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Content marketing experts don´t follow their own advice

Content marketers don´t follow their own advice

Numerous agencies are throwing themselves on the content marketing wave.  But why don´t they use content in their own marketing?

I have been interested in learning more about content marketing since I recently took on a new position as Chief Communications Officer for a Norwegian-owned programming hub in Krakow.

And I thought: What can be a better place to start than going to the web sites of the agencies promising to help brands with content marketing? For sure they must be prime examples of how it should be done, with sites filled with compelling content positioning the brands as experts in their field?

What a disappointment!

I chose five marketing agencies that are positioning themselves as experts in content marketing in the small Norwegian market. I have no association with any of them – and the choice was more or less at random. Basically I selected companies that the major marketing magazine in Norway, Kampanje, had profiled recently as players in content marketing.

My question:

To what extent are the content marketing agencies using content marketing to promote themselves as content marketing experts?

Here is why the question is relevant:

  • Content marketing agencies claim content marketing is the most efficient way to build credibility and a strong brand among potential customers
  • Content marketing is all about creating compelling content that is relevant to the target group´s needs. This goes far beyond pure brand promotion articles. Example: Red Bull, which has such a massive content production that you might in fact think of it as a media company that also sells a drink.
  • A basic principle in content marketing is that brand should think as publishers – with professional storytellers on board.
  • So if these agencies claim content marketing is the most efficient, and that they are the experts in helping brands use this technique, we should expect the web sites of the agencies to be prime examples of how it should be done.

Content marketing agencies with no content on their own site are like social media experts with no followers on Twitter. I have seen many examples of the latter.

So I took a closer look at the web sites of the five randomly chosen agencies, looking for clues that they were using content in a more sophisticated way than just as pure self-promotion. I have not looked in depth at their visibility in other content channels, believing strongly that any content marketing strategy always should start with the brand´s own site.

My conclusion: Almost all of them are doing exactly what content marketers are saying no longer works: Only pushing promotional messages on customers.

Here is what I found:

Agency 1:  Redink

Redink - content marketing agency

Redink calls itself “Norway´s leading content agency”. It is also one of the biggest with 40 employees. Soon they will be joined by another 30 people after a merger with digital agency Pingbull.

So where is the content?

The web site has elegant and simple design – and there are quite a few articles on the site. But all of them are of the type promoting the company and its services. We are shown examples of their campaigns, they inform about new members of the staff and explain what services the company offer. There is a blog, but it is only used to write positive articles about Redink and its staff and projects, for instance that they won one of the main categories in CMA Content Marketing Awards 2013. The site also has a comprehensive and impressive portfolio of the projects they have done.

Redink states on their front page that they create “Historier som virker” – or “Stories that work”.

But they are not using their own media and web site to create such stories on their own behalf, with the possible exception of the portfolio page. So my question is: If the stories and editorial content they create work for the clients, why is the same type of content not efficient when a content marketing agency markets itself and its competencies?  Does Redink have a content strategy on their own – or do they only help customers to formulate a content strategy?

From the web site we get the impression that their focus is on the latter.

Conclusion for Redink: Content marketing used to very limited extent on their own site

 

Agency 2: Bonzaii

Bonzaii - content marketing agency

Bonzaii claims that “We are the CMO´s own desk”. And add: “Let us manage the content stream in your own, purchased and deserved channels”. And: “We are a complete partner in digital content marketing”.

It all sounds wonderful.

Again: Beautiful and elegant responsive design of the web site.

And a nice message: “The best advertising is a well told story”

But I have the same question: Where is the content?

The web site has  much less content than Redink – and it all is promotional in nature. There is no sign of Bonzaii using what they claim to do well in their own marketing: Telling stories.

Conclusion for Bonzaii: Content marketing is not used on their own site

Agency 3: Cloud Media

Cloud Media - content marketing

It all sounds so beautiful:  “Cloud Media Service provides unique Editorial Services and Content Marketing”

And the story is all the same: The web site is all about promoting themselves, including presenting a nice portfolio of customer projects. The news section is updated at very infrequent intervals. There is no attempt at using the techniques of content marketing to promote their own business, only claims that they are expert in doing the same for their clients.

Conclusion for Cloud Media: Content marketing not used on their own site

Agency 4: Medialounge

Medialounge - content marketing

Not an agency as such, but a startup platform for content syndication, Medialounge did the first big survey about content marketing in Norway (the report is sold for 3500 NOK).

