Why PR and SEO companies now say they specialise in content marketing
The survey also concluded that 90% believed content marketing would increase in importance over the next year.
There's no denying then that content marketing is seriously hot at the moment as more and more brands see it as a way of maintaining an ongoing relationship, with consumers.
However, as a recent article in The Guardian noted the demand for content marketing means that ‘suddenly you can't move for content marketing experts and agencies.'
So why then has content marketing become a key buzzword (or maybe that should be buzzphrase?) in brand circles this year?
What exactly is content marketing?
Firstly there is an ongoing discussion as to what content marketing actually is. Is it any form of marketing that uses content? Or should we take a more narrow definition?
The CMA recently offered what it believes is a definitive description of the term.
Content Marketing is the discipline of creating quality branded editorial content across all media channels and platforms to deliver engaging relationships, consumer value and measurable success for brands.
The CMA is a fairly broad church. Some members produce branded websites, others focus on magazines and in some instances hybrid magazine style apps. Then there are companies that create video for their clients and work with them on offline projects. Some CMA members do several, or even all of these things. What binds them all together is that they creating high quality editorial content.
Conversely many of the new breed of content marketers focus exclusively on online propositions. So where have they come from and what kind of consultancy are the newcomers offering to brands?
Where have the new agencies come from?
The slightly strange news is that very few of the new content marketing agencies are new companies. Many have been in existence for many years and until recently mainly practised Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
However a pair of tweaks to how the Google search engine works - known as Penguin and Panda - has meant that many of the old ways of directing traffic to a website have become almost redundant.
Some SEO agencies used to specialise in building links from other sites to their company's main website. The idea was that the more links to a site or post then the higher it would generally appear in Google's search rankings. Some of those links would be on blogs and websites and would be links that the agency had paid the blogger to create. More dubious agencies would simply add links to comments on posts.
The changes to the Google algorithm (and especially Panda which has promoted high profile editorially-driven sites) means that the search company looks not at the quantity of links to a site, but the quality. Even worse, it has penalised some companies and also the bloggers whose content links to their site, and this has lead to some agencies and sites frantically terminating links in a bid to keep Google happy.
So then if the search engines now rate quality links then it makes sense for those agencies to start focussing on creating content for brands. This is then offered to third party sites as either free content - or the agency pays the site to post the content like they would an ad.
This, coupled with the way in which pure SEO agencies are now viewed (a leading exponent of SEO recently told me that the term SEO agency was now seen by many brands as toxic) has lead many to re-brand as a content marketing agency.
Issues with the quality of the content
The former SEO companies invariably claim that they are expert in two things - producing quality content and knowing where to place that content. Their experience in knowing which sites are influential means that they are adept at the latter, but the content they actually produce is often very dry and stuffed with keywords. It doesn't often reflect brand values and in many ways can be a poor reflection on the brand.
Former SEO companies aren't the only agencies in this space. PR companies are also using a form of content marketing in a strategic way too.
Journalists and bloggers seem to increasingly be oblivious to emailed press releases. So to counter this some PRs have created content that reflects their clients' interests but could be of some editorial use to a media company. So, for example, a story on behalf of a client that listed ‘The 10 best festival smartphone apps' that was created by a PR company was recently posted several times in British media including on the site of a leading broadsheet newspaper.
At the CMA we believe that there is no substitute for experience. Some of our members have been creating branded content for forty years. They not only understand brand values and the mechanics of working with a client but they also aspire to excellence across what they produce. Many CMA members are also well versed in organic SEO and understanding the role of key words, headlines and content creation in attracting search engine traffic.
This is what we believe differentiates our members from many of the new breed of agencies.
Content marketing and advertising
Content marketing is also now being talked of as being complementary to, and possibly as a replacement for, traditional advertising.
The theory runs that consumers have become virtually blind to ads on websites and that brands need to take a fresh and pioneering approach. A good example of how this is starting to evolve is Toyota's work with the BuzzFeed site. To promote its new hybrid Prius vehicle it created a series of images that showed hybrid animals. The content was shared many times on social media sites.
There are many other examples of how brands have integrated content into media sites from guest posts through to sponsorship deals that include high profile positioning on a site of brand's content.
When the relationship is between the agency and the media organisation the media company will tend to use its own staff to create the content - if they have the relevant skills. However there is an opportunity for CMA members to work directly with clients or via agencies to create content that can be seeded on other high profile media sites.
Content marketing will continue to be buzzwords for the next few years. The opportunity for the CMA and its members is not only to underline their distinctive skills in this arena - multi channel approach, history of excellence, knowledge of how to translate brand values into content on an ongoing basis - but also to own the content marketing space too.