content marketing echo chamberMost corporate websites serve as platforms for brands to talk about themselves. Social Media? Amplification of what brands say about themselves and maybe what positive things others are saying about the brand.

These are not conversations. They are content marketing echo chambers. What is the content marketing echo chamber?

Brand noise. By the brand, about the brand, for the brand, and constantly being reverberated across platforms.

But now we have evolved from brands simply talking about themselves on their websites, to brands activating their employees to talk about their companies, and even to brands asking customers and partners to talk about the brands and to mention how great the brand is. All echoed in the social sphere.

The problem with this approach: you start to believe what you hear. The messages seem forced. And you begin to believe your own hype. You begin to think you are doing a great job at reaching your customers.

But in reality, more and more of your potential customers are tuning you out…

Content Marketing: The “Year of The Story?”

Some have called 2012 “the year of the story.” And Fast Company points out that this is much more than brands telling more stories about themselves.

This is about compelling content that puts customers needs ahead of the brand in order to create powerful connections. They even identified storytelling as a key marketing skill for today’s hyper-social and mobile-connected world.

Stories are important because they help us connect. Effective stories draw us in. They make us not only want to follow along, they actually make us part of the story.

I’m not sure 2012 will be remembered as the year of the story. I believe the forces of Content Marketing and Social Business have made great strides in 2012 and will continue to move forward in 2013.

Focus On The Customer

But the thing that keeps getting in the way: a lack of focus on the customer.  There are plenty of excuses for overly-promotional and boring content. Many content marketing and social media programs serve only to promote products because their managers are saying “we are in the business of selling products.”

But every company is sending more and more of this same content blahhhhh and our customers are tuning out. We are seeing a battle for customer attention taking place. And only the content that grabs the readers attention and inspires action is getting through.

The Most Important Step To Content That Doesn’t Suck

Earlier this year, I covered Content Marketing Institute founder, Joe Pulizzi’s 6 steps to content that isn’t boring. Inspired by Joe, I said the main point was that “good content educates, entertains or even amazes your audience because it starts with a focus on them, not you.”

So the most important step to content that doesn’t suck is to “remove your brand from story.” Or in other words: Stop talking about yourself.

You’ll win more friends and influence more people. You’ll start to get a sense for how large a role you play in the larger conversation. And maybe you can even earn the trust of the community to start chiming in.

Do You Hear The Content Marketing Echo Chamber?

Are you working to drive the customer into the center of your brand communications?

Let me know what you think in the comments below. And please follow along on TwitterLinkedInFacebook and Google+ or Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog for regular updates.

About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the Vice President of Global Marketing for SAP where he leads content strategy and serves as the managing editor of the company’s award-winning Business Innovation thought leadership blog site. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to B2B Marketing Insider by Email

34 Comments

  1. James Gunter said…

    You hit the nail on the head, man. It’s like the guy at a dinner party who won’t shut up about himself and interrupts every conversation in order to give his (irrelevant) viewpoint. Sure, he’s walked out of the party having talked to a lot of people, but he’s not going to be invited back.

  2. Dan McCarthy said…

    Great observation, Michael, and strong guidance to focus on the customer.

    I don’t think you can under-emphasize just how hard this new marketing environment is, and how far the workflow & processes are from the way that traditional marketing has always been managed.

    I see brands get off track in three places:

    * customer doesn’t equal audience. The customer experience is cemented in the transaction and the product or service. Content resonates with audience differently than it does with customers. To develop an integrated content plan, you have to know who the audience is and understand how to provide a path for your customers from being part of the audience to being someone who has a claim on your company for specific information and response.

    * engaging, informing, entertaining and interacting with an audience has varying dimensions in terms of time, scale and purpose. But to be successful over a long period of time, you have to understand how to set and meet expectations.

    * measurements have to be aligned with your goals and have different focus and priorities depending on how they relate to your overall business objectives. There’s a reason people talk about a marketing funnel….

    Good content creators aren’t always good content strategists. The best writers most often the best editors, producers or directors. Good content strategists won’t always be the top marketers. And none of this talent comes cheap. So, a content marketing program has to be integrated into the marketing strategy at the highest level and implemented in coordination with everything else that is done.