But their own web site is almost completely lacking content – and in no way an example of good content marketing. In fact the web site has only two pages in total.

Conclusion for Medialounge: Content marketing not used on their site

 

Agency 5: Spoon Agency

Spoon Agency - content marketing

Spoon Agency has a long history in content marketing in Sweden – and recently also established a branch in Norway.

The agency writes: “Spoon has a very simple core philosophy – we want our clients´target audiences to like everything we do”.

Beautiful!

But what about Spoon´s own target audience – people  who might consider buying help in content marketing? Will potentioal love everything they do?

The Norwegian web site still looks quite similar to the other agencies we have reviewed. But when we go to the Swedish “original” site we finally get a different experience.

It is still not a lot of content. But Spoon at least has produced some interesting content for professionals who might be interested in their field: Content marketing.

They have the knowledge bank, with a few guides to content marketing. And their “news” section has articles that set out to make life easier to fellow content marketers.

It is not a lot. But Spoon is the only of the five content marketing agencies I reviewed that makes at least an effort in using content marketing in their own marketing as content marketing experts.

Conclusion for Spoon Agency: Some content marketing is used on their own site. Indication of stronger ambition.

 

So how should it be done?

I am by no means an expert on content marketing. I am only trying to learn. And I like writing about what I try to learn – thus this blog article :)

For sure there are lot of great examples out there. I have come across two which I follow with great interest: Content Marketing Institute and Contently.

Both provide a continuous stream of high quality articles about the topic they claim to be experts in. They are sharing their competence generously and by doing so building a credible position as experts that are listened to.

Content Marketing Institute

For a beginner like me the site of Content Marketing Institute is a gold mine. They provide daily blog posts, numerous how-to-articles, have regular newsletters, use Facebook actively, produce a weekly podcast and much more.

In short: They are a living example of what they claim to be experts on.

Contently

Contently is not an agency, but a content market connecting brands in need for content with freelance journalists and content producers – a little similar to what Medialounge  seems to plan in Norway.

Content marketing is core in their efforts to build this content platform. Among other efforts they produce the online Content Strategist Magazine – promising insights and analysis on brands, storytelling and the future of content. They also have a number of ebooks to download.

The articles are very well researched and written – and presents a company that really cares about quality of content.

What is your opinion?

My view is that agencies who claim to be experts in content marketing also need to use it themselves in clever ways to be credible.

What is your opinion? Am I totally off the mark here?  Should we only look at the work they do for clients?  Or should we expect that agencies act as they preach in their own marketing?

Please write your thoughts in the comment field below!

About the author: Experienced media manager and journalist. Enthusiastic about digital media – and eager amateur photographer. Currently Chief Communications Officer at Schibsted Tech Polska in Krakow, Poland.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://visualdays.no Peter Raaum

    No doubt you’re right, John Einar, but these five might have good reasons for the doing it the way they are, like @jorunnflydal tweets. I don’t know any of them particularly well. Generally: The challenge is not to follow the latest “must do”, being content marketing or whatever. That’s fairly easy, at most times. The hard part is to establish a strategy that both suits you, works for you, and produce results. We started Visualdays in 2011 because we missed doing the work we enjoyed the most during our years in Dagbladet and VG: Tell stories about interesting people, and get them published. Later that got a name: Content marketing. For a lot of our customers, this works just fine. And it works for us… By telling, showing and reporting some of the things we do on our web page, we get more customers than we can handle. Actually I would be happy to show more, but quite often our work are planned for in a customers long distance schedule, not the sprints we did so often in Dbl/VG. We make about 50 films a year, in addition to print and photo productions + strategy + distribution – perfect things for us to present in a blog, tweet or FB post. Check out visualdays.no, and see for yourself!

    • http://www.betatales.com John Einar Sandvand

      Thank you for your response, Peter! I wasn´t aware of Visualdays.no. Some very impressive stories there :) What is the relationship to Cloud Media?

      As old journalist myself I find it fascinating to see how brands and marketers can produce quality “journalism” that tell great stories very well. I put “journalism” in brackets because for me journalism by its definition is independent – and “marketing” by definition is not. But that does not mean the storytelling techniques and quality of content cannot be on the same level. And I suspect modern readers don´t always care who produced the content, as long as it serves their need.

