The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Content Marketing 101

Content marketing is everywhere. Everywhere. Business owners are fairly certain they need it, SEO firms are absolutely certain you need it, and journalists increasingly pushed for time and engagement measured in clicks both dread and value it.  In order to get a better handle on content marketing, I spoke to actual journalists and editors across a range of respected Australian titles for their views.

There’s pros and cons, as in anything; but first things first – what the heck is it? Content marketing, also called ‘native advertising’, is this: instead of a journalist writing a story, a company writes an article (or outsources to a marketing person or, ideally, a freelance journalist) and pays to have it placed in the outlet of choice – often online.

Once upon a time, this kind of content was pointed straight at convincing or persuading you of something, was called advertorial, and was almost always labelled as such. But the internet changed all that forever.

With a sizable chunk of the planet now devouring online content, new kinds of content and articles have become more commonplace and even acceptable. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of content marketing in all its’ glory . . .

The Good:

1. Content is generated.

The Bottomless Online Content Pit™ is (momentarily) satiated.  Between July 2000 June and 2014, internet users went from around 400 million people, to an estimated 3 billion. (source here & here). That’s a lot of eyeballs to keep happy.

2. The Boss is Happy.

Quotes and viewpoints that might not have been included in an independently generated article are put forth. The Marketer looks like a hero – especially because much of this content ends up online (even if it starts in print.) This is useful for a marketer because it’s easy to measure clicks and views – and so articulate a success story for any given campaign.

3. The Public is Informed.

There is a school of thought that says the best person to review a game, explore an investment opportunity, or explain a car model, is the maker of that game, opportunity or car. In one sense they’re right – a manufacturer will know what to highlight, what to explain in detail and so on.  When the focus of content marketing is on the content part, a balanced piece might be your best source on that topic. Sadly, this is not always the case, because . . .

The Bad:

1. Pointless content is generated

They can’t all be winners can they? We’ve all read one. A piece of content marketing that is so clearly biased or poorly crafted it hurts your retinas.  At best, these articles sink forever into the Bottomless Online Content Pit ™. Sometimes though, they will drown out actual, balanced pieces looking at the same issue. At worst? They damage the brand they’re looking to enhance. Which means . . .

2. The Boss is Unhappy

From a CEO perspective, the content of any article that speaks to your industry helps create the environment in which your product sells. Good, clear content develops an educated informed market. Simplistic, biased content develops a mistrustful one. (Go and ask your sales department which environment they would prefer to sell into.) Setting all that aside for a moment, if your article generates clicks but not a measurable improvement in bottom line – what was the point?  Because if you’re not careful . . .

3. The Public is Misinformed.

Here is where it all usually falls in a grim heap. The “content” part of content marketing is overlooked in favour of the “marketing” part. What you’re left with is often at best a puff piece – all shiny cheeriness with no substance; and at worst just raw, unlabelled advertorial.  I asked Lia Timson (Fairfax News’ Foreign News Editor) what one thing she wished marketers and business owners knew about content marketing. Her short answer? “That readers aren’t stupid.”

Which brings us to . . .

The Ugly.

Here’s a few more choice quotes from some of Australia’s best journalists and editors.

“Content marketing is deceiving. Unlike advertising and advertorial, it isn’t declared. Thankfully, most of the time, discerning readers can tell when something sounds like it’s favouring an interested party. Marketers would be better off not insulting the intelligence of people they most wish to convince.”  – LT

“Good content marketing should read like journalism. It should BE journalism. But clients get confused and upset when it doesn’t read like a direct advertising piece. “ – CP

“I wish marketers realised that any piece of writing that has been through multiple levels of approval processes is always going to feel pretty dull and lifeless at the end of that process. You need a distinctive voice if anyone is going to pay attention.” – AK

“It needs to be informative and not preachy or salesy.” – AC

There’s a couple more quotes, but the idea is always the same. When commercial concerns meet content, without strong oversight the content suffers.

The takeaway here is that content marketing can be much, much trickier than it appears. Find the right content, and the right outlet and audience, and you may just have uncovered a valuable opportunity to grow market share and develop an audience.

Get it wrong, and the best outcome is a wasted opportunity. Either way, content marketing is here to stay. Do your research, keep it balanced, think about hiring a professional (and let them do their job without interference!) and above all, keep your hands up 🙂

Mike W


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