It touches upon the inability of the industry to define Content in a clear and unified way, which forms part of the Introduction for the new The Definitive Guide to Strategic Content Marketing book I have co-written with Xoogler turned academic Lazar Dzamic published by Kogan Page that’s available for pre-order in April 2018. Many of those mentioned in the post below kindly provided input for the book.
In this post I’ll be looking at content marketing (CM) books, and you can see the ones recommended by experts below. I wanted, however, to explain some of the difficulties I’ve had with setting the boundaries of this particular cluster first. In short, it is difficult to think of any marketing that doesn’t use content, but Doug Kessler and others I’ve approached still see CM as a separate discipline – albeit one that is dissolving into general marketing as it becomes more mainstream (see more on this here):
This maybe true, but I have yet to see a definition that really helps explain what distinguishes CM from other forms of marketing that use content. For example, is it something specific about the discipline itself; the type of output created; who creates it and for whom; how (often) it’s delivered and engages audiences; why it is done and what it helps achieves; or is it about all of these considerations?
I can’t help thinking that explaining how the approach or space could be conceptualised might actually be a better place to start and also more useful than any definition, not least because it is an evolving hybrid one that cuts across other disciplines.
That’s probably why many of the existing definitions can end up sounding a little too like slogans masquerading as truths. The content definition dilemma is something I’ll be looking at in a new book with Xoogler-turned academic Lazar Dzamic, but in the meantime if it’s definitions that interest you then check out the crowdsourced list on J-P De Clerck‘s I-SCOOP.
There’s probably not too much chatter about CM going on in dark social yet, so social media analysis is a more interesting way of looking at the territory than simply asking a small sample of expert option – at least in terms who’s who and saying what, even if it is limited to the search criteria. You can also check out more hand-coded lists like I-SCOOP‘s top CM experts to watch, but I think it’s still true that none of them has ever served on a ‘branded content and entertainment’ jury at top creative awards shows like Cannes Lions, Clio’s, D&AD and One Show.
I mention this because the winners of these ad awards still set the standard by which all content is judged by brands, even if they only reflect a small percentage of the work that’s created. That’s why many CM practitioners see what they do as being very different, hence the Forrester Report by Ryan Skinner about there being two types of CM (i.e. one that supports brand advertising goals and one that supports direct response ones). Some like Content Marketing Institute‘s (CMI) Joe Pulizzi have even accused branded content of given CM a bad name:
“It’s a word created by the world of paid media … by advertisers, agencies, and media planners.”
CM is not without its critics either, including Professor Mark Ritson arguing in Marketing Week last year that the emergence of it as a separate discipline has distracted marketers from their real job of communicating with customers and selling stuff.
Part of the problem is pinning down the term content, hence the concern voiced by ad veteran David Trott in Campaign. He thinks content is seen as just stuff that goes into the spaces that are there to be filled, and believes this is because the industry is now more excited about the efficient new systems for delivering it. He has a point, particularly if you have a look at Scott Brinker’s marketing technology infographic below to see how many have embraced Mark Twain’s adage that ‘during a gold rush it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business':
Clearly technology is reshaping marketing, including the way it now delivers content. That might be an interesting way to map the territory, particularly in terms of how the convergence is being shaped by how content is now being delivered and consumed.
I’ve looked at a lot of models and frameworks, but still think Google’s Hero | Help | Hub framework that originated from their YouTube Creator Playbook for Brands is a great place to start when thinking about ‘content-based marketing’ in the round – even if their Hub category is actually an approach rather than a content type, and the framework is ‘only’ based on analysis of how video content is consumed on YouTube.
The venn diagram above was my attempt to look at how marketing is being reshaped by content from different directions. I explored this in a White Paper last year, where I suggested that Brand Publishing was a better description for the more regularly published editorially-orienated output of what used to be understood as CM… until that term started to be used by many as simply meaning any marketing that uses content. The term also reflects the origins of the approach that can be traced back to likes of the Michelin Guide and John Deere’s agricultural journal The Furrow:
My take is that Brand Publishing represents where Contract/Customer Publishing meets the evolution of Direct Marketing and its embracing of ever more marketing tech. That’s why CM is often used in a B2B context and why SEO, Social and PR are also linked –given the often written nature of the content and its increasing digital delivery – as is the related Content Strategy discipline (see CMI’s strategy director Robert Rose‘s post on how it is separate but connected to CM).