      • http://visualdays.no Peter Raaum

        Agree! And keep the brackets, for journalism it’s not – even if some of the methods are much of the same.

        We did one job for Cloud Media back in 2012. Good friends, but no common business…

        • http://www.betatales.com John Einar Sandvand

          One job? On Cloud Media´s home page you are presented as Editor and Managing Editor of Cloud Media :) Not exactly correct, then? http://www.cloudmedia.no/about/

          • http://visualdays.no Peter Raaum

            One job.

  • Fredrik Østbye

    I see your point, John Einar and it’s definitely a good point that we should all be better at practicing what we preach, but remember: Our focus is on our clients, not ourselves. The way agencies gets clients if often in closed agency-competitions/pitches or in meetings/presentations. Statoil, Norsk Tipping, or Toro doesn’t simply read our webpage and become multi-million clients. Your constructive criticism is spot on, but I’m first of all proud of Spoons work for our clients, and we constantly try to be better, also at our own communication.

    • http://www.betatales.com John Einar Sandvand

      But Fredrik, if your clients said the same, that their focus is on their clients, not themselves and their own marketing, they would not buy your services, or would they?

      That said, I really like the philosophy about content marketing your company is presenting. Your thinking seems very right to me, for what it is worth :)

  • http://markhigginson.co.uk/ Mark Higginson

    You are spot on, however I don’t really want to see content about content marketing from these agencies. What I do want to see are hundreds of examples they’ve produced for clients — perhaps some I’m already familiar with because they’ve been so successfully shared.

    Pretty much every post on the ‘Content Marketing Institute’ website is a list of items describing what you should do rather than evidencing what works. If content marketing is all it’s cracked up to be it should be repeatable at scale.

    Also, regarding Red Bull, everyone uses them as an example of content done well. Have a click around on the stories on their homepage. Hardly any manage more than a few dozen shares. What does that suggest about the actual popularity of this content?

    Here’s a post I wrote for Sparksheet about the same issue regarding Coca-Cola’s efforts. Some interesting comments too: http://sparksheet.com/should-coca-cola-quit-its-content-marketing-journey/

    • http://www.betatales.com John Einar Sandvand

      Good point, Mark – and interesting article about Coca-Cola. What content a content marketing agency produces for its own efforts would depend very much on the company´s strategy and target group, as I see it. And no, it does not all need to be content about content marketing.
      The big challenge is being relevant for your target audience and to stand out as “expert” in a field where you can be unique. Content Marketing Institute has chosen their concept, which I think they do very well and with great consistency. Other content marketing companies may choose completely different concept. Take Contently, for instance, the other successful example I mention. They have chosen to make a magazine about content strategy, targeting content marketers. With their position, building a content platform, they might as well have considered targeting the huge group of poor freelance journalists who also use their platform with practical advice about how to professionalize their business.

  • Jonathan Oxtoby

    It’s a bit like the story about which hairdresser you should go for. The one with expertly cut hair and a lovely clean shop should be avoided – for obvious reasons he has to get someone else to cut his hair for him, and he has time to make his shop beautiful because he has no customers!

    Busy content marketing agencies constantly have to balance working on their own content with their customer’s content, and – at the simplest level – we don’t get paid to do our own content! In smaller industries, where word of mouth and personal networks are still incredibly powerful tools for finding new business, working on your website’s content can be much harder to justify as an activity. We do try to make our website as relevant and useful as possible with content, but we have to remember that our primary goal is to do that for our clients!

    If you want to get a feel for what quality content an agency can produce, get in touch with them – see if they have examples they can share (depending on their clients this may not always be possible) and let that be your guide :)

    Jon

  • editorialist uk

    Just one thing:

    Have you ever seen an advertisement for an advertising agency?

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    It’s a bit like the story about which hairdresser you should go for. The
    one with expertly cut hair and a lovely clean shop should be avoided –
    for obvious reasons he has to get someone else to cut his hair for him,
    and he has time to make his shop beautiful because he has no customers!
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  • Amara Heslin

    Interesting article John. There really are times that content marketing agencies (e.g. http://siteabove.com/) do not follow their own advice. It really is about what the customers want you to do. Keep in mind that content marketing agencies have a goal of keeping their clients satisfied with regard to the service you provide and the revenue they get. Admit it that there are customer demands that you could not just say no to. Agree?