By Malcolm Auld, founder, The Content Brewery

Malcolm Auld shoots down in flames some perceptions of content marketing.

In 1994 I ran my first e-marketing seminar, including some guest speakers from different organisations. Little did I realise how indicative it was of the industry that was to evolve to the ‘digital marketing’ one we know today.

There was a presentation from a new joint venture called NineMSN. A lady whom I knew from the marketing industry was their e-marketing expert, despite having no expertise. Mind you, nobody had any expertise. The presentation was slick and full of graphics, charts and outlandish predictions about the information superhighway – remember those buzzwords?

Because the industry was still in gestation, the audience was extremely sceptical towards her claims – much like today’s worried marketers and business owners are about social media and content marketing.

The most powerful presentation came from an email supplier. He used a whiteboard to draw a diagram of how the internet worked and how computers connected to each other. He explained what it meant and the potential for what it meant. The audience lapped it up.

And the rest as they say, is history. A whole industry was spawned. The “how to be an instant digital marketing expert” industry. Anyone can be one – just use some digibuzzwords, imply secret knowledge, claim all things that always worked no longer do and you’re away. Even better if you don’t have expertise, publish a book denouncing all things common sense, but praise unproven new marketing secrets.

Which brings me to the content marketing industry. The alleged experts in this area are shovelling the manure like farmers in spring.

A quick history lesson

Prior to the internet, the Yellow Pages invited you to “Let your fingers do the walking”. And when you wanted to buy a big-ticket item, you sought information from friends and colleagues, read reviews in media, visited different shops and asked ‘experts’ who worked in the stores, or even invited them to your home to explain or demonstrate their wares.

In other words, humans searched for information about goods and services before they bought stuff – a very sophisticated apex primate behaviour.

Today, people still buy using the same habits of searching for information. But as the laziest species on the planet, humans will always travel the path of least resistance for personal gain. So now, in addition to asking others and visiting stores, people also use search engines, websites, reviews and social media to gather information before buying – online or offline.

Habits haven’t changed – just the technology available to behave as we’ve always behaved.

Which is why I get dismayed when headlines like this appear in a piece of ‘content’ which was ‘curated’ in the form a FREE Whitepaper, by a well-known brand flogging content marketing. The company claimed: 93 per cent of buying cycles start with an online search, and 88 per cent of clicks come from organic search.

To put it bluntly – what utter bollocks.

The truth is entirely the opposite of this claim. It’s more like 96 per cent of all buying decisions never, ever, involve the internet, let alone search engines or organic search terms. And the punters don’t need content to help them make all their buying decisions.

Think about what you buy in a typical week. Let’s start with groceries – you make dozens of buying decisions. In fact, your weekly grocery shopping involves the largest number (and percentage) of your weekly buying decisions.

Consider your weekly purchases – tinned food, snacks, drinks, pasta, rice, dairy, biscuits, cleaning products, personal grooming, health care, blah, blah. And then there’s your fresh food – fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat, deli-items and more. Dozens of buying decisions, most of which are made in-store, or in some case in-online-store – but almost exclusively without search engine support.

People also make other buying decisions for things like petrol, newspapers, gifts, flowers, school things, household items, etc. But rarely on a weekly basis do we make lots of considered purchases – apart from dining out. The majority of our buying decisions are automatic or made at point of sale.

When we have a considered purchase, like new clothes, furniture, a holiday, or car, we will undertake research and likely use search engines as part of the process. But to claim (without any supporting facts) 93 per cent of all buying cycles start with search engines, is at least dishonest, and is grossly distorting the facts.

These falsehoods are driving the content marketing boom

According to the alleged content marketing experts, humans have stopped all previous natural behaviour and now only use search engines and websites or Apps to gain knowledge about brands. So you’d better stop advertising, and start publishing like there’s no tomorrow.

This is obvious when you visit your local supermarket. As you know, the aisles are chock-full of shoppers, frantically searching websites for content before they dare purchase anything.

Hapless shoppers stand around with phones in hand, uploading images of products like yoghurt tubs, as the first step in their buying cycle. They post messages to their ‘friends’ such as “help me decide – should I buy the low fat apricot or the sugar-free strawberry? Like my Instagram or Facebook page, so I know what to buy” #whichyoghurtjourney #luvyoghurt #helpmechooseyoghurt #lowfat #sugarfree.

I’d better warn the green-grocer and tell him he’s about to go out of business. He hasn’t any whitepapers demonstrating his thought leadership on corn cobs. Not to mention a simple webinar to add value to his customer’s tomato buying journey? The silly bugger just has handwritten signs outside his store and at point of sale – signs like “organic navel oranges $3.99/kg”. How will they work in a non-sales, content-dominated world?

I feel sorry for my local butcher – he’s so silly, he tries to sell things instead of just publishing secret sausage content. Yes folks, he sells for a living – how quaintly old fashioned. Hasn’t he heard the social selling mantra “selling is dead”? You no longer have to sell – just publish and all will be well.

Here’s how stupid he is. Today he has a sign outside his shop: “Legs of lamb only $15.99/kg – save $10/kg”. What is he thinking? Nobody will buy his lamb legs – he’s not supporting them with any video or ebook on the benefits of eating lamb. He has no content to position him as a thought- leading legendary lamb leg Linkfluencer. The poor sod, he’s going to lose the lot.

Social selling is the new B2B digital dark art

The content marketing bug has also infected B2B marketing. As mentioned, the latest innovation is a new form of selling – social selling – despite it being an oxymoron, as social selling requires you to not sell anything. Instead of selling, you publish non-sales content and position yourself as a thought-leader by distributing your knowledgeable tome on LinkedIn and other digital channels. As a result of your newfound publishing expertise, the punters will voluntarily flock to you and buy your wares or services – all without you needing to use any sales skills. But I’m worried if this really is the future. What happens when everyone becomes a thought-leader? Who will do all the work?

And I’m worried even more for my local baker. She hasn’t even got a website – she relies on the location of her store, the quality of her pies and pastries, as well as word-of-mouth to make a living. What kind of fool is she?

All this talk of food has made me hungry. I might pick up a couple of meat pies for lunch. Shame the baker won’t be there to chat – she’s made so much money she’s holidaying in Europe. Just imagine if she’d had the time to do content marketing…