Can content be core business strategy? Robert Rose weighs in.
Allow me to state the (hopefully) obvious: executive content creation and thought leadership (our usual topics of concern here) need to be part of an organization’s overall content marketing strategy. But as content marketing matures, and the marketplace becomes more accustomed to and insistent upon useful, engaging, purposeful content (and more rejecting of blatant selling), the C-Suite will be wise to embrace a newly dawning reality: that content has the opportunity to go well beyond content marketing, to infuse, inform and even dominantly guide the organization’s foundational brand and business strategy.
That’s been my conviction for some time, ever since first jumping on Jay Baer’s Youtility bandwagon (and getting so excited that I actually wrote a song about it, which was part of the book’s pre-launch). It’s also my takeaway from a brief-but- fascinating conversation I had with Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Advisor at the Content Marketing Institute.
If you think that content is merely the marketing tactic du jour, I encourage you to listen to what Robert has to say in this brief video introduction, and then read the entire interview below.
Robert Rose on how content is transforming marketing, and business
Chuck Kent: You’ve said you see content changing marketing overall — how so?
Robert Rose: I see marketing evolving…that’s probably an understatement these days. It is cliché now that you go to a conference and hear about how buying patterns have changed, how channels have changed…the way that we research, become accustomed to, and ultimately buy and become loyal to products is all changing.
What hasn’t changed, really, is the operational model by which we create marketing. We still operate from the classically war-minded ideas of campaigns and tactics, front lines and back lines…the way marketing has been done since the beginning of the marketing department in the 1940s. The classic four Ps of product, place, price, and position.
So when we start looking at these things, we say, “How do we change the operation of marketing?” And what has changed, really, is that audiences — the ones we are trying to reach and convince to buy our products — have fragmented over many channels and platforms.
And content, ultimately, is what we are. Content, of course, is inclusive of advertising and direct marketing, brochures and press releases, and all of the things that we would create across those channels. So we have the opportunity to change marketing’s purpose, to actually create value with content. We can not only describe the value of the products and services that we’re selling, but we can create value with content through story-telling, through education, through general engagement and usefulness.
Content, and its full function in the business, can change the purpose of marketing from that which creates a customer to that which evolves a customer from bought, to loyal, to evangelistic. That’s how I think content has the opportunity to change marketing.
Content can change the purpose of marketing from that which creates a customer to that which evolves a customer from bought, to loyal, to evangelistic.
CK: Does content have the opportunity to transform a business even more fundamentally, on a basic brand foundation level, in terms of what your purpose is and how it gets delivered? And do content professionals have a role at the business strategy table, helping decide what a brand and business is all about?
RR: It’s a really good question. John Hagel, who is with the innovation group at Deloitte, has this idea of the entire model of business changing to be that of a trusted advisor. He even talks about the idea that businesses of the future will be trusted advisors first, across products, and then sell secondarily.
I’m not quite sure I’d go that far yet, but what I do believe is that businesses must first create value, through content, for their audiences. That is already changing the value of marketing and sales more broadly. It will come to change the value of customer service, product development, and all manner of things. You can see hints of that now as content becomes more core to what a business does.
This is easier for startup companies to achieve, and for companies that are smaller, because they can pivot in that direction. But you’re even starting to see legacy companies go down that road. Look at Verizon purchasing AOL, or Microsoft purchasing LinkedIn, all of them comprehending that a company has to first attract and understand its audience in order to sell it products.
Do you know what business you’re really in?
CK: So, back to your Deloitte reference. It sounds as if they’re approaching content as a way to deliver value that is deeper than just selling.
RR: That’s correct.
CK: Then respond, if you would, to another example, one that came up in a conversation with Dave McLaughlin, VP of Marketing for Clarke. It’s an environmental services company, specializing in mosquito abatement, among other things, and they have taken a very purpose-driven pivot in the last number of years. Now they see their mission not simply as selling earth-friendly mosquito control services, but as providing avenues for better world health. A very deep purpose.
CK: McLaughlin said that, as a result, people come to them first not as salespeople but as environmental and business stewards. Do you think that’s a reasonable expectation or aspiration for a larger set of companies — or for any company?
RR: I think it should be the aspiration of all companies. This is not a new idea. It’s something that Ted Levitt started to talk about fifty years ago, the need to understand what business you’re really in. He was talking about the railroads not understanding that they were in the transportation business, not the railroad business, or the Hollywood movie studios not understanding that they were in the entertainment business and not the movie business. This was all in Marketing Myopia, which is, of course, a seminal piece of work.
What I think McLaughlin was actually talking about is this idea of understanding the true purpose and solution of what it is a company stands for in the world. That’s truly, at its core, what we are as a business, right? We need to then say, “OK, how does that apply to what we do for a living?” It’s really interesting, because content certainly is a piece of that, as every part of the business needs to be. But content can actually be the foundational anchor by which we create that idea of our purpose.
Content can be the foundational anchor by which we create that idea of our purpose
For Clarke, that means becoming the true stewards of health, and for another company it’s really becoming the leader in electronics, as with Arrow Electronics. So understanding what business you’re really in is not a new idea, but it’s one that’s re-emerging as it becomes harder to engage customers at the product features and benefits level.
CK: I’ve noticed in your podcast that your compadre, Joe Pulizzi, has named purpose as one of the big trends coming in content. Is that what you’re talking about here, an extension of those comments?
RR: Not exactly. Joe speaks to the idea of the “content mission,” what it is we stand for and how it relates to developing content that delivers value to whatever constituency we’re trying to serve. I think what you’re speaking to is similar, but even broader, which is
- How do we get to the purpose of the business?
- How does content fit underneath that, to support the purpose?
Theoretically, what you’re talking about should affect every single thing we do, from the way we develop products to the way we operate. Where Joe is speaking about it from a content perspective, I think you’re speaking about it from a business purpose perspective. They are related, but Joe’s is slightly more tactical.
CK: Then I have one tactical-strategic crossover question left. Do you feel that content, in its broadest sense, is a better avenue for delivering on and living out purpose than other, more sales-oriented forms of marketing?
RR: I believe so. I’m passionate about content marketing, I’m passionate about content and telling the story of the business. I truly believe it will be the evolution of marketing. In five or ten years I don’t believe there will be a separate discipline called content marketing — I think that all marketing will be, in some form or fashion, content marketing.
I think that all marketing will be, in some form or fashion, content marketing.
In upcoming posts, we’ll be exploring the evolution of thought leadership, the content that drives it and the brand-building it serves, through the lenses of several studies by different branding firms and management consultants (which, of course, are getting harder to tell apart). Please be watching for those and, in the meantime, cogitate on what Robert has to say about content, purpose and value creation. You’ll start to see a critical business theme emerging — one that no organization, B2B or B2C, can afford to ignore.
About the Author
Chuck Kent, the Chief Conversation Officer at Lead the Conversation, is a writer, brand strategist, content creator and expert interviewer. He is also a Contributing Editor for Branding Magazine, where he created and moderates the monthly Branding Roundtable (which keeps him in constant conversation with business leaders from around the world). You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Lead the Conversation provides a practical way to develop authentic thought leadership content for busy executives. We also help the C-Suite create and lead industry conversations, to which they can invite other leaders, turning prospects into relationships.
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