We are, indisputably, deep in the throes of the age of content. Between the prominence of advertorial native content from large publishers like The Washington Post and the push (and popularity) of image-based content from startups, tech companies, and non-traditional publishers, the experience of the web is, unsurprisingly, less like running into the store to buy what you need, and a whole lot more like being a child in a museum. Content is much less often sought after than encountered, experienced in the same way that, in reality, we experience information as a stream of endless tributaries, some of which we allow ourselves to be led down. So, to say it another way, the existence and dissemination of content on the Internet, now inextricable from our lives, essentially mirrors our experience of reality. There’s simultaneously no choice and infinite choice in what we hear, what we experience through reading and seeing, and, with that charge, that our access to a content stream now mirrors the act of being conscious as a human being in the “real” world. As a result, the task of creating marketing content that will—much more so than before—become a literal part of a person’s experience of the world, is an important one, an ethical one that blurs the lines once again between a business’ bottom line and the more humanist project of making content that engages empathy and meaning.
The Problematic Situation of Content Marketing Right Now
The problem with content marketing right now—as was well-diagnosed by Forbes in their four-part-series—is that we’re used to thinking as marketers (“what will get the most clicks” “what will drive our potentials further into our sales funnel”). We’re so obsessed with our 10-item list posts, our frequent, often-irrelevant blogging, and our content visibility, that we’ve lose sight of the fact that what we’re doing—telling stories that engage people—should be our primary concern.
Don’t get me wrong; I know this is a very unpopular position. There’s a 100% chance you got your job because your company wanted you to sell a product, to build an ethos around a brand, to create and maintain a voice. And I get it. I’m not writing for free or without purpose either. But this is not the future of content marketing; it’s the present very rapidly fading into the past.
As our medium, the Internet, resembles more and more the information overload we experience and filter through as conscious human beings in the world, click-bait-y titles become become the eye-contact you avoid on the subway, and list-posts the scream of sirens when you’re trying to read. Be honest with yourself: do you buy a car because it talks at you from the morning paper, or because, through a series of impressions, you start to create a narrative of your life with the car in it? How many of you met your spouses because they came up and sat on your lap, uninvited, on the L train?
The Future of Content Marketing is Craft
The future of content marketing is through craft, seduction, and that might be a real problem for certain businesses. Many tasked with content marketing are just that, marketers, people who’ve spent their lives studying analytics and supply chains rather than language and structures of meaning and empathy. People who think that if you create just the right looking guy, no one will mind being straddled by him in a sardine can during rush hour. And these assumptions are dangerous for businesses because the harder they try, the more they alienate the audience they’re pitching to. Instead, marketing departments need writers, real writers, because real writers know something that so many marketing departments across the world don’t: your brand is the form, not the content.
In a world where digital information streams are equally bloated, equally present as those of conscious information streams, the messages “I’m selling something,” and “this is an ad” will lead to nothing, to shoe-gazing and the raised hand of “I’m not interested” you give when walking through the city. Content marketing must resemble content so thoroughly that it’s indistinguishable, that content marketing becomes, in a way, the short story of our time, so that, rather than quickly skimming and dismissing at the sell, the consumer follows you, with interest and actual engagement because you are telling them a story of their world, one in which they see themselves and you, meaningfully together.