Why there’s really no reason to ever use the term “content marketing”…

Ever since marketing emerged from the dark to the middle ages in the 1980’s, computers and databases have been essential marketing tools. Data’s been driving marketing since the invention of desktop computers, as it became easier for marketers to track the way customers and prospects responded to their messages.

Data-driven marketing is not new…

Any marketer who has worked in the industry since last century, is aware that the process of communicating regularly with your customers and prospects already has a name. It’s been used for at least 40 years and is known as your customer and prospect contact strategy. And it’s supported by a touchpoint analysis to determine the best times and channels for making contact – analogue or digital.

Data and timing are key to success…

For example, if you sell cars, there are two cycles of communication within your strategy. The first cycle is linked to the date of purchase of the vehicle. The messages cover topics such as: service dates, warranty information, possibly insurance if it was part of the sale price, customer satisfaction surveys, product recall (if required) and other “content” related to the purchase date.

The messages are delivered by mail, phone, email and sms. Most of the messages have been automated since the early 1980’s and delivered without too much human involvement, as they are triggered by the purchase date. Who would have thought hey – marketing automation existed in the 1980’s? Listening to the digi-toddlers, you’d think they invented data and automated marketing.

The second cycle of messaging is related to the time of year, not the vehicle purchase date. Message topics include: vehicle accessory offers, service offers, trade-in deals, new vehicle launches, sponsorship announcements, charity events, merchandise offers, brand news (or in today’s vernacular) brand stories.

The “content” is delivered in all sorts of formats through different channels – mail, phone, sms, email, websites, apps, social, as DVDs, USBs, PDFs, booklets or books, printed and digital newsletters, videos, customised invitations, branded merchandise and more. Some messages are even delivered automatically, as their content is based on the prevailing time of year – a seasonal newsletter for example.

Welcome to Subaru ownership…

Customer data has always driven (excuse the pun) automotive communications. For example, when we launched Lexus our research indicated owners liked the opera. So we arranged a sponsorship of the parking station at the Sydney Opera House. Lexus owners had free reserved parking near the entrance inside the parking station. Mercedes, BMW and other owners had to find a park in the bowels of the parking station, after first driving past the Lexus branded car park spots. The idea traveled internationally.

Lexus owners get parking privileges

We learned the average time Lexus owners spent going to or from work, was less than 30 minutes each way. So when the annual Federal Budget was brought down, we recorded overnight, a report on the Budget. It was 40 minutes long and we published it on a cassette tape – 20 minutes each side. The tapes were sent to owners the morning the Budget was brought down, so the owners could listen to the report as they drove to and from work. Now a link is emailed and posted on social media and the marketing team tracks who listens to the report.

And the way we determined the best stations on which to run radio advertising, was simple. Whenever a Lexus was brought in for a service, the customer service person would note the radio station the owner was listening to and recorded this data on the customer database. Gotta luv the data scientists working in car servicing.

Data scientists tracked Lexus owner’s radio station habits

If you’ve worked on automotive brands you’ll also know the best time to make a trade-in offer to a luxury vehicle owner is triggered by one data point only – the finance lease expiry date. You can make the best offer on the planet, but if the lease is not due to expire, the owner will not go through the hassle of breaking their lease to get the new car. You are wasting your money throwing content at them to try and convince them otherwise.

It’s why we had dozens of different mail packs, each designed around data linked to where the prospect was in their ownership lifecycle. These were mailed automatically using relevant triggers to activate the mailing.

Aaah data-driven marketing 1980’s and 1990’s style. What’s old is new again, again.

So to repeat myself, the term for this ongoing contact with your customers (and prospects) has always been called a customer and prospect contact strategy. It doesn’t need a new label, so there is no need to call it content marketing.

And there is absolutely no reason to change the name for this way of communicating with prospects and customers. Just because there are a couple of new digital channels to deliver messages and communicate with (or should that be engage with) customers/prospects, as well as some extra tracking and distribution tools, doesn’t mean we rename a decades-old marketing process.

Delivering relevant data-driven messages to customers and prospects in different channels is not new!

Publishing and sharing “content” is as old as the hills – it’s how marketers have communicated with customers and prospects for decades. The only difference today is that allegedly, the more content you publish, the better the chance you’ll be found online. Of course, if you have a strong brand and the punters search for your brand, rather than using a generic search term, your investment in “content” is usually a waste of money.

Some may argue you need content to build your brand. Well duh. That’s exactly what brands have been doing successfully for decades. And there is no empirical evidence to support the false claims that we have to tell brand stories as part of content marketing to engage customers. You cannot fake sincerity using jargon.

I’ve yet to find any consumer who craves a brand story, let alone more marketing content. At best, they just want useful information to help them make a buying decision, like they’ve always done. Although, as any marketer knows, the vast majority of buying decisions are unconsidered, so why are we pummeling already infobesity-ridden consumers, with all the extra content?

So I ask you to please stop using the term “content marketing”. It is superfluous, has no meaning, causes confusion, and it offers absolutely nothing new to the existing communication process, let alone the marketing lexicon.

Worse still, the marketers and agency types who have drunk the content marketing kool-aid, just get angry when you challenge their belief. Some turn into trolls and attack you for daring to be different and not follow the FOMO pack. Sad really.

So for the good health of these poor naive sods, please stop saying “content marketing” and then we can all just get on with marketing – sans buzzwords.


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