Mark Higginson

How attention flows on the web


05 July 2014

We’re a business, and if this wasn’t successful we would pull the plug. That we’re expanding this program as fast as possible should tell you something.

#### Should Coca-Cola quit its content marketing journey?

The above is a reference to my popular piece on Coca-Cola’s content marketing that popped up in a presentation by local Brighton agency Brilliant Noise recently. Bizarrely they chose a quote Ashley Brown, former group director of digital communications at Coca-Cola, left in the comments on my piece to substantiate their point-of-view that brands should be churning out content.

It’s a somewhat circular argument given that businesses do unsuccessful things all the time when they don’t understand the facts of the situation, which is what my original post had evidenced. Simply, the biggest obstacles aren’t ‘leadership, operations and content systems’ as stated in the presentation but entrenched viewpoints. If you’re job is to sell the idea of ‘content marketing’ as a solution to fragmenting attention then you’re part of the problem and no amount of data is going to convince you otherwise.

In the case of Coca-Cola, as far as we can see, the majority of their content doesn’t get shared. This means that anyone reading a post is a visitor who is aware of Coca-Cola for some other reason than the specific piece of content they’ve ended up clicking through to read from elsewhere on the site. The content therefore has limited incremental value to Coca-Cola beyond potentially reinforcing a perception in someone who is already aware of the brand. This content only gains potential value if it’s then shared by the reader with people who would not have otherwise visited the website. This is the social recommendation that carries the message to other people. If your content isn’t spreading and you aren’t a publisher, in that your core business is not getting people to look at pages on your website, then you’re wasting your resources.

The whole presentation from Brilliant Noise is very muddled. On the one hand there is talk of ‘taxonomy and ontology’ referencing this interesting post by Paul Rissen at the BBC. Wonderful stuff if you’re Charles Darwin or a publisher of thousands of items a day. For the rest of us the term ‘category’ or ‘tag’ will suffice quite nicely and we don’t need to worry much more about this. The subsequent speaker then states that you’re ‘not trying to emulate a publisher’ which confuses rather than clarifies given the main thrust of the argument throughout.

The real moment for me was when Ken Punter of the University of Warwick asked for examples of brands doing this well who weren’t publishers or Red Bull. This was met with a pause that spoke volumes. The eventual response was: ‘we’re working with our current clients to get this in place’. I’d suggest if your claimed ability to model a ‘customer decision journey’ is actually viable you should be able to demonstrate several hundred examples per client of content being read, being spread and leading to a business benefit. Otherwise this is meaningless handwaving. If you’re going to emphasise the importance of measurement then put numbers against what you’re saying. The fact that zero examples were given we could go and look at online was exceptionally telling. This is an industry-wide problem and a typical marketers’ tactic of discussing the possible shape, size and weight of the elephant in the room without ever addressing who invited the elephant in the first place. I posted about this three years ago.

Behind the rhetoric of ‘digital this and that’ what you have here is an attempt to bolt-on what are ultimately very traditional and expensive structures to existing business marketing functions. This is good for agencies selling all the attendant services. Whether this actually helps your bottom-line is the perennial question. What you need is a clean-sheet reappraisal that looks at this without assuming the answer is the recurring expense of a content team. Such a team will leave you a minimum of hundreds of thousands of pounds out of pocket before you’ve even published your first piece that gets widely shared with people who may or may not be your potential customers.

If you want to find out what a clean sheet approach looks like get in touch with me and I’d be happy to talk you through what I’m working on.

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