Content marketing is at the very centre of the ‘new marketing’ ethos: and rightly so. To the modern consumer, compelling, engaging, valuable content is certainly King. And anyway, no one likes those nasty, misleading, uninformative ‘adverts’ do they?

We want facts, substance, honesty and ‘value’ in exchange for our precious attention. Ultimately, if we deem to like you and trust you enough, we may grace you with our patronage. But hey, if you get this right, we may even grow to love you, fight for you, maybe even internalize your values and integrate them with our own sense of personal identity. How’s that for a prize?

Still, I’ve been having a few thoughts recently, which have led me to conclude that maybe ‘content based marketing’ isn’t quite as new, or anywhere near as revolutionary a concept as it currently being touted to be.

If the idea here is to develop ‘valuable’ ‘engaging’ and essentially ‘useful’ content ideas in order to attract and maintain the attention of our desired target audience and to instill in them feelings of trust, loyalty, desire and maybe even, in some cases ‘awe’; in short to powerfully influence them; then we can certainly look a little further back in history than the year 2010 to find some pretty large scale precedents for this approach.

In his book ‘Twenty Ads That Shook The World’ (well worth a read) James Twitchell proposes the fascinating idea that some of the very first – and probably finest – examples of the utilization of paid-for media, designed to impart a message and change the behaviors and beliefs of a target audience, are to be found within early Christian Art.

How about the Michelangelo’s ‘Roof of the Sistine Chapel’ as an exercise in influence via the provision compelling content?

Just think about it for a moment. Are not these awe-inspiring masterpieces, commissioned by the church, nothing more than jaw-dropping examples of ‘content’ on a mind-boggling scale?

Ok, so that’s fairly extreme, but I think still a fair example. Let’s wind the clock forward 500 years or so, to the early 20th Century and take a look at the early days of television advertising and the birth of one of today’s most pervasive and overlooked ‘content marketing vehicles’, the ‘Soap Opera’.

Straight from Wikipedia:

“A soap opera, often referred to simply as a soap, is a serial drama, on television or radio, that features multiple related story lines dealing with the lives of multiple characters. The name soap opera stems from the fact that many of the sponsors and producers of the original dramatic serials’ broadcast on radio were soap manufacturers, such as Dial Corporation, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Lever Brothers”.

Just think of the budgets involved in creating a weekly TV or Radio show. And these things ran for years – decades even – in some cases and were engaged with (semi-religiously) by millions of the ‘target demographic’ – i.e. mainly working class housewives, the desired target audience for the products in question.

If that’s not an example of a large-scale commitment to content based marketing, I don’t know what is!

In fact, every religious leader, despot, dictator, politician, CEO and Marketeer, has used these same tools of influence, in one shape or another, ubiquitously throughout history, from the Nazi’s flirtations with cinematic propaganda to Nike’s latest free personal training app. They didn’t achieve mass buy-in via passive advertising. They employed emotive, highly engaging content based vehicles of various formats, deployed via whatever mediums were the most relevant to reach the target audience.

Anyway, I suppose the point is, by now, well made. For hundreds of years, if not the entire history of mankind (I’m thinking about cave paintings now!), ‘advertisers’ have used combinations of words and pictures – sometimes moving, sometimes static, to create compelling ‘experiences’ aimed at influencing the beliefs and actions of particular audiences.

So, hopefully we can agree that, without question, in the battle for attention and influence, content is, and always has been, King.

My question, or challenge then, is this:

What’s your level of commitment to the content you produce?

Are you, like many, merely paying lip service to the idea of content marketing, seeing it as just another ‘fad’ or at best a small scale, bolt on to your ‘real’ serious marketing activity?

Think about it. Proctor & Gamble perhaps wouldn’t have sold quite so much soap powder if they had limited their activity to the equivalent of asking the office junior to ‘bash out a few tweets’ or commissioning a pointless infographic full of already freely-available industry statistics. Would they?

Sorry, although that may be the sad reality of things within many businesses out there, that does not represent a serious commitment to content marketing!

So in closing, if you are in, or desire to be in, the business of mass influence I would argue that the most effective way to win the hearts and minds of your target audience is to seriously think about making a large scale investment in a compelling content strategy designed to ‘pull’ your audience towards your proposition in droves and to keep them gleefully and eagerly coming back for more, over and over again.

To see how you could embed content marketing into the core of your future marketing strategy, why not try this entertaining little mental exercise.

1. Re-read the above and get excited about what real content could do for your business. This is real marketing. Don’t see it as an optional extra.

2. In your mind, take that big fat above the line budget of yours and cut out a big, juicy slice. I’m talking in the region of 35-50% (no, not the 3% or less that you previously had in mind).

3. That’s a lot of money, isn’t it? Good. Now relax. It’s ok. This is just an exercise. You can easily go back to doing everything the same as before afterwards, if you still think that sounds like a good idea.

4. Now let your self go crazy. Imagine what you could do with that money instead of spending it on passive, ineffective above the line advertising. (Because you already know that response rates are falling across the board, right?)

5. What could you build? What could you create? What would your audience flock towards? What do they need? How could you genuinely utilize those funds to improve or enrich their lives on a daily basis?

6. Relax again.

Hopefully, at the very lest, you now have some potentially interesting, maybe slightly scary ideas swirling around in your head about the true power of content based marketing.

If you’d like to talk to our team to figure out if, or how, this approach could be implemented within your business we’d naturally be delighted to help!

About us:

Working with some of the UK’s biggest brands for over a decade, we’ve established a market leading reputation offering Insight & Strategy, Creative, Digital Marketing, Web Development and CMS, Mobile and Social & PR.

We believe that common sense clouds innovation, so we practice uncommon sense. That people want real information, and that brands which make themselves useful, sell more.

Mark Bower