Why I don’t like or use the term ‘content marketing’ (except when a potential client wants some)

container-shipIt’s true, I’m not a fan of the term “content marketing” and would never* apply that term to the work I do. That said, I really like some people who are evangelizing the use of the term “content marketing” who have honored this blog with a high ranking on a new list of bloggers who write about what they believe the term describes (more on that in a minute).

So since I’m an accidental (but appreciative) “content marketing” blogger, I’d like to use this new authority to explain fully why I don’t like or use the term “content marketing” except when a potential client is using it to describe something they’d like to hire my firm to do. (The same is true for “Web 2.0″ or any other term I may accidentally be associated with.)

See, I have a problem with the word content when used to describe what I create. I believe using the word “content” voluntarily to describe what I do insults the talent, skill, creativity and craft that goes into the media my colleagues and I create and manage in collaboration with our clients. I believe the term “content marketing” makes it sound like I’m marketing a service to shovel out some commodity created primarily to fill up space or time. Creating “content” is not what we do. Helping tell brand stories. Adding value to products. Encouraging loyalty or involvement. Educating. Activating. Those are the things the talented individuals at our company do with and for the talented individuals who are our clients. “Generating content” is absolutely the least valuable of all the services we provide. And I say that knowing the “content” we create is consistently judged to be among the best “content” created by people at companies like ours.

Longtime readers of this blog know my go-to muse on the topic of the term “content” is the philosopher Doc Searls who summarizes everything I believe when he says (and I’m leaving it precisely in his vernacular), “Stop calling everything ‘content.’ It’s a bullshit word that the dot-commers started using back in the ’90s as a wrapper for everything that could be digitized and put online. It’s handy, but it masks and insults the true nature of writing, journalism, photography, and the rest of what we still, blessedly (if adjectivally) call ‘editorial.’ Your job is journalism, not container cargo.”

End of rant.

I need to be very clear: I have nothing personal against my friends and industry colleagues who want to use the term “content marketing” to describe a business category. I don’t use the term — but I’m not leading any faction that’s “anti-” anything. I’m for whatever anyone can do to let marketers know there are companies out there who can help them create and manage media used in building brands and creating communities. And I’m honored that my weblog is ranked #13 on the new Junta 42 Top Content Marketing Blogs. And I’m (big surprise here) enough of a self-promoter to encourage people to go there and “vote” (hitch) this blog up the list. And I’m also enough of a search-engine geek to know that if the marketplace wants to call the business I’m in “content marketing,” then I’m not going to try to hide from the term when potential clients are searching for it. So, “content marketing” searchers, head right over to Hammock.com if you’re looking for a company that can help you solve any editorial or graphic design or video or online content marketing needs you may have. Anything not involving container cargo ship content, in other words.

Oh, and another thing: if you haven’t fallen asleep yet, you must actually be interested in “content marketing” (or custom media, customer media, custom publishing, customer media, conversational media, conversation marketing, etc.) so let me also point you to a new weblog on Hammock.com called Custom Media Craft. It’s tightly focused on the “crafts” used in our development and management of brand story telling. Oh, wait. Another term for another post.

*(Updated on 12.04.2009) After a couple of years, I’ve given up on this battle. Hammock is a content marketing company for all of the reasons I’ve explained here. I don’t care what you call us, just call us.

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  • http://blog.junta42.com Joe Pulizzi, Junta42

    Hi Rex…well I must be interested in content marketing since I made it to the end of your post.

    I was not surprised at all to read this as we’ve discussed your “dislike” for the term content marketing. As you know, we’ve been really backing that phrase hard. Now for the surprising thought…for the most part, I completely agree with you.

    For the last decade I’ve been using custom publishing, custom media, branded content…heck, we even played with branded editorial content (which I liked). Fortunately, the industry phrase is not up to me, it’s up to the marketing community – the brands who use it. Content marketing is starting to take off as a term because of marketers. Try talking to marketers about custom publishing or custom media and watch their eyes glaze over. Content marketing is different. They get it (at least more than the other terms in my opinion). Just the mention of it and they begin to believe that there is another way to communicate with their customers.

    So, whatever term helps brands understand that they need to start being part of the conversation rather than interrupting the conversation, I’m all for it. It’s interesting that almost all custom publishers dislike “content marketing” (except for Simon Kelly at Story Worldwide). The great part is, it doesn’t matter what the custom publishing community thinks. The only thing that matters, as you point out, is that brands start to understand that this stuff will work to build their brand…and as Seth Godin states, may be the only type of marketing left on the planet.

