Content Beats Targeting -- 'Nuff Said

The debate rages on regarding which is more important for online marketers, content or targeting.  Well, I have the answer. Content will always win!

I’ve come at this question from a couple different angles and the winning argument is quite simple: Content can survive, and thrive, without data targeting, but data targeting cannot live without content.  Simply put, if you build good content people will find it, but if you have crappy content, no amount of data or targeting can save you -- because your audience, no matter how targeted, simply won’t engage!

Its similar to that age-old truism in marketing: Great advertising cannot sell a poor product.  You can’t make consumers purchase a product that simply doesn’t work for them.  In online marketing you can’t push an ad lacking a fair value exchange for the customer, regardless of how many data points you use to deliver that ad.  A fair value exchange, or at the very least something that grabs their attention, is what good advertising is all about.



Good creative and good products always win, and so does good content!  A site that is witty, provides a value, is unique, or is simply done well will generate an audience.  A piece of great content will drive eyeballs.  No matter how you say it, content is king and data has quickly become a commodity.  I can buy data from any hundreds of sources, many of which have sprouted up in just the last two years.  I can find purchase, social graph, network and connection data, and I can find recency information that qualifies all of the above to help me develop a true analysis of my potential customer -- but if the message doesn’t resonate, then all that targeting is for nothing.

On the flip side, a general ad buy with excellent creative that breaks through the clutter will create awareness.  With the Web, awareness can easily go viral, and your audience will start to talk about you to one another.  Creative has not been commoditized because creative cannot be commoditized.  Production of that creative certainly can be, but the development of an idea, and the application of that idea to your campaign, will always be something special.  To quote another age-old discussion, it’s the art behind the science.  Science is certainly important, but science without art is useless.

I know some of you with your pumped-up valuations and your millions of dollars in revenue are going to argue with me -- but it doesn’t matter, because if you argue this point, then you’re simply missing the point.  I didn’t say data isn’t valuable; I said it’s secondary to creative and content.  That concept is irrefutable.  There’s really no argument you can make!  How many times have you seen a campaign tank because the creative was poor?  Trust me -- I know you’ve used that excuse.

Of course, you can’t talk about content and creative online without making the simple observation that most of it sucks.  Most creative messaging online is just bad, and that’s why performance is so low.  Online marketing, regardless of how much money gets put into it, will never surpass TV as the primary vehicle until the creative gets better. That depends on two things happening; the placements need to become more impactful, and the people creating those messages need to get better.  Of course, that could be an article for another day entirely, right?

Do you agree with my analysis?  Let me know on the Spin Board!

14 comments about "Content Beats Targeting -- 'Nuff Said".
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  1. John Brady from Topretirements, November 9, 2011 at 9:57 a.m.

    I agree with you completely. Too many folks obsess about getting media coverage before they have anything worthwhile to say. Although when I used to work at Y & R we had a slightly different version of your saying: "Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising".

  2. Jonathan Gardner from Vibrant Media, November 9, 2011 at 10:12 a.m.

    Agree 100%, Cory. Brilliant stuff!

  3. Ursula Ehrenfeld from St. James Properties, LLC, November 9, 2011 at 11:06 a.m.

    I agree. Without engaging content, the choice of platform and/or tools used to spread the message is largely irrelevant.

  4. Amber Gregory from Triggerfish Marketing, November 9, 2011 at 11:10 a.m.

    I read another article this morning that described the vast amount of data required to do proper behavioral targeting. Reading this article right after put things more in perspective!

  5. Raymond Galis from Media Artemis, November 9, 2011 at 11:47 a.m.

    Agree 100%. Content is king.

  6. Joanne Rusch from Multi Edge Media, November 9, 2011 at 11:54 a.m.

    Cory, absolutely right on! The Monetize Me crowd can't see the proverbial forest through the trees on this. You can drive the traffic to the horse, but you can't make him stay if the trough is dry!

  7. Christopher Filly from Catalyst S+F, November 9, 2011 at 12:23 p.m.

    Right on! The rise of data and targeting was in large part due to (or at least greatly accelerated by) the god awful display infrastructure we inherited from the birth of the web - poor creative - and the endless sea of long tail sites that became part of that infrastructure - poor content.

  8. Ira Kalb from Kalb & Associates, November 9, 2011 at 12:28 p.m.

    Another good post. I agree with your basic premise that good content is essential. The other stuff is important too - Content, Media, Timing, and Cost have to be in synch. The other issue is there is no hard boundary between art and science. Those that create better content have a scientific approach to the art, and vice versa (David Ogilvy, John Caples, Rosser Reeves, etc.).

  9. Iris j Kelley from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3770, November 9, 2011 at 12:37 p.m.

    I concur 100%. I go to far too many websites that are useless as far as obtaining any real information. I went to one once that just had the Company name and a toll number to call for information. Needless to say I did not call.

  10. Todd Wilson from Salesforce , November 9, 2011 at 1:22 p.m.

    100% true in email as well. Thanks -

  11. Mike Mcgrath from RealXstream PTY LTD, November 9, 2011 at 4:55 p.m.

    Ha Ha... Tell it like it is Corey!! No arguments here....

  12. Kenneth Fadner from MediaPost, November 9, 2011 at 6:48 p.m.

    Great article, Cory. I agree totally.

  13. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., November 9, 2011 at 6:53 p.m.

    Small correction: "Great advertising CAN sell a poor product – once."

    How about a variation on the direct marketing 40/40/20 Rule: 40% List/40% Offer/20% Creative?

  14. Tom Francoeur from Communispace, November 10, 2011 at 9:52 a.m.

    Great article with practical advice everyone can follow. Nuff said. :-)

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