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The Challenges of Content Marketing

Content Marketing Red Bull StratosRed Bull's success in scaled content marketing is the exception, not the rule.  Great content marketing is tougher than many realize.  Here's why:

Brand Have Litte To Say

Firstly, most brands have little of value to say to their audiences, particularly over sustained periods of time.  Brands have spent decades buying attention, rarely earning it.  Who watches TV for the commercials?  And if given the choice, how many of us would opt into longer, more episodic commercials pushed to us every day?  And when the public wants to go on this journey with the brand, how many brands have something worth saying on a regular basis?

Marketers Have Little Programming Expertise

Programming is a lot harder than those outside this side of the industry appreciate.  The technical ability to broadcast to the masses does not come with from the skill and artistry of creating compelling, often episodic programming.  Programming to a brand message, within restrictive budgets and creating content that the world really cares for... this has proven harder than many marketers have anticipated.

The Marketing Process Is Broken:

The typical brand content or programming process goes as follows:

  1. Dream up a brilliant big idea.
    This often involves investment in research and ideation, multiple pitches and concept development.  Even when agencies give this away in a pitch, they will recoup the associated costs in their project scope.
  2. Right-size the idea to fit your budget while keeping the core concept alive.  
    Few brands can stomach the investment and creative risk needed to deliver on the vision of the pitch.  

    Television programming has multiple advertisers across a single program, as well as significant additional upside revenue opportunities in distribution rights and syndication.  

    Agencies producing content and brand managers overseeing the content often see the brand and their visions as their primary clients.  When right-sizing is needed, the core concept is often boiled down to the creative message rather than the user-focused value.  It is incredibly hard for those invested in a project to evaluate the value of the project with an outsiders objectivity.

    Nothing To Say
    And in a social world, few brands have a story or lifestyle positioning to tell a story over a period of months, quarters or years.  Creative concepts are often statements rather than journeys.  And even the best journeys are then left to junior, less experienced communicators (community managers) to bring to life through social writing and engagement.  And so we are bound to see declining returns on Facebook interactivity over the lifetime of the fan.
  3. Activate the hell out of it.
    This is one area that marketers have down.  We know how to run campaigns.  We know how to buys ads, how to buy audiences, how to add social buttons and how to broadcast like hell.  But the product, the content is often so watered down while the initial attraction to the concept is so short lived that the content marketing fails to generate sufficient returns.

Risk Factors Can Be High, Risk Aversion Delivers Poor Performance

Great content marketing requires a quarterback that will sell through the budget, align with the right creatives and message focus to deliver real value to not just the brand and the agency, but the public over a sustained period of a time.  

This project ownership assumes a real risk.  Entertaining content presents the viewer or participant with new, fresh and often provocative ideas.  This demands the acceptance of risk:

  • Risk that the content will offend.  
  • Risk that it will flop.  
  • Risk that the content won't be approved by senior management.  
  • RIsk that the community and conversation will take the content into unacceptable places.  
  • Risk that the investment demanded will set unreasonable expectations.
  • Risk that a failure to deliver will impact the careers and futures of those engaged in the project.

The Content Marketing Bottom Line

In a digital age, few brand can afford not to think "content".  Be mindful of the pitfalls.  There is nothing like throwing a huge party for yourself and only thinking of yourself.  Your friends will grow bored and leave.  Those who show up for the free booze (promotions and sweepstakes) will only come back when you offer more free booze.  And most will walk right past your party without even noticing.

But do it right, and even the sky is no longer your limit.