The Point of Content Marketing Has Been Lost. Here’s How to Bring it Back

When you think of content marketing, what do you think of?

For many marketers, Dollar Shave Club’s viral video from 2012 comes to mind. In the short 1 minute 33 second video ‘Our Blades Are F***ing Great’, DSC’s founder, Michael Dubin, confidently and, well, cockily asserts the greatness of their product.

This brazen, in your face, straight to the point pitch resonated with customers. But why? Was it just because it was funny? Or was it also the fact that DSC knew that customers were sick of the standard marketing spiel that had been rammed down their throats for years?

Their video was refreshing. It was an attempt to break the wall of traditional marketing: the picture perfect, clean and, frankly, stale ways brands had been marketing their products for years up until that point. It actually attempted to communicate and resonate with the customers.

And this idea continued on into the 2010s. Brands like Oatly have pioneered a content-first strategy that revolves around one simple idea: oat milk is better for you than cow milk. Whether it’s on a bus, billboard or Instagram ad, we’ve all seen the “It’s like milk but for humans” slogan.

These are the obvious examples of content marketing gone viral. But what about everyday marketing? You know, the efforts to try and get a brand to rank top for that golden term, or trying to achieve a solid month on month increase in clicks, page views and conversions?

A brief history of content marketing

And I think, at some point, content of this form was designed to genuinely inform and educate customers. As Jeff Canon states in his 1999 book Make Your Website Work for You, “in content marketing, content is created to provide customers with the information they seek.”

The origins of content marketing

This was definitely the case back in 1732, when Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, began issuing a yearly almanac called Poor Richard’s Almanack. This short pamphlet contained useful information such as a calendar, weather report and poems, alongside recipes, trivia, advice and proverbs. It was, according to Franklin, “a literature for the masses”.

Similarly in 1895, John Deere launched a magazine that provided information to farmers on how to become more profitable; and later in 1900, Michelin developed the Michelin Guide to inform drivers on auto maintenance, accommodations and other travel tips.

But what were their goals for this content? Well, one of them was certainly to promote their brands. For Benjamin Franklin, the almanac was a way of promoting his printing business. And as David Jones, Publications Manager at John Deere stated, “Charles [Deere, the founder] recognised that there was potential promotional value in providing an accurate, unbiased source of information to farmers at the time.”

And while part of the goal here is clearly to spread brand awareness, the underlying, core point is in the detail: providing an accurate, unbiased source of information. It wasn’t just to include a call to action or paint the brand in a bright light. It was to take the marketing hat off and just educate customers.

The rise of digital

Then came the digital era — a time when SEO was the new kid on the block. Back then, keywords were the “it” thing. Marketers realised that these phrases were the key to online success — and so began the keyword stuffing. The more times you used a keyword, the more chance you had of ranking well — and the more chance you had of ranking well, the more chance you had of making a sale.

These were simpler, albeit ineffective, times.

But this ended abruptly. Google tightened things up and started penalising those who were trying to game the system. They began crafting algorithms that put the customer first — no longer could you abuse a term or craft a sneaky linking strategy.

This evolved and evolved, and now, with the release of BERT, Google have proven they place more importance than ever on authenticity, customer understanding and, importantly, giving customers what they want.

Content marketing is no longer about ticking boxes

Well, we avoid the methods that get you penalised. But this isn’t necessarily putting the customer first. Up until very recently, we’ve been able to hit our KPIs without actually giving the customers what they want. It became a game of ticking boxes. Have we started ranking for that term? Tick. Are we on the first page of SERPs? Tick. Have we gained +x% clicks? Tick.

But this tension between box ticking and putting customers first is swinging back on the side of the customer — and marketers need to take note.

The content pendulum

The box ticking model has been flipped on its head. Instead of creating content with the main goal of ticking boxes and the secondary goal of helping customers, marketers in 2020 and beyond need to put the customers first.

Making content that actually helps customers

1. Understand what the customer wants

This is the obvious first step, and it’s actually pretty simple to figure out. Alongside our classic methods of understanding the customer — keyword research, trend analysis, competitor analysis — take a look at Google. They literally show you what customers want from certain terms, phrases or queries.

For example, take the term ‘glaucoma’:

What can we gain from this search?

Well, it’s clear that glaucoma is a heavily informational term — the SERP features are engulfed by questions and information. Customers clearly just want information regarding glaucoma — not to buy anything — and Google understands this. Their intent is to learn, not to purchase.

2. Understand what customers are getting

Again, I know we do this every day, but we need to know if the customer’s needs are being met. Is the content out there providing the best information possible in the most accessible way? Is there room to enter the market, or is it heavily saturated already? If so, are there more niche, secondary terms we can look to inform customers about?

It’s important that we understand the gap here in order to provide something genuinely useful and insightful for the customer.

3. Give customers what they want

Now you just need to create. Make sure you know the queries customers are after. Take into consideration the insights you gained from step one: can we weave People Also Ask queries into our content? Are video carousels a common SERP feature, and so will our content work more optimally as a video?

It’s all about listening, understanding and providing. Once you understand your customers, you’ll be able to craft the perfect content strategy to educate them.

Five things to remember when strategising your content

  1. The customer has been empowered. Do not underestimate this fact. Remember, you’re working under Google’s watchful eye — so they’ll notice if you do.
  2. On that note, remember that Google shows you what customers want — and how they want it. So pay attention. What SERP features are prominent for a specific term or theme? Are most results informational or transactional?
  3. Whether you’re an agency or an in-house team, make sure you understand the business and industry. I know this seems like an obvious point, but honestly the number of marketers that work to a ‘one size fits all’ model is staggering. It. Just. Doesn’t. Work.
  4. Use data to underpin your creativity. At its core, content should be a creative endeavour — and not just in a visual way. The ideas should be unique, the way you tell a story to customers should be innovative and interesting. But this means nothing without knowing, to the best of your ability, that the content is answering an actual question or hitting a relevant topic.
  5. Be genuine. I can’t stress this enough. Whatever content you create, you need to make sure it comes from a good place and that it answers an actual question or hits on a topic in an insightful way. It’s no longer enough to just create content on a topic because “that’s where the search is”. The world has moved on, Google has moved on and, most importantly, your customers have moved on.
Anoosh Djavaheri

Anoosh Djavaheri is Curated’s Content Strategy Lead. Over the past year, he’s spearheaded the development of our data-driven customer-first content strategy, alongside the wider team.

If you want to learn more about how to meet your customers’ needs with content, don’t hesitate to reach out to content@curated-digital.com. Otherwise, all our contact details can be found on our site: https://curated-digital.com

Clever digital marketing for ambitious brands. Founded by an ex-Googler, based in London.