Some people are starting to question whether content is king. It’s a fair question. Content marketing has had a good run, starting at least as early as John Deere’s "The Furrow" magazine in 1895. So, it’s super smart of people like Julia McCoy and my friend Mark Schaefer to ask if "Content is King" is dead.
That said, with the massive shift towards digital by customers living in lockdown, is that right? Is "Content is King" dead? Or has the need for useful, helpful content become even more important?
The latest episode of Thinks Out Loud examines the big changes we’re seeing in customer behavior, looks at how some companies have adapted to the new reality, and not only asks, but answers whether "Content is King" is dead. Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.
Thinks Out Loud Episode 306: Is "Content is King" Dead? — Headlines and Show Notes
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Show Notes and Links
As always, here are the "regular" show notes, detailing links and news related to this week’s episode.
- Content Is King: The Greatest Lie Ever Told in SEO
- Why Your Content Isn’t King Any More | Mark Schaefer on LinkedIn
- We Live Online Now (Thinks Out Loud Episode 288)
- Two Years of Digital Transformation in Two Months (Thinks Out Loud Episode 287)
- US Ecommerce Growth Jumps to More than 30%, Accelerating Online Shopping Shift by Nearly 2 Years – eMarketer Trends, Forecasts & Statistics
- Disney reorganizes to focus on streaming, direct to consumer
- B2B Buyers Rely on Vendor Websites for Content – Marketing Charts
- Content is King, Customer Experience is Queen (Thinks Out Loud Episode 188)
- The Single Biggest Myth in Digital: Content is Expensive (Thinks Out Loud Episode 275)
- Content is Still the King | Tim Peter & Associates
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Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks
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Transcript: Is "Content is King" Dead? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 306)
Well, hello again, everyone. Welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 306 of the big show. And thank you so much for tuning in. I so appreciate it. I think we’ve got a really cool show for you.
Is it time to kill "Content is King"?
There’s something very interesting going on right now. A couple of people lately have been saying things about, it’s time to kill this notion that content is king. One of them is a very, very good friend of mine, a guy by the name of Mark Schaefer, who is one of the most brilliant people I know in marketing. Mark always forces me to think. And he wrote a really great piece on LinkedIn, and I will link to this in the show notes, all about why it’s time to stop talking about content is king.
The other person is a woman named Julia McCoy. I don’t know Julia, but she seems super smart as well and wrote a really provocative piece that said, "Content is king is the greatest lie ever told in SEO" — in search engine optimization — which I mean, way to go out on the limb and take a stand, right? So here are two very smart people saying content is king is dead. The king is dead, right?
And I’ve been doing digital for a long time. Content is king has been a mantra literally for 25 years or so. And it seems every five years or so someone comes along and says, "nah, content is not king." And a year later everybody kind of realizes, no, content really is king. Still, the last time I took up this topic was January in 2016. So, let’s see, that’s four and a half years ago. So maybe it’s time to revisit this.
The argument for killing "Content is King"
And these are smart people. They should force you to think. When smart people start saying something that goes against the conventional wisdom, you want to listen to that. Also, content marketing has been around for a really, really long time. My two favorite examples of how long it’s been around is that soap operas, starting with a program called, "The Guiding Light," which I remember my grandmother watching when I was a child, started on radio in 1937. They’re called soap operas because they were sponsored by folks like P&G, Ivory Soap and the like. So that’s why they were soap operas, right? So, soap operas and things like that have been around for, what’s that 83 years? It’s a long time. Right? And John Deere — full disclosure, client — John Deere’s magazine, The Furrow, started publishing in 1895. So, that’s 125 years.
So I think it’s worthwhile asking, are they right? Is it time for content is king to die?
Changes in customer behavior
Now, before I answer that, I think we want to talk about the changes that we are seeing in customer behavior. I’ve been quoting Microsoft since their Q1 earnings call. So we’re going on six months now, where they said, "We have seen two years of digital transformation in two months." And I’ve been saying that for like six months. So, it’s worth revisiting that as well and saying, is that correct?
