yet another interruptive advertising channel. Mobile once promised brands an unprecedented opportunity to forge meaningful one-to-one relationships inside consumers’ most sacred space — on their most personal device. In practice, it has evolved into just another interruptive advertising channel. Digital-first media companies once threatened to shake the publishing industry’s status quo, but have themselves turned into double duty interrupters — supported by paid advertising (native or otherwise) and with clickbait crafted to lure us away from the content we were consuming in the first place. Sure, it’s hard to deny the runaway success of properties like Buzzfeed and Distractify but it’s also hard to deny that “… you’ll never guess what happens next” headlines are just as interruptive as advertising ever was.

And now content marketing runs the risk of becoming the new advertising. This is not a good thing.

Content marketing is the new advertising. That's not necessarily a good thing. Click To Tweet

Yes, it’s great to see content marketing spending soar. Even better to see senior marketers commit to content as a strategic component of a fully integrated approach. It’s a good thing when content takes even a little bit of attention away from advertising, but not when content marketing becomes a shameless stand-in for advertising itself. According to recent content marketing research from The Economist Group, 75% of marketers believe content should frequently mention their products. In the marketing industry, we have a name for this type of ‘content’ – we call it ‘advertising.’ As more and more marketers start speaking content, I worry something is getting lost in translation.

Just one example: General Mills is producing an animated ‘bite-sized soap opera’ — The Tiny and the Tasty — to support the re-launch of its French Toast Crunch breakfast cereal. Each 30-second episode runs long on product shots and promotional voiceover. Story takes a back seat to selling. I suspect the brand team checked the ‘content marketing’ box on their tactical punch list, but what other form of marketing runs precisely 30 seconds in length and provides ample opportunity for product promotion? Old habits die hard, indeed.

Advertising by any other name: General Mills has launched an online soap opera to support the re-launch of its French Toast Crunch breakfast cereal. Each 30-second 'episode' runs long on product placement and promotional voiceover.

We have a name for content marketing that's overly promotional. We call it advertising. Click To Tweet

On paper, the remedy seems simple enough and reads like a compendium of tips from the hundreds of content marketing ‘how to’ and ‘what to’ lists (many of them worthwhile reads) churned out by thought leaders and practitioners alike.

  • Put your purpose before your product
  • Be relevant, useful, informative and interesting
  • Solve a problem your consumer actually has
  • Be the thing your audience seeks rather than just something your audience sees
  • Give benefits to buyers without resorting to promos and pitches
  • Sell without selling
  • Become a publisher (but the right kind of publisher)
  • Quality counts and commitment is key

I could go on (and on and on) but I’m sure you get the point. My more important point though is that the remedy runs deeper than tips and tricks. It comes down to some fundamental shifts in marketing mindset and brand behavior — a realization that new models call for new approaches and expectations, that advertising isn’t always the answer, that content marketing should be marketing-as-a-service rather than marketing-as-a-showroom.

Content marketing is marketing-as-a-service instead of marketing-as-a-showroom. Click To Tweet

Don’t let your brand blather on, amp up the volume, or overload the audience. Don’t bring about content blindness. Don’t resort to tried, no-longer-true interruption tactics just because they’re the tactics you know so well — or because you mistake them for new tactics you think work well for others. Don’t be advertising or even emulate the publishers that bark for attention within the Facebook feed.

Just be better.

Still, all of this is the what, when it’s the why the really matters.

The same Economist Group survey I cited earlier found that 60% of consumers turn down content that feels too much like a sales pitch.  A separate CMO Council survey found that 43% of business-to-business buyers don’t merely dislike overly promotional content — they dislike it most. The message to marketers is clear: Invite us. Inform us. Inspire us. But please don’t make your content interrupt us.

Consumers to Content Marketers: Invite us. Inform us. Inspire us. Don't interrupt us. Click To Tweet

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