Monthly Archive: August 2014

Content Is King, But Is The King A Benevolent Ruler?

We’ve all heard the phrase “Content is King” too many times for it to actually mean much. There are too many questions left unanswered. King of which court? Who is the Queen? How do the subjects feel about content? And so on.

Ross Simmonds makes a great point in the following slide deck. He says content alone does not get the job done. You need high quality content plus high quality distribution to make a substantial impact.

Mid-way through the deck, Simmonds make the point that one ought to spend twice the amount of time promoting one’s blog post, as one does creating it. Is this good advice or bad advice? I do not want to be quick to judge, but I can report that in over a decade of writing blog posts, I have not followed this formula and have still managed to do pretty well by my blogging efforts here, and on

Would I be even more well known in my industry, and therefore more prosperous, if I were to apply the above rule of thumb and spend several hours promoting this post and every new post I make? Perhaps, but I am far from convinced it is a wise investment of my time. Thought leadership and influencer marketing have a role to play in my work, but how large of a role?

Here’s another question to ask: How important is inbound marketing to your business?

Compelling content can create leads and it can generate favorable e-commerce results. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. For instance, when looking to hire an agency, or a content provider as the case may be, it is not as simple as buying a t-shirt—the qualifying process is a nuanced dance that takes places over days, weeks and months. My point is I want inbound leads like everyone else, but I know I can’t rely too heavily on this one new business channel. Therefore, I am comfortable letting the content I create speak for itself to a large degree.

The web of marketing advice is a sea of self-assured proclamations. It’s good to look for new points of view, just as it is essential to know what business you are actually in and how to go about growing it. With limited time in the day, small business operators need to focus on the most productive means to more revenue. In some cases, the time spent promoting a blog post might be better spent fine tuning one’s Google Adwords campaign, or Twitter Ads campaign. Or the time might be better spent meeting potential clients in person.

If/when you need help understanding which marketing methods are best for your particular business, I’m happy to discuss it with you.

If An Ad Guy Wants Your Message To “Blend In,” He’s A Quack

Native advertising—a term I can’t stand, and a concept that I do not believe in—is all over the news this week. One reason for the attention is comedian John Oliver’s takedown of Native advertising on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight. Oliver is a bright and funny guy and his critique is a step in the right direction; yet, from my perspective, it falls short.

Oliver doesn’t like that church and state have been merged in today’s media.

I don’t like the idea that church and state in media were ever stand alone silos. Reporting and delivering news and opinion is a business. Journalism may serve a public good—when it is done extremely well—or it may fail utterly like the propaganda that passes for broadcast news today. Either way, news is a business and it is susceptible to the kind of market changes that all businesses in dynamic industries face. My point is that a division of church and state in media is a false ideal, so there’s nothing to restore to its former pristine condition.

Now that we see how journalism is not (and has never been) operating by higher standards than advertising, we can move forward. And may the best storytellers win!

Let’s put this in branded terms. Take an environmental issue like the diminishing water supply in the American Southwest. Which source might you trust the most here: The Los Angeles Times, The Sierra Club or Patagonia? I see all three as legitimate sources, and that’s the point. Patagonia has deep trust and credibility among its customers, and these bonds are more than a marketing platform. In a world where disinformation is the norm, trust (not outdoor gear or memberships or news) is the premium offering.

Native advertising on news sites degrades the trust of visitors. Its continued practice will come back to bite the very brands that employ this uneducated approach to marketing.

News brands losing trust by agreeing to hide narrative ads in their pages is not my concern. I want companies to continue to invest in branded content, but to do so proudly and openly. Blending in has never been part of the ad business and the same holds true today. Our job is to create visibility for brands, not its opposite, and content has a major role in this. Do you think Red Bull wants to blend in? An energy drink company that also owns a MLS team and publishes a monthly newsstand magazine definitely wants to stand out, not blend in.

Are we clear now on what content’s role is in the marketing mix? Content is the centerpiece of relationship marketing. Content is supported by and works in conjunction with a brand’s event marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, direct marketing and traditional advertising. Advertorial, as Native was once called, does have a place too. I understand brand managers are concerned that the placement of an obvious “Advertorial” label may throw readers off the trail. The answer to this concern is not to hide your story, so it appears to belong. The answer is make your story better than the journalism it surrounds.

The fact is brands have the money to invest in high quality content. Many media companies do not. That’s an advantage for brands, whether they opt to run stories with existing media outlets, or launch their own media vehicles. Either way, the idea is to compete with the best storytelling out there and earn trust one story at a time.


A great example of a company that is using content to drive commerce is Priceonomics. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, the company makes its money building data-crawling software, which it uses to collect information so businesses and hedge funds can make decisions about investments. Readers wouldn’t know it by visiting the Priceonomics website, which looks like a news blog. The only mention of its software is buried at the bottom of the page.