In a commoditized world, it’s time to differentiate on content

TORONTO – If you posted a picture of your breakfast on Facebook this morning, you’re part of the problem.

From social media to regular media there’s so much noise out there today it’s hard to stand out. But Robert Rose, chief strategy officer for the Content Marketing Institute, told attendees at cloud backup and recovery vendor Asigra Inc.’s annual Summit conference that content marketing is perhaps the only way left for businesses to differentiate themselves in an increasingly commoditized business environment.

Marketing needs to change, Rose said. Creating content that moves the business forward needs to become the goal. The focus can’t be on narrow metrics such as demand generation. It’s about developing brand awareness and positioning yourselves as thought leaders so that, when it comes time for someone to start looking at a purchase, they already view you favourable apart from your competitors.

“It’s hard to differentiate in a commoditized market, but layering over content and experience in a crowded and noisy market may be the only thing left that differentiates us,” said Rose.

The problem is that, in many companies, content is everybody’s job and it’s no one’s job, and Rose said that has to change. It begins with collapsing the silos within the marketing department. You can’t have a social marketing department and an email marketing department – it’s just marketing, period. What’s the hot channel today could be gone tomorrow and that pace of change isn’t slowing down, so you can’t marry yourself to a particular channel.

“It’s just marketing. The focus should be creating value for customers through content and scale it to all platforms,” said Rose. “If you try to chase the tail of evolving social channels you’ll lose the game.”

And if you’re going to be successful, it’s important to remember content is everything to do with your business and nothing to do with your product. Lego didn’t make the Lego Movie feature its toys; rather, it made toys based on what the Lego Movie producers came up with. Kraft has launched a successful cooking magazine that consumers pay to subscribe to; the content they’ve created is so valuable people pay to get their marketing.

The challenge is that the democratization of content means that everyone is creating content and competing for the attention of the same consumers you’re trying to reach.

“If you went on Facebook today and uploaded a picture of your breakfast you’re part of the problem,” said Ross. “We have to be better at it. We have to create content that’s good. It’s as important to create and compete at the content level as it is at the product level. Being noisy isn’t enough. You have to create difentiated value, and earning out way into a consumer’s left through better content is the only way in. It’s no longer good enough to just be OK at content.”

Marketing also needs to be a strategic differentiator regardless of channel. People are inundated with email but direct mail has tailed off in recent years, so print can be a channel that can help a company get attention.

“Marketing must be the strategic differentiator because, frankly, it’s the only one we have left,” said Ross. “When someone is ready to buy, you want them to say that guy gave me value and that guy didn’t so I’ll go with him. Otherwise, you’re on the discount train.”

The key is to approach content creation methodically, with a strategy. Success isn’t immediate, and can’t be easily translated into something quantifiable such as leads. Like any other new product, content needs to be invested in and supported over time to find its success. You want to pick a few strategic points in the customer journey, and target each point with content that can add value. Create awareness to feed interest, nurture to build trust, and loyalty to illuminate shared values.

“You’ve got to create value for customers,” said Ross.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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