It’s all content marketing? Say what?

I am an editor of technical content that is published on a site targeted to developers; I like to say that it is written by developers for developers. Our site also includes downloads and communities, where developers can interact with our technology with other developers who are using that technology. Never have I ever (no, not the drinking game, folks) thought of what we do as content marketing.

I ran across this article, All Content is Marketing, and I’ve read it a few times now. It suggested that blogging, webinars, and eBooks were obviously marketing, but that FAQs and Docs (among others) were not typically seen as marketing (where I fell), but the author quickly cried BS to that. The author defines these odd (yes, that’s my word) levels of quality of technical content: functional, comprehensible, usable, enjoyable, and motivational. It’s this last level of quality that clearly shows the author is a marketer, and why all content is (or should be) marketing content in his eyes.

So, this led me to research some definitions of content marketing:

  • From the Content Marketing Institute: “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” (Emphasis mine.) This article also says that content marketing is “communicating with your customers and prospects without selling.”
  • From Wikipedia: “Content marketing is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers. This information can be presented in a variety of formats, including news, video, white papers, e-books, infographics, case studies, how-to guides, question and answer articles, photos, etc.”

Perhaps the secondary purpose of our content might be content marketing, or perhaps our technical content might be used as a means to the end (and thus considered content marketing material). Noone really wants to be marketed to, but developers especially I think. They are impatient readers of content, itching to get back in their code, itching to get back on task, and don’t really want the “fluff” of the “call to action” that marketing might push into our technical content.

In my mind, I think our technical content is most often written to the developer who has already bought our product or technology, and so “marketing content” is something different or separate. I think I can see how high quality technical content (how-to information) might be used along side of other marketing content, and therefore be seen as just another type of marketing content, but ultimately that is not the primary purpose of our content.

Another article was included in my Google search results as I tried to understand this idea of content marketing. It was a Forbes article, “Ways Content Marketing is Going to Change in 2015“. This article certainly supports this idea that “Content is King” and is at the heart of any good marketing campaign or solution. This article doesn’t suggest that technical content is created for marketing purposes, but that technical content is used in the marketing process. Am I splitting hairs? Maybe so, but as a technical communicator, I put my users first and the users’ goals second, and so my audience and my purpose is not to “attract and keep customers” (that’s the marketer’s goals).

Returning to the original article (All Content is Marketing) that sparked my musings on content marketing, the author actually includes some good guidelines for improving written content in an online web world:

  • Include meaningful images, whenever possible.
  • Include headings and subheadings throughout.
  • Keep your paragraphs short.
  • And, speaking of length, the Goldilocks principle wins: Not too short, not too long, but just right for achieving clarity of your message.
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5 Responses to It’s all content marketing? Say what?

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    For far too long technical communicators and marketers have been isolated from each other. Now, as if to compensate, people are saying crazy things like “it’s all content marketing.”

    Yes, there’s a great deal of overlap between technical content and marketing content. Yes, we as technical communicators need to be aware of how our content affects the customer’s relationship with the company. But you’ve summed it up perfectly: not everything that we do is marketing. And content isn’t king. The audience is king.

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  2. Anna Biunno says:

    Great post, Michelle.

    I think this is fodder for a deeper discussion.

    According to Forrester Research (http://blogs.forrester.com/lori_wizdo/12-10-04-buyer_behavior_helps_b2b_marketers_guide_the_buyers_journey):

    “Buyers today complete from 60 to 90 percent of their buying decisions before they engage with a vendor. Until people make their decision to buy, they inform themselves using websites and social channels. Even when they attend physical events, they evaluate products and solutions on their smartphones and tablets. They avoid salespeople until they are ready. Content influences consumers’ impressions of a company throughout what marketers call the customer journey.” …

    At every touchpoint in the customer’s journey, buyers want what technical writers have specialized in all along: useful, authentic, relevant, accurate information that solves problems. They don’t read the marketing fluff and spin to make purchase decisions.

    According to a 2013 IBM survey, almost 89 percent of visitors to IBM’s website for technical product information reported that high-quality technical content was either “important” or “very important” to their initial purchase decision (IBM Survey, Intercom, May 2013, http://intercom.stc.org/2013/05/telling-the-right-story-proving-the-business-value-of-content).

    Though you edit content written for developers by developers, technical content has an impact on a company’s bottom line whether you’re directly contributing to that bottom line or not. You can link content marketing to technical writing in that good documentation (as proven by the IBM survey) turns prospects into customers and customers into advocates. That is the customer journey at its best. Multi-channel communication with the user (customer) doesn’t stop when the sale is made; it continues through data sheets, product documentation, white papers, announcements, etc. It’s ALL content marketing.

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    • Michelle Corbin says:

      I do not agree that it is all content marketing. My content might be used in marketing & sales, and they might be a key critical component of making that sale, but that content is not created for the purpose of marketing or selling the product. I think that’s what I’m getting at — the purpose of my content is not to attract customers or to sell a product; the purpose of my content is to instruct or support or educate users about a product or technology, in order to use that product or technology to get their work done. Marketing and sales people might rely on or include my technical content in their collection of collateral to use and promote, but as a content creator I am not producing that content for their purposes but for my users’ purposes. I do not want to change what or how I write what I write, which is what this particular article did seem to suggest in identifying or evaluating what made quality content.

      Maybe my technical content is used as part of content marketing, but my technical content is not marketing content. Ah, fun with words, and splitting hairs.

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      • Anna Biunno says:

        Michelle,

        Agree completely with what you’re saying. The message that I intended was not the one that was received, unfortunately.

        Of course, our content is meant for our users. I’ve inherited legacy docs that included marketese, which I immediately removed through my edits.That’s not where it belongs for our target audience.

        You and I are saying the same thing. We write content that may be used by marketing and sales, but we’re NOT writing it to sell the product. The sale of the product might be one of its side effects. My point was that if you write good technical content, which solves your users’ business problems, you’re increasing the company’s credibility (one that stands behind the quality and design of its product and services).

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      • Michelle Corbin says:

        Ah, yes, we are indeed saying the same thing! I think this is a fuzzy, fuzzy line that is getting blurred more and more these days, as more techcomm teams get moved into marketing organizations or get tapped to contribute to marketing documents.

        Side note: I really find it interesting that blogs are considered marketing content. Even in my current area, blogs are pushed into a “community” space and not considered part of the technical content that we work on. It’s interesting to see delivery mechanisms defining types of content in this way.

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