When, as a kid, I’d start to get a little ahead of myself in crazy childhood exuberance, my mother would tell me to calm down and say teasingly, "Someone's gonna cry before the night is over!"

I hadn’t the foggiest notion of what she meant by that until years later, when I realized that my typical over-the-top over-excitement usually did precipitate a crash of some kind. In other words, I pretty much would cry before the night was over!

Last week, C.C. Chapman and I spoke at the incredibly well-run first-ever Content Marketing World in Cleveland. Joe Pulizzi and his team spent 11 months organizing the event, which drew more than 600+ attendees from something like 18 countries.

The event itself was phenomenal. For someone like me, it was a dream audience: Everyone was there united in their love of content, extolling its virtues, and excited about its future. There was a lot of cheerleading for the bright and shiny new awesomeness that is Content Marketing. It was incredible---a Content love-in! But still, I couldn’t shake some undefined gnawing feeling …

Later, I put my finger on it: I imagine that a lot of those 600+ attendees went back to their homes and offices all fired up to wave their pencils over some blank pages and conjure up some Content that would magically drive business to them. Then I imagine that they’ll realize what hard work and a long-term commitment (not just a one-and-done campaign) Content is. They’ll think that they don’t have much of a story to tell after all (because maybe they are a B2B company that sells something necessary but inherently boring) and that the CEO won’t give them any budget because why would they buy the cow if we are giving the milk for free? And then sobering reality sets in: Someone is gonna cry before the night is over.

Does that sound negative? Like I’m a water-sopped, heavy wool blanket smothering the Content-love-fest?

Actually, I don’t think so.

The truth is that I do believe---deeply---in the power of Content. But at the same time, it’s important to keep things in perspective. I worry that the current breathless cheering and hearty slaps to Content’s back ignores its already rich and storied past as a key part of Marketing. I worry that the hype will undercut its solid foundation when more sobering realities of Content come to light and strangle what’s an exciting and important evolution in Marketing. But most of all, I worry that folks won't really take the time to support Content fully in their organizations---because full support is what it takes to succeed.

Content isn’t just another channel. It’s a mindset.

It’s not new, but instead, technology and social tools and platforms have created new opportunities, which continue to evolve, and afford us new ways to respond to customers and communicate with them.

In other words, what we now have isn’t just more text or pixels, but a new model entirely: one of exciting and interesting opportunities that allows for true innovation. To me, Content doesn’t just mean stuff we create. It means creating unprecedented opportunity.

To do what? To mine the stories from within our organizations and bring them brilliantly to light. To bond with customers in collaborative ways. To put some flesh on the bones of a company in a way that’s human and connective, rather than dry and corporate.

To have some fun. To do something unexpected. To be original. To show how our products and services live in the world … how they solve problems, help people do their jobs better, improve their lives, or make them smarter, wittier, better-looking, taller, better networked, cooler, more enlightened, and with better backhands, tighter asses, and cuter kids.

So in the talk C.C. and I gave, we tried to impart a small dose of reality. Yes, Content is awesome. It absolutely can (and should!) drive business.

But it’s not a magic bullet. (Is anything, really, outside of comic books?) And while there are reasons why Content is suddenly front and center for marketers (and why a conference based entirely on it can sell out in Cleveland and why the best-selling Content Rules is already in its second printing and headed into paperback next spring), it’s good to remember that Content as a business asset is nothing new. But at the same time, it's a major shift that requires a corresponding shift in thinking.

In 1900, tire-manufacturer Michelin began producing the Michelin Guide to help drivers maintain their cars and find decent lodging and great food while touring France. Jell-O’s recipe books helped push Jell-O sales to $1 million---a fortune in 1906. MarketingProfs ran a slide show about this a few weeks ago. And Joe and his team know this well, which is why they opened the Cleveland event with this video they produced that put Content into its proper context.



Clearly, a lot of people are suddenly embracing the power of blogs and e-books and the YouTubes and so on ... But the smartest content marketers and strategists understand that while this an exciting time for Content, they didn’t exactly invent it.

Content isn’t the new kid on the block at all. Instead, Content is an old friend who has had our back for a long, long time. Now, its future is up to us.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Ann Handley

Ann Handley is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author who speaks worldwide about how businesses can escape marketing mediocrity to ignite tangible results. She is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a LinkedIn Influencer, a keynote speaker, dog person, and writer.