I’ve put together the following list of a growing number of organisations around the globe that appear to represent the Brand Publishing space, although some also have their sights set on the other circles in my Venn Diagram above:
- Content Marketing Institute (USA)
- Content Council (USA)
- Content Marketing Association (UK)
- Content Marketing Forum (Germany)
Some older associations like the former periodical publishers association FIPP are also evolving into more broader content ones, just as the UK’s Content Marketing Association was formerly the contract publishers association. But if there’s any key industry bodies you think should also be added then please message me or leave a comment below.
I purposely didn’t include the Danish-based Native Advertising Institute above – not least because Joe Pulizzi seems adamant that native advertising is not CM, although the CMI do also discuss the role native has to play in CM. Others see the content and native more closely related and separated more by how and where the content is delivered, rather than the type of content, frequency of its delivery, what goals it supports, etc.
For example, the IAB UK‘s Content and Native Definitions Framework (Version 3.0) from last year attempts to ‘establish and distinguish different categories of content and native-based advertising’, i.e. the Paid Media that creates publisher revenues and also those delivered through brand’s Owned Media, such as the kind of content hubs that Michael Brenner talks about:
This raises some interesting ethical questions about whether consumers can tell the difference between editorial and advertorial, which is a theme explored in Mara Einstein‘s new Black Ops Advertising: Native Ads, Content Marketing and the Covert World book. Also check out IAB’s Clare O’Brien‘s Revealing truth: why disclosure works best for brand-funded content article in the 2015 Global Edition of the BOBCM series I curate.
That’s another theme for another post, and one we hope to be exploring in the new book collaboration mentioned above. In the meantime, I hope the above gives you some idea about the Brand Publishing territory the following book cluster relates to and some idea of the problems I’ve faced trying to set the boundaries. Where possible I have also included notes from experts about why they have recommended the books. It’s also worth pointing out that the list includes books which are only indirectly linked to the CM category:
- Content – The Atomic Particle of Marketing: The Definitive Guide to Content Marketing Strategy by Rebecca Lieb (2017) [due out in June]
- Hacking Marketing: Agile Practices to Make Marketing Smarter, Faster, and More Innovative by Scott Brinker (2016) [recommended by Doug Kessler: all about agile marketing]
- Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice by Clayton M. Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon and David S. Duncan (2016) [recommended by Robert Rose]
- Content Inc.: How Entrepreneurs Use Content to Build Massive Audiences and Create Radically Successful Businesses (2015) by Joe Pulizzi [recommended by Rebecca Lieb, Doug Kessler and Michael Brenner]
- The Content Formula: Calculate the ROI of Content Marketing & Never Waste Money by Michael Brenner and Liz Becor (2015) [recommended by Ann Handley]
- Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing by Robert Rose and Carla Johnson (2015) [recommended by Michael Brenner]
- The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly by David Meerman Scott (2015) [recommended by Ann Handley, Sonja Jefferson and Sharon Tanton: a content marketing classic.]
- Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo (2015) [recommended by Sonja Jefferson: the psychology behind great talks can also be applied to other forms of valuable content.]
- Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Contentby Ann Handley (2014) [Recommended by Doug Kessler]
- Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull (2014) [recommended by Michael Brenner]
- Marketing, a Love Story – how to matter to your customers by Bernadette Jiwa (2014) [recommended by Sonja Jefferson: beautifully written book with loads of ideas to help ideas resonate.]
- Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less by Joe Pulizzi (2013) [recommended by Rebecca Lieb, Doug Kessler and Michael Brenner]
- Valuable Content Marketing: How to Make Quality Content the Key to Your Business Success by Sonja Jefferson and Sharon Tanton (2013) [recommended by Doug Kessler: Not enough US-based content marketers know of these two Bristol (UK) content pros. A practical, focused book packed with great advice.]