Well, according to the eMarketer, not only is it true, it may be more like we’ve seen six years of digital transformation in the last six months. Here’s the quote from eMarketer. "The pandemic has accelerated e-commerce growth in the US this year with online sales reaching a level not previously expected until 2022." That’s a huge thing.
They said that,
"US e-commerce sales will reach $794.5 billion this year, up 32.4% year over year.
That’s a much higher growth rate than the 18% predicted in our Q2 forecast. As consumers continue to avoid stores and opt for online shopping amid the pandemic. May also say that e-commerce sales will reach 14.4% of all US retail spending this year and 19.2% by 2024. When excluding gas and auto sales, categories sold almost exclusively offline, e-commerce penetration jumps to 20.6%."
So, clearly we know customers are using digital as their primary channel, 20% of the time. And if you think about all the things that influences, it’s probably closer to 100%, especially if you take away gasoline sales. Auto sales are enormously influenced by digital, there’s tons of research that supports that. Similarly, since we’re talking about customer behavior, you probably saw the news this week that Disney had a major reorganization and their CEO, Bob Chapek, who was talking with CNBC said, "We are tilting the scale pretty dramatically towards streaming."
He went on to say, "I would not characterize it as a response to COVID. I would say COVID accelerated the rate at which we made this transition, but this transition was going to happen anyway."
Again, I really want to emphasize that point, "this transition was going to happen anyway."
Content supports customers during these changes
The reality is, we live online now, and content plays an enormous role in helping your customers make decisions about whether or not you offer the products and services that they need. Now, before I lean in hard to why I think content is king is not dead, I want to dive specifically into what Mark Schaefer and Julia McCoy said in more detail. Because they’re not wrong. These are smart people. Again, you want to listen to smart people, especially when they take a position that is contrary to the conventional wisdom.
Now, Julia McCoy’s piece was on search engine journal, and she was talking about SEO specifically. And one of the things that she said is that content is part of the SEO picture but it’s not the whole story. For instance, your ability to attract links and the technical underpinnings of your site, of your platform, et cetera, play major roles too. That is absolutely true.
Mark Schaefer isn’t just talking about content is king is dead. He’s talking about the importance of user generated content (UGC). We can’t just talk about ourselves. It’s better if it’s our customers talking about us, and talking about our products, and talking about our services, and talking about how we helped them. Again, this is absolutely true. I have talked about your ability to engage or your need to engage your secret sales force for a long, long time.
Why “Content is King” isn’t dead
Now, having said that both of them are right, I need to explain why I think they’re also not 100% right. First, in Julia McCoy’s article, I have a question. How do you get links to your content? You know how you get links to your content? You have really great, useful content. In her own article she opens with, first things first, these are part of the opening paragraph,
"First things first, if content is only a piece of the puzzle, is it okay to skip over quality? The short answer is no. The longer answer, without the content your audience craves, none of your SEO strategies will matter. I will say that again. None of your SEO strategies will matter."
That’s so true, if you don’t have great content, if you don’t have content that actually answers important questions for your customers, it’s not going to work.
Now, Mark said in his article, content isn’t king anymore. User generated content is king and has been for some time. And again, Mark is not wrong. User generated content is hugely important. Reviews, testimonials, putting that secret sales force to work. That said, user generated content is still content. User-generated content is an enormous component of your content marketing. A content strategy that doesn’t include user generated content or UGC, is not a complete content strategy. In 2020, and going forward, if you don’t have UGC as part of your content strategy, you do not have a complete content strategy. At the same time, any content strategy that relies solely on UGC is also not a complete content strategy. Now, where Mark is completely right about this is when he says, "How do we spend less effort on our stories and more effort on their stories? How do we get invited to our customers conversations?"
"Don’t lend a hand; be a hand" using content
And one of the things that I’ve heard Mark say before that I think is exactly right and so key to this, is he says, especially right now, "Don’t lend a hand, be a hand." That’s why his piece works. That’s why people comment on it and share it because he’s actually getting people to think he’s shaking people up. And he’s not just lending a hand, he’s showing people how to do it. He’s being a hand. That’s what Mark always does, that’s why his content works.
Julia McCoy did that with her piece too. That’s why it works. Hell, that’s why I’m talking about this.
How did people say "content is king is dead?" With content!
By the way, I’d like to point out that Julia McCoy and Mark Shaffer wrote these amazing pieces of original content. So to make their point, what did they do? They created great, useful content that is shaking up the conversation and having people think about this. That’s hugely important.
That’s what you’re supposed to do. They’re answering questions that marketers have. They’re being a hand and helping marketers get better at what they do. You need to do the same for your customers. You have to answer their questions. You have to be a hand. And yes, you have to create content that people want to link to. And yes, you have to create experiences that your customers will want to talk about. That’s why it’s not just content is king, but customer experience is queen. Because these all work hand in hand to create the kind of experience that your customers want to have, and need to have, to get their questions answered and succeed at what they’re trying to accomplish.
Why information overload is overblown
Now, I do want to talk about one quick thing before I wrap up here, which is, there are people who will argue that, what about information overload? How do you cut through the clutter when there’s so much content out there? And I understand that. I completely understand that. There is lots you need to do to promote effectively so people can find your content and UGC, user generated content and social sharing and the like. Content that is put together in such a way that people want to share and talk about it.
Note what I’m doing right now for Julia and for Mark is also important, but I just don’t buy the information overload argument for two reasons.
One, information overload as a phrase was coined in the book, Future Shock by Alvin Toffler, which was published in 1970. So the information overload conversation has been going on for 50 years. Oh wait, actually it’s been going on for longer than that because in the 1st century, AD, Seneca the Elder commented that "The abundance of books is a distraction" which is a really wordy way of saying information overload.
So, this is not a new problem. The problem is, how do you cut through the clutter? And that’s a whole other conversation.
Is "Content is King" Dead? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 306) conclusion
But the point is that content is really important, and really great content is really important if you’re going to have any shot at cutting through the clutter. Our customers, your customers live online now. They have lived through two years of digital transformation in two months.
So, is content king? Absolutely. Because that’s where they’re going to get the answers to their questions that they need. That’s where they’re going to get help that they need. That’s where they’re going to determine whether or not you are the person, or you are the company, or you are the brand that is going to help them solve for their problems.
So this isn’t “content is king is dead.” This isn’t the king is dead. This is long live the king.
Show wrap-up and credits
Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. But as ever, I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes by going to timpeter.com/podcast. Again, that’s timpeter.com/podcast. Just look for episode 306. You can also subscribe in any of the episodes that you find on timpeter.com/podcast to have Thinks Out Loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single week. You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher radio, Overcast, wherever fine podcasts are found. Just do a search for Tim Peter Thinks, Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud or Thinks Out Loud, we should show up for any of those. While you’re there I would also appreciate it if you could provide us a positive rating and review, it will help new people find us.
It helps us show up better in their search. It helps listeners understand much better about what the show is all about, UGC, right? And it makes an enormous difference to the show. You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Facebook, by going to facebook.com/timpeterassociates. You can find me on Twitter using the Twitter handle @tcpeter. And of course you can email me by sending an email to email@example.com. Again, that’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’d also want like to thank our sponsor SoloSegment, speaking of content and making content work and be more effective. SoloSegment is a very cool product. They use machine learning and natural language processing and your own site’s anonymous behavioral data to connect website visitors, the people who visit your website, with the content they need to accomplish their goals, which helps you accomplish yours.
They do this in a way that protects privacy for your site visitors. They understand that you don’t know most of the people who come to your site. You don’t know who they are. You’re kind of stumbling around in the dark. Their view: Embrace the dark. Help people based on what they’re doing, not who they are. When you do this, it improves the effectiveness and the efficiency of your marketing team. It’s really simple to install. And you can learn more about SoloSegment by going to solosegment.com. Again, that’s solosegment.com.
All that said, I want to say again how much I appreciate you tuning in today, how much I appreciate you tuning in every single week with everything that’s going on in the world right now. I really hope that this is not just lending you a hand, but it’s helping be a hand for you.
And it means the world to me that you take so much of your valuable time to listen. With that, I hope you stay well. I hope you stay healthy. I hope you stay prosperous. I hope you have a great rest of the week. I hope you have a wonderful weekend, and I will look forward to talking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well, be safe, and as ever, take care everybody.