Sometimes when trying to explain content marketing in comparison to straight up advertising, the response is: “oh, so it’s sneakier advertising.”
A grim cloud starts to hang over the conversation. There are nervous gulps. Sweaty palms start making things oh-so clammy.
Actually, no. Back it up. Here’s the thing: content marketing actually does have morals and it does follow an ethical guideline. This isn’t to say that advertising doesn’t have those things too, but there seems to be some negative connotation associated with calling something to be “sneakier advertising.”
Of course (as with anything), there have been examples of some questionable content marketing. But that doesn’t mean that in the majority of instances, marketers and content creators don’t try to be responsible.
Here’s how this moral compass works:
1. Content marketing isn't trying to fool anyone about what it is and does.
Content marketing doesn’t parade around with some sort of costume that’s trying to disguise its connection to a brand.
Furthermore, it seems that people are quick to compare it to the role of journalism and journalists. While we can point out journalistic integrity issues (Stephen Glass, anybody?), it’s also key to remember that while journalism and content marketing exist in a similar realm, they both serve different purposes.
Yes, content marketing is involved with a brand’s values and works with its products. But this isn’t damnable; think of it as filling a niche in the giant communication world.
2. The goal of content marketing is to add value and build brand loyalty.
Just like consumers, content marketers don't like shoving anyone down any kind of funnel (sales or otherwise).
It’s about developing and distributing content that audiences want to see. It’s about taking talking up and exploring the contributions of a brand’s offering and demonstrating how it can be useful and helpful in audiences’ lives (think how artists can use a tablet to create art, not ‘tablets: now on sale’).
Content marketing is meant to demonstrate what a brand stands for. The hope is that by providing excellent information, it will inspire brand loyalty.
Brands have to put their money where their mouth is. Content marketing is the tool to do it.
3. There’s a method to all the madness.
It’s not just ‘quick, stash the product in the background of the video somewhere.’ Marketers, content creators and the agencies they work for operate under an outlined creative process that is developed with ethics in mind.
This is the one place you can compare journalism with content marketing: ethics guidelines. Whether or not it’s specifically laid out in a list, the responsibility to transparency and accuracy are always paramount.
Ideas go through brainstorming and in-depth vetting. There’s a lot of research and a lot of studying audiences. When it comes to execution, there’s a review. Is this branded blog post clear about its position? Does it help fulfill a need within the audience? Does its information stick true? No? Back to square one.
And that’s just it in a nutshell.
So when thinking about content marketing. Keep an open mind.
Despite some dubious instances, there have also been a bunch of kick-ass examples that provide a true service to consumers by informing them, engaging them and inspiring their imaginations.