Centerline Sessions: Refurbishing the Content Factory Concept
Jun 13, 2012
An Interview with Joe Chernov of Eloqua and John Lane of Centerline
The ideals of content marketing are spreading rapidly within the most powerful of enterprises. Leading companies, like IBM, American Express and Adobe, realize that today’s digital customers are craving a different type of engagement.
Consumers are looking for value before the sale rather than clever advertising platitudes. More and more people are starting their purchase process with a web search, and in a post Panda/Penguin world, those search results will favor the companies that act like publishers.
Quality is a major factor, and companies with that in mind are dusting off the “content factory” concept and making it their own – to great success.
I had a chance to talk with Joe Chernov (Vice President of Content Marketing at Eloqua) and our own John Lane (Vice President, Strategy and Creative) about whether “content factory” was still a dirty word. In short, they’re both content marketing practitioners; but you can learn more about their credentials at the end of the post.
Is “content factory” a dirty term in your eyes?
Joe Chernov: To the extent that a “factory” implies a singular focus on efficiency and repeatability — terms that are antithetical to nuance and customization — then yea, I suppose there’s a dirtiness to it. Quality content needs to have a “custom” feel. It cannot come across as boilerplate. In fact, today’s content marketing movement is a reaction to the public’s rejection of predictable, boilerplate marketing. But if “factory” simply means “scale” and “reach,” but not at the expense of quality, then I am ok with it. After all, without scale and reach, the business impact of the content is lessened. And no business impact means no budget and no budget means lousy content.
John Lane: Joe is spot-on…adopting a factory mentality in terms of the amount of content is a perfect way to crank out volumes of bad content. But creating a machine that is tuned to up the frequency of pieces that are of high quality and relevance to your audience is the perfect type of content factory to build. Because, after all, people rarely say ‘I need more than these 3 billion search results (in .00001 seconds)’ but they often think they need better, more engaging information than what they find.
Has your perception of the term “content marketing” changed over the past year or so?
JC: Confession: I don’t think that much about terms or classifications. I once wrote a blog post about content marketing and in it I said that content marketing is synonymous with “inbound marketing.” Here I was, some content marketing “expert,” yet I figured the two practices were similar enough to consider them synonyms. Readers got all bent out of shape over it. I found myself thinking, “Wow. This is what you care about?”
Said another way, there was a great repartee between Muhammad Ali and broadcaster Howard Cosell in which Cosell referred to Ali as “truculent,” to which boxing great replied, “Whatever ‘truculent’ means, if it’s good, I’m that.” I’ll let other people argue over definitions. Meanwhile, I’ll keep trying to produce content that introduces new people to Eloqua, or induces people who already know us to engage more deeply.
JL: I don’t think my perception has changed – at least not perceptively. But what I do think has changed immensely is the commonly accepted perception of what “content marketing” stands for. Frankly, it wasn’t that long ago when if you mentioned the term, you had to define it for people. And now it seems to be a term that people — companies — who are trying to find the right way to connect with consumers in digital environments are bandying about relentlessly!
But regardless of perception, what we’re really talking about — and what is becoming more understood — is that consumers are craving more than advertising platitudes. They are demanding value before the purchase. And better digital content, in all its many forms, is the way marketers know they can deliver that value.
Why do you think leading companies — IBM, Coca Cola, GE — are leading the charge by crafting or supporting content-heavy initiatives?
JL: For all the reasons we just started discussing. They are savvy companies that understand consumers are demanding value before the sale…and that relevant content, delivered in a non-intrusive way within the channels the consumer is already “living” in online (and off) is the best way to deliver that value.
Content works when it fits organically into the consumers world view…when it augments a conversation that’s already going on…when it gives the viewer unfettered access into something they desperately want to be a part of — like how Red Bull is using Instagram to give like-minds a new way to be a part of the “no limits” lifestyle…when it sparks new thinking and allows the audience to add to it, manipulate it, even challenge it. And of course, if it introduces a sales pitch then there’s no chance of that happening.
JC: I think that’s exactly why IBM, Coca Cola and GE are leading companies – they identify a practice that’s working, and they invest in it. These organizations aren’t category leaders by luck or by accident. I think they realize, and probably have realized for some time, that consumers aren’t physically where they used to be. We are no longer sitting in front of the TV at designated times – and when we are in front of the TV, we are time-shifting programs, we are on our mobile devices concurrently. Ditto for news consumption. We aren’t leafing through the newspaper while sipping our morning coffee. We are allowing news to find us on social channels. Figuratively speaking, these companies know that the way to “catch” buyers isn’t by chasing them around the table. It’s by stopping and letting the consumer run into them. Whatever label you want to put on it, that’s what these new forms of marketing are all about. Finding a way to get consumers to willingly come to you.
In a socialnerdia interview, Joe, you expressed a desire to create content in the same way that LV creates handbags. I thought this was a very apt metaphor. To you, is there a clear metric to differentiate between companies crafting quality “goods” versus those, say, schilling out replicas on Canal Street?
JC: You just improved my metaphor greatly. I love where you’ve taken it. I think you are on to something. Anyone in the fashion industry could easily spot a Louis Vuitton knock-off, just as anyone in the marketing industry knows when someone has created second-rate content (rote design, unoriginal premise, lazy curation, predictable guest contributors), but it might be harder to notice for someone outside of this niche. So I imagine “Canal Street content” (seriously, this is so good!) probably works…for a while. Eventually I believe the cream rises. The LV handbag lasts, the knock-off doesn’t. I don’t know what metric proves this, but just because you can’t prove something, doesn’t make it any less true.
For an up-and-coming marketer at a Fortune 500, is content evangelism a good platform for personal success?
JC: Yes, if you can get buy in. That’s the hard part. I imagine it’s an uphill battle at large, protectionist companies. You know, businesses that are more concerned with what they have to lose than what they have to gain. I don’t think I would find this job as enjoyable at a massive company. I just think you would spend too much of your time evangelizing for your own role, and not enough time actually doing.
JL: Well…if you’re a content evangelist not finding purchase in an enterprise, it might be the enterprise who finds themselves irrelevant instead of you! Now, that’s not some proclamation that ‘advertising is dead’ or that content marketing is the answer for every communication still. But when 60% of the B2B purchase cycle is over before buyers make contact with your sales staff, it’s hard to ignore the growing need for a sound content marketing strategy.
…And will the trend continue?
JL: Absolutely. A majority of the Interbrand top 10 are investing more into content marketing every quarter. And the same approach is helping small businesses everywhere better connect with their consumers. That kind of cross-industry and size-agnostic applicability is pretty amazing. And it suggests it’s an approach driven by consumer demand rather than a brand or product centric thinking.
About Joe Chernov in his own words: I do content marketing. What does that mean? It means I am both the editor-in-chief of Eloqua’s content (I plan and create it) and the paperboy (I deliver via traditional & social media). Follow Joe on Twitter.
About John Lane in his own words: When I would watch TV as a kid, I would run to the bathroom during the shows so I could make it back for the commercials… they were more interesting to me. That interest in the connection between brand and consumer is still the driving force of my involvement in marketing strategy and content creation. Follow John on Twitter.