    That’s where the traditional organization of marketing departments works against the current content imperative. It’s a lot like the early days of digital marketing and web site development.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Wow, Dan! I cannot thank you enough for extending my superficial thoughts to a much deeper level. I agree completely. Now the next step is to define how we get there from here? Maybe a post for next year ;-)

  3. Ray Horan said…

    I couldn’t agree more with the focus on customers. I am currently performing an exercise the involves outlining buyer personas for our ideal customers. It is proving to be an effective method of focusing the content strategy for next year’s editorial calendar, with a firm focus on creating engaging content that our audience are looking for and will interact with.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Ray, and good for you that you are using buyer personas and their needs to drive your content and marketing strategy. That is the key first step in planning that so many of us miss!

  4. Doug Kessler said…

    Great post — and comments!

    We’re seeing our B2B tech clients start to really embrace the idea of putting the customer at the center of the content marketing program – and getting more granular about it by designing content and programs around specific personas.

    We’re doing some work around the idea of the Content Brand and your echo chamber metaphor fits perfectly.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Hey there Doug, thanks for stopping by. I had this article on the tip of my tongue, as they say, for a couple of weeks. It seems to be getting worse. And I see some marketers high-fiving each other because of the latest tweet they sent about their own company. Or the blog post they wrote that was pretty much just to please their boss because who the heck would read it.

      Always happy to have your support!

  5. Lauren Craft said…

    Wow, this article is just what I needed to hear! I am in charge of the social media at my office and I run out of things to say about the company and I’m slowing heading towards unrelated content that is also interesting for readers. Sometimes It’s hard to post content that is both appropriate from a business standpoint and also relevant to our audience.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Lauren, if you’re running out of things to say, imagine how our audiences feel? Delivering interesting content is the new marketing mission IMHO!

  6. Richard Hill said…

    Great article Michael, I couldn’t agree more.
    Your observations (and your additional comments James) made me think straight away about a great old term I recently discovered that may shed more light on just how deep a problem this may be! The term is ‘Conversational Narcissism’ and it was coined by Sociologist Charles Derber in the 19070’s. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Derber).
    He coined this term after observing 1,500 face-to-face unfold. He found that despite good intentions, and without being aware of it, most people struggled with a tendency to want to steer the conversation away from others and toward themselves. Sound familiar?!
    Like you (it seems), I believe that too many B2B marketers suffer from an unhealthy self-absorption that sees us want to talk about ourselves way too much, and not enough about buyers and what is important to them. I spend most of my days thinking about and building marketing automation powered nurturing programs. And while I’m no Sociologist, I’m convinced that if Dr. Derber were to observe 1500 B2B marketing nurturing programs, he’d likely find the very same behavior. It’s a condition I’ve started to refer to as “Nurturing Narcissism”- and I know its holding back B2B buyer engagement and response rates.
    In fact recently we validated this hypothesis through looking at the results of a large email-based nurturing program we built with a client of ours. We consciously built some of the emails to talk more about their brand, with more overt “sell” messaging. Other emails were more buyer-oriented, with messaging and content that was much more “help me” focused. What we found was the bundle of “help me” emails significantly outperformed the bundle of “sell to me” emails, across a range of email performance metrics. The most significant was a 201% relative increase in click-through rates in educational/help focused emails vs. product/sell focused emails.
    To avoid be “Nurturing Narcissists”, we always asks now when designing content for nurturing programs, “if I were a buyer in this program, how would I feel?” “Are we talking too much about ourselves and not enough about our buyers and what’s important to them?” And personas are – as you and Ray pointed out – a great starting point to getting this right.
    Thanks for starting a great conversation on this important topic Michael.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Richard, not only did you introduce me to a new term, you provided hard data to back up what we are both trying to say here (avoid the Conversational Narcissism). Thanks so much for your comment and for extending this conversation in such an intelligent and helpful way!

  7. Luke Kintigh said…

    Great post Michael. I’ve been trying to preach this message internally at my company as well. When see things as if you’re [brand] the star of the show, nobody cares and will be compelled by your message. Your content must ladder up to a larger epic that will connect with people’s emotions, needs and desires. Find your sub-plot to a larger epic! Keep up the good work!

