$17 Billion in Content Down the Merlot Drain

Three years ago when Ann Handley declared “Content is the new black,” I wrote a post for CMO.com exhorting marketers everywhere not to turn content marketing into “the new Merlot.” I wrote:

I’m old enough to remember when California Merlot first got hot, thanks to the passion and craftsmanship of vintners who put patience and experience into creating big-but-balanced wines that authentically reflected their land and heritage. Great Merlots are still out there – but good luck finding one among the sea of cheap knock-offs that give Concord grape juice a bad name.

Fat lot of good it did me. Or you.

The Merlotiness of the vast sea of content in which we are all awash was confirmed a few weeks ago by new research from the CMO Council. As described in this MediaPost story, only 12% of marketers “believe they have high-performance content marketing engines that are strategically programmed to target the right audiences with relevant and persuasive content.”

In other words, the estimated $16.6 billion (and growing) being spent annually on content designed to build brand awareness and generate high-quality leads is mostly going down the drain. Why? Because most content development fails to connect the dots between strategic intent and excellent execution.

That’s the “fundamental disconnect” the research identifies. Either marketers are not thoroughly specifying their prospective audiences, what they truly care about and the information they need, or their content authors are not hitting the target – or both. The result is content that does not engage audiences deeply or for the long term, both of which are necessary to the nurturing of high-quality leads that turn into committed customer relationships.  

The solution, like so many challenges presented by content marketing, comes down to thinking like a publisher. That means understanding the needs of your audience, creating content to serve their needs and, whenever necessary, even advocating for their needs.

The trick of great content marketing, of course, is to do all that in a way that achieves your marketing objectives. The “publisher” metaphor for that is the publication’s positioning, and the mission and editorial voice that fall out of it. Great content demands that marketers define their content mission with authenticity, focus and precision, and from two differing perspectives: their brand and its audiences. Then execute with passion and craftsmanship that really brings that mission to life.  

That’s the only way to produce the content marketing equivalent of first-growth Bordeaux while others produce … well, third-tier Merlot.