Posted in August 16, 2017 - 2:28 Tami Demayo
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Content marketing maven’s new book offers much information, little insight

Question markAs a career-long B2B content creative, I have admired Rebecca Lieb’s work for years. As a subscriber to her blogs as an analyst with the Altimeter Group and later as an independent consultant, I have always looked forward to the insights she reveals. I also appreciate her persistent exhortation to make time for strategy rather than shooting content from the hip. Perhaps that’s why I am disappointed in her latest book.

Content: The Atomic Particle of Marketing promises to be the definitive research-based guide to content marketing. It is clearly research-based, but it’s hardly a guide. Rather than helping readers navigate the content marketing jungle, Lieb simply takes us to a lofty vantage point, from which she surveys the complex landscape of content strategy, converged media, native advertising, real-time marketing and more. Drawing on dozens of in-depth interviews and her work with clients, she enumerates the ways in which companies have approached their content challenges.

Too much what, not enough why

It would have been more useful had Lieb analyzed her compendium of research to discern patterns that the average content marketer cannot perceive. I would like to know, for example

  • How big does a company need to be before it has the wherewithal to embark on a comprehensive content strategy project?
  • What is the connection between the type of company and its optimal content organizational structure?
  • What attributes of an industry sector determine how a company in that sector will integrate owned, paid, and earned media?

Without understanding why a particular approach works for a particular type of company, how can readers deduce what might be best for them?

Moreover, despite being touted as a tool for all marketers, the book seems skewed to large enterprises. I can imagine some of our smaller B2B clients rolling their eyes at the massive investment of time and talent required to properly execute a content marketing strategy in the mobile, converged-media age. They know they should have a comprehensive editorial calendar, brand briefs, personas, and so on. They know they need better content management software. And a content audit is on their to-do list. But who among them has the time, or the budget? (On the other hand, smaller companies can rest smugly in the realization that they needn’t worry about breaking down content siloes, as they have never had any siloes to break down.)

Practical content marketing advice

It’s not all sermonizing however. There are useful features, such as the 10 steps to building a content strategy in Chapter 2 and the tables of content marketing performance metrics in Chapter 10. Illustrations throughout the book help readers quickly grasp concepts that Lieb unpacks over the course of several pages (although the fact that most of the illustrations come from works she published in 2012-2014 leaves me wondering if I am learning much that is new).

Putting content in the right perspective

Chapter 6, “A Culture of Content” contributes little to the book. I understand the importance of cultural change in affecting behavior and attitudes across the organization. But to speak of a “culture of content” seems rather pretentious. Because content involves collaboration across the enterprise, its importance requires executive support and continual reinforcement. But calling content “an ingrained element of an enterprise’s culture” is akin to asserting that every company is a content company, which is absurd. Networking technology provider Cisco is no more a content company than it is a law office or accountancy firm, even though it surely employs a large contingent of lawyers and CPAs.

In that same vein, the assertion of the book’s subtitle, that content is the atomic particle of marketing, doesn’t ring true. Marketing—the art and science of connecting products and services to their markets—drives everything a company does: what it offers, and how it develops, manufactures, sells, distributes, and supports those offerings. But content does not drive everything in marketing. For example, much of marketing’s ability to boost revenues and profits lies in the efforts of product managers to align their offerings with the highest value customers. Communication across the enterprise, and up and down the supply chain, is key in this strategic process. But marketing content has little to do with it.

We might find a better metaphor for content by zooming out from the atomic to the cellular level: Like the red blood cells that convey oxygen to all the cells of our body, content conveys a company’s essential messages to all its various audiences. Even in the mobile, converged-media marketing jungle, the concept of content needn’t be more complicated than that.

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