- The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business by Rita Gunther McGrath (2013) [recommended by Robert Rose]
- Predatory Thinking: A Masterclass in Out-Thinking the Competition by Dave Trott (2013) [recommended by Doug Kessler: Any book by Dave Trott, the legendary British copywriter – Dave boils it down. Short sentences. No bullshit. Fun. Smart.]
- Watertight Marketing: Delivering Long-Term Sales Results by Bryony Thomas (2103) [recommended by Sonja Jefferson: lays out the content marketing approach in a strategic marketing context.]
- Brandscaping: Unleashing the Power of Partnerships by Andrew Davis (2012) [recommended by Michael Brenner, Robert Rose and on CMI Book list]
- Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman (2012) [recommended by Michael Brenner]
- Content Marketing: Think Like a Publisher – How to Use Content to Market Online and in Social Media by Rebecca Lieb (2011) [recommended by Robert Rose]
- Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd by Youngme Moon (2011) [recommended by Robert Rose and Hugh MacCleod]
- Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson (2011) [recommended by Ann Handley and Rebecca Lieb]
- Managing Content Marketing: The Real-World Guide for Creating Passionate Subscribers to Your Brand by Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi (2011) [recommended by Rebecca Lieb]
- Information is Beautiful by David McCandless (2010) [recommended by Doug Kessler: Another one on visualizations — this time by a talented data journalist.]
- Get Content Get Customers: Turn Prospects into Buyers with Content Marketing (2009) by Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett [recommended by Rebecca Lieb and on CMI Book list]
- Creative Mischief by Dave Trott (2009) [recommended by Doug Kessler: Another book by Dave Trott, the legendary British copywriter.]
- Trust-Based Selling: Using Customer Focus and Collaboration to Build Long-Term Relationships by Charles H. Green (2005) [recommended by Sonja Jefferson: his trust principles apply to marketing too.]
- The Wizard of Ads: Turning Words into Magic and Dreamers into Millionaires by Roy H. Williams (1998) [recommended by Andrew Davis: I have an oddball recommendation of a book I adore and think every content marketer should have on hand. I know that sounds like it has nothing to do with content marketing but the book is amazing. It’s such a great read. I also always recommend getting the print version. It’s a really special format and the book is one of my all time favorites.]
- Story: Substance, Structure and Style, And the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee (1997) [recommended by Doug Kessler: The famous screenwriting workshop dude on story structure. Key for any content creator.]
- The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte (1983) [recommended by Doug Kessler: The bible of real data viz, form the best kind of infographics (as opposed to the crappy stack of pie charts that look like hamburgers]
I hope you find this crowdsourced list useful, and those wanting to find out more about more Brand Publishing-orienated CM then the CMI site has a great set of resources. I’d also recommend I-SCOOP‘s complete online guide to content marketing success as a useful starting place. If anyone knows of a better primer or wants to recommend other relevant books and resources, then please message me or use comments below.
You might also want to check out the growing number of dedicated award’s that include:
- Content Marketing Awards [CMI]
- International Content Marketing Awards [Content Marketing Association]
- Content Awards [The Drum]
- Content Marketing Awards [Digiday]
- Pearl Awards [Content Council]
They are a good place to get an idea of the kind of content brands are creating in this space and what experts rate, but I haven’t seen an equivalent of the BOBCM series I curate yet, i.e. a free compendium that includes full case studies of the best examples of more brand publishing-orientated CM and round-up of opinion about where industry is and heading.
Some of these awards are broadening their scope though. That’s partly the nature of awards, but also because the lines between the circles in my Venn Diagram above continue to blur… and even Joe Pulizzi is finally admitting that brands may have to go beyond the written word to capture the attention of audiences:
For content marketers, everything is changing. The written word is no longer enough to capture the attention of our customer and prospects. In 2017, we need an integrated approach to mixing rich media into our content delivery for it to be effective.
Lastly, I hope to put together book lists that also look at both the Branded Entertainment and Content Experience circles highlighted in my Venn Diagram, so it would be great to hear from you if you have any recommendations.