OPINION – It’s time for content marketers to front up

13 Oct 2012

Gareth Dunlop, owner of user-experience consultancy Fathom

For most businesses, the vast majority of your customers and prospects don’t care about you. They really don’t. They never write. They never phone. They never leave a voice message. Unless that is, there is something in it for them.

The only means by which you can get their attention is to provide them with something of value. That could be a special product, a well-delivered service, brilliant marketing, an unexpectedly good experience, or just the satisfaction of making and then delivering on a promise.

This is why your business must not, under any circumstances, delegate the management of your social media channels or your content marketing strategy to an intern. You must give this important responsibility to the most senior person who has the capacity and capability to do it.

You are likely to know Jeremy Freedman but just never knew that was his name. He is the pimply teenage character from The Simpsons, who is usually observed doing random mundane jobs, such as delivering pizzas, serving Krusty burgers or shovelling snow. Far too many businesses give responsibility for their content marketing to their Jeremy Freedman. Unless you are lucky enough to be employing the next Arianna Huffington as your intern, taking this approach is doomed to failure. All too frequently businesses appoint personnel to manage content-marketing channels who would never be given responsibility for a TV advert, press advert, annual report or direct sales letter.

And we wonder why our content marketing isn’t working. Sadly, it’s easier to blame the channel than the business processes or marketing tactics.

Competing for attention

This is strikingly obvious when you consider the environment in which your online marketing competes for attention. Your customer’s digital world is just like yours, busy, fragmented, with lots of different things vying for an ever-decreasing attention span. Their email inbox is just as bulging, their browsers opened with just as many needless tabs and their Facebook wall just as full of gossip and general detritus as yours.

You are marketing to customers who are increasingly building their own media world. This media world is built up across various online environments such as Facebook (which brands will I like?), Twitter (who will I follow?), websites (which sites will I bookmark) and RSS readers (what blogs will I subscribe to?).  It is into this media walled garden that you need to reach in order to connect with customers and prospects.

Content marketing relies on the principles of earned media. The excesses and indulgences which marketers have traditionally got away with in bought media are ruthlessly punished in earned media. Earned media seeks to win headspace with your potential customers by being part of their media world. In order to do that you need their permission to enter their walled garden, and to do that you need to produce content which adds value. If you are talented enough to write valuable content which also resonates, well, you have a chance, just a chance, at getting a customer to phone, write, leave a voice message, or heaven forbid, place an order.

Deliver neither value nor resonance and yours is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include user testing, usability and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Irish Internet Association, The Irish Times, Ogilvy, MD Golf and Web Recruit.

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.