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Luke. It is a constant battle because, as Richard notes below, it is just human nature to want to talk about yourself. That is why I always tell people that marketing is counter-intuitive.

  8. Seamus Condron said…

    Sharing valuable, thoughtful content is the biggest challenge brands face. When they don’t know what to say they default to an insular mindset that eventually just tunes out their audience.

    The challenge of “what do I say and share multiple times a day on social media” is going to be tackled big time in 2013. From my perspective (and my company, Rallyverse), technology can help brands and their storytellers (i.e. community managers/social media marketers) in the form of content discovery tools that cater to the interests of their community, not just the corporate messaging. Get ready for the rise of the content inspiration engine.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Seamus and I hope you are right that this will be tackled in 2013. I also believe content curation is a really useful tool to help brands find and share interesting content when they struggle to create enough on their own.

  9. @James Gunter.
    Funny – I have seen that precise analogy in the book “The death of Propaganda” by Jonathan Winch, Michael Best and David Hoskin.
    And it is such a good way of getting the serve over.

    @Michael Brenner.
    Thanks for a great post!

  10. Pontus Staunstrup said…

    Hi Michael, as always I enjoy your insights and observations. One point, however. You are absolutely correct that too many companies spend all their time in the echo chamber, talking about themselves. But creating content that is relevant and engaging for your target audience should not mean taking your brand out of the equation. In fact, that is what your brand should be all about, telling great stories about how your products make life better for the users or enabling them to share stories about how they can put your products to good use. Working with content marketing makes us to a large degree brand builders as well.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Hi Pontus, My point is that because there is SO much content in most companies that is ONLY about the brand, there needs to be a mix. How about a whitepaper on 10 ways to solve problem X or a blog post on how leading companies are innovating. The point of my post is that there is certainly a place for brand stories but the majority of the information needs of our customers are not about our products. We need to be present there as well.

  11. You are so on point with this article, Michael! Thank you!

    “This is about compelling content that puts customers needs ahead of the brand in order to create powerful connections. They even identified storytelling as a key marketing skill for today’s hyper-social and mobile-connected world.”

    I keep telling clients and participants in my workshops that it is not about them anymore. It is about their audiences. You have to include them in your journey. You have to create contact that they can relate to. Otherwise, what’s the point?

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Cendrine, I keep wondering what it is going to take for marketers and business leaders to get this point. But ultimately, customers are gonna start voting with their feet. Thanks for helping the cause!

  12. Pontus Staunstrup said…

    Hi Michael, just to clarify: I totally agree with you that a majority of the content a company publish should address how to solve problems and create value. What I am hoping for is that eventually most companies will build their brand with stories like that, rather than the ones with an inside-out and self-focused perspective.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      So I think we agree. There should be a mix of problem, solution, approach and branded content but the focus should be on the customer. Thanks for commenting here as well!

  13. Nick Stamoulis said…

    Many businesses are catching on to the importance of content, especially on the web. However, many still aren’t “getting it”. They are using online content just as they would any other kind of marketing material and using it to only talk about themselves. It’s that kind of content that will be tuned out.

  14. JumpPuppy IT Help Desk said…

    A man only learns in two ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people
    - Will Rogers

  15. Michael Higashi said…

    Michael-
    There was a very funny, somewhat scary SlideShare last week or so about “Crap” content – or the overabundance of sub par content. When I think about it, I can see how the hype/popularity of content marketing could expand what you describe as the echo chamber – even beyond the size it already is.
    The same day I saw that slideshare, I was fortunate to stumble across Rand Fishkin’s excellent 11 minute whiteboard video explanation about how “SEO Practices Changed Forever with Google Panda“.
    I think your post, plus these other two are the 3 pillars of good, shareable content we content marketers and businesses all need to follow.
    I wrote a post about these 2 posts – the “B2B Content Marketing Tipping Point” here: http://bit.ly/UhmNWa
    ..but now that I saw this, I’m going to have to update it to cite this post, too!

    Thanks for all the great inspiration you keep posting.
    - Michael

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks for sharing Michael and great insights. The “crap” slideshare is from Velocity Partners – a great UK-based firm that really does a great job with content marketing. Thanks for sharing and potentially linking…

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