If your technology is IT, you'll know all about Gartner’s Hype Cycle. If it isn't, you'll still know how inflated expectations are often followed by disillusionment. Find out why Content Marketing has dropped into the Trough of Disillusionment - and what you can do about it.
Gartner's Hype Cycle
The Hype Cycle is the brainchild of IT industry analyst, Gartner. It charts the rise and fall of new technologies - from the Peak of Inflated Expectations through the Valley of Disillusionment to the Slope of Enlightenment and, when they become mainstream, the Plateau of Productivity.
The Hype Cycle could easily be applied elsewhere, to biotechnology or the drug industry for example.
The initial hype of 'wonder drug' status is invariably followed by disillusionment as unforeseen side effects rear their heads. More side effects come to light, and the drug turns out to be less effective as promised. Eventually the drug's reputation begins to suffer as its maker is forced to add more warnings to the package.
Next thing you know, the manufacturer relegates the drug to treating a minor subset of the original disorder, and is hyping its replacement: the improved formulation, the new magic bullet.
Has content marketing fallen into the trough of disillusionment?
Doug Kessler from Velocity Partners wrote a post about the Hype Cycle for Content Marketing. In his inimitable style, Kessler said that many companies ‘will … become disillusioned with their content marketing investments. Some will pull the plug. Others will cut back sharply, asking their CMOs tougher questions about the real value of all these Infographics and documentary films and ‘owned media’ plays … All of this will replace the certainty of a drunken market with the doubt of a sober (or hung over) one.’
Why Content Marketing failed to deliver
The Guardian saw this coming years ago: ‘The danger for brands getting caught up in this [hype] is that they are indeed viewing it as a panacea. Rushing in, rather than remaining firmly focused on their customers, their interests, passions, anxieties and hopes, to try and understand what sort of content they're interested in.’
Rush in they did, fearing that competitors might beat them to the Holy Grail, get more traffic (and customers) to their websites or rank higher in Google. Soon the marketing tail began wagging the content dog: every company needed a publishing calendar, a production schedule and a production unit. New positions were created, Chief Content Officers were appointed, and so it went. It was failure on 3 fronts:
1. Too little Value or Relevance
Marketers produced a lot of content – white papers, best practice guides, blog posts and much more – without understanding what their audience really wanted.
They assumed that telling people about stuff, or providing advice and education would do the trick, but it didn’t. Vendors selling high technology
B2B found that content had no value unless it spoke to the people they were trying to reach and addressed the problems that kept them awake at night,
in their own language.
It makes perfect sense: You can’t just hire any old copywriters to write about highly specific problems and complex technology solutions, either. You can try but, because they don't understand, they'll recycle competitors' or industry content, or create generic new content that might be safe. The result will be bland and boring.
In technology markets, content writers must know the industry and its challenges, dynamics, past & future and, most importantly, its language. Databases have to be carefully segmented too, so that content creation and distribution can be highly targeted. Few companies even try to do this even though it works.
It’s also important to distinguish between value and quality.
You can create high quality content that's well-thought-out, structured and written, but it's of no value to your audience unless it addresses their problems and concerns. If you combine high quality with a focus on solving specific problems, your content will be compelling and effective. It will also be extremely rare.
2. Too Little Quality
Too much content was produced, and too little thought given to its purpose. Marketers were encouraging clients to produce ever more content. Endless blog post were written about How To Come up with Great Ideas for Blog Posts. How would this help? If you don't know what your audience cares about, how would a random idea help you? Or them?
Hubspot took the idea further: it created a Blog Topic Generator where you filled in the blanks and the generator would ‘come up with a week's worth of relevant blog post titles in a matter of seconds!’ The next logical step is to use robots to create your content.
I came across a blog post from a marketing agency headed Beat The Content Clock: Write A Blog Post In An Hour Or Less. That compelled me to write one of our most popular posts: Content Creation: Producing Junk at the Speed of Light? where we asked ‘How did Henry Ford's assembly line become the role model for Content Creation?
No wonder so much content looks like so much other content. Unless you have something of value to contribute, it’s better to say nothing at all. If you have nothing original to say, don't bother either. ‘Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence,’ Leonardo da Vinci told us centuries ago.
3. Too Much Quantity
As I’m writing this, almost 3 million others are busy writing their blog posts. That's 3 million a day - which is dwarfed by the 500 million tweets generated and the 16 years of video that are uploaded to YouTube, every single day. More here.
It makes you wonder why one of the biggest marketing problems could possibly be inability to create enough content. Conversely, it's no wonder that Google returns 264 million search results for ‘how to find material for blog post ideas’.
In his slideshare CRAP - the Content Marketing Deluge, Doug Kessler predicted that the sheer volume of content, pouring forth like so much sewage into a river, would drown the golden goose. 'It sucks because the people we're marketing to will raise their barriers again,' he said. He was right: They have.
That's why marketers are wringing their hands and deploring the increase in 'un-subscribes' and in deleted, blacklisted and unopened emails. Surprise, surprise.
How to find Enlightenment
Writing valuable content isn't as difficult as scaling Everest. It's actually quite easy if you suppress the urge to create content to a schedule. This is what works (and what we do):
- Develop a clear content strategy. Every piece of content must fit into an overall publishing strategy, each piece must have a purpose and a specific target audience.
- Stay close to your customers. Find out what the pressing issues are in their industry. Ask them which of your content pieces they found the most useful. In short, find out what they want and don't want.
- Add calls to action to all content. What do you want the reader to do next? Get more information? Read a case study? Arrange a demo or trial? Don't keep him guessing. Even at the end of blog posts, help your reader to Learn more.
- Optimise Content Distribution. Segment your audience and content for them, and distribute it accordingly. Also make sure to align the content you distribute with the buyer’s journey.
- Measure the Results. More traffic, more optins, more downloads, more leads and more customers – measure the metrics that are important to you, rigorously and regularly.
Is it game over for Content Marketing?
No. When Content Marketing was a new concept, it worked because everyone tried to be true to their purpose. Then they got lazy and automated. Marketers (and their audiences) have only fallen into the Trough of Disillusionment because so many got it wrong.
Content Marketing still works and always will, if you're true to purpose: deliver high value content to a defined audience to drive a particular response. Key to this is that your high value content must be focused on your audience's problems (not your products). That way, you can still rise above the sludge, become a thought leader and stand out as a trusted source of high value, high quality content.
Find out how to create valuable White Papers, convincing Product Brochures, impartial Feature Comparisons, credible Case Studies, validated Best Practice Guides and compelling Marketing Emails - and watch your competitors' content float away downstream, ignored by your targets, like so much other unwanted waste.
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