    Congratulations on the Top 42 listing Rex…and I always appreciate your insight.
    Joe

  • Rex Hammock

    Thanks, Joe. As we are friends and have already agreed to disagree on this, I appreciate your comment and your efforts. As indicated in my post, as long as they continue to call, I don’t care what marketers call me. And, as I also indicated in my post, I will continue to do all I can to explain why encouraging the world to call what people create “content,” de-values what we do — and my purpose is to raise the value and recognition of what we do. That said, I’m with you: If those who want to make their associations, corporations and other institutions better users of the wide array of media tools available now want to use the term “content marketing” — and since I’m in the business of providing them services that will help them do so — I know what that means.

  • http://jaxn.org Jackson Miller

    I am in the “use the term content, but agree with you” camp. Then again, I am a programmer at heart and need to talk/think in abstractions. “content” is a necessary evil.

  • http://domania.info Paul Ding

    Doc Searles says “Your job is journalism, not container cargo”; he’s wrong for saying it, and you’re wrong for repeating that.

    The essence of news is that it’s ephemeral information about unusual events – an entertainment. It’s not news that dog bites man, but that man bites dog – but if someone searches for “man bite dog”, they’re going to want information about what to do if they’ve been bitten by a dog, or how to get their dog to stop biting, not information on how to protect their dog from the oriental restaurant down the street.

    Journalism is writing that reflects superficial thought and research, a popular slant, and hurried composition, conceived of as exemplifying topical newspaper or popular magazine writing as distinguished from scholarly writing: He calls himself a historian, but his books are mere journalism. Harsh, perhaps, but I’m not the one who came up with that definition – the lexicographers at Random House did.

    Calling it “editorial” instead of calling it “content” ignores the fact that most content is NOT news. You’re educating your customers, on the theory that smart customers will buy YOUR product. And that’s almost always true, even if there are many websites promoting different products/services for the same problem. Restaurant A points out that speed of service is critical, which is true on a 30-minute lunch hour, and they emphasize fast food. Restaurant B points out that sanitation is critical, which is always true, and they have the cleanest restaurant in town. Restaurant C points out that taste and texture are critical, and they have great meals. Restaurant D points out that eating smart is critical, and they feature a heart-healthy menu. Restaurant E points out the old joke that “there are two ways to fly – first class or with kids” and they have a soundproofed play area so that you can eat your burger in peace.

    Is any of that content “news”? No. It’s infomercial. And it’s important to readers. Take a look at the circulation figures for most daily newspapers. The Saturday paper has news stories about Friday night’s game at the local high school, so you’d think it’d have especially high readership, but in fact, it’s the poorest-selling newspaper all week. Number one of a six-day newspaper will be Tuesday or Wednesday, whichever day that all the supermarket ads run. Sunday will also be popular, and one reason is because that’s when so many “help wanted” ads run.

    I’m a former newspaper editor and publisher, and consequently, I’m a news junkie – but don’t kid yourself. More people read the advertising than read the front page.

    Content? It means there is SOMETHING THERE. If you think you can tell brand stories, add value to products, encourage loyalty or involvement with journalism, you’re deluding yourself. You can’t wrap the garbage in yesterday’s website. A hollow box won’t work. You need an infomercial – content.

  • http://www.thepomoblog.com Terry Heaton

    You’re SUCH a damned Cluetrainer.

  • Rex Hammock

    @Terry – It’s my favorite flavor of Koolaid.

  • http://om4.com.au Glenn Nicholas

    With apologies to Churchill, maybe content marketing is the worst possible way of describing what we are talking about, except for all the other ways. Media and content denote different things. Media describes some content well, but not all of it.

    There are so many influential businesses and people that use the ‘content’ word frequently. The Wall St Journal online ( ‘Subscriber Content’ on its front page), Harvard Business Review, the Google Content Network, the BBC, MySpace, User Generated Content, EFF, Pew, Lessig …

    Content is not a word typically associated with print and broadcast media. But the word is very commonly used in relation to the Internet. Content marketing seems a natural progression, a way of discussing how a huge variety of material – articles, photographs, films, songs, posts, forums, tweets … (the list goes on and on) – can be used in marketing.