Book Clusters: Content Marketing

- in 2017, ARTICLES
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Content Marketing Reading List

This edited post was originally published on LinkedIn and was a third in a series prompted by my crowdsourced Christmas Reading List that authors and experts I know and admire kindly contributed to.  

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.

If you are looking for more academic-orientated published research, there is also a literature review that was compiled in 2017 as part of the JOBCM collaboration that’s available on BOBCM here.

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):

Doug Kessler on Content Marketing

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.

Interestingly, the influencer marketing solution provider Onalytica produced a guide of the top 100 influencers and brands in CM last year:

Content Marketing Influencers

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.

Mapping the Content Space

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:

Michelin Guide 1900

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:

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:

IAB UK Content and Native Definitions Framework

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:

You can find more relevant CM books recommended on by the CMI here, and there’s also regular book reviews by Roger C. Parker as part of his series of posts for them.

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:

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.

About the author

Justin Kirby is a consultant, educator and thought leader with a 20+ year career in industry as a digital strategist, producer and entrepreneur. He chairs and speaks at conferences around the globe, judge industry awards, and advise brands and agencies.