This week, I had the excellent privilege to moderate panel discussions on content marketing in both Boston and New York City. In Boston, the panelists were:
- Pawan Deshpande, founder & CEO of Curata;
- Vala Afshar, CMO and chief customer officer of Enterasys;
- Craig Dowley, director of web marketing and brand at Cognex; and,
- Jennifer Beck, research VP and Fellow Emeritus at Gartner
In New York, they were:
- Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus;
- Heidi Cohen, top blogger at heidicohen.com;
- Tim Gilchrist, director of e-business strategy at WellPoint; and,
- Adam Sarner, research VP at Gartner
What struck me most about these conversations was the passion. It reminded me (in an abstract sense) of the open source movement: a grassroots campaign for change to the established order, founded in strong philosophical tenets, focused on community, and with perhaps just enough subversiveness to keep the unbelievers slightly on edge.
But despite the shared passion, the discussions revealed that—even among these acolytes—content marketing can be polarizing. What does it mean to be a content marketer? How is it different from what we’ve always done? Should we create or curate? How do we justify investments and measure success?
Opinions varied, which I suppose is what you hope for in any panel discussion.
Here’s a sample.
Question: “What does it take to be a content marketer?”
Ian Schafer said “Be Interesting”—Why? Because, according to Schafer, your competition for attention goes beyond your competition; it includes your best friend’s baby pictures, an adorable schnauzer and other sharable currency that’s bound to be more relevant than whatever it is that you’re trying to sell. Unlike underwear, attention spans are inelastic—as Schafer says, “they’re not making any more of it.” So he suggests following the advice of the late adman Bill Bernbach: “You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You’ve got to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut. Because if they don’t feel it, nothing will happen.
Vala Afshar said “Be interested”—Vala says that it’s more important to be interested than interesting. Perhaps not unlike the narcissistic dinner party guest who knows only two modes—talk and wait to talk—marketers who don’t listen with conviction are generally boring—and ultimately ignored. And boring guests are rarely invited back. Vala embraces the social ethos of curating to pay it forward. He distributes others’ content more than his own—despite the fact that he happens to produces his own content prolifically (which he says is hard work, paraphrasing Hemingway’s view on what it takes to produce: “Write until your eyes bleed.”). I’d suggest that being interested is precisely what makes you interesting—both through the virtuous cycle of reciprocity and also because it’s what enables keen observation and sharp insights.
I’ll share more thoughts from these panel discussions over the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with the result of a word association experiment my colleague Jennifer Beck administered while mingling with the Boston crowd.
Question: “What does content marketing mean to you?”
Here’s what we heard:
- Internet (wait person serving cocktails)
- Digital Strategy
- Thought leadership
- Integrated communications
- Multiple channels
- And our favorite (curated by the shrimp platter): For the people, by the people.
That one pretty much says it all.