Whenever I’m stuck for a column idea, you know, “content,” one of my favorite devices is to type some keywords into Google News to see how “news media” are playing it. When I typed in “content marketing,” the first thing I found was that the news media is playing it quite a bit: about 768,000 results on Google News’ index. The second thing I noticed is that it’s not actually all news media that’s being indexed. A fair amount of it, ironically, is nothing more than content marketing.
While I did not troll through all 768,000 references, just looking at the top query results on the first few pages tells the story.
The top reference is a Forbes post that appears to be native content. I say appears, because it’s often difficult for me to know what’s native and what’s authentic journalism content, but this one was written by online marketing consultant Jayson DeMers. Entitled “4 Strategies To Find A More Specific Niche In Content Marketing,” the piece is pretty much like many of the other top-ranking stories indexed by Google News: lots of how-tos, boosterism and shilling for the practice.
I can say this for a fact with the No. 2 ranking story, “Essentials of ‘True’ Content Marketing,” because it is explicitly labeled as a “press release” from EContent.
No. 3 is a tweet from the Content Marketing Institute.
No. 4 appears to either be a native placement or “contributed content” by another content marketing consultant, Alumnify’s AJ Agrawal.
No. 5 is another explicit press release from EContent.
No. 6 is contributed content on the Huffington Post by GetFlow.com Content Marketing Manager Cameron Conaway gushing about why “Journalism and Content Marketing Need Each Other.” Which leads me to ask, “Fine, but where’s the journalism?”
You have to go all the way down to No. 7 to find any actual news on the subject, and it's in a release from eMarketer about how B2B marketers are “struggling to create effective content marketing materials.” That one, at least, is backed up by some of eMarketer's trademark stats.
Scroll through the next few Google News results pages and you’ll find more of the same drivel and touting:
“Is There Video In Your Content Marketing Future?”; “5 Ways To Spice Up Your Visual Content Marketing Strategy”; “7 Habits Of The Most Successful Content Marketers”; and (another one from Forbes) “20 Essential Content Marketing Tools For Your Business.”
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to trivialize the craft of content marketing. I truly think there is a craft, and that it's one of the most important parts of marketing’s future. Just as it was in its past.
But I think we have to start being honest with ourselves, and honestly define what content marketing is. It is not journalism. And if examples like the ones ranking on the top of Google News’ pages are the case, it is not actually news. And to continue to treat it, index it, and promulgate it that way will only blur the lines of what is brand and non-brand content.
Aside from the broader societal implications -- and the potentially regulatory ones -- this will end up killing the golden goose. Because once we enter a period where people assume all content is just marketing, well, then you can pretty much be sure the novelty and effectiveness of content marketing will wear off. Especially when we’re drowning under a sea of marketing content noise.
The best marketing content is explicit about what it is. Whether we call it a “commercial,” an “ad,” an “advertorial,” or “sponsored content,” the first, most important thing any brand should do, when using content to market itself, is be upfront and honest with its consumers that that's what it's doing.I’ve begun to lose sight of what the most important pillars of a brand are, but honesty and trust still have to be up there.