Brand Activator/ Branding & Communications

Value Vs. Promotion: Content Marketing’s Never-Ending Challenge


by Mike Azzara
Chief Content Strategist
Stein IAS (Americas)

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For years, I’ve told people that great content “lives” at the intersection of your target audience’s information needs/interests and your marketing objectives. Simply by providing high-value information tailored to your audience’s needs, you build your brand’s relevancy, trust, and credibility with that audience.

For some marketers, that’s enough. Everyone else has a trickier dilemma to face, managing the ratio and presentation of promotional information in the context of value-creating information.

The primary content marketing objective of consulting firms, for example, is to provide you with superior knowledge and insight so that when you need to engage a consultant, you choose them. Take a look at PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ Technology Forecast report or Ernst & Young’s Global technology M&A update–both of which are produced quarterly. These firms invest significant time and resources to produce content of extremely high value with virtually no promotion because the content value itself is their promotion. Having had such companies as clients, though, I can tell you that even at this most altruistic end of the content marketing spectrum, marketers strive for links to their service offerings (typically in the choice of topics, which are then thoroughly and objectively explored).

Most marketers, however, have a trickier challenge in embedding promotional information in their content marketing.

At the other end of the spectrum, I once struggled with a white paper where I thought the client’s service was so valuable and unique that it should be addressed directly in the paper. In that case, it was the client who felt those passages were too self-serving! Usually, of course, it’s the other way around, with the client pushing for more, not less, direct promotion.

This white paper from Aequor Media is an instructive example of how to walk right on the line, so to speak. It’s about the growth in business process outsourcing (BPO) for media companies, which might be viewed as entirely self-serving because that’s Aequor’s business. But the story is told through the words of a dozen or more senior media industry executives with relevant experience. And it authentically explains how resistant media companies traditionally have been to BPO and how, and why, that resistance is finally breaking down.

In the end, there are no simple answers or formulas for balancing high-value and promotional information in your content marketing. Solving this dilemma is as much art as science because it depends, in part, on a gut sense of how your target audience will view certain content. So let’s finish up with a homework exercise, the results of which you can post in the comments below.

Check out this content from Dolby Laboratories. Is it pure high-value information, pure promotion–or both?

About Mike Azzara

The authors of the Brand Activator blog are from Stein IAS, BMA Global Agency